Less than a week after George Zimmerman’s acquittal July 13 by a Florida jury of murder charges a wide range of emotions surfaced among Americans, especially African Americans, many of whom condemned the release of the admitted killer of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Amid widespread demonstrations in U.S. towns and cities, mostly non-violent protests with a handful of arrests, there was anger and shock that a 29-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer could encounter an unarmed teenager, shoot and kill him and escape criminal conviction.
“I was in disbelief when I read the words not guilty. How can someone not be guilty of killing someone?” said Habibah Hall, a mother of two children, who was at home when she saw the news.
Hall told the AFRO she also believes anger is building and that there may be some kind of violent reaction to this verdict somewhere in the United States of America. Her friend Natasha, who was sitting next to her when the verdict was announced, told the AFRO, “This young man’s life is no longer here because of the act [Zimmerman] committed.” Natasha said she hopes that justice will be served somehow.
Micah Perry, 19-year-old District Heights resident, was in his living room on his laptop waiting for the verdict. Perry was surprisingly not shocked by the outcome. Perry said, “We've devised and revised our legal system to convict the guilty based on irrefutable evidence so that nobody else is incorrectly declared guilty.” Perry’s family was also not surprised by the outcome, due to the lack of evidence that was provided.
Perry does not think anything else should happen with this case. “From the beginning, this was not a matter of what I or anyone else thinks should happen, but a matter of proving Zimmerman's guiltiness,” Perry said. “This was not achieved, and with the evidence at hand, I don't think it will be.”
“We are trying to make sure the standards are fair for everybody,” were the words shouted by Rev. Anthony Evans, president of the National Black Church Initiative during the rally for Trayvon Martin.
Evans and the National Black Church Initiative gathered for prayer and protest in front of the Department of Justice. About 30 people participated in a prayer circle to pray for justice and action against George Zimmerman, who was acquitted of the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Protesters chanted condemnation of the verdict and held signs that read “Justice for Trayvon Martin” with his picture.
“It was debilitating, I’m feeling a little down and it just hurts to hear that not any charges were filed,” said Byron Mitchell, 59, from Northwest D.C.
The NBCI is asking that the Department of Justice and the White House to pursue a civil rights lawsuit against Zimmerman. If action is not taken soon, Evans said the NBCI will urge African-Americans to conduct a total boycott Florida, which includes not traveling to Florida or buying Florida products for the next five years.
“We have a constitutional right not to spend our money in any place that do not respect our humanity,” said Evans. “We want to make them suffer like we are suffering.”
Elsewhere in the nation, the street reaction to the acquittal ranged from orderly to rowdy. Police in Los Angeles declared a gathering in Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard to be an unlawful assembly and 80 demonstrators were arrested.
Later in Los Angeles, police responded to rock and bottle throwing by firing beanbag rounds at rowdy crowds.
A second round of disturbances occurred July 15 after beginning as a peaceful protest in South Los Angeles. Violence occurred when a group of 150 demonstrators splintered away from the main group and engaged in what police called vandalism.
In Oakland, downtown business owners spent Monday cleaning broken glass and debris from unruly demonstrators July 14
A rally in Manhattan’s Times Square July 14 attracted an estimated 1,000 protesters and resulted in about a dozen arrests by New York police for disorderly conduct.
Demonstrations were reported in July 14 in Atlanta, Miami, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and in Baltimore [see related story].
The Department of Justice released a statement July 14 saying that the attorney general, the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office in Florida were all revisiting evidence from both their own investigations and the state trial.
“Experienced federal prosecutors will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation of any of the limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction, and whether federal prosecution is appropriate in accordance with the department’s policy governing successive federal prosecution following a state trial,” said the Department of Justice in a statement.
NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous posted on MoveOn.Org a petition to urge President Barack Obama’s administration to file the civil lawsuit. As of the close of business July 15 more than 325,000 signatures had been recorded.
While protesters wait for a decision on federal litigation, Evans and others believe that prayer and bringing everyone together is the best solution. Protesters want to offer direction and guidance to the young black men in the community.
Concerns were expressed about the safety of the young black men in the U.S. “I explained to my son that there is a world that still exists that will harm him,” said Lenora Robinson, who has a teenage son.
It is, she told her son, “a world that is out to harm him based on the color of his skin, based on the clothes that he wears and based on the way he looks.”