On Sunday, Benjamin Jealous announced that he was planning to step down as president and CEO of the NAACP.
As a reason he cited the need to spend more time with his family, which may be true, but the Columbia-educated Rhodes scholar may also have grown queasy about the role he played in the persecution of George Zimmerman. For that matter, the NAACP may have been dismayed by his lack of results in that same affair.
Jealous was at a conference in Geneva, Switzerland, when the shooting death of Trayvon Martin burst into the news in March 2012. By the time, Jealous made his way to Sanford, Fla., Al Sharpton already owned the case, and Jesse Jackson was angling for his own share.
On March 20, more than three weeks after the shooting, Jealous finally brought the power of the NAACP’s well-known national brand to bear on the citizens of Sanford and their hapless flak catcher of a mayor, Jeff Triplett.
In a profoundly rigged “town hall” meeting, Jealous made three “demands” of the mayor, the first two of which were specific to Martin’s death.
One was that the killer “be brought to justice.” Jealous had a specific notion as to what form that justice should take. “He needs to be locked up,” said Jealous of Zimmerman, “and he needs to be charged with murder.”
The second of the two demands, which logically should have been the first, was that the investigation “start at the very bottom.”
Jealous made his case for Zimmerman’s guilt during an extensive interview on the Internet TV show “Democracy Now.” Like the show’s hosts, Jealous casually asserted as fact the many fictions that sustained the Trayvon narrative.
In demanding the removal of the police chief, Jealous described a police department straight out of “In the Heat of the Night.” As Jealous recounted events, the officers were called to a scene “where a man has killed a boy.”
Once there, they made “no attempt” to check the hands of shooter, test the clothing for DNA evidence, or to “otherwise gather evidence from that scene.” This was all nonsense.
Worse, said Jealous, no one attempted to contact Martin’s parents. Among his many other falsehoods, he let stand the widely held belief that Martin’s body went unclaimed for days.
Jealous had to know better. He had spent the last few days in Sanford and spoken at length with the mayor. The cynic is tempted to say, “Follow the money.” No doubt NAACP fundraisers would attempt to exploit Martin’s death. The more racist they could make the system appear, the more profitable the appeal for a remedy.
For Jealous, though, one suspects a personal crusade. Like George Zimmerman, Jealous’ father is white. Jealous was born in 1973, years after the last productive civil rights march, and raised in the leafy confines of suburban California.
To preserve his own shaky hold on authenticity, he dared not undermine the grievance narrative embraced by Sharpton and Jackson. If anything, he had to reinforce that narrative.
One subtle way he did so on the “Democracy Now” show was to overlook Zimmerman’s ethnicity. The hosts did the same. Although Zimmerman has the same claim to the label “Hispanic” as Jealous does to “black,” the audience was left thinking that “Zimmerman” had to be white.
Needless to say, Jealous made no reference to Zimmerman’s work with the local NAACP on the case of a black homeless man who had beaten by the son of a cop. If he were to secure the NAACP president’s rightful place at the head of the march with Sharpton and Jackson, he could be no less bold in his bluster.
In watching the video of these events, however, one senses an unease on Jealous’ part in having to do and say the things he was doing and saying. On Saturday, March 31, he and Al Sharpton led thousands through the streets of Sanford in a media-stoked state of outrage. Sharpton seemed to be enjoying himself much more than Jealous.
The not-guilty verdict came down when the national NAACP was meeting in nearby Orlando. It had to have been an embarrassment.
Although admittedly “outraged and heartbroken” by the verdict, Jealous proved to be more prudent in his response than Sharpton or Jackson.
Still, as egged on by CNN’s Candy Crowley, Jealous boasted that the NAACP was in talks with the Justice Department about filing civil rights charges against Zimmerman.
“When you look at comments made by young black men who lived in that neighborhood about how they felt, especially targeted by him,” said Jealous of some hitherto unknown young black men, “there is reason to be concerned that race was a factor in why he targeted young Trayvon.”
Jealous’ talks with the Justice Department have gone nowhere. The only one going anywhere apparently is Ben Jealous.