Obama urges restraint amid protests
Updated: 2013-07-16 10:31
Thousands take to streets in cities across US after Zimmerman verdict
US President Barack Obama appealed for restraint on Sunday as thousands marched across the country protesting the acquittal of a man who gunned down an unarmed black teenager.
A Florida jury late on Saturday found volunteer watchman George Zimmerman not guilty of murdering 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in a racially charged trial that transfixed much of the country for weeks.
Crowds took to the streets to protest the verdict on Sunday in cities including Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
In New York, several thousand rallied in Times Square waving signs with portraits of Martin, while others wore "hoodie" sweatshirts, despite the searing heat, as the teen did the night he was killed.
Chants included "The people say guilty!" and "No justice, no peace!"
One sign urged: "Jail racist killers, not black youth," while others declared "We are all Trayvon. The whole damn system is guilty."
"The man was armed, the kid was not and the man with the gun got away," said protester Carli VanVoorhis, 21. "If we say it was not a racial issue, we would be lying."
The various marches were largely peaceful despite the large crowds, though windows were smashed and cars vandalized in pre-dawn protests in Oakland, California.
Obama, the first black US president, urged US citizens to step back and accept the trial verdict.
"We are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken," Obama said in a statement. "I now ask every US citizen to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son."
Zimmerman, 29, was accused of pursuing Martin through a gated community in the town of Sanford, and shooting him during an altercation on the rainy night of Feb 26, 2012.
The defense successfully argued that Zimmerman shot Martin in self-defense after the teen wrestled him to the ground and was slamming his head against the pavement.
According to Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law, people who fear for their lives can use deadly force to defend themselves without having to flee a confrontation.
"We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this," Obama said. "As citizens, that's a job for all of us. That's the way to honor Trayvon Martin."
Obama last year spoke emotionally about the case, noting that if he had a son he would "look like Trayvon".
The trial divided those who believed that Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, had racially-profiled Martin, and those who believed he acted in self-defense.
A racial divide was evident on Sunday in Sanford pastor Valerie Houston's sermon.
"Dr (Martin Luther) King (Jr) stated, the daily life of the Negro is still in the basement of the Great Society," she said. "And today I state, the daily life of my people is still enslaved to a white supremacist society."
Martin's parents - father, Tracy, and mother Sybrina Fulton - asked the public before the verdict to respect the trial outcome, and afterward gave thanks for the outpouring of support they received over the past year.
The Martin family's attorney Benjamin Crump declined to say whether they would file a civil lawsuit against Zimmerman, but said "they are going to certainly look at that as an option".
"They deeply want a sense of justice. They deeply don't want their son's death to be in vain," he told ABC News's This Week.
Community leaders called for non-violent demonstrations after the verdict.