As the acquittal of George Zimmerman began to sink in Sunday, the streets of South Florida stayed mostly quiet. But anger and disappointment filled pews in African-American churches where pastors tried to comfort their aggrieved flocks.
The ministers themselves were struggling.
Moments after the not-guilty verdict in the death of Trayvon Martin, a black Miami Gardens teenager, was announced Saturday night, the Rev. Arthur Jackson III said his young nephew asked him: “Why?”
“I didn’t know what to say,” Jackson told his congregation at Antioch Missionary Baptist, the Miami Gardens church where Trayvon’s mother has worshipped.
Every pew and chair in the sanctuary was full hours after a jury of six women dismissed the second-degree murder charge against Zimmerman, the former neighborhood watchman who shot the unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon in the heart during a violent struggle on a residential street in Central Florida more than a year ago. Zimmerman, a white Hispanic, said he acted in self-defense.
When Zimmerman wasn’t immediately charged, the high-profile case galvanized civil-rights activists and prompted a national debate over racial profiling and Florida’s contentious Stand Your Ground law.
On Sunday, President Barack Obama urged Americans to think about how to increase compassion and understanding, stem gun violence and prevent future tragic deaths.
“We are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken,” said Obama, who last year noted that if he had a son, he would have looked like Trayvon. “I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son.”
Protestors angry with the jury’s decision demonstrated Sunday across the country, including San Francisco; Newark, N.J.; New York; Atlanta and Madison, Wisc. They carried signs in Washington, D.C., and rallied in downtown Chicago, the Associated Press reported. More protests are planned for Monday.
A late-night gathering in Oakland, Calif., Saturday ended with broken windows, burned U.S. flags and a vandalized police car, according to the AP. About 200 people marched after the verdict was delivered through downtown Tallahassee.
A statewide “Day of Action” was scheduled for Tuesday outside the Florida Capitol by Dream Defenders, a group dedicated to social change through non-violent civil disobedience.
In South Florida, the peaceful demonstrations were muted by rainstorms throughout the day. By Sunday afternoon, Miami-Dade police had reopened parks previously closed for planned gatherings, and a rumor control line was shut down.
“Miami is a far more mature community than it was 25, 30 years ago when we had violent reactions to criminal court verdicts,” said Ed Shohat, a member of Miami-Dade’s Community Relations Board, which was monitoring reaction through churches, community organizations and on social media, and did not see any signs of unrest.
Police officers and pastors held meetings over the five-week trial encouraging potential demonstrators to remain peaceful.
“The tragic loss of life of a young man — a product of our hometown — has been a very emotional issue for our community,” Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said in a written statement urging residents “to come together and pray for the families as we move forward in the healing process.”