Obama urges calm in Zimmerman case as thousands protest
WASHONGTON / NEW YORK
Obama urged Americans to step back and accept the trial verdict. “We are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken,” Obama said in a statement. AFP PhotoPresident Barack Obama appealed for restraint on July 14 as thousands marched across the country protesting the acquittal of a man who gunned down an unarmed black teenager.
A Florida jury late on July 13 found neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin, after a long and racially-charged trial that transfixed much of the United States for weeks. Zimmerman, 29, was charged with second degree murder, having pursued Martin, 17, through a gated community in the town of Sanford, eventually shooting him during an altercation on the rainy night of Feb. 26, 2012.
Obama urged Americans to step back and accept the trial verdict. “We are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken,” Obama said in a statement. “I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son.” According to Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law, people who fear for their lives can use deadly force to defend themselves without having to flee a confrontation.
Demonstrators rallied noisily, but peacefully, in U.S. cities including New York, San Francisco, Boston and Chicago. Spontaneous marches were also held in Washington, Philadelphia, Atlanta and the Florida state capital Tallahassee. In Los Angeles, police in riot gear deployed along Hollywood Boulevard, but they were not needed as the rally proceeded without incident. But about 150 protesters blocked traffic on a freeway elsewhere in the city, local media reported.
A large demonstration in New York attracted several thousand people, with placards that read, “Jail racist killers, not black youth,” and “We are all Trayvon. The whole damn system is guilty.” One of the marchers in lower Manhattan wore a t-shirt proclaiming: “I’m black. Please don’t shoot?”
Obama tied the killing of the teenager to the problems surrounding gun use in the United States, an issue in which he tried but failed to push through new control measures in the U.S. Congress earlier this year. “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,” Obama said. The president last year spoke emotionally about the case, noting that if he had a son he would “look like Trayvon.”
The Department of Justice said they continued to have an open investigation into the case, following the Florida trial. “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,” it said in a statement. Zimmerman faced a possible life sentence if he had been convicted of second-degree murder. Civil rights activists have been pressuring the Obama administration to bring civil rights charges in federal court.
Zimmerman’s brother said he would remain out of public view for some time, but friends said the former neighborhood watch volunteer had recently spoken about the possibility of entering law school.