"When there's no justice done, it just hurts."
That's what SEIU 32BJ member Louis Medina, a security officer in Manhattan, had to say about the not guilty verdict issued last weekend in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
Trayvon, a 17-year-old African-American, was walking back to his father's house from the store in Sanford, Florida on February 26, 2012 when he was racially profiled, shot and killed by George Zimmerman.
Zimmerman, an armed Neighborhood Watch volunteer who pursued the unarmed teenager as Trayvon returned home, was found not guilty on manslaughter and second-degree murder charges by a Florida jury on Saturday.
The case sparked a national debate about race, racial-profiling and civil rights. President Barack Obama weighed in last year, saying, "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon." The case brought racial profiling and Stand Your Ground laws, which allowed Zimmerman to go free after the shooting, to the forefront of the public dialogue, and SEIU members responded by passing a resolution at the 2012 member convention in Denver.
Such laws "pose a threat to all of our communities but have a disparate and devastating impact on people of color, in general, and minority youth in particular," the resolution stated.
After the not guilty verdict for Zimmerman, peaceful protests were held across the country with thousands gathering in New York, Washington DC, California and elsewhere to call for Justice for Trayvon. Protestors and major organizations across the country called on the Justice Department to reopen its investigation into the case, calling the death of Trayvon a violation of civil rights. The most fundamental of civil rights -- the right to life -- was violated the night George Zimmerman stalked and then took the life of Trayvon Martin," wrote the NAACP in a petition urging the Justice Department to take action.
SEIU members reacted with sadness and disappointment at the verdict.
"It is a tragedy. I'm a great grandfather, I've been on marches in Brooklyn, I've seen this. History keeps repeating itself. To me it's even worse because we're supposed to be in the age of enlightenment, a new racial awareness, and it's not happening," said Leroy Abramson, a security officer from Coney Island, Brooklyn and a member of 32BJ.
"No parent should live in fear that their child could be shot because of the color of his or her skin," said Monica Russo of 1199 United Healthcare Workers East-Florida, which represents members in the Sanford, Florida area where Trayvon was killed.
"May God bless Trayvon Martin's soul and give our communities the strength to carry the mantle by tirelessly confronting racism and injustice in Florida and across the country, in Trayvon's name," Russo added.
For 32BJ member Vivian Olivera, the verdict brought her own children to mind. "I'm the mother of two grown sons and I worry. They are Hispanic, and this easily could have happened to them. There is an imbalance of justice," said Olivera, a cleaner who lives in the Bronx. "I think that the verdict is atrociously unfair. You took the life of a person and you walk away. You took away his chance to be an adult and you took that away from his parents too."
Those fighting for racial equality and against systemic racism and laws that perpetuate it, like voter suppression, stop-and-frisk, and stand your ground are not going quietly into the night after the verdict.
The NAACP and SEIU have circulated a petition calling for the Justice Department to prosecute Zimmerman on federal civil rights violation charges in Trayvon's death.
On Saturday, vigils will be held at federal court buildings across the country. To find an event near you, or to organize one, click here.
"It's been 50 years since the March on Washington, they sent the affirmative action case back to the lower courts, they knocked down the Voting Rights Act, and now this," said 32BJ member Leroy Abramson. "We've fought too hard for this to be happening now."