ORLANDO, Fla. — As news of George Zimmerman’s acquittal spread through the media and cyberspace Sunday, it became clear that the trial may be over, but the hurt feelings — and the debate — linger on both sides.
In parks, church pews and diners across the country, people reflected on the decision reached by six women over 15 hours of deliberations: Zimmerman acted in self-defense when he fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26, 2012, in a Sanford, Fla., gated community.
At the Orange County Convention Center, where the NAACP is in the opening weekend of its national convention, reaction to the verdict Sunday ranged from outrage and “heartbreak” to fear and acceptance.
“I’m a grandfather of 12, and I’m afraid for them,” said Joseph Locust of New York City. “I would say they have to be super careful because of how people see them as a threat — even if they’re just returning from the store with some Skittles. It’s sad and disappointing.”
Meanwhile, Zimmerman’s older brother appeared in the media as the family representative and repeatedly addressed the question: What will the former Neighborhood Watch volunteer’s next steps be?
In an interview on Fox News Sunday, Robert Zimmerman Jr. said it’s too soon to know what life will be like for his brother now.
“I don’t even know that he would really know how to answer that yet,” Robert Zimmerman Jr. said. “You have to remember this is the first sunrise, in essence, of the first day of him living his life as a free and exonerated man. You know, so he’s going to have to learn how to move about society, how to meaningfully engage people socially.”
There were still plenty of people lamenting that freedom Sunday.
New Jersey resident Tony Phillips started his vacation early so he could be at the Seminole County courthouse for the reading of the verdict. He was so disheartened by the outcome that he connected with others on social media to find out where he could demonstrate his outrage peaceably.
So he came back to the courthouse Sunday afternoon, carrying a sign spray-painted black with a stencil of a hoodie and the now-ubiquitous refrain “Justice for Trayvon.”
“I was hoping for at least manslaughter because a life was lost,” Phillips, 55, said. He was joined by about a dozen demonstrators, brought together by the grass-roots group the Coalition for Justice for Trayvon.
A similar protest at Fort Mellon Park in Sanford continued into the evening with about 50 people present. It included a visit by Sanford police Chief Cecil Smith, who said all was quiet Sunday in the city.
“Everything has been peaceful and respectful, people are really looking out for one another,” said Smith.
In Central Florida communities and online, the focus seemed to be shifting to rallies and events in the upcoming days, and an examination of both Florida law and whether the U.S. Department of Justice should conduct a civil rights investigation.
The Sanford Pastors Connection group has announced it will hold a public community prayer service Monday afternoon at New Life Word Church to encourage peace and unity, a city spokeswoman said. Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett, City Manager Norton Bonaparte and Police Chief Cecil Smith are scheduled to attend.
Another group has called for a statewide day of action in Florida for Martin. Dream Defenders said it would demonstrate outside the Capitol building and other locations Tuesday in response to the Zimmerman verdict and other civil rights issues.
And on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, the Rev. Al Sharpton questioned Florida’s “stand your ground” law, saying he considers it an “atrocity” that an unarmed child could be killed and the shooter successfully claim self-defense.
Sharpton, who, along with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, led thousands in marches and rallies in Sanford following Martin’s death, said he’s heading back to Sanford.
“I will convene an emergency call with preachers tonight to discuss (the) next steps, and I intend to head to Florida in the next few days,” Sharpton said in a statement late Saturday.
In another show of support for Martin and disappointment in the verdict, nearly 450,000 people had signed an online petition by late Sunday calling for the U.S. Department of Justice to launch a civil rights investigation. MoveOn.org partnered with the NAACP and urged people to sign on its site as well.
The petition, created by NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous, and addressed to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, calls for the Justice Department to file “civil rights charges against Mr. Zimmerman for this egregious violation.”
On Sunday afternoon, a Justice Department spokesperson released a statement, which read, in part:
“As the Department first acknowledged last year, we have an open investigation into the death of Trayvon Martin … Experienced federal prosecutors will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation of any of the limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction, and whether federal prosecution is appropriate in accordance with the Department’s policy governing successive federal prosecution following a state trial.”
In the NAACP petition, Jealous asserted: “The most fundamental of civil rights — the right to life — was violated the night George Zimmerman stalked and then took the life of Trayvon Martin …”
Distributed by MCT Information Services