Late Saturday night, a six person jury in Florida found George Zimmerman “not guilty” for the murder of Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges.
George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012, believing that the black teenager was a threat. Ignoring 911 dispatcher instructions, Zimmerman confronted Martin. During the fight, Zimmerman shot Martin, killing him. Trayvon Martin was 17 years old.
Originally Zimmerman was not charged for the incident by Florida police, citing the controversial “Stand Your Ground” law. Under that law, any person can use force when they believe they are being threatened in their home, business, care or any place they “have the legal right to be.” Without evidence refuting the self-defense claim, a person cannot be arrested, which Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee, Jr. said was the issue with charging Zimmerman. However after the case gathered national attention and scrutiny, the state of Florida filed second degree murder charges against Zimmerman two months later. Though the defense did not use the “Stand Your Ground” law as part of their argument, the six person jury of all white women determined that Zimmerman had not committed murder or manslaughter. Under Florida state law, all evidence from the case will be released, including the gun Zimmerman used to shoot Martin.
Across the nation, rallies of those frustrated or outraged by the verdict began immediately after the decision was handed down. Many protesters dressed in “hoodies” – a piece of clothing Martin was wearing that has become an public icon for the teenager – and marched through major cities. The verdict also grabbed the attention of major politicians and celebrities such as Beyonce, who paused for a moment of silence during a performance shortly after the verdict was announced.
Civil rights leaders across the country expressed outrage over the decision. Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, said “I stand with NAACP Ben Jealous, Arnwine,and civil rights leaders in supporting the repeal of Stand Your Ground laws, and the opening of a civil rights case against George Zimmerman.” Benjamin Jealous, President of the NAACP, said in a statement “We are outraged and heartbroken over today’s verdict. We stand with Trayvon’s family and we are called to act. We will pursue civil rights charges with the Department of Justice, we will continue to fight for the removal of Stand Your Ground laws in every state, and we will not rest until racial profiling in all its forms is outlawed.” Later that night, the NAACP started a petition asking the Department of Justice (DOJ) to open a civil rights case against Zimmerman. You can sign the petition here. The DOJ has not indicated whether or not they will open a case, but has re-launched an inquiry into the shooting that had been suspended pending the Florida court case.
Media Resources: Huffington Post 7/15/2013; USA Today 7/15/2013; Los Angeles Times 7/14/2013; New York Times 7/14/2013; NAACP 7/13/2013; Washington Post 7/13/2013