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Zimmerman Verdict Fuels Fight Over Racial Injustice


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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