The world was stunned last Saturday when jurors in the George Zimmerman murder trial returned with a verdict after only 16 hours of deliberation.
Zimmerman was found not guilty in the murder of unarmed Trayvon Martin, 17, who he profiled, shot and killed.
Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense and Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law supposedly justified the shooting of the teenager.
But the response has been a public outcry against America’s justice system, and prominent leaders and civil rights organizations are taking a stand, while street protests have occurred in cities across the country.
As the verdict was announced, the NAACP was holding its annual convention in Orlando, Florida. Attorney General Eric Holder spoke at the convention, retelling how his father had to sit down with him and tell him how to interact with the police as a young Black man.
He spoke of his own experiences of being racially profiled while attending Georgetown University and running to catch a movie.
Attorney General Holder, reflecting on the election of the nation’s first Black president, said, “For all the progress that we’ve seen, recent events demonstrate that we still have much more work to do and much further to go.”
He further confirmed that the Department of Justice would complete a thorough investigation.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee released a statement: “…Trayvon’s tragic murder ignited passion and indignation among our nation’s young people as they peacefully marched, rallied, and engaged in social media movements.
“We must carry this peaceful momentum forward as we fight against inequality and unjust laws across the country…”
However, people around the nation want their voices to be heard now. Protesters have gathered nightly demanding justice for Trayvon Martin in many cities including San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, New York, Houston and Orlando.
More than 300 hundred people rallied in front of Oakland’s federal building last Saturday demanding the federal government to press civil charges against George Zimmerman.
Justin Jones, a student organizer of The National Action Network – Rev. Al Sharpton’s organization, and rally organizer, said at first he was denied demonstration permits to organize a peaceful protest in Oakland in response to the Zimmerman verdict.
“OPD told us we could not apply for a permit and if we demonstrated, it would be deemed an unlawful protest,” Jones said.
Conversations and debates on social media sites are engaging young people and begging government officials to take a stand.
NAACP President Ben Jealous announced last Tuesday that one million people had signed a petition asking the Department of Justice to pursue federal and civil charges against Zimmerman for murdering Trayvon.
Legendary musician Stevie Wonder has vowed to no longer perform in Florida or any other state with a “Stand Your Ground” law. Twenty-two states, including California, Nevada, and Louisiana, have some version of the law. Since, other artist like gospel-duo Mary Mary, Hip-Hop Mogul Jay Z, and singer Justin Timberlake have also boycotted scheduled performances in Florida.
Following the verdict, President Obama, called Trayvon’s death a tragedy “not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America.”
Obama encouraged the nation to begin the conversation on ways to “stem the tide” of gun violence but asked for calm reflection, keeping protests and rallies peaceful in Trayvon’s memory.
“I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken,” Obama said.