EATONVILLE, Fla. -- Preaching before an estimated 1,600 people Sunday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said the death of Trayvon Martin could be a tragic moment or the beginning of a movement.
"How do we go from a moment to a movement that creates fundamental change?" Jackson told the capacity crowd at the Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in Eatonville, Fla. "If it's a moment, we go home. If it's a movement, we go to war."
He characterized Martin's death as a transformative event reminiscent of the killings of Emmett Till in 1955, Mississippi civil rights activist Medgar Evers in 1963 and Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.
But Jackson was concerned that the hooded sweat shirt has come to symbolize Martin when Martin should instead be a symbol of racial injustice and civil rights. The unarmed teenager was shot to death last month in Sanford, Fla., by a Neighborhood Watch captain who thought he looked suspicious.
"The danger of focusing on the hoodie is that he wasn't killed because of the hoodie. He was killed because he was black," Jackson said. "The issue is not the hoodie -- it's race, registration and civil rights."
Demonstrators have started wearing hooded sweat shirts such as the one Martin had on when he was killed in Sanford on Feb. 26.
The Rev. Raphael G. Warnock announced he would wear a hoodie for today's service at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
"We are doing this not for show, but to send a message that all humanity is sacred. And by saying all, we are including African-American boys and girls, and men and women who reserve the right to wear a hoodie in the rain and not be racially profiled and killed because bigots think that their appearance is suspicious, or threatening," Warnock said in a statement posted on Ebenezer's website.
Jackson said he would like to see the black population turn its anger over the death of Trayvon Martin into an energy directed at voter registration, economic inequity and other issues of discrimination and racial injustice.
"I would hope that movement would turn into Trayvon Martin voter-registration rallies," Jackson said at a press conference following the Sunday service.
Jackson is in Orlando, Fla., to attend the special Seminole County Commission meeting on the Martin shooting at 5 p.m. Monday in the Sanford Civic Center. Expecting an overflow crowd, loudspeakers will be set up outside the Civil Center. Martin's parents and the Rev. Al Sharpton also are expected at the meeting.
Trayvon, who resided with his mother in the South Florida community of Miami Gardens, was walking from a convenience store to the home of his father's girlfriend in The Retreat at Twin Lakes, a private, gated community in Sanford. He was visiting his father.
George Zimmerman, a volunteer Neighborhood Watch captain in the community, told police he shot the teen in self-defense.
Jackson, who marched with King in the 1960s, said the hood was first used by the Ku Klux Klan to shield their identities while committing violence against blacks.
"Whether you are wearing a hood or a sheet, nobody has the right to kill anybody," Jackson said.
The civil rights leader extended his plea to end the violence beyond whites killing blacks, but also blacks killings whites and blacks killing blacks.
"Stop the violence. Save the children," Jackson said, leading the congregation in a chant.
Jackson said Martin's death was not so unusual, but what made it so exceptional is Martin himself. The 17-year-old did not have a history of drugs, violence or delinquency. He has the appeal of innocence and the power of a martyr, Jackson said.
"Martyrs have power," Jackson said. "He represents all of us."
Macedonia's pastor, the Rev. Willie Barnes, reiterated Jackson's call to action that goes beyond Martin to all areas of racial injustice in Central Florida.
"There is power in the innocent blood of Trayvon Martin," Barnes said. "We are refreshed with this injustice."
(c)2012 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)
Visit The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) at www.OrlandoSentinel.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services