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George Zimmerman ‘not guilty’ verdict: Legal fight could continue

George Zimmerman has been found not guilty in the shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin. But the US Justice Department may pursue the case under civil rights law, and Trayvon’s parents are considering whether or not to file wrongful death civil charges against Zimmerman.

UPDATE The Department of Justice said Sunday it would review the Travyon Martin-George Zimmerman case to determine if it should consider prosecuting Zimmerman, who was acquitted Friday in a Florida court, in the shooting case, reports Politico. “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 DOJ said. 

The criminal trial of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin may be over, but the political, social, and legal reaction is likely to continue for months if not years.

In the immediate aftermath of the “not guilty” verdict, there have been protests around the country, marked by some vandalism and destruction of property. But for the most part, any angry reaction to Mr. Zimmerman’s walking free has been subdued.

In Florida, where the case was heard, many churches planned to remain open throughout the day, the Miami Herald reported. “Every church should be open … to enforce the word not to retaliate,” the Rev. Vernon Gillum told the newspaper. The CBS affiliate in Miami reported that police had erected at least two so-called First Amendment Zones for protesters.

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So far, anything more serious than rhetorical protest has been limited.

Windows were broken and small street fires were started in Oakland, Calif., police reported. The Oakland Tribune said some windows on the newspaper’s downtown offices were broken, and footage from a television helicopter show people attempting to start fires in the street and spray painting anti-police graffiti, the Associated Press reported.

In Los Angeles, about 200 protesters gathered in Leimert Park, the city’s historically black neighborhood, for what police termed a peaceful vigil. “Justice 4 Trayvon Martin” rallies were planned for Sunday in New York City.

Beyond the immediate public response to a 17-month episode that heightened and sharpened the public conversation on race, guns, and the US justice system, officials are considering whether to pursue the case any farther.

The US Justice Department has been closely following the case of a legally-armed neighborhood watch volunteer who took it upon himself to follow and confront an unarmed black teenager apparently minding his own business, then shot him dead when a physical confrontation ensued and he felt threatened.

(The racial issue is complicated. Trayvon Martin was black; George Zimmerman’s father is white and his mother is Hispanic.)

The NAACP and other civil rights groups are urging the Justice Department to pursue the case.

“We call immediately for the Justice Department to conduct an investigation into the civil rights violations committed against Trayvon Martin,” Roslyn M. Brock, Chairman of the NAACP, said in a statement . “This case has re-energized the movement to end racial profiling in the United States.”

On CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday, NAACP President Benjamin Jealous said, “When you look at [Zimmerman’s] comments, when you look at his comments about young black men in that neighborhood, about how they felt specially targeted by him, there is reason to be concerned that race was a factor in why he targeted young Trayvon.”

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Meanwhile, Trayvon Martin’s parents are considering whether or not to file wrongful death civil charges against Zimmerman.

“They are going to certainly look at that as an option,” their attorney, Benjamin Crump, said on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday. “They deeply want a sense of justice. They deeply don’t want their son’s death to be in vain.”

But for now, Mr. Crump said, “They’re in church this morning, praying and turning to God, a higher authority, to make sense of it all.”

Martin’s parents – Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton – weren’t in the courtroom when the verdict was read, but reacted on Twitter Saturday night.

Trayvon’s father, expressed his disappointment with the verdict, tweeting, ”Even though I am broken hearted my faith is unshattered I WILL ALWAYS LOVE MY BABY TRAY.”

Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, tweeted ”Lord during my darkest hour I lean on you. You are all that I have. At the end of the day, GOD is still in control. Thank you all for your prayers and support. I will love you forever Trayvon!!! In the name of Jesus!!!”

Life will never be the same for them, nor will it be for the man who killed their son despite a verdict that set him free.

“There are factions, there are groups, there are people that would want to take the law into their own hands as they perceive it, or be vigilantes in some sense,” Robert Zimmerman Jr., George Zimmerman’s brother, said on CNN after the verdict had been announced Saturday night. “They think that justice was not served, they won’t respect the verdict no matter how it was reached and they will always present a threat to George and his family.”