WASHINGTON (AP) — NAACP President Ben Jealous said Monday his organization collected petitions with more than 1.7 million signatures calling for charges to be filed against George Zimmerman for violating Trayvon Martin's civil rights.
Jealous said the signatures, about a million of which came in by mobile phone and many from young people, would be turned over to the Department of Justice on Monday afternoon.
The NAACP signatures would be in addition to another 219,000 handed over to the Justice Department last week by ColorOfChange, an online civil rights group.
Jealous cited the petitions as an example of the advocacy in which the NAACP and others have engaged since Zimmerman was acquitted by a Florida court for the shooting death of Martin, 17, on Feb. 26, 2012. The teenager's death has become symbolic to many of continued unequal treatment of blacks and other minorities despite progress since the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on segregation and racial discrimination.
A Justice Department spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment or independently confirm receipt of the signatures.
Martin was mentioned often by speakers at Saturday's demonstration marking the 50th anniversary of the march. Images of the teenager were on T-shirts, posters, signs and buttons and mention of him by speakers often ignited the crowd. Martin's mother was among the speakers Saturday.
"The most important thing for all of us ... is to get organized," Jealous said Monday during a panel sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation as part of its America Healing project, which seeks to promote racial healing and address racial inequity by funding groups working on those issues.
"I often tell people I don't care whether they join the NAACP or some other group, but you better join something," Jealous said. "Because the reality is in a democracy there are only two types of power, there's organized people and organized money and organized money only wins when people aren't organized."
A string of events are being held throughout the week in conjunction with the anniversary of the 1963 March On Washington.
On Wednesday, President Barack Obama will be joined by former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter for a ceremony commemorating the actual march anniversary, and the delivery of King's famous "I Have A Dream" speech. A bell ringing by churches and others is planned for 3 p.m. EDT, marking the exact time that King spoke.
Obama met Monday with African American church and faith leaders in connection with the anniversary. According to a White House statement, they discussed the president's work on voting rights and the upcoming availability of health insurance through a public marketplace.
During the activities of the anniversary, civil rights leaders have held up examples where King's dream has been realized — namely Obama's presence in the White House as the nation's first black president — but bemoaned what several have said is reversal of the gains of the Civil Rights Movement.
Gail Christopher, who heads W.K. Kellogg Foundation's America Healing project, said the country's progress means dealing with the fact that for much of its history, the United States was built on the principle of racial hierarchy. She said the country has not fully understood the central role of racism in the creation of the nation.
"We asserted equality but we built the nation on the fallacy of inequality," said Christopher. "So as we move into the 21st century, we ask ... that we take this moment to move beyond rhetoric and indeed beyond denial."
Republicans held a separate commemoration Monday with a luncheon hosted by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. At the luncheon, Bob Woodson Sr., a Washington, D.C., advocate for low-income people, said the way forward for Republicans and Democrats is "to compete by how you have served the least of God's children — not just outreach, but uplift of those at the bottom."
Woodson founded the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise which works with community based organizations in low-income neighborhoods on issues ranging from job training to financial literacy to reducing youth violence.
Jealous said at the earlier panel forum that while there are still allies of the civil rights movement in the Republican Party and governors who are making strides on civil rights, "we're on the verge of having an anti-civil rights party in the country and of having civil rights be a one-party issue."
"We have to, as a civil rights community, really think deeply not just how we build bonds among each other but how we, frankly, re-introduce civil rights to the Republican Party, which for 100 years was the party of civil rights in many ways," Jealous said.
Associated Press Radio reporter Tim Raths contributed to this report.
Online: W.K. Kellogg Foundation America Healing: http://www.wkkf.org/what-we-support/racial-equity/america-healing.aspx
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