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Seattle's Black Clergy Respond To Zimmerman Verdict

Correction 7/18/13: A previous version of this story stated that Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law was a key part of Zimmerman’s defense. The law was a factor in the case but not part of Zimmerman’s courtroom strategy.

A group of black pastors in the Seattle area say the Trayvon Martin case should be a “wake-up call.” The religious leaders are pushing for changes in gun laws that they say contribute to racial profiling, and they're also urging community members to join their fight.During the noon hour Wednesday, dozens of people trickled into the Greater Mount Baker Baptist Church in Seattle’s central area. They came for a prayer vigil for Trayvon Martin but the event turned into more of a community open mic.

“We are concerned and we’re not just going to sit back and be quiet,” said Rev. Victor C. Langford of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. “We have to let it be known across America that black people are people. We’re worthy of respect, we’re worthy of appreciation and our young people are important as well.”

Langford is a member of the statewide group, United Black Christian Clergy, which organized Wednesday’s vigil and rally. During the event, the pastors announced several issues they want public officials to address following last weekend’s acquittal of  George Zimmerman, who says he shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in self-defense.

The pastors want states to revise or remove so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws. Under such laws, a person attacked in public can use lethal force in self-defense without backing away first or trying to retreat. This was a key part of Zimmerman’s defense.

“It’s just yet another way in which you can argue that a person of color is dangerous or it’s justified in killing them, as opposed to how they would treat it if that victim were actually a white person,” said James Bible, president of the Seattle-King County chapter of the NAACP.

This legal issue got brief attention in the Washington Legislature in January when Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, introduced a measure to require someone to try to retreat from an attack before using lethal force. The bill was dropped after a few days, following threats to Appleton’s office.

At the Seattle vigil, Amelia Vassar said she’s still sorting through her emotions about the Martin case and what advice to give her almost-teenage son.

“Now my impulse is to tell him that if someone gets out and starts fussing at you, to shoot them because if they kill you, nothing’s going to happen to them," Vassar said.  “I don’t know if that’s the right message -- that’s the issue I’m struggling with right now.”

The Department of Justice is still investigating potential civil rights violations in the Martin case. The Seattle pastors are calling on state and local officials to keep pressure on the federal probe.

As the Wednesday vigil ended, the group of about 60 people held hands, formed a circled and bowed their heads together. The final prayer called for the community to unite and continue to push back against racism.


Year started with KUOW: 2006