George Zimmerman’s acquittal verdict in the death of Trayvon Martin echoed from church pulpits to street rallies all over the country on Sunday. It has paved the way into a renewed debate on race and crime. Moreover, it has opened a new chapter on how the American justice system has handled killing of a young black man in a quiet neighborhood in Florida. The case had enough racially polarizing effects and most people have taken the verdict as an example of racial injustice in modern America.
Lawmakers, the clergy members and demonstrators who gathered in squares and parks on a hot July summer day pinpointed to the fact that the verdict given by the six-person jury as an evidence of a persistent racism in a nation that had elected an African-American president five years ago.
Mr. Zimmerman is 29 and he is a neighborhood watch volunteer. He had faced the charges of a second-degree murder and manslaughter arising due to the fatal shooting of Mr. Martin, 17, on the night of Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford. Many believed that he would be brought to justice and offered decades in jail. On Saturday evening, he was acquitted of all charges. All jurors who offered the verdict were women and there was no black one.
President Obama has called Mr. Martin’s death a real tragedy as he urged all Americans on Sunday to respect the rule of law. The Justice Department has however said that it would review the verdict and the case to see if a federal prosecution should be considered.
With the falling dusk, the modest rally that originated hours earlier in Union Square of the New York City attained a shape of a crowd of thousands. The rally snaked through Midtown Manhattan toward Times Square. Onlookers started snapping pictures of the protesters and the following escort by several police cars and palpable number of officers on foot. Hundreds of bystanders who saw the protest pass by them joined the demonstration all by their will. The rally had brought traffic to a standstill.
In Sanford, the Rev. Valarie J. Houston started chanting shouts of support and outrage at Allen Chapel A.M.E. She denounced it as “the racism and the injustice that pollute the air in America.” “Lord, I thank you for sending Trayvon to reveal the injustices, God, that live in Sanford,” she said.
Mr. Zimmerman and his allies have dismissed race being a factor in the death of Mr. Martin. The defense team has argued that Mr. Zimmerman was incited to shoot and that he had acted in self-defense. They said that the 17-year-old had slammed Mr. Zimmerman’s head on a sidewalk. Florida law has given explicit rights to civilians which include the power to take aggressive steps to protect and defend themselves if they are in a situation which may risk their lives.
Robert, Zimmerman’s brother told National Public Radio that race was never considered as a factor in the case. He said, “I never have a moment where I think that my brother may have been wrong to shoot. He used the sidewalk against my brother’s head.”
Meanwhile the president, who had said shortly after Mr. Martin was killed that if he had a son, “he’d look like Trayvon,” urged the nation to accept the verdict. “The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy,” Mr. Obama said in a statement. ”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.”
Many analysts have spoken about gun control and “shoot first” laws of Florida. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, the country’s leading advocate of gun control, said the death of Mr. Martin would continue to drive his efforts. “Sadly, all the facts in this tragic case will probably never be known,” he said. “But one fact has long been crystal clear: ‘Shoot first’ laws like those in Florida can inspire dangerous vigilantism and protect those who act recklessly with guns.”
The most important fact, apart from protests, debates and verdicts, is that Martin will never come back to this earth to offer his conclusions about the shooting.