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A civil rights attorney whose clients include Trayvon Martin’s family is running for Congress.
Natalie Jackson announced her campaign for an Orlando-based House seat this week, a year after George Floyd was murdered, and told VICE News that the fight for police reform and civil rights will be at the core of her campaign.
Jackson has worked closely with civil rights super-attorney Ben Crump, who has represented the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many other Black Americans killed by police in recent years. Crump and Philonise Floyd, George’s brother, endorsed Jackson in a short video released Wednesday.
She said she decided to run during a recent conversation with Crump as they worked for the family of Andre Hill, an unarmed, 47-year-old Black man who was killed by a police officer in Columbus, Ohio, responding to a nonemergency call last December. The officer claimed he saw a gun when Hill was just holding a cell phone, had his bodycam off during the encounter, and didn’t provide medical assistance after shooting Hill.
“In that conversation, I was like, ‘Who will it be? If not me, then who?’” she said she told Crump. “You can't change things without political participation.”
The case led Columbus to create criminal penalties for police who don’t activate their body cameras or fail to provide first aid if they injure citizens.
Jackson’s mother is a member of the local NAACP, but she took a long path to activism. Jackson enrolled in the ROTC to pay her way through college and spent nearly a decade as a Naval intelligence officer. She then went to law school, interned for then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and went into private practice.
She first worked with Crump on a 2008 case in which a NASCAR airplane killed two people in a crash. When the family of Martin, an unarmed teenager who was shot and killed without provocation by vigilante George Zimmerman in Florida, hired Crump for the case, he brought in Jackson partly because she’d grown up in the family’s hometown of Sanford, just outside Orlando.
That case was formative. She called Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict “devastating” and realized she’d been naive about racial issues.
“That changed the trajectory of my career,” she said. “Trayvon Martin was my awakening. Since that time, I’ve realized we need to come together as a people to fight the power brokers of the United States who broker in division, and separation, and keeping us separate and keeping us at an economic disadvantage.”
It’s unclear how much of a chance Jackson will have in the race.
Jackson said she was just beginning to build out a campaign operation and hire staff and advisers. And while she’s had informal conversations with a handful of lawmakers involved in police reform, she said she plans to get more information at a Congressional Black Caucus candidate boot camp in July.
“This is pretty much a grassroots campaign,” she said.
She’ll have competition: Florida state Sen. Randolph Bracy is already running, and former Florida State Attorney Aramis Ayala is expected to run for the seat as well.
And Jackson’s career isn’t spotless. In 2016, she was briefly suspended from the Florida bar after an audit revealed bookkeeping issues. She said she takes “full responsibility” for the “accounting mishap” and got behind on bookkeeping during and after Martin’s case because she was spending so much time on the road.
It’s also unclear exactly where Jackson will run. Rep. Val Demings is running for Senate, leaving an open seat, and has represented a solidly Democratic, minority-majority district. But Florida, like all states, has to redraw its congressional maps before the next election, and won’t finalize those lines for months.
But Jackson is well-known locally, with a record of fighting for Black families. She’s been involved in numerous other Florida cases with people who faced housing discrimination, believed they were racially profiled at stores, or were injured or killed by police. That includes two cases she’s partnered with Crump on: filing a lawsuit for Terre Johnson, a homeless Black man injured in an altercation with an Orlando officer, and the families of A.J. Crooms and Sincere Pierce, two Black teenagers who were killed by police during a stolen-car investigation.
With racial justice at the forefront of activists’ minds, her campaign will be one to watch.