The U.S. neighbourhood watch volunteer who shot dead an unarmed black teenager is now a free man, but the Justice Department said it is looking into Trayvon Martin’s death to determine whether federal prosecutors will file criminal civil rights charges against George Zimmerman.
President Barack Obama has called for calm and numerous celebrities have expressed sorrow at the verdict, which has led to largely peaceful protests across the country by civil rights leaders and others. Hundreds gathered in New York’s Times Square and in Los Angeles on Sunday, some chanting “Justice for Trayvon Martin!”
Los Angeles police said they began making arrests early Monday morning after about 80 protesters gathered in Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard and an unlawful assembly was declared.
The February 2012 shooting first drew national attention when Mr. Zimmerman (29) wasn’t arrested for weeks, and the case has continued to raise questions over race and self-defence gun laws.
A jury late on Saturday found Mr. Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder and declined to convict him on a lesser charge of manslaughter. Mr. Zimmerman has said he shot the 17-year-old in self-defence in a night-time confrontation in his Florida gated community, where Martin was visiting family.
With many critics angry over Mr. Zimmerman’s acquittal, his freedom may be limited. He may also face civil lawsuits from Martin’s family.
“He’s going to be looking over his shoulder the rest of his life,” his brother, Robert Zimmerman Jr. told CNN.
Call for calm
Mr. Obama called Martin’s death a tragedy for America but asked that everyone respect calls for calm reflection. It was a rare statement from the President on a case that doesn’t directly involve the federal government.
“I know this case has elicited strong passions,” Mr. Obama said. “And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken.”
Many, including Martin’s parents, said Mr. Zimmerman had racially profiled Martin. Mr. Zimmerman, whose mother was born in Peru, identifies as Hispanic.
Despite the racially charged nature of the case, race was barely mentioned at the trial.
The Justice Department opened an investigation into Martin’s death last year but stepped aside to allow the State prosecution to proceed.
In a statement on Sunday, the Justice Department said the criminal section of its civil rights division, the FBI and the local U.S. Attorney’s office are continuing to evaluate the evidence.
The department has a long history of using federal civil rights law in an effort to convict defendants who have previously been acquitted in related State cases.