The Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant, pastor of a Baltimore mega-church, stood on stage with Trayvon Martin’s family, attorneys and Al Sharpton on Tuesday evening in a nationally televised news conference after a Florida special prosecutor announced that George Zimmerman would be charged with second-degree murder in the teen’s death.
“This is not a night of victory — this is a night of transition,” he said. “Years from this moment, historians will have to write a new chapter. This is not a moment, but the beginning of a movement. People across America found their confidence raised — that the justice system in America really does work.”
Bryant was in Florida advocating for charges against Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, before the case received mainstream media attention. The death of the unarmed 17-year-old African-American in Sanford, Fla., on Feb. 26 while walking through a gated community has led to numerous rallies in Baltimore and nationwide. Many protesters have donned hoodies in solidarity; Martin was wearing a hoodie when he was killed.
Bryant’s comments, not unlike a passionate sermon, generated a standing ovation from the crowd Tuesday.
“Many said we were rabble-rousers and outside agitators,” Bryant said. “We are here because injustice is here. We are going to stay on this case until all of the Trayvon Martins across America have their place in the halls of justice.”
He added, “The road to freedom is never a walk in the park. We are just at the 50-yard line,” he said. “In order to build a Toyota Corolla it takes five hours. A Rolls-Royce takes five months. We want to ride to justice, and that’s not going to happen overnight.”
Bryant led a “Hoodie Sunday” service at the Empowerment Temple in Northwest Baltimore in March. Wearing a hoodie that said “No justice no peace,” he delivered a sermon to about 2,000 people. Over the years, Bryant has been an outspoken leader in what he believes is a new civil rights movement, one that emphasizes the health and safety of black children.
On Tuesday, Bryant also said that signing petitions and protesting wasn’t enough.
“It’s critical that we engage the political process to the fullest. … We want 1 million registrants going to the polls on Nov. 6 so what happened will not replicate itself,” he said. “We owe it to Florida for introducing a principle we had never heard of — stand your ground. We must stand our ground.”
Bryant was referring to Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which allows violence in self-defense.