NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Strong reaction has erupted in New York and across the country after a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
A six-member, all-woman jury in Sanford, Fla., deliberated for more than 15 hours over two days before reaching their decision. They had been given the chance to convict Zimmerman of manslaughter but did not do so, despite asking for a clarification of the charge earlier in the evening.
After hearing the verdict, Judge Debra Nelson told Zimmerman he was free to go. However on Sunday the U.S. Justice Department did say that it would consider Civil Rights charges against Zimmerman.
As CBS 2’s Tracee Carrasco reported, protest rallies was planned for Sunday in Union Square, among other places, as people from both sides spoke out.
The protest in Union Square started shortly before 6 p.m. Sunday, by 7:30 p.m. that rally had ended but another began around 9 p.m. in Times Square. The Times Square protest caused traffic on 7th Ave to shut down between 42nd and 47th Street, but shortly before 10 p.m. some demonstrators had started making their way towards Harlem, while others began to return to Union Square.
By 11 p.m. the crowd was moving north along Park Ave and had made its way into the area around 79th and Park. By the time the march reached the Upper East Side several protestors had been arrested. At 11:30 p.m. the march was moving north and had made it as high as 107th street near 2nd Ave.
Another protest was also planned for 7 p.m. Monday at Hunts Point Plaza in the Bronx.
People also took to Union Square Saturday night to protest the not guilty verdict, and by Sunday afternoon hundreds had gathered in Newark, NJ to peacefully protest Zimmerman’s acquittal as well, the Associated Press reported.
Organizers say the outdoor protest staged Sunday afternoon drew a diverse crowd unhappy with a Florida jury’s decision to clear the former neighborhood watch volunteer in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Ignoring the sweltering heat and humidity, the marchers chanted “no justice, no peace” and Martin’s name as they made their way toward the federal courthouse.
There was a large police presence at the scene and a stretch of nearby roadway was briefly closed for the event. But officials say there were no reported problems.
Zimmerman and Martin encountered each other in a gated community in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman, suspicious of Martin, called 911.
Moments later, Zimmerman said Martin attacked him, and said he only used his gun to defend himself. The unarmed teen was shot once in the chest and killed.
The fact that Zimmerman was not immediately arrested raised racial tension across the country. It was only after public outcry that Zimmerman was charged.
“We are ecstatic with the results,” said defense attorney Mark O’Mara. “George Zimmerman was never guilty of anything but protecting himself.”
Prosecutors said they did their best.
“I am disappointed, as we are with their verdict, but I accept it,” said prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda.
Meanwhile, despite Zimmerman being cleared of any wrongdoing, the 29-year-old’s family remained fearful.
“Clearly, you know, he’s a free man in the eyes of the court,” said his brother, Robert Zimmerman Jr. “But he’s going to be looking around his shoulder for the rest of his life. There are factions, there are groups, there are people that would want to take the law into their own hands.”
And while disappointed with the verdict, the Martin family asked supporters to keep the peace.
“So we have to have very responsible conversations about how we get better as a country, and move forward from this tragedy, and learn from it,” said Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump.
Last year, Martin’s family held the Million Hoodie March in Union Square. Support for both Zimmerman and Martin is expected to continue in the coming days.
At the Middle Collegiate Church in the East Village, congregants told WCBS 880’s Monica Miller they felt frustration, anger and fear upon hearing the verdict.
The Rev. Jacqui Lewis urged congregants to lift their voices and not their fists.
“It’s OK to mourn,” she said. “Let’s mourn with Trayvon’s parents. Let’s pray with Trayvon’s parents. Let’s also pray for the whole Zimmerman family, because, in fact, their lives are pretty messed up too.”
Lewis told 1010 WINS’ Glenn Schuck the lessons learned from Martin’s death must be to love thy neighbor – or else we’re all doomed.
“I think that means Zimmerman and his people, and those people, are our neighbor, and certainly, Trayvon’s family are our neighbor – and how can we walk more closely together to places of healing and reconciliation?” Lewis said. “It might take us a while to get there, but we’re going to keep on singing and praying.”
Several of the congregants were wearing hoodies, including Bernice Brooks.
“I am dressed in a hoodie for solidarity,” she said.
Cheryl Cochran said while she is angry, violence is not the answer.
“It does not help. It does not aide,” she said.
And Kate Walter, 75, wore a pink hoodie of her own.
“The nation is so divided, and this is another example of it,” she said.
The Rev. Al Sharpton released the following statement in the case: “The acquittal of George Zimmerman is a slap in the face to the American people but it is only the first round in the pursuit of justice. We intend to ask the Department of Justice to move forward as they did in the Rodney King case and we will closely monitor the civil case against Mr. Zimmerman.”
The NAACP also released a statement, reading, “Today, justice failed Trayvon Martin and his family.”
Five major Democratic New York mayoral candidates issued tweets Saturday night and Sunday morning, all of them criticizing the decision.
Candidate and City Council Christine Quinn tweeted, “Today’s acquittal in the Trayvon Martin case is a shocking insult to his family and everyone seeking justice for Trayvon.”
Quinn added in a news release: “Trayvon Martin was an innocent, unarmed young man with a full life ahead of him when he was tragically shot to death last February. Today’s acquittal is a shocking insult to his family and everyone seeking justice for Trayvon.” She also called the “Stand Your Ground” laws that were initially at the center of Zimmerman’s defense “irresponsible and dangerous.”
Candidate Anthony Weiner tweeted: “Keep Trayvon’s family in our prayers. Deeply unsatisfying verdict. Trial by jury is our only choice in a democracy.”
Candidate and city Public Advocate Bill de Blasio tweeted: “Trayvon Martin’s death was a terrible tragedy. This decision is a slap in the face to justice.”
Candidate and City Comptroller John Liu tweeted, “(N)o peace in our hearts. Thoughts and prayers for The Martin Family.”
And candidate and former Comptroller Bill Thompson – the only African-American mayoral candidate – tweeted: “Trayvon Martin was killed because he was black. There was no justice done today in Florida.”
City Councilman Jumaane Williams (D-45th) – co-vice chairman of the council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus – issued a statement calling the shooting that killed Martin an act of racial profiling.
“The murder of Trayvon Martin is but the most recent example of profiling in America, a practice that is discriminatory at its best and deadly at its worst. Our society must be re-examined at every level, from law enforcement to criminal justice to the basic way we relate to each other,” Williams said in the statement. “Laws like ‘Stand Your Ground’ are not only inhuman, they have exacerbated some of these basic problems. Furthermore, they are fueled by a gun culture that is literally killing our children one by one.”
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer also released a statement critical of the verdict.
“I am shocked and saddened to learn of the Trayvon Martin verdict,” he wrote. “A young black man on his way home should have been able to walk the streets safely. Instead, he was cut down by senseless violence. Our hearts and prayers go out to his family.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg did not offer a comment directly on the verdict, but he did say gun laws like those in Florida “inspire dangerous vigilantism and protect those who act recklessly.”
He criticized what he called “shoot first” laws, saying they are drafted by gun lobby extremists and let people “hoot first and argue `justifiable homicide’ later.” The mayor said all the facts in the shooting will “probably never be known” but that he and other civic leaders would continue working to eliminate these kinds of laws.
Bloomberg added further that “the tragic death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed child attempting to walk home from the store, will continue to drive our efforts.”
President Barack Obama also issued a statement that did not directly take a side on the issue, but did call for an end to gun violence.
“The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. 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,” Obama said in the statement. “I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son. 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. We should ask ourselves 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. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin.”
And while Union Square was quiet Sunday morning, there was a chalk message written in the pavement, reading, “Justice for Trayvon.”
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