Post Zimmerman Charge, Florida Rep. Calls For Calm
VIVIANA HURTADO, HOST:
This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Viviana Hurtado. Michel Martin will be back tomorrow.
Coming up, we'll hear why Latin American countries are pressuring the United States to rethink the war on drugs. That's in just a few minutes.
But first, after weeks of investigations, news stories, and demands for action, George Zimmerman has been charged in the death of Trayvon Martin. Special prosecutor Angela Corey announced yesterday that Zimmerman will face second degree murder charges in the February shooting of the unarmed teenager. His arrest came more than 40 days after the shooting. The lack of an arrest had caused outrage among many Americans online, on the streets, and even in the halls of Congress.
One of the leading voices from Capitol Hill on the Trayvon Martin case has been Congresswoman Frederica Wilson who represents the South Florida district that Trayvon Martin called home. Here's a clip from one of the several speeches she made on the House floor calling for an arrest.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
REPRESENTATIVE FREDERICA WILSON: It is as if someone cut your chest open, rips out your heart, throws it on the ground, stomps on it, picks it up, placed it back on your chest and then sew you back up. She said the parents carry that pain inside of their heart forever. So today, this is for Sabrina and Tracy, Trayvon's parents.
HURTADO: Congresswoman Wilson joined us earlier to offer her thoughts on the case. Congresswoman, welcome back to the program.
WILSON: Thank you. Thank you so much.
HURTADO: Can you tell us what's your reaction to the news that George Zimmerman has been arrested?
WILSON: Well, first of all, Trayvon's parents endured a loss that no one should have to endure. Parents should not have to bury their child. It took 45 days. But finally, second degree murder charges have been filed against the man who killed their son. And everyone is ecstatic in our congressional district. We stood up for Trayvon for those 45 days and we've stood up for justice for 45 days.
HURTADO: Congresswoman, you mentioned that people in your community were elated at the arrest of George Zimmerman, but Trayvon's parents and Reverend Al Sharpton were very clear in the press conference to say this is not a time to rejoice. Are you worried that this kind of reaction could be divisive?
WILSON: No. The children were relieved. They weren't rejoicing, because they know that this is a system of justice that sometimes takes years. But just the relief at the announcement was a cure for them, for their heartache and their grief.
HURTADO: Was there ever a point where you thought maybe this won't happen? Maybe this arrest won't happen?
WILSON: Well, racial profiling is such a problem in our nation. And I think that this particular case, they were trying to push it under the rug. I think, however, that we have to have a conversation to make sure that no tragedies like this happen again. But I was very hopeful because after listening to the 911 tapes and when the police dispatcher told Mr. Zimmerman to leave him alone, I saw that as a signal that charges had to be filed.
HURTADO: Congresswoman, you were talking just now about racial profiling. This case has inflamed tensions between law enforcement and certain parts of your community. How much do you think this arrest will do to restore confidence in law enforcement?
WILSON: I think that there's a real tension between black boys and the police. It's something that dates all the way back to slavery. And so, conversations must continue to occur. These children are afraid. Parents are afraid to let their children to walk the street, because this was not an isolated incident.
HURTADO: Congressman, you were referring to fear of the children. What do you believe can be done to calm the fears of the children and of people in your community?
WILSON: Oh, we're having prayer services in many of the churches. We have grief counselors in many of the schools. We have the 5,000 Role Models of Excellence project in our school district. That's a program that's founded just to address the social status of black boys. So, through the years, we've learned how to cope.
HURTADO: And how do you make sure that your community doesn't fragment as this trial moves forward?
WILSON: We stay out there. I had a trip that I was taking today that I've canceled so that I can be out with the people, going to the schools. We have crime watch meetings, going on the radio. There are many ways that we must communicate with our community to make sure that violence is not the answer. We must stick together and we must pray.
HURTADO: Do you find that there is a dialogue happening between blacks and whites and Latinos and law enforcement and community in a way that hasn't before?
WILSON: Definitely. We had a rally and there were white people, black people, Hispanic people. When the students walked out of the schools, they were all ethnicities. On the radio, when they call in when I'm on the radio, it's all children. Everyone was concerned about this. This is a case that is unconscionable.
HURTADO: Congresswoman Frederica Wilson is a Democrat representing Florida's 17th District in Congress and she joined us by phone from Miami Gardens, Florida. Thanks so much.
WILSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.