Friday, March 23, 2012


By Wil Haygood, Brady Dennis and Sari Horwitz

They are joining the Trayvon Martin crusade by the hour now.

It feels like an echo from another era — when there was racial injustice in the headlines, when federal troops were dispatched to comb Southern swamps to look for blacks who had vanished.

Rep. Frederica Wilson, (D-Fla.) took to the House floor on Wednesday to call for justice for Trayvon Martin. The teen was killed 25 days ago. The shooter, George Zimmerman, has not been charged or arrested.

After declaring victories in getting federal and state officials to investigate the case of an unarmed black teenager shot to death by a neighborhood watch captain, civil rights leaders continued to pressure authorities to make an arrest.

And when lawyers for the NAACP slid into town with briefcases and addresses of safe houses.

It feels like the not-so-long-ago ’60s, back when getting federal authorities to move quickly was often difficult. But this is a different era, however tragically similar the outcome.

The Trayvon Martin story has multiple layers: a black victim, a Hispanic man who did the shooting in Sanford, Fla. In Washington, the head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, Thomas E. Perez, is Hispanic. The attorney general of the United States, Eric H. Holder Jr., is a black man. The man who occupies the Oval Office, Barack Obama, is an African American.

And yet, even that arc of progress — while admired — hasn’t softened emotions and feelings.

“It reminds you of Emmett Till,” said Bernadette Pruitt, an associate professor of history at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Tex., who has written about Southern racial history and can’t stop thinking of Trayvon Martin and his family. “This so-called post-racialism is a figment of our imagination. Race, unfortunately, is still the barometer by which everyone is measured.”

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