US Department of Justice considers civil rights charges
Thousands of people have protested across the US against the acquittal of George Zimmerman for murdering black teenager Trayvon Martin, as the Justice Department announced a review of the case.
The department confirmed on Sunday that it was considering whether to file criminal civil rights charges against Zimmerman, a Neighbourhood Watch volunteer captain in Florida, who shot the unarmed 17-year-old dead and claimed the killing was self defence.
In response to calls from angry civil rights groups and protesters, the department that it was looking into the case to determine whether federal prosecutors should file criminal civil rights charges now that Zimmerman had been acquitted in the state case.
Protests broke out in several cities in the US on Sunday evening as people voiced their disappointment and frustration at the verdict.
Most protests were peaceful, but police clashed with some protesters in Los Angeles.
Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, issued a call for peace on Twitter after groups of protesters broke off from a march and threw rocks and batteries at police officers.
Police said they responded by firing “non-lethal beanbag rounds”, and arrested one man.
Other groups blocked traffic by walking on to busy Interstate 10, and to a Hollywood intersection where they waved signs bearing the photo of Martin.
Police said they were monitoring the protests and waiting for the group to disperse.
In New York, thousands marched from Union Square to Times Square over Zimmerman’s not-guilty verdict, adding there was “a real sense of anger, of disbelief, of frustration” among protesters.
Marches of varying sizes also erupted in San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, Atlanta, Oakland and Philadelphia following the reading out of the verdict late on Saturday night.
A jury in the town of Sanford, where the shooting occurred, found Zimmerman not guilty of shooting dead Martin on February 26 last year.
Martin’s parents were not in the court during the reading of the verdict, but his father, Tracy Martin, later tweeted that his son would have been proud of the fight put up for him.
“Even though I am broken hearted my faith is unshattered,” he wrote in one tweet. “Together can make sure that this doesn’t happen again,” he said, in another.
Al Jazeera America’s Dexter Mullins reported that a crowd of several hundred protesters hit the streets of Central Harlem on Sunday night, expressing outrage over the verdict.
Chanting “No Justice! No Peace!” and “Who’s Streets? Our Streets!”, the protesters woke numerous residents, many of whom decided to join the crowd.
US President Barack Obama said on Sunday that Martin’s death was a tragedy for the country and called for calm after Zimmerman’s acquittal.
“We are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son,” said Obama.
Prominent US rights activists such as Reverend Jesse Jackson also appealed for calm.
“Avoid violence, it will lead to more tragedies. Find a way for self-construction not deconstruction in this time of despair,” he wrote on Twitter.
Throughout the trial, Zimmerman said his actions had been in self-defence.
In Florida, the “Stand your ground” law means people can justify shooting people when they feel threatened, rather than retreating if the option is available.