The acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin reverberated from church pulpits to street protests across the country on Sunday in a renewed debate about race, crime and how the American justice system handled a racially polarizing killing of a young black man walking in a quiet neighborhood in Florida.
Lawmakers, members of the clergy and demonstrators who assembled in parks and squares on a hot July day described the verdict by the six-person jury as evidence of a persistent racism that afflicts the nation five years after it elected its first African-American president.
“Trayvon Benjamin Martin is dead because he and other black boys and men like him are seen not as a person but a problem,” the Rev. Dr. Raphael G. Warnock, the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, told a congregation once led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.Dr. Warnock noted that the verdict came less than a month after the Supreme Court voted 5 to 4 to void a provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“The last few weeks have been pivotal to the consciousness of black America,” he said in an interview after services. “Black men have been stigmatized.
”Mr. Zimmerman, 29, a neighborhood watch volunteer, had faced charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter — and the prospect of decades in jail, if convicted — stemming from his fatal shooting of Mr. Martin, 17, on the night of Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford, a modest Central Florida city. Late Saturday, he was acquitted of all charges by the jurors, all of them women and none black, who had deliberated more than 16 hours over two days.
President Obama, calling Mr. Martin’s death a tragedy, urged Americans on Sunday to respect the rule of law, and the Justice Department said it would review the case to determine if it should consider a federal prosecution.
As dusk fell in New York, a modest rally that had begun hours earlier in Union Square grew to a crowd of thousands that snaked through Midtown Manhattan toward Times Square in an unplanned parade. Onlookers used cellphones to snap pictures of the chanting protesters and their escort by dozens of police cars and scores of officers on foot.
Hundreds of bystanders left the sidewalks to join the peaceful demonstration, which brought traffic to a standstill.
In Sanford, the Rev. Valarie J. Houston drew shouts of support and outrage at Allen Chapel A.M.E. as she denounced “the racism and the injustice that pollute the air in America.”“Lord, I thank you for sending Trayvon to reveal the injustices, God, that live in Sanford,” she said.
Mr. Zimmerman and his supporters dismissed race as a factor in the death of Mr. Martin. The defense team argued that Mr. Zimmerman had acted in self-defense as the 17-year-old slammed Mr. Zimmerman’s head on a sidewalk. Florida law explicitly gives civilians the power to take extraordinary steps to defend themselves when they feel that their lives are in danger.
Mr. Zimmerman’s brother, Robert, told National Public Radio that race was not a factor in the case, adding: “I never have a moment where I think that my brother may have been wrong to shoot. He used the sidewalk against my brother’s head.”Mr. Obama, who had said shortly after Mr. Martin was killed that if he had a son, “he’d look like Trayvon,” urged the nation to accept the verdict.
“The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy,” Mr. Obama said in a statement. ”Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America. I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken.
”Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, one of the country’s leading advocates of gun control, said the death of Mr. Martin would continue to drive his efforts.
“Sadly, all the facts in this tragic case will probably never be known,” he said. “But one fact has long been crystal clear: ‘Shoot first’ laws like those in Florida can inspire dangerous vigilantism.
Many blacks, and some whites, questioned whether Mr. Zimmerman, who is part Hispanic, would have been acquitted if he were black and Mr. Martin were white.
“He would have been in jail already,” Leona Ellzy, 18, said as she visited a monument to Mr. Martin in Sanford. “The black man would have been in prison for killing a white child.”
Jeff Fard, a community organizer in a black neighborhood in Denver, said Mr. Martin would be alive today if he were not black. “If the roles were reversed, Trayvon would have been instantly arrested and, by now, convicted,” he said. “Those are realities that we have to accept.”
But even race’s role in the case became a matter of a debate. One of Mr. Zimmerman’s lawyers, Mark O’Mara, said he also thought the outcome would have been different if his client were black — but for reasons entirely different from those suggested by people like Mr. Fard.
“He never would have been charged with a crime,” Mr. O’Mara said.“This became a focus for a civil rights event, which again is a wonderful event to have,” he said. “But they decided that George Zimmerman would be the person who they were to blame and sort of use as the creation of a civil rights violation, none of which was borne out by the facts. The facts that night were not borne out that he acted in a racial way.”
A number of churches nationwide declared today ‘Hoodie Sunday’ in honor of Trayvon Martin. Reverend Tony Lee of the Community of Hope A.M.E. Church in Temple Hills, Maryland delivered his sermon in a hooded sweatshirt. While the six women of the jury in Florida said George Zimmerman was acting in self-defense when he shot Martin, many in Lee’s congregation are not convinced. There is outrage and disappointment among many members of the black community.
Civil unrest followed the acquittal of George Zimmerman in California, with demonstrators smashing windows, attacking police cars, overturning dumpsters and setting fires in downtown Oakland.
One police car was daubed with the words “Kill Pigz” as American flags were torched. “Kill Zimmerman” was also scrawled on the Alameda County Court.
Following a wave of threats to riot in major cities if Zimmerman was cleared of all charges, trouble flared up almost immediately after the verdict was announced late last night.
Unrest appears to be confined to Oakland for the time being, with more peaceful protests taking place in San Francisco, Washington, DC, New York and Chicago.
Twitter messages threatening to violently kill George Zimmerman continue to flood the social network.
A Zion, Illinois teen known was slapped with felony charges after allegedly saying he’d ’cause a mass homicide’ at his high school should George Zimmerman be acquitted.
After jurors in Sanford, Fla., said Zimmerman was not guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, black football player Victor Cruz said Zimmerman wouldn’t last a year on the streets.
The Giants star tweeted: “Thoroughly confused. Zimmerman doesn’t last a year before the hood catches up to him.”Cruz deleted the controversial tweet before apologizing in the afternoon.
Beyonce called for a moment of silence for Trayvon Martin during a concert just hours after George Zimmerman was found not guilty by a Florida jury.
The pop star took a moment to honor the teen during her concert Saturday night at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. – NYT/NYP/Prison Planet