Protests led by veteran civil rights leaders and the parents of Trayvon Martin are set to take place across the US on Saturday, amid ongoing anger over the acquittal of the man who shot dead the unarmed black teenager.
Demonstrators are set to gather outside federal court buildings and police headquarters in more than 100 cities, to call on the Department of Justice to file a civil rights case against George Zimmerman, the man who was found not guilty of second-degree murder of the 17-year-old.
The nationwide action, which was called for by the Reverend Al Sharpton, comes a day after President Barack Obama addressed the issue of Martin’s death in emotional remarks, in which he suggested that the US was still not “a post-racial society”. The president’s comments, which were made during an unscheduled press conference at the White House, came days after he urged calm over last Saturday’s acquittal of Zimmerman by a Florida jury.
Organisers of Saturday’s protests have voiced hopes that they will be peaceful, with no further outbreaks of the kind of violence that led to arrests in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area earlier this week. But feelings remain high over perceived injustice and racial bias in the case.
Sharpton, who will lead one rally along with Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, outside police headquarters in New York, has said he hopes continued public pressure will force the Justice Department to bring a civil rights case against Zimmerman. A planned demonstration in Miami, near the home where the 17-year-old Martin lived, was due to be led by his father.
Federal prosecutors have said they are pursuing an investigation into whether Zimmerman, who is part-Hispanic, violated civil rights laws. Lawyers with expertise in civil rights have said they think new charges are unlikely, however.
Public comments from one of the six jurors, citing Florida’s “stand your ground” law as a factor in reaching her conclusion that Zimmerman acted in self-defence, has stepped up pressure on the state’s Republican-dominated legislature to repeal or change the law. According to the instructions given to the jury, Zimmerman had “no duty to retreat and right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he reasonably believed it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself”.
Though the stand your ground law was not specifically cited as part of the defence mounted by Zimmerman’s lawyers, the jury instructions paving the way for his acquittal came directly from the 2005 statute.
Florida’s governor, Rick Scott, who met sit-in demonstrators outside his office in Tallahassee on Thursday, said he supports the stand your ground law and has no intention of convening a special legislative session to change it. But Obama suggested that was the wrong course of action.
“I think it would be useful for us to examine some state and local laws to see if they are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kinds of altercations and confrontations and tragedies that we saw in the Florida case,” he said.
In his comments on Friday, Obama also urged all Americans to try to understand the Martin case from the perspective of African-Americans.
“There is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws,” the president said. “A lot of African-American boys are painted with a broad brush. If a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario … both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different.”