NEW YORK — With chants and prayers, sermons and signs, outrage over a jury’s decision to clear George Zimmerman in the shooting of an unarmed black teenager poured from street protests and church pulpits Sunday amid calls for federal civil rights charges to be filed in the case.
Demonstrations large and small broke out across the country — ranging from a few dozen to more than a thousand — in support of the family of Trayvon Martin as protesters decried the not guilty verdict as a miscarriage of justice.
The NAACP and protesters called for federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman, who was acquitted Saturday in Martin’s February 2012 shooting death, which unleashed a national debate over racial profiling, self-defense and equal justice.
The Justice Department said it is looking into the case to determine whether federal prosecutors should file criminal civil rights charges now that Zimmerman has been acquitted in the state case. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama and religious and civil rights leaders urged calm in hopes of ensuring peaceful demonstrations in the wake of a case that became an emotional flash point.
In Las Vegas, people came out to show their support for Trayvon Martin on Sunday night as 200 marchers rallied peacefully downtown. Passing cars honked in support of the march, and several others recorded it from the street.
Parents held their children’s hands and some even pushed their kids in strollers during the 30-minute rally that went down Bonanza Road to Bridger Avenue and back.
“I have a 15-year-old, and this really hits home,” marcher Brandy Douglas said.
Protesters held up signs reading “Long live the spirit of Trayvon Martin,” and “This is beyond black and white. Please stand up 4 what’s right.”
“I have three young sons. I worry about my sons safety everyday,” said one marcher who declined to be identified. “George Zimmerman needs to pay for his crime.”
In New York City, protesters marched into Times Square on Sunday night, zigzagging through Manhattan’s streets to avoid police lines. Sign-carrying marchers thronged the busy intersection. They made their way from Union Square, blocking traffic for more than an hour before moving on.
In San Francisco and Los Angeles — where an earlier protest was dispersed with beanbag rounds and one man was arrested — police closed streets as protesters marched.
Rand Powdrill, 41, of San Leandro said he came to the San Francisco march with about 400 others to “protest the execution of an innocent black teenager.”
“If our voices can’t be heard, then this is just going to keep going on,” he said.
Earlier, at Manhattan’s Middle Collegiate Church, many congregants wore hooded sweatshirts in a show of solidarity with Martin. Hoodie-clad Jessica Nacinovich said she could only feel disappointment and sadness over the verdict.
“I’m sure jurors did what they felt was right in accordance with the law, but maybe the law is wrong, maybe society is wrong; there’s a lot that needs fixing,” she said.
At a youth service in Sanford, Fla., teens wearing shirts displaying Martin’s picture wiped away tears during a sermon at the St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church.
About 200 people turned out for a rally and march in downtown Chicago, saying the verdict was symbolic of lingering racism in the United States. Maya Miller, 73, said the case reminded her of the 1955 slaying of Emmitt Till, a 14-year-old from Chicago who was murdered by a group of white men while visiting Mississippi. Till’s killing galvanized the civil rights movement.
“Fifty-eight years and nothing’s changed,” Miller said, pausing to join a chant to “Justice for Trayvon, not one more.”
Protesters also gathered in Miami, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and other cities.
In Miami, more than 200 people gathered for a vigil. “You can’t justify murder,” read one poster. Another read “Don’t worry about more riots. Worry about more Zimmermans.”
Carol Reitner, 76, of Miami, said she heard about the vigil through an announcement at her church Sunday morning.
“I was really devastated. It’s really hard to believe that someone can take the life of someone else and walk out of court free,” she said.
Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Steven Slivka contributed to this report.
reid accepts verdict, but disagrees with it
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said on “Meet the Press” Sunday that he accepted the Florida jury’s verdict Saturday acquitting neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in the shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin, though he indicated he disagreed with it.
“I don’t always agree with what the jury does, but that’s the system and I support this system,” Reid said. “I may feel differently but I wasn’t sitting as a juror, a prosecutor, a defense attorney. I’ll accept the verdict.”
Reid called on Florida to re-examine its “stand your ground” gun law, and said he thought the government may review the case.
“I think the Justice Department is going to take a look at this,” Reid said. “This isn’t over with, and I think that’s good. That’s our system. It’s gotten better, not worse.”
Stephens Washington Bureau