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Verdict emotional for black community

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Published:   |   Updated: July 14, 2013 at 08:43 AM

TAMPA - As the verdict came in late Saturday night that George Zimmerman was not guilty of killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, the reaction in the black community was a mix of despair, anger and caution.

Families with young male teenagers particularly felt pained by the verdict.

"It's a somber moment," said Curtis Stokes, who has a 14-year-old son. If he is walking home from the YMCA, "do I tell him to be on his guard because the system may not be in his favor? Do you tell him to start dressing another way? He can't walk with a hoodie on?"

State Rep. Darryl Rouson has five sons.

"What do I tell my sons about the value of life?" he said. "It's just a hard message. It's clear to (singer) Ray Charles, Trayvon (Martin) was profiled."

Rouson said the legislature needs to clarify its "stand your ground" law. "I'm upset," he said. "It's your castle, it doesn't mean your neighbor down the street from where you live."

Keith Babb III, founder and executive director of 2nd C.H.A.N.C.E. Center 4 Boyz, a faith-based group in Tampa that brings together volunteer mentors with at-risk youth, says this is "not the time for anger."

"This is the time for introspection. It's a time for prayer," said Babb. "Because two parents still don't have a son, and another man has to bear the burden for what he did for the rest of his life. What happened in the courtroom doesn't change any of that."

He says the trial put the jurors in a very difficult situation, no matter what decision they made.

"There's going to be a lot of anger on both sides, and it's based on ignorance. Because we don't know all the facts," Babb says. "Only two people know the truth. One just went through a trial, and the other is dead. We can't change what happened, so let's move forward and try to take steps that this doesn't repeat again."

Steve Harris, a former University of Florida football player and Denver Bronco, also volunteers with the youth through the Center for Boyz. Earlier this week, in anticipation of possible turmoil brought about by the decision, he posted on his Facebook page for people to remain calm.

"Don't let the actions of others plant a bitter seed in our own hearts," he wrote. "In the end, God has the final say, not us."

Harris says he won't be surprised if the acquittal leads to unrest and more racial division.

Immediately following the verdict Tampa and St. Petersburg police reported no incidents.

"It's a sad day for race relations," said Walter Niles, adding that he spoke only on behalf of himself.

Niles said while all the "talking heads on television said it was not about race, it seems to be very much about race."

"Hopefully, the community will be reflective," Niles said.

It's time to pay attention to the idea of inclusiveness, Niles said. "We have to be inclusive of all people regardless of what they look like. We cannot say that all black men are up to criminal activity because they are wearing a hoodie."

Parents should not just be concerned for their teenage children, Niles said, "but any young black man that 's out in public that can be racially profiled."

Now that the verdict is in, he said, it is an opportunity for dialogue, for parents to talk to the young people and for training for crime watch communities.

For Trayvon's parents, Niles said, "this is like him being murdered all over again. We have to grieve with them, support them."

Dianne Hart was coming into her East Tampa beauty shop to prepare for an upcoming meeting when she heard the verdict on television.

"I honestly feel sick," she said. "It's crazy. I don't think justice was done."

Tampa City Councilman Frank Reddick said the verdict was an outrage. "We think we made progress with the first African-American president..but this has set us back," he said. "The message sent to young African-American black males that already have a trust issue with police enforcement is now we've got another issue. We've got to change this. It is going to be my focus from this day on."

ksteele@tampatrib.com

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