Nightly News   |  July 15, 2013

Conversations about race take center stage after Zimmerman’s acquittal

In the wake of the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, NAACP president Ben Jealous said his organization’s website has been flooded with petitioners urging federal intervention. An all-woman jury acquitted Zimmerman, who said he killed teenager Trayvon Martin in self-defense. NBC’s Ron Mott reports

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>>> good evening. the verdict came over the weekend and the family of trayvon martin immediately called for peace and calm in his name. both sides in this case have, in fact, along with public officials from coast to coast . and while there is anger and while there have been outbursts, the talk continues about all the issues central to the case, and that includes race. but after a long and public trial , a jury has pronounced george zimmerman not guilty, and now, the legal conversation and that public conversation still go on. it's where we begin tonight with nbc's ron mott, who covered the trial in sanford , florida, from start to finish. ron , good evening.

>> reporter: brian, good evening to you. this verdict landed with a thud in many parts of the country, spawning those demonstrations we have seen since saturday night and tonight, opinions are split about whether justice was done. though race rarely surfaced in george zimmerman 's five-week prosecution, suddenly, issues of race are front and center after saturday's acquittal.

>> it could happen to anybody's son and we need to stand up to young black males .

>> reporter: marches starting over the weekend, many modest in size and mostly peaceful, meander from new york to chicago to los angeles , where notoriously clogged traffic briefly came to a halt on the i- 10 freeway . in sanford , they prayed for continued calm.

>> we, the jury, find george zimmerman , not guilty.

>> reporter: all-woman jury verdict acquitted the 29-year-old zimmerman , who says he killed marten in self-defense after being attacked.

>> obviously, we are ecstatic with the results, george zimmerman was never guilty of anything except protecting himself in self-defense. i'm glad that the jury saw it that way and i hope that everyone who thinks, particularly those who doubted george 's reasons and doubted his background, now understands the jury knew everything that they knew was enough for them to find him not guilty.

>> reporter: prosecutors have faced public criticism about their performance, yet legal experts say it was a tough case to win.

>> i think the jury followed the law that they were instructed to follow and given the way that the evidence went in from the prosecution and the defense essentially arguing the same thing that there was a lot of doubt in this case about what happened, that there was no clear version of events given to them, where george zimmerman was not acting in self-defense, this was the only conclusion they could reach.

>> reporter: naacp president ben jealous , whose organization's website was flooded with petitioners urging federal intervention , said the zimmerman case marks a call to action .

>> we are continuing to do what we have always done, to keep faith in our justice system . but part of keeping the faith in our justice system is being able to access the full extent of our justice system and that's what the people of this country are crying for.

>> reporter: sunday, president obama weighed in writing "i know this case has eliciteded 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." this afternoon, attorney general eric holder promised to keep looking into martin's killing.

>> the justice department shares your concerns. i share your concerns.

>> reporter: tonight, george zimmerman is said to be in hiding, according to attorney mark o'mara. meantime you can as for trayvon martin's parents, other than a tweet or two since the verdict, they have been largely out of public view. brian?

>> ron mott in sanford , florida, starting us off tonight.