Zimmerman Verdict Sparks Disbelief

Demonstrators outside the courthouse in Sanford, Fla., were stunned by the six-person jury's decision to acquit George Zimmerman of any charges in the death of Trayvon Martin.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. As we've been reporting this morning, George Zimmerman was acquitted late last night of charges relating to the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. The trial polarized the town of Sanford, Fla., with larger questions of race, profiling, and the nature of self-defense.

Outside the courthouse, a crowd had gathered last night awaiting the verdict. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang was there, and he has this report.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: A nervous hush fell upon the dozens gathered outside the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center last night. And then...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Not guilty.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Not guilty.

WANG: The results of more than 16 hours of jury deliberations quickly spread. A few protesters had cupped their ears to smartphones and radios, to listen to broadcasts of the announcement.

You're lying, mouthed one, wide-eyed protester after she heard the news. Then she took off for the parking lot, stunned by disbelief.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in unison) No justice! No peace! No justice! No peace! No...

WANG: Most of the crowd stayed outside the courthouse immediately after the verdict, chanting their disappointment while news chopper hovered overhead and reporters swarmed in. Christy Vick, who is white, drove about 40 miles - from the town of Apopka - to be there in person. And she was surprised.

This isn't what you were expecting?

CHRISTY VICK: No, definitely, definitely not at all. Not at all. We came down here for justice for Trayvon - and didn't get to see that at all.

LINDA DAYSON: We don't have a justice system. It's a very broken system.

WANG: Linda Dayson, an African-American resident of Jacksonville, stood in front of the courthouse for almost 12 hours yesterday. She finally left tearful and angry about George Zimmerman's acquittal.

DAYSON: I'm gonna be praying that he don't have peace for the rest of his life, for however long, however short it be...

WANG: She doesn't wish peace for Zimmerman, but she does hope the public reacts peacefully.

DAYSON: If it be riots, it's going to be real ignorant because it's not going to change the fact that the jury have made that decision. It's not going to change a thing.

WANG: Supporters of George Zimmerman were less vocal, and stayed towards the back of the protest area - away from the crowds. Wow, was how Ron Sherrard, a white resident of Orlando, first reacted. He's a Zimmerman supporter, and thinks that justice was served.

RON SHERRARD: He was arrested. He was tried. Hopefully, we can get past this.

WANG: Ken Stein, also white and from Orlando, agreed.

KEN STEIN: I mean, the justice system did its thing. I wasn't in the courtroom, and we don't really know all of the details. We don't know everything that's happened.

WANG: What some local residents and officials feared would happen in Sanford, if Zimmerman was acquitted, did not last night. No riots, no escalating violence. Law enforcement closely monitored the protest zone outside the courthouse. And there was a heavy police presence just five miles south, in Goldsboro. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Goldsboro is five miles north, not south, of the Sanford courthouse.] It's a historically black neighborhood in Sanford, and the home of the town's police department.

After midnight, a group of uniformed officers huddled there under a glaring streetlamp, on a corner by a busy nightclub. A block away, near a local memorial for Trayvon Martin, neighbors milled around on sidewalks and porches.

ANTONIO MILLER: (Singing) You may see me with a bag of Skittles, and a can of AriZona Iced Tea...

WANG: Sanford resident Antonio Miller shared his frustration with the verdict through a song he wrote in memory of Trayvon Martin. Nearby, John Henderson stressed that he and his neighbors were mindful, keeping their reactions peaceful.

JOHN HENDERSON: We're not gonna act like we've lost our mind because we got what we asked for.

WANG: And what Trayvon Martin supporters asked for, Henderson says, was the arrest and public trial of George Zimmerman. Still, that doesn't mean they plan to stay silent, says community organizer Vince Taylor.

VINCE TAYLOR: Just because it's not a loud, obnoxious riot doesn't mean that we'll be quiet. We'll still make some noise, but we have enough sense to know not to burn down our own city in protest of something that happened in our city. We still have to live here.

WANG: Living in Sanford, though, will be less appealing, says African-American resident Carolyn Sullivan, who felt the verdict sent a clear message.

CAROLYN SULLIVAN: I mean, it was all in black and white, what happened; and for it not to be a guilty verdict, it's just straight-up racism. Straight-up.

WANG: Frances Oliver, who has lived in Sanford for 65 years, says the time for tears has passed.

FRANCES OLIVER: We're in the mad stage now; we've passed the sad stage. As they say, joy comes in the morning.

WANG: This morning, organizers are preparing for protests in support of Trayvon Martin, around the country.

Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, Sanford, Fla.

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Correction July 16, 2013

The audio of this story refers to the location of Sanford's Goldsboro neighborhood as 5 miles south of the courthouse. It is 5 miles north.

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