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Published: Monday, 3/26/2012

Churches seek justice for slain Florida youth

Like many church leaders and churchgoers Sunday, pastor Jacqueline Lewis, right, of Middle Collegiate Church in New York City wore a hooded sweatshirt out of sympathy for Trayvon Martin. Like many church leaders and churchgoers Sunday, pastor Jacqueline Lewis, right, of Middle Collegiate Church in New York City wore a hooded sweatshirt out of sympathy for Trayvon Martin.

EATONVILLE, Fla. — Wearing hooded sweatshirts similar to the one that Trayvon Martin wore on the night he was killed, many preachers and worshippers across the nation called for justice Sunday in the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager in Florida last month.

Trayvon’s death occurred one month ago Monday.

He was shot while wearing a “hoodie” as he walked home on a rainy night in a gated community.

Calls have grown to arrest George Zimmerman, the 28-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer who shot Trayvon. Mr. Zimmerman had called police to report the hooded figure as suspicious; the 17-year-old Trayvon was carrying a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea, talking to his girlfriend on his cellphone.

In religious centers from Florida to New York to Chicago, messages from pulpits couldn’t help but touch on a seemingly avoidable tragedy that continues to be rife with more questions than answers.

But while the call continued for the arrest of Mr. Zimmerman, there were also pleas to use the incident to spark a larger movement.

“How do we turn pain into power?” the Rev. Jesse Jackson asked a standing-room only congregation of hundreds while preaching at Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in Eatonville, Fla., about 20 miles from the site of the Sanford shooting.

“How do we go from a moment to a movement that curries favor?”

Mr. Jackson preached a sermon entitled “The Substance of Things Hoped For.” He called for Trayvon’s “martyr” death to be used as an opportunity to revive the Civil Rights Commission and draw attention to long-standing issues.

“The blood of the innocent has power,” Mr. Jackson said to shouts of “Amen” and loud clapping.

He invoked the names of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old boy bludgeoned and shot to death in Mississippi in 1955 for supposedly whistling at a white woman, and slain civil rights figures Medgar Evans and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Mr. Jackson made a direct plea to change the “stand your ground” self-defense law that many believe authorities in Florida used to avoid arresting him.

Amid the outcry over the lack of charges against Mr. Zimmerman, the Sanford police chief and state’s attorney in the case have both stepped aside.

The U.S. Justice Department has opened a civil rights probe into the shooting and a grand jury will meet April 10 to consider the case.

Mr. Zimmerman’s attorney has said he believes the case falls under Florida’s stand-your-ground law, which dictates that a person has the right to stand his or her ground and “meet force with force” if attacked.

Attorney Craig Sonner has said Mr. Zimmerman is not a racist.

At Chicago’s St. Sabina Catholic Church, a predominantly black congregation, the Rev. Michael Pfleger wore the hood of his robe over his head while celebrating Mass.

Father Pfleger, who is white, has long spoken out against violence.

During Mass, one congregant held a sign reading, “We are all Trayvon Martin.”

In New York City, Jacqueline Lewis, pastor of Middle Collegiate Church, said the church must assume both a spiritual and political role to end “the epidemic” of racism.

In the nation’s capital, the pastors of Reid Temple AME in Glenn Dale, Md., and Metropolitan AME in Washington, both wore hoodies.

Reid Temple’s pastor, the Rev. Lee P. Washington, put the hoodie on his head and held up a box of Skittles and a can of iced tea before his sermon, “Trusting God When You Don’t Understand,” in which he discussed the Trayvon Martin case.

At Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King, Jr., and his father once preached, dozens of people wore hoodies in Trayvon’s memory.

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