Zimmerman Verdict Fuels Fight Over Racial Injustice

Over the weekend, a jury in Sanford, Fla., found George Zimmerman not guilty of charges that he committed murder or manslaughter in the death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin. While it closed a criminal case the nation has followed for nearly a year and a half, it's adding to the conversation about race and equal justice.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

It was a verdict that was destined to cause as much conversation as the trial. George Zimmerman is not guilty. A six-woman jury on Saturday night exonerated Zimmerman from charges that he committed murder or manslaughter when he shot and killed unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin. It closed a criminal case that the nation has followed for nearly a year and a half.

But as NPR's Greg Allen reports from Sanford, Florida, it's fueling another conversation about race and equal justice.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Allen AME Church is in the heart of Goldsboro, Sanford's historic black neighborhood. In the days and weeks after the shooting, community forums were held here.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ALLEN: Yesterday, Pastor Valarie Houston led her congregation in prayer and remembrance for Trayvon Martin. In her remarks, Houston said Martin's story is a reminder that despite how far they've come, equal justice can still be elusive for African-Americans.

(SOUNDBITE OF SERMON)

PASTOR VALARIE HOUSTON: We are people. We are in the land of the free. We have a right to go to the store and buy Arizona Tea and a pack of Skittles and return home. We are somebody with dignity. We are somebody...

ALLEN: It's a sentiment expressed across the country after the verdict in Sanford, Miami, Washington and California. Disappointment with the jury's decision to find Zimmerman not guilty quickly turned into something else. Hours after the verdict, the NAACP issued a call for the Justice Department to investigate whether Zimmerman violated Martin's civil rights.

On NBC, talk show host and activist Al Sharpton took up the call. Sharpton helped draw national attention to the case last year, when Sanford police at first were hesitant to arrest and prosecute Zimmerman. Sharpton said he believes there should be a federal civil rights investigation.

(SOUNDBITE OF NBC BROADCAST)

REVEREND AL SHARPTON: The mother and father of Trayvon Martin and I, with their lawyers, met with the U.S. attorney in Florida the day I went down there to organize the first national rally there. And we always said there would be a Plan B, but there needed to be a Plan A.

ALLEN: In a statement yesterday, the Justice Department said it's continuing its investigation into the case that it began last year, and that it will decide at some point whether a civil rights prosecution is called for.

As for George Zimmerman, he's not been seen in public since Saturday night, after the verdict when his GPS restraint was removed and he left the courtroom a free man. His brother, Robert Zimmerman, Jr., has been speaking out. On CNN, he said even though his brother is innocent of all the charges, he'll be looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life.

(SOUNDBITE OF CNN BROADCAST)

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, JR.: There are groups, there are people that would want to take law into their own hands as they perceive it or, you know, be vigilantes in some sense, that they think that justice was not served. They won't respect a verdict, no matter how it was reached. And they will always present a threat to George and to his family.

ALLEN: Along with the possibility of a federal civil rights prosecution, Zimmerman may also face other potential legal action. On ABC yesterday, the Martin family's lawyer, Benjamin Crump, said the family may file a civil lawsuit against Zimmerman.

(SOUNDBITE OF ABC BROADCAST)

BENJAMIN CRUMP: They deeply want a sense of justice. They deeply don't want their son's death to be in vain. I mean, they are still in disbelief about his death, and now they're in disbelief about this verdict.

ALLEN: Under Florida's Stand Your Ground law, a person who claims self-defense can ask for a hearing and be declared immune from criminal prosecution and from all civil lawsuits. Zimmerman and his lawyer, Mark O'Mara, chose not to do that, preferring the case to be decided by a jury, not by a judge. But if there's a lawsuit, O'Mara said he's ready.

MARK O'MARA: If someone believes that it's appropriate to sue George Zimmerman, then we will seek and we will get immunity in a civil hearing. And we'll see just how many civil lawsuits are spawned from this fiasco.

ALLEN: Yesterday, as supporters of the Martin family planned vigils and demonstrations, President Obama released a statement. He said: I know this case has elicited strong passions, and in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. It's a sentiment that, across the country, many are finding difficult to accept.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Sanford, Florida.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: