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Zimmerman trial protesters aim to keep up momentum


Published:   |   Updated: July 15, 2013 at 02:50 PM

Thousands of demonstrators from across the country on Sunday protested a jury's decision to clear Sanford neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, and organizers said they'll try to maintain the momentum with vigils next weekend.

Advocates want federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman, who was acquitted Saturday in the 17-year-old's shooting death. The Rev. Al Sharpton said Monday that his organization will hold vigils and rallies in 100 cities Saturday in front of federal buildings.

The Justice Department said the criminal section of the Justice Department's civil rights division, the FBI and federal prosecutors in Florida are continuing to evaluate the evidence generated during the federal investigation, plus evidence and testimony from the state trial. The department opened an investigation into Martin's death last year but stepped aside to allow the state prosecution to proceed.

Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday that the "tragic, unnecessary shooting" provides an opportunity for the nation to speak honestly about complicated and emotionally charged issues.

In his first comments since the acquittal, the attorney general said that Martin's parents have suffered a pain that no parent should have to endure. He said the nation must not forgo an opportunity toward better understanding of one another.

"I want to assure you that the Justice Department will continue to act in a manner that is consistent with the facts and the law," Holder said.

"Independent of the legal determination that will be made, I believe that this tragedy provides yet another opportunity for our nation to speak honestly about the complicated and emotionally charged issues that this case has raised," Holder said in remarks to the 51st national convention of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.

"We must not - as we have too often in the past - let this opportunity pass," he said.

The White House says President Barack Obama won't involve himself in the decision. White House spokesman Jay Carney says it would be inappropriate for Obama to express an opinion on how the department deals with the case.

Rallies on Sunday were largely peaceful as demonstrators voiced their support for Martin's family and decried the verdict. Police in Los Angeles said they arrested six people, mostly for failure to disperse, after about 80 protesters gathered in Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard and an unlawful assembly was declared. New York police said at least a dozen people were arrested on disorderly conduct charges during a rally in Times Square.

The demonstrations, held in cities from Tampa to Milwaukee to San Francisco, 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, 73-year-old Maya Miller said the case reminded her of the 1955 slaying of Emmett 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, more than 1,000 people 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 downtown Union Square, blocking traffic for more than an hour.

In San Francisco and in Los Angeles, where police dispersed an earlier protest with beanbag rounds, police closed streets Sunday.

President Barack Obama, Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson have urged calm. In Oakland, Calif., during protests that began late Saturday night, some angry demonstrators broke windows, burned U.S. flags, vandalized a police squad car and spray-painted anti-police graffiti.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti urged protesters to "practice peace" after rock- and bottle-throwing. Later, more than 100 officers in riot gear converged and ordered people to disperse. A handful of people were given citations, mostly for blocking a street or jaywalking

Rand Powdrill, 41, of San Leandro, Calif., said he marched in San Francisco 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.

Earlier, at Manhattan's Middle Collegiate Church, many congregants wore hooded sweatshirts similar to the one Martin was wearing the night he was shot in February 2012. Hoodie-clad Jessica Nacinovich said she could only feel disappointment and sadness over the verdict.

"I'm sure jurors did what they felt was right in accordance with the law but maybe the law is wrong, maybe society is wrong; there's a lot that needs fixing," she said.

At a service in Sanford, where Zimmerman was tried, teens wearing shirts with Martin's picture wiped away tears during a church sermon.

Protesters also gathered in Atlanta, Miami, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., along with a host of other cities.

In Miami, more than 200 people gathered. "You can't justify murder," read one poster. Another read "Don't worry about more riots. Worry about more Zimmermans."

Carol Reitner, 76, of Miami, said she heard about the vigil through an announcement at her church Sunday morning. "I was really devastated. It's really hard to believe that someone can take the life of someone else and walk out of court free," she said.

In Philadelphia, about 700 protesters marched through downtown to the Liberty Bell, alternating between chanting Trayvon Martin's name and "No justice, no peace!"

"We hope this will begin a movement to end discrimination against young black men," said Johnathan Cooper, one of the protest's organizers. "And also to empower black people and get them involved in the system."

In Atlanta, about 75 protesters chanted and carried signs near Centennial Olympic Park.

"I came out today because a great deal of injustice has been done and I'm very disappointed at our justice system," said Tabatha Holley, 19, of Atlanta. "I'm just disappointed in America."

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