Calls for civil rights case follow Zimmerman verdict

Baltimore pastor, NAACP ask for federal investigation; several hundred rally in Inner Harbor to protest verdict

  • People take part in a rally at McKeldin Square near the Inner Harbor to protest the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial. Zimmerman was acquitted in the 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida.
People take part in a rally at McKeldin Square near the Inner… (Baltimore Sun photo by Algerina…)
July 14, 2013|By Jamie Smith Hopkins and Carrie Wells, The Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore-based NAACP and the pastor of a city mega-church were among those calling Sunday for a federal civil rights case against George Zimmerman after the Florida man was acquitted in the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager.

Meanwhile, a crowd numbering between 300 and 400 rallied at Baltimore's Inner Harbor to register frustration and dismay with the late Saturday verdict in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

"It was like it was my child," said Debora Evans, 57, of Baltimore, who attended the rally and choked up when she spoke about the verdict. She said it hit home for her because she is a mother. "I think black children, poor children — they're not treated the same. They don't have as much of a chance in our United States of America."

The NAACP, which shortly after the verdict put up a petition pressing the U.S. Department of Justice to act, said it quickly gained several hundred thousand signatures.

And in thundering, emotional services Sunday morning, the Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant of the Empowerment Temple in Baltimore told congregants that he and perhaps 100 other pastors will travel to Washington Tuesday in hopes of speaking to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

"It is not the end of it," said Bryant, an early supporter of Martin's mother, to loud affirmations and applause. "Justice must prevail."

The Justice Department said Sunday it is continuing to investigate the matter and will decide "whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation of any of the limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction."

Martin's 2012 shooting touched off a fiery debate about race and justice in 21st century America after Zimmerman — who said he acted in self-defense — was initially not charged with a crime.

Prosecutors contended that Martin, who is black, was simply walking through Zimmerman's neighborhood after buying a snack, and that Zimmerman, whose father is white and mother is Peruvian, provoked an ultimately fatal confrontation after assuming the teen was up to no good. The defense team argued that Martin was the aggressor, breaking their client's nose and pummeling him against the sidewalk.

Results of the closely watched trial prompted reaction across the country, from tweets to what media reports described as largely peaceful demonstrations. Locally, members of the Baltimore People's Power Assembly gathered at the Inner Harbor Sunday morning and again in the late afternoon. The group plans another rally at 5 p.m. Monday.

The afternoon rally drew a multicultural crowd of activist groups and individuals, some speaking passionately through megaphones and microphones of how they felt the verdict was symptomatic of larger problems of race and class throughout the nation.

"The verdict for me told exactly what America feels for black men in this country," said Jonathan Gilmore, a 29-year-old Baltimore schoolteacher. "There was a definite disregard for a life here."

Gilmore, who is black, lamented the way race plays a hand in the way Baltimore children live their lives — from witnessing violence to a lack of recreational opportunities to being followed by security in the mall. "You walk out of the house differently when you're a black man," he said.

Ayo Hogans, 36, said she told her 5-year-old daughter about the Trayvon Martin case because it's important for her to understand.

Martin's "mother is never ever going to see her child again, just because one senseless person chose to take the law into his own hands," she said. "That someone feels they have the right to take someone's life with no repercussions — that's not right."

Baltimore police, who had urged people to react peacefully to the verdict, said Sunday night that there had been no reported incidents.

Hilary O. Shelton, the NAACP's senior vice president for advocacy and policy, said he was happy that "the vast majority" of demonstrators "recognized that you don't have a violent demonstration to protest a violent act."

The NAACP's own protest was its Justice Department petition, launched half an hour after the verdict. As of mid-afternoon Sunday, the group said it had collected 250,000 signatures on its own site and 125,000 more at

The Justice Department said it has had an "open investigation" into Martin's death since last year, but the FBI said last year that agents did not find evidence that racial bias played a role in the shooting.

Shelton said more details could emerge if Martin's family files a civil suit.

"Looking at all the evidence, no one denies that Mr. Zimmerman was stalking Trayvon Martin," Shelton said. "Everyone says he began following him."

Zimmerman's brother, Robert Zimmerman Jr., told CNN Sunday that the FBI investigation didn't find "any inkling of racism." In an interview with NPR that day, he said his family has been flooded with graphic threats, and he took issue with the description of Martin as unarmed.

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