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Demonstrators across America rally after Zimmerman 'not guilty' verdict, amid some reports of vandalism

 

Demonstrators from coast-to-coast boisterously -- yet for the most part peacefully -- rallied Sunday in protest of a long-awaited verdict that acquitted Floridian George Zimmerman in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

However, sporadic reports of vandalism trickled out of West Coast cities like Oakland, including the halt of a passenger train, the burning of American and California flags, the lighting of small fires in city roadways, shattered storefront windows and the spray painting of a courthouse, as well as the damaging of a police squad car. Protesters massed there Saturday evening just after the verdict was rendered by a six-person, all-female jury around 10 p.m. ET.

"I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher," President Obama said in a statement released Sunday. "I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son."

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.

Some tempered their anger, saying they didn't contest the jury's decision based on the legal issues involved.

But "while the verdict may be legal, a system that doesn't take into account what happened is a broken legal system," said Jennifer Lue, 24, an Asian-American resident of Harlem.

Rev. Jacqueline Lewis told the Middle Collegiate Church congregation in Manhattan Sunday morning, "We're going to raise our voices against the root causes of this kind of tragedy," while Baptist Pastor Jack Hakimian reportedly expressed disappointment and resignation at the Impact Miami Church in North Miami.

In South Florida, a wary populace awoke to relative calm Sunday, as fears of mass and violent protests proved unfounded in the face of a highly-visible police presence.  

"I haven’t seen any evidence of problems yet, and hopefully there won’t be any," Ed Shohat, a Miami-Dade’s Community Relations Board member, told The Miami Herald.  "We do not believe (violence) will happen. Frankly, Miami is a … more mature community than … 25, 30 years ago when we had violent reactions to criminal court verdicts."

Meanwhile, Mark O'Mara, who defended Zimmerman at trial, suggested his client’s safety was at risk. "There still is a fringe element that wants revenge," O'Mara said. "They won't listen to a verdict of not guilty."

However, Martin supporters -- for the most part -- somberly grieved the verdict in a non-violent fashion.

Some detractors of the verdict spoke of a lingering and ineffable sadness, which they sought to privately assuage through the comfort of family and friends. Others convened in places of worship -- and in so-called First Amendment Zones erected by authorities -- especially for peaceful demonstration.

At a youth service in Sanford, Fla., where the trial was held, teens wearing shirts displaying Martin's picture wiped away tears during a sermon at the St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church.

In South Florida, Miami pastors planned to convene Sunday at 2 p.m. for a vigil at North Miami City Hall, while others awaited a second, scheduled service at 6 p.m. at the Torch of Friendship at Bayfront Park in Downtown Miami, according to CBS Local in Miami. 

Overnight in Oakland, police said about 100 people protested, with some among the crowd breaking windows and starting fires in the streets. As the protest eventually fizzled, the office of police information added that it had no word of any arrests as of 2 a.m. local time.

However, some Oakland marchers reportedly vandalized a police squad car, and police were -- at one point - forced to form a line to block the protesters' path.

The Oakland Tribune reported some downtown office windows had been shattered, and footage from a television helicopter portrayed people starting fires in the street and spray painting anti-police graffiti. Protesters, there, also reportedly burned an American, and California state flag and spray painted Alameda County's Davidson courthouse.

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, raucous, yet peaceful protesters marched on the city’s Mission District neighborhood; while about 200 in Los Angeles convened for a vigil in Leimart Park, the city’s historically black neighborhood. City News Service in Los Angeles reported at one point that a smaller group halted an Expo Line train, somewhere within the city, but police could not immediately confirm details of that account.

Los Angeles Police Department Lt. Andy Neiman said another group of 50 to 100 demonstrators marched around midnight.

"There was a period where crowds were running among vehicles, but police dissuaded them," he reportedly said, although he added that he knew of no arrests.

More than 40 people gathered at City Hall in Sacramento, and the Sacramento Bee reported protesters riotously chanting: "What do we want? Justice. When do you we want it? Now. For who? Trayvon." Meanwhile, a banner unfurled behind the speakers read, "No justice, no peace!" as the crowd cried out in unison.

In Florida late Saturday and into Sunday, media outlets reported mostly subdued sadness, and no violence or large gatherings.

“I’m sad,” was the only response Miami Gardens barber Steve Bass could muster to the Miami Herald, when asked for his opinion regarding the verdict.  Bass had reportedly cut Trayvon Martin’s hair since the teen was a toddler.

Outside the Seminole County courthouse, where the trial took place, the Orlando Sentinel reported that a bewildered crowd of about 150 received the not-guilty verdict with chants of, "No justice, no peace."

Some civic officials weighed in, with Miami-Dade Commissioner Jean Monestime telling The Herald via email, “The jury’s verdict in the murder trial of George Zimmerman is extremely disappointing. As a father of two boys, this case was personal. We should honor the life of Trayvon Benjamin Martin with a peaceful, non-violent response to the verdict.”

Just moments after the verdict was delivered, a Miami-Dade Police spokesman told The Herald that the department was warily watching developments across the southern Florida city.

“We’re playing it by ear, just like everybody else,” Detective Javier Baez said, adding Miami police had made “minor” changes to its Sunday routine, ordering officers who would normally report in plain clothes to don uniforms on Sunday.  

“Everyone knows to be here in town if we have to be available,” Baez told The Herald.

A court public information officer said that members of the jury had no desire to speak to the media Saturday night. Identities of jury members are currently protected by a court anonymity order.

Around an hour after the verdict, Zimmerman's father tweeted: "Our whole family is relieved. Today... I'm proud to be an American. God Bless America! Thank you for your prayers!"

Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, tweeted "Lord during my darkest hour I lean on you. You are all that I have. At the end of the day, GOD is still in control. Thank you all for your prayers and support. I will love you forever Trayvon!!! In the name of Jesus!!!"

The verdict came a year and a half after civil rights protesters angrily demanded Zimmerman be prosecuted. That anger appeared to return Saturday night outside the courthouse, at least for some who had been following the case.

Rosie Barron, 50, and Andrew Perkins, 55, both black residents of Sanford, stood in the parking lot of the courthouse and wept.

"I at least thought he was going to get something, something," Barron said.

Perkins was so upset he was shaking. "He killed somebody and got away with murder," Perkins shouted, looking in the direction of the courthouse. "He ain't getting no probation or nothing."

Several Zimmerman supporters also were outside the courthouse, including a brother and sister quietly rejoicing that Zimmerman was acquitted. Both thought the jury made the right decision in finding Zimmerman not guilty -- they felt that Zimmerman killed Martin in self-defense.

Cindy Lenzen, 50, of Casslebury, and her brother, 52-year-old Chris Bay, stood watching the protesters chant slogans such as, "the whole system's guilty."

Lenzen and Bay -- who are white -- called the entire case "a tragedy," especially for Zimmerman.

The jury of six women informed Judge Debra Nelson shortly late Saturday that they had reached a verdict after deliberating for approximately 15 hours over two days. Zimmerman, 29, blinked and barely smiled when the verdict was announced. After hearing the verdict, Judge Nelson told Zimmerman he was free to go.

"We're ecstatic with the results," defense attorney Mark O'Mara said after the verdict. "George Zimmerman was never guilty of anything except protecting himself in self-defense."

Another member of his defense team, Don West, said: "I'm glad this jury kept this tragedy from becoming a travesty."

Martin's killing in February 2012 unleashed debate across the U.S. over racial profiling, self-defense and equal justice. Protesters nationwide lashed out against police in the Orlando suburb of Sanford as it took 44 days for Zimmerman to be arrested. Many, including Martin's parents, said Zimmerman had racially profiled the unarmed black teen. Zimmerman identifies as Hispanic.

The jurors considered nearly three weeks of often wildly conflicting testimony over who was the aggressor on the rainy night the 17-year-old was shot while walking through the gated townhouse community where he was staying and where Zimmerman lived.

Prosecutors called Zimmerman a liar and portrayed him was a "wannabe cop" vigilante who had grown frustrated by break-ins in his neighborhood committed primarily by young black men. Zimmerman assumed Martin was up to no good and took the law into his own hands, prosecutors said.

State Attorney Angela Corey said after the verdict that she believed second-degree murder was the appropriate charge because Zimmerman's mindset "fit the bill of second-degree murder."

"We charged what we believed we could prove," Corey said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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