Nationwide Protests Follow Zimmerman Verdict
Following a not-guilty verdict in the high-profile Zimmerman trial there were protests across the country and a lot of questions about what will come next for George Zimmerman.
By Amy Pavuk and Kate Santich
As many Americans woke up Sunday to the news that a Seminole County jury found George Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder in Trayvon Martin's death, legal commentators, activists and the public are asking: What's next?
What will George Zimmerman's next steps be? What will Trayvon's family do?
"He is still processing the reality or notion of being a free man," Zimmerman's brother, Robert Zimmerman Jr. told CNN on Saturday. "He has some de-compressing to do, and he has to align himself with himself again as the free George."
Trayvon's father, Tracy Martin, took to Twitter in the moments after the verdict.
"Even though I am broken hearted my faith is unshattered I WILL ALWAYS LOVE MY BABY TRAY," he tweeted.
After deliberating for 15 hours over two days, the six-member Seminole County jury found Zimmerman acted in self-defense when he fatally shot Trayvon on Feb. 26, 2012 in a Sanford gated community.
Their verdict, reached about 10 p.m. Saturday, came after weeks of testimony and evidence presented in the case.
At the Orange County Convention Center, where the NAACP is in the opening weekend of its national convention, reaction to the acquittal of George Zimmerman Sunday morning ranged from outrage and "heartbreak" to fear and acceptance.
"I'm a grandfather of 12, and I'm afraid for them," said Joseph Locust of New York City. "I would say they have to be super careful because of how people see them as a threat -- even if they're just returning from the store with some Skittles. It's sad and disappointing."
Linda Durril of Virginia shared the sentiment. "My son is in his 30s, he has a master's degree and he doesn't wear hoodies," she said. "But if he's in another environment where people don't know his pedigree, what's to keep him from being seen as a criminal? Your pedigree doesn't matter if you're a black man in America."
James Muwakki of Lee County agreed -- and the thought outraged him. "They portrayed him as a criminal, which is the way a lot of America sees blacks anyway." He said. "It's heartbreaking and appalling. It is a bad day for justice in America."
NAACP spokesman Eric Wingerter said the verdict had reverberated throughout the convention, although organizers are trying to address other serious issues this week.
Already, National CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous had launched a petition calling for the U.S. Dept. of Justice to pursue a civil rights case against Zimmerman. In barely 12 hours, the petition has garnered 250,000 signatures, and a similar petition by MoveOn.org has drawn more than 140,000.
In Central Florida communities and online, the focus seems to be shifting to rallies and events in the upcoming days, and an examination of both Florida law, and whether the U.S. Department of Justice should conduct a civil rights investigation.
Supporters of Trayvon rallied at 3 p.m. Sunday outside the Seminole County courthouse.
On NBC's Meet the Press Sunday, the Rev. Al Sharpton questioned Florida's "stand your ground" law, saying he considers it an "atrocity" than an unarmed child could be killed and the shooter successfully claim self-defense.
"Clearly, there are grounds for civil rights charges here," Sharpton said. The verdict, he added, "does not exhaust the legal options of this family."
Sharpton, who, along with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, led thousands in marches and rallies in Sanford following Trayvon's death, said he's heading back to Sanford.
"I will convene an emergency call with preachers tonight to discuss next steps and I intend to head to Florida in the next few days," Sharpton said in a statement late Saturday.
Zimmerman's defense argued he acted in self-defense when he shot 17-year-old Trayvon because the teen punched him in the nose and hammered his head against the sidewalk.
The verdict was a disappointment for Trayvon's parents and their supporters, who have called for Zimmerman to be prosecuted and convicted in the teen's death.
NAACP Florida State Conference President Adora Obi Nweze said "justice did not prevail," in the case.
"Last year we pushed for the arrest of George Zimmerman and a thorough investigation and trial. Today, we are still called to act," she said. "No one should be allowed to use this law to commit a senseless crime again."
Trayvon's family wasn't in the Seminole County courtroom when the verdict was announced, but they took to social media soon after to express their reaction.
Trayvon's mother, Sybrina Fulton, tweeted: "Lord during my darkest hour I lean on you. You are all that I have. At the end of the day, GOD is still in control. Thank you all for your prayers and support. I will love you forever Trayvon!!! In the name of Jesus!!!"
Trayvon's father, Tracy Marin, tweeted seconds after the verdict was read: "God blessed Me & Sybrina with Tray and even in his death I know my baby proud of the FIGHT we along with all of you put up for him GOD BLESS."
Celebrities, civil rights activists and athletes also took to their social media accounts to react to the verdict.
Shaquille O'Neal, who played for the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat among several other teams, tweeted shortly after: "George Zimmerman not guilty can u believe that. Wow."
Jonathan Vilma, a linebacker for the New Orleans Saints who played his college ball at the University of Miami, tweeted: "I get if you're mad about the verdict. I don't get going out and looting/rioting 5min from where you live. Be constructive not destructive."
Zimmerman did not speak after the verdict, and defense attorney Mark O'Mara did not give details as to what's next for his client. O'Mara indicated Zimmerman would be taking a step back from the public spotlight and taking time to relax.
"We are ecstatic with the results," O Mara said after the verdict late Saturday. "George Zimmerman was never guilty of anything except protecting himself in self-defense."
"He spent 16 months of being -- some people called him the most hated man in America -- a man who believes in the system whose dad was a judge...and then he gets prosecutors that charge him with a crime they could never ever prove."
Crowds were peaceful throughout Central Florida Saturday night and at the Capitol building in Tallahassee, where hundreds of mostly young people gathered into the early morning Sunday.
But in other parts of the country, large protests broke out, and some of them, people became destructive.
Several hundred people marched through Oakland, Calif. late Saturday, breaking windows, spray-painting cars and attempting to start fires, according to the Oakland Tribune. In Los Angeles and San Francisco, protests drew hundreds but were peaceful.
(c)2013 The Orlando Sentinel