Verdict called a ‘tragedy’

Published 10:38 pm Monday, July 15, 2013

The not-guilty verdict announced late Saturday in the trial of George Zimmerman, accused of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., has sharply divided folks across the country.

Here in Suffolk, Bishop Wallace Johnson, who organized a march and a candlelight vigil in April 2012 after the Feb. 26 incident, called the verdict a tragedy.

“It’s heartbreaking,” he said. “Trayvon had just as much right to be in that area as George Zimmerman. I just feel like the kid was racially profiled.”

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The shooting took place as Martin walked home to his father’s house from a convenience store with a bag of Skittles and a canned iced tea. He was unarmed, but Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, was not.

According to Zimmerman’s testimony, he called police to report Martin acting suspiciously and got out of his vehicle to find a house number so they would know where he was. Martin attacked him, and he shot in self-defense, he has claimed.

Zimmerman was not charged until a month and a half later, a delay that provoked protests, marches and candlelight vigils in many places, including Suffolk.

The case carried racial baggage because Martin was black and Zimmerman has been described as a “white Hispanic.”

A six-woman jury, all white, found Zimmerman not guilty after the trial that lasted three weeks, during which they were sequestered. They deliberated about 16 hours over two days, national media outlets have reported.

The possibility still exists for a wrongful death lawsuit against Zimmerman by Martin’s family, and the U.S. Justice Department has not ruled out criminal civil rights charges against Zimmerman.

Johnson said he told members of his church from the pulpit on Sunday that “the truth is the truth. You might get by, but you won’t get away with it.”

But Johnson also said he believes jurors followed the law.

“I’m not blaming the jurors that found him not guilty,” he said. “I think they followed the law, and the law said if you had a reasonable doubt, you can’t find him guilty. I thought the prosecution just didn’t do what they should have done. Listening to them on the interviews, it’s almost like, ‘We just wanted to bring the charges because we had to.’”

Johnson said the incident is proof that there is still a problem with race in this country.

“We have a problem,” he said. “We may have thought at one time things were getting better, but they’re getting worse. Nobody knows what it feels like to be in black skin in this country.”

He also said he thought about organizing another march but then decided against it.

“What’s the use?” he said. “We march, we rally, we have all these candlelight vigils, and it doesn’t change a thing.”

Suffolk police officials said this week there had not been any incidents over the weekend related to the trial. Police in other areas of the country have arrested people during demonstrations.