UPDATED at 3:30 PM
Silence weighed heavy outside the courthouse in Sanford, Fla., as George Zimmerman—a volunteer neighborhood watchman who killed Trayvon Martin last year—was found not guilty of second-degree murder late Saturday.
Through the night, the quiet turned to shock and sadness for the supporters of Martin. Some cried and chanted “the system has failed” and “no justice, no peace,” after the not-guilty verdict was read. “The family is heartbroken,” Benjamin Crump, the Martin family’s attorney, said. Speaking of the massive outpourings of solidarity that came in reaction to the weeks-long delay in bringing charges against Zimmerman, Crump said, “To everybody who put their hoodies up and to everybody who said ‘I am Trayvon,’ his family expresses their heartfelt gratitude for helping them these past 17 months.”
Zimmerman, 29, had pled not-guilty and said he was acting in self-defense when he shot the unarmed Martin, 17, in the chest during an altercation in a gated community of Sanford, Fla., on Feb. 26. 2012.
Across the country, peaceful protesters congregated and marched after learning the verdict, from San Francisco and Oakland to Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Police in many cities had prepared themselves for possible clashes, and in Oakland, some protesters smashed windows and vandalized a police car, but the demonstrations were overwhelmingly non-violent. More protests are planned for Sunday in at least 20 cities.
Race was an unavoidable current in many reactions. Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP, said that the group would ask the Department of Justice to pursue civil rights charges against Zimmerman. “We will pursue civil rights charges with the Department of Justice, we will continue to fight for the removal of Stand Your Grown laws in every state, and we will not rest until racial profiling in all its forms is outlawed,” he said in a statement.
In a series of interviews Sunday, Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump said that Martin’s parents Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin were considering filing a civil lawsuit, but that no decisions had yet been made.
While he did not say what a potential civil suit would look like, a wrongful death suit is possible. Should that happen, Zimmerman’s defense attorney Mark O’Mara said he would seek immunity for his client.
Neither the prosecutors nor the family contended that Martin had been racially profiled by Zimmerman. Only that he had been “profiled.”
A Department of Justice spokesperson acknowledged in a statement that it has had an open investigation into Martin’s death since last year. “The Department of Justice’s Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation continue to evaluate the evidence generated during the federal investigation, as well as the evidence and testimony from the state trial.”
The department did not confirm that it would pursue a federal case. “Experienced federal prosecutors will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation of any of the limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction, and whether federal prosecution is appropriate in accordance with the department’s policy governing successive federal prosecution following a state trial,” the spokesperson said.
Members of Congress also expressed disappointment. “Our justice system says we must abide by a jury’s decision,” New York Democratic Rep. Gregory Meeks said. “But abiding by a jury’s decision does not require that we agree with it - particularly when a verdict may have the effect of sanctioning racial profiling; of depriving African-American citizens of standing their ground in asserting their right to walk through any neighborhood in the land without being followed, harassed, or worse, shot by anyone who takes a mind to do so.”
“It does feel to me as though Trayvon Martin was tried and found guilty for his own death,” msnbc’s Melissa Harris-Perry said on Saturday. Rev. Al Sharpton announced his intent to discuss next steps with fellow preachers and travel to Florida, saying, “The acquittal of George Zimmerman is a slap in the face to the American people but it is only the first round in the pursuit of justice.”
Newark Mayor and New Jersey Senate candidate Cory Booker tweeted, “We must mourn the unnecessary & unjust death of a child, but to honor him we must rededicate ourselves to the very ideals that were violated.”
President Obama issued a statement calling on people to respect the verdict in George Zimmerman’s trial and the wishes of Trayvon Martin’s parents for “calm reflection.”
“The way to honor Trayvon Martin,” the president said, was for Americans to ask themselves what they can do “to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis.”
Editor’s note: George Zimmerman has sued NBC Universal for defamation. The company strongly denies the allegation.