The acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin reverberated from church pulpits to street protests across the country in a renewed debate about race, crime and how the American justice system handled a racially polarising killing of a young black man walking in a quiet neighborhood in Florida.
President Barack Obama, calling Martin’s death a tragedy, urged Americans to respect the rule of law, and the Justice Department said it would review the case to determine whether federal prosecutors will file criminal civil rights charges against Zimmerman.
Lawmakers, members of the clergy and demonstrators who assembled in parks and squares on a hot July day described the verdict by the six-person jury as evidence of a persistent racism that afflicts the nation five years after it elected its first African-American president.
“Trayvon Benjamin Martin is dead because he and other black boys and men like him are seen not as a person but a problem,” the Rev. Dr. Raphael G. Warnock, the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, told a congregation once led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Zimmerman, 29, a neighbourhood watch volunteer, had faced charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter — and the prospect of decades in jail, if convicted — stemming from his fatal shooting of Martin, 17, on the night of February 26, 2012, in Sanford, a modest Central Florida city. Late Saturday, he was acquitted of all charges by the jurors, all of them women and none black, who had deliberated more than 16 hours over two days.