After Saturday’s “not guilty” verdict in Sanford, Florida, the nation’s oldest civil rights group found itself linked to George Zimmerman’s murder trial in two ways: through its online petition, which went viral, and the site of its nearby annual meeting this week.
For the NAACP, the timing couldn’t have stood out more.
On Saturday evening, George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in a Sanford, Florida, courtroom—less than 30 miles away from the NAACP’s convention, which began in Orlando on Friday.
On Sunday, the NAACP’s online petition asking for a federal investigation into possible violations of Martin’s civil rights drew so much traffic to its website that it went down for a couple of hours.
And today, the convention continues—with the case clearly casting a shadow over the proceedings.
More details on the petition, the annual convention, and the organization’s take on the verdict below:
The petition: Shortly after the verdict was announced on Saturday, the NAACP—working with the advocacy group MoveOn.org—launched a petition to ask the Department of Justice to investigate the case. “A jury has acquitted George Zimmerman, but we are not done demanding justice for Trayvon,” the petition states. “Sign our petition to the Department of Justice today.” More than 600,000 people had signed as of Monday morning, according to CNN, despite the two hours of downtime.
The reaction: The petition had an immediate effect, with the Justice Department releasing a statement Sunday confirming that since last year it has had an open investigation into whether any federal civil rights statutes were violated in Martin’s shooting. “Experienced federal prosecutors will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation of any of the limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction, and whether federal prosecution is appropriate in accordance with the department’s policy governing successive federal prosecution following a state trial,” the statement said. NAACP leaders have been in touch with the Justice Department and Attorney General Eric Holder, according to NAACP president and CEO Ben Jealous, who was interviewed on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday. Holder, who commented on the case Monday, is expected to speak at the group’s annual meeting on Tuesday.
Jealous, in his interview with CNN host Candy Crowley, said the Martin case has been a catalyst for interest in civil rights issues.
“There is no question that this case has pulled together the current generation of young people of all colors in the way that the [Emmett Till] case did and the way that the Rodney King case did,” he stated. “This case stands out, and we should ask ourselves why it does stand out to young people.”
The association’s annual convention concludes July 17.