As Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson intervened in civil rights cases in the 1950s and '60s, President Barack Obama should take action in the George Zimmerman case, the Rev. Jesse Jackson says.
"As the heat keeps rising on this crisis, Trayvon is a symbol of a deeper malady," Jackson said Thursday on CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper."
"At some point the president must offer the moral leadership he has to offer," Jackson said. "I think he's been actively involved, and I think the heat will continue to rise."
Jackson, along with the Rev. Al Sharpton and the NAACP, have called on Obama's Justice Department, led by Attorney Gen. Eric Holder, to pursue federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman, who was acquitted of murder in a highly publicized trial in Florida.
Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, claimed self-defense for shooting black teenager Trayvon Martin during a struggle after Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, thought Martin was suspicious as he walked through the neighborhood on a dark, rainy night.
Jackson and other civil rights leaders say the case represents a need for a "serious discussion of race in America" because white people do not understand how young black men are unfairly profiled as criminals. Jackson was critical of the not-guilty verdict because none of the jurors were black or male, making it difficult for them to identify with Martin.
"Those cards were as stacked in 2013 as they were in the case of Emmett Till and Medgar Evers," Jackson said. "I think the jury did not represent peers."
While he backs a Justice Department probe, a civil lawsuit and boycotting of Florida for its "Stand Your Ground" law, Jackson said he wants protesters to remain calm.
"I hope all action remains disciplined, dignified and nonviolent. Because if they ever become violent it shifts the sympathy from Trayvon, who deserved it, to Zimmerman, who does not," he said.
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