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Americas

Grief and protests over Zimmerman acquittal

© AFP

Video by Rochelle FERGUSON

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-07-15

The acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of black teenager Trayvon Martin triggered a tide of grief and outrage in the US over the weekend, with demonstrators taking to the streets in several cities to protest the verdict.

The acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin sparked public outrage across the United States over the weekend, with demonstrators taking to the streets in several cities to protest against the verdict in the racially charged case.

Following Zimmerman’s acquittal, US President Barack Obama urged for calm, reminding the public, “we are a nation of laws and a jury has spoken.” Obama also said the country should seek ways to reduce gun violence.

A jury cleared Zimmerman of all criminal charges late on Saturday relating to the fatal shooting of Martin on the night of February 26, 2012, in the central Florida town of Sanford. Martin, a 17 year-old black male, was unarmed at the time of his death. The jury, which was comprised of six women, took 16 hours over two days to reach the decision to acquit Zimmerman on charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter. If convicted, the defendant could have faced life in prison.

A legal perspective on the Zimmerman case

During the trial, Zimmerman’s lawyers argued he acted in self-defense when Martin allegedly attacked Zimmerman inside a gated community in Sanford. They accuse civil rights advocates of wrongly injecting the issue of race.

“It was such a shame. The whole case nearly destroyed George from day one ... . That they put a racism spin on this prosecution just hurt him very deeply,” said John Donnelly, a close friend of Zimmerman who testified in the trial.

Critics contend Zimmerman, 29, who is white and Hispanic, wrongly suspected Martin of being a criminal because of his race. Zimmerman called police to report a suspicious looking person, then left his car with a fully loaded Kel Tec 9mm pistol concealed in his waistband.

A fight ensued during which Zimmerman suffered a bloody nose and head injuries, before shooting Martin once in the heart.

The teenager had no criminal record and was staying in the neighborhood at the home of his father’s fiancée. He had been walking back from a convenience store where he had bought candy and a soft drink.

Thousands of protesters chanting “No justice, no peace” gathered in New York City on Sunday to protest the acquittal, which prompted rallies across the country.

“I feel if we don’t step it up, we’re in trouble,” said Prince Akeem, 20, of the Bronx. “It’s young blacks being targeted and we have to stand up, stand up to the cops.”

About 1,000 to 2,000 of the demonstrators abandoned the protest site at Union Square to march in the streets toward Times Square, slowing or stopping traffic. Police attempted to funnel the crowd into controlled lanes but were unable to.

Police attempted to halt the march about eight blocks short of Times Square, which was already packed with tourists, but the demonstrators made their way around the officers.

Protests nationwide

Saturday’s not-guilty verdict was decried by civil rights leaders and protests were organised in several cities, including Boston, San Francisco, San Diego and Sacramento.

In Boston, about 500 racially mixed protesters left their demonstration site in the Roxbury neighborhood and started marching in the streets alongside police escorts on motorcycle and on foot. “They’ve been very orderly,” Boston police superintendent William Evans said.

Around Sanford, some residents expressed relief at the verdict, while others said they failed to see how Zimmerman could have been acquitted.

“You said he’s not guilty, but why would you say he’s not guilty?” 28-year-old Robyn Miller said. “It’s crazy.”

Hurt and sad in Sanford

In Sanford at the largely black Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church, pastor Valarie Houston dedicated a Sunday morning prayer service to Martin.

“I am hurt. I am sad. I am disappointed and my heart is overwhelmed with pains,” Houston said. “I thought in my heart that justice would be served.”

Zimmerman, who showed little reaction when the decision was read, was unshackled from a monitoring device he had been wearing while on bail. He previously only left home in a disguise and body armour, his lawyer said.

His brother said he would remain out of public view for some time. Friends said the former neighbourhood watch volunteer had recently spoken about the possibility of entering law school.

The tense drama that climaxed with the verdict had been building for more than a year, since police initially declined to arrest Zimmerman for shooting Martin, whose gray hooded sweatshirt has become a symbol of injustice for protesters.

The acquittal will weaken any wrongful death civil lawsuit that Martin’s family might bring. Zimmerman’s lead defense lawyer, Mark O’Mara, predicted Zimmerman would seek and win immunity from a civil suit.

A Justice Department spokesperson said in a statement on Sunday it would determine whether “the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation of any of the limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction.”

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-07-15

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