Thursday, April 24, 2014
By CAROL D. LEONNIG and JENNA JOHNSON The Washington Post
George Zimmerman's acquittal Saturday night on all charges in the killing of a black teenager, Trayvon Martin, sparked deep emotional reactions across the country Sunday, resurrecting an intense national debate about the role of race and racism in American life.
A large crowd marches along Broad Street, in Newark, N.J., Sunday to protest the acquittal in George Zimmerman’s murder trial.
Photos by The Associated Press
Nichole Mitchell wipes away tears during the sermon at a youth service at the St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Sanford, Fla., Sunday. Many in the congregation wore hooded sweat shirts to show support of Trayvon Martin.
President Obama declared Martin's killing an American tragedy but called for calm.
From church pews to street corners to the sprawling social-media universe, Americans expressed outrage, disgust and, in some cases, relief at the verdict. Rallies and vigils were held in Washington, San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles as well as in Sanford, Fla., where the killing and the trial took place. Others were scheduled in Boston, Detroit and Baltimore.
"I grew up in Georgia, and what happened to Trayvon would be the norm for any black man in Georgia," said James Ealey, 73, recalling an earlier, more segregated nation. "That was the way it was. We are going backwards. We are not in a post-racial America just because of Barack Obama," he said after Sunday services at the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington.
The White House issued a statement in which Obama characterized Martin's death as "a tragedy . . . not just for his family . . . but for America." The president acknowledged that "passions may be running ever higher" in the wake of the verdict but urged citizens to remember that a jury had spoken.
"I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son," Obama said. "And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we're doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities . . . if we're doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis . . . that's the way to honor Trayvon Martin."
The verdict did little to close the stark divisions the case opened up among Americans along the jagged fissures of race and personal safety -- starting when Martin was shot about 18 months ago.
Zimmerman's attorney argued throughout the case that race had little bearing on the initial confrontation or the outcome. But the case has played out against a racially charged backdrop since Zimmerman followed the unarmed Martin as he walked through his central Florida neighborhood and later said a confrontation led him to shoot Martin in self-defense.
As one side sees it, a racially biased criminal justice system was slow to charge Zimmerman and quick to believe a white man's version of events. The other side sees in Zimmerman a law-abiding citizen who tried to protect his neighborhood and properly claimed his right to carry a weapon in self-defense.
Protesters across the country decried what they called the injustice of Zimmerman's acquittal. They insisted that something must change in a court system and body of law that would allow an armed and self-appointed neighborhood watchman to pursue a black teenager, based on the suspicion that he was up to no good, and kill him.
A group called the Coalition for Justice for Trayvon hosted a rally Sunday afternoon at the Seminole County courthouse, where a jury acquitted Zimmerman of second-degree murder. In Washington, critics of the verdict were pumping fists and chanting along the U Street corridor early Sunday morning. Among the placards they carried were these two messages: "Stop criminalizing black men" and "Only White Life is Protected in America."
Although some people criticized the verdict, many argued that state investigators should have never prosecuted Zimmerman because there was simply not enough evidence to prove who was the aggressor. Even legal analysts who said they strongly suspected that Martin was an innocent victim agreed that evidence proving so beyond a reasonable doubt -- the standard that must be met for a guilty verdict -- did not exist in this case.
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