NEW YORK (AP) — Thousands of demonstrators from across the country — chanting, praying and even fighting tears — protested a jury’s decision to clear neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager while the Justice Department considered whether to file criminal civil rights charges.
Rallies on Sunday were largely peaceful as demonstrators voiced their support for 17-year-old Trayvon Martin’s family — and decried Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict as a miscarriage of justice. Police in Los Angeles said they arrested several people early Monday after about 80 protesters gathered in Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard and an unlawful assembly was declared. More than 100 officers in riot gear converged on the crowd and ordered people to disperse.
The NAACP and protesters called for federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman, who was acquitted Saturday in Martin’s February 2012 shooting death.
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. The department opened an investigation into Martin’s death last year but stepped aside to allow the state prosecution to proceed.
The evidence generated during the federal probe is still being evaluated by the criminal section of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Middle District of Florida, along with evidence and testimony from the state trial, the Justice Department said.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama and religious and civil rights leaders urged calm in hopes of ensuring peaceful demonstrations following a case that became an emotional flash point.
Sunday’s demonstrations, held in cities from Florida to Wisconsin, attracted anywhere from a few dozen people to a more than a thousand.
At a march and rally in downtown Chicago attended by about 200 people, some said the verdict was symbolic of lingering racism in the United States. Seventy-three-year-old Maya Miller 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 for “Justice for Trayvon, not one more.”
In New York City, hundreds of protesters marched into Times Square on Sunday night, zigzagging through Manhattan’s streets to avoid police lines. Sign-carrying marchers thronged the busy intersection, chanting “Justice for! Trayvon Martin!” as 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 — police closed streets as protesters marched Sunday to condemn Zimmerman’s acquittal.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti urged protesters to “practice peace” after the rock- and bottle-throwing incident. Police arrested one man.
Rand Powdrill, 41, of San Leandro, Calif., 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.