When a jury declared George Zimmerman not guilty in the death of Trayvon Martin on Saturday, the nation felt an all-too familiar schism that came after months of building pressure over two of the most contentious issues in America–race and gun laws. Civil rights activists decried the legal system’s failure to provide justice for the Martin family, while others defended Zimmerman’s right to defend himself.
But while the debate raged, Wilmer Leon, host of Inside the Issues on SiriusXM Urban View, got reports on the ground that the local mood was much more somber. “Folks in Florida saw this was doomed for failure from the get-go,” he said.
The prosecution, led by Angela Corey, faced the challenge of breaking down Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense, hoping the jury would find him guilty of second-degree murder or, at a minimum, manslaughter. But roadblocks along the way—beginning with the initial prosecutor hesitating to even bring charges against Zimmerman in the first place—prevented the prosecution from winning their case.
Without another living witness to the shooting, Zimmerman’s version of events was the only one available. Witnesses brought by the prosecution were unprepared and did not always advance Corey’s case. In fact, the chief investigator called by the prosecution testified that he believed Zimmerman’s account.
The jury’s decision, while reflective of the case’s uncertainties, was not the last word for many, including the Justice Department, which has reopened a civil rights investigation into the possibility of prosecuting Zimmerman for hate crimes.
Mark Morial, president of the National Urban League, shared his reaction to the decision with Joe Madison on Urban View.
“It’s a shock, it’s a disappointment. It’s a sense that there’s been a miscarriage of justice here while at the same time an acceptance of a jury’s verdict with grave reservations,” Morial said.
Morial joined Rev. Jesse Jackson and NAACP Chair Roslyn Brock in urging nonviolent demonstrations against the decision. Since the court’s ruling on Saturday, protesters have gathered in cities around the country including New York’s Times Square and Los Angeles, where protesters engaged in a brief standoff with police.
“[Riots] would make Zimmerman look like a hero and make Trayvon look like the villain. Trayvon deserves the sympathy, and Zimmerman does not,” Jackson said.
Brock pointed to the power of the youth movement within the NAACP—the largest group of young people outside of the church.
“They feel his pain, they’ve walked the walk that he has,” Brock said. “They’re just hurting right now. We’re trying to comfort them as best we can but to channel their energy into action, into positive action.”
President Obama released a statement on the verdict, urging Americans “to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son” and “ask ourselves if we are doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis”—a response that some have criticized as too little.
“If you’re going to elect an African American president, just like the first congressional black caucus in the 1800s, and he can’t do anything, we’re right back where we are,” said Mark Thompson of SiriusXM Left.
Many national leaders emphasized that this ruling does not mark the end of the fight for justice for Trayvon. Congresswoman Corinne Brown (D-Fla.), whose district includes Sanford, Fla., where the shooting took place, said the decision “sends a chilling message” about racial politics in America—a sentiment echoed by Jackson.
“This is Old South justice. It puts Trayvon in the lineage of Medgar Evans,” Jackson said. “This is not just an incident; this is a pattern.”
Attorney General Eric Holder will speak at the NAACP convention in Orlando on Tuesday, where many hope he will address the group’s efforts to pursue civil rights charges against Zimmerman.
But Darryl Parks, the Martin family’s attorney, said that the family will not immediately jump behind these efforts for further prosecution despite their disappointment.
“They’re devastated. This is not the outcome they wanted. This is not justice for Trayvon’s spirit,” Parks said.
“We made America think about how it looks at black life, and we’ve seen that some people value it and some don’t,” Parks said. “Let’s keep educating ourselves and lifting ourselves up in this country so we can be in positions of authority so you get to make these calls, not someone else.”