Reaction following the verdict of George Zimmerman, who was acquitted on second-degree murder and manslaughter charges on Saturday in last year’s killing of Trayvon Martin, was swift.
Protests erupted in California, Orlando and New York City with Martin supporters demanding justice. The NAACP and the Rev. Al Sharpton have called for civil rights charges against Zimmerman.
But Latino groups have been largely silent on the matter – choosing to remain on the sidelines of an issue that has gripped the nation.
“The judicial system failed not only the African American community, but all minority communities across the country.”
- Arturo Carmona, executive director of Presente.org
The groups were in a tricky spot, some said. Zimmerman, who is Latino and white, killed an unarmed black teenager – sparking racial tension throughout the country.
If the Latino groups attacked the verdict, experts said, they would be taking a stand against one of their own. If they defended Zimmerman, whose mother is a Peruvian immigrant, they could alienate black groups angry at what they perceived was injustice against Trayvon Martin.
Antonio Gonzalez, president of William C. Velasquez Institute, a non-partisan Latino advocacy nonprofit, told Fox News Latino recently that from the beginning, this was not a case that would have attracted support from Hispanic leaders.
“When there is a clear ethnically-based perception that somebody is being wronged, Hispanics will rally,” Gonzalez said. “This is like a square peg in a round hole…it just doesn’t fit.”
The National Council of La Raza waited two days to send out a press release – saying on Monday that it was “disappointed and saddened” that Zimmerman was found not guilty. NCLR president and CEO Janet Murguía called on the Department of Justice to weigh in more “forcefully” on the matter and said they wanted to seek justice for Trayvon Martin.
“We also believe it is critical to see this case as a teachable moment; we must continue to educate our fellow Americans on what racial profiling really is and the toll it takes on all communities of color in this country,” Murguía said.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which last year released a statement asking for the DOJ to pursue the matter as a federal hate crime, this year chose to steer clear of the controversy. A spokesman, Kristian Ramos, said the Caucus would not be releasing a statement or commenting on the matter.
But other Hispanic groups – while not yet holding rallies – said they too were outraged by the verdict.
“The judicial system failed not only the African American community, but all minority communities across the country,” said Arturo Carmona, executive director of Presente.org, a Latino advocacy group based in California. “We share the anger and frustration that the African American community has expressed this past weekend. It’s important that communities from all backgrounds are vocal and united about this case.”
La Raza, a civil rights organization based in Washington, D.C., came under fire last year after conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh accused it of not being vocal enough during the Zimmerman controversy.
The group did react afterward, saying that just because Zimmerman is Latino has nothing to do with his actions. And they said the fact that people were calling out the group for not injecting itself in the case was largely unfair.
"Personally that's the media's fault. Everything has to fit into a narrative and a paradigm,” Lisa Navarrete, a La Raza spokeswoman, said last year. “Initially, it was a white guy who shot a black kid. Now they've split the difference."
She said just because Zimmerman was Hispanic does not mean he was not a racist.
"Unfortunately, being Hispanic does not mean that you aren't capable of bigotry or discrimination," Navarette told CNN last year. "It does not condone or preclude him from having acted in a discriminatory manner."