Vigils will be held at federal buildings in 100 cities Saturday to urge the Justice Department to step up a civil rights investigation of George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, head of the National Action Network and host of an MSNBC show, announced plans for rallies across the nation on the TODAY show Monday after a night of protest in some of America’s biggest cities.
Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder by a Florida jury. The Justice Department says it has an “open investigation” into what Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday called “the tragic, unnecessary shooting death of Trayvon Martin.”
While some legal experts doubt the feds will ultimately file charges, especially since state prosecutors did not make race an issue during the trial, Sharpton said he believes there are grounds for a hate-crime case.
“I think they were not aggressive in many areas, Sharpton said of the Florida state attorney’s office handling of the Zimmerman case, adding that the feds could bring a sharper focus.
Zimmerman, 29, who is of white and Hispanic descent, said he shot Martin, 17, who was black and unarmed, in self-defense while being attacked Feb. 26, 2012, in a gated community of Sanford, Fla.Sharpton said the neighborhood watch volunteer’s comment to a police dispatcher just before the shooting that “these guys always get away” suggests the feds have room to act.
A six-woman jury acquitted Zimmerman late Saturday after 16.5 hours of deliberations. The jurors have not spoken, although one has signed with a literary agent to write a book about the case.
The agent, Sharlene Martin, said in a statement that the juror – known only as B37 – will explain to readers why the panel “had no option but to find Zimmerman Not Guilty due to the manner in which he was charged and the content of the jury instructions.”
After the verdict, defense lawyer Mark O’Mara said race had not played any role in Zimmerman’s actions that night and said his client had been made a “scapegoat” by civil rights advocates.
“I think that things would have been different if George Zimmerman was black for this reason: he never would have been charged with a crime,” he said.
“The facts that night, [it] was not borne out that he acted in a racial way,” O’Mara added. “His history is a non-racist.”
Speaking at a luncheon in Washington for the predominantly black sorority Delta Sigma Theta, Holder said he is “mindful of the pain felt by our nation surrounding the tragic, unnecessary shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida last year – and we are cognizant of the fact that the state trial reached its conclusion over the weekend.”
“The Deltas are deeply, and rightly, concerned about this case. The Justice Department shares your concern. I share your concern,” he added, noting the open investigation.
In Los Angeles, protesters marched onto Interstate 10 on Sunday, shutting down the freeway for nearly an hour, NBC Los Angeles reported.
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Trayvon Martin supporters rally in Times Square while blocking traffic after marching through the streets.
The LAPD told NBC News that one arrest has been made during a demonstration after protesters threw rocks at police. LAPD commander Andrew Smith said officers fired back bean bags at some protesters.
In New York City, thousands of demonstrators marched from Union Square to the tourist-heavy Times Square Sunday night, slowing and in some cases halting traffic.
WNBC reported the area was gridlocked with people holding signs in support of Martin and calling Zimmerman’s acquittal a failure of the judicial system. Police reported about 10 arrests for disorderly conduct as at 5 a.m. ET, according to WNBC.
“This is a show of strength, but it’s also a show of solidarity with the (Martin) family because last night what happened was complete disrespect to them,” said Imani Henry, an activist with the People’s Power Assembly who had come for the protest in New York City’s Union Square Sunday afternoon. “We want to show love and respect to them.”
Some in the crowd said they were still in shock over the verdict.
“I’ve been speechless all night, I couldn’t sleep,” said Kelly Knight, a Brooklyn resident who came for the protest. “I have a young daughter, and I thought, if it happened to him, it could happen to her,” she said.
Local churches across the country were also organizing rallies and urging supporters to wear hoodies in honor of Martin, who was wearing a black hoodie when Zimmerman shot him in the chest on Feb. 26, 2012. Zimmerman said he shot Martin in self-defense after the teen attacked him.
In Sanford, Fla., where the shooting took place, demonstrators continued to hold rallies well into Sunday evening. Along with expressing solidarity with Martin, many held signs calling for an end to Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows people fearing for their lives to use deadly force if they believe their lives are at risk.
In the Florida state capital of Tallahassee on Sunday, roughly 200 protesters, some wearing hoodies, sang songs of justice and carried signs that said "Racism is Not Dead."
Though expressions of outrage dominated Sunday’s rallies, many religious leaders used morning services to help begin the healing process following the contentious legal battle.
In New York City, Rev. Jacqueline Lewis wore a pink hoodie during Sunday morning services at Middle Collegiate Church.
She told her congregation to conduct themselves in the peaceful way Martin Luther King Jr. would have wanted and prayed for both Martin and Zimmerman.
“We’re going to pray, and we’re also going to continue to organize, which is what we do,” she told reporters before church services.
Though the most vocal showings since the verdict was read have been in support of Martin, others have used social media to stand up for Zimmerman following his acquittal. Facebook pages proclaiming support for him have thousands of “likes.”
On the NBC Nightly News Facebook page, one supporter reacted to the verdict, writing, “The justice system works. Zimmerman should never have been arrested.”
George Zimmerman has sued NBC Universal for defamation. The company strongly denies the allegation.
First published July 15 2013, 12:46 PM