WASHINGTON — Passionate, but mostly peaceful protests, have erupted in several U.S. cities after a Florida man was acquitted of murder and manslaughter in the highly-publicized shooting death of a black teenager last year.
Verdicts in racially-charged cases have, on occasion, triggered violence and destruction on a massive scale. The 1992 acquittal of Los Angeles police officers in the beating of a black motorist sparked days of ferocious riots and looting in the city. Dozens of people were killed, hundreds were wounded, and property damage topped $1 billion.
By comparison, reaction to the acquittal of Florida shooting suspect George Zimmerman has been relatively peaceful.
Late Saturday, a six-woman jury arrived at a verdict in one of America’s most closely-watched court cases of recent years.
An attorney for the family of deceased 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, appeared on the Fox News Sunday television program. Darryl Parks described the verdict as “unbelievable”, but said the Martin family wants the public to remain calm. “That is their [the jury’s] decision. We accept their decision, but we do not agree with their decision," he said.
In 2012, Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, spotted Martin walking at night through his Florida community. A confrontation and struggle ensued, ending with Zimmerman shooting Martin.
The court case appeared to hinge on conflicting accounts of who had incited hostilities, and whether Zimmerman was acting in self-defense.
The verdict was appropriate, according to a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Republican Orrin Hatch, who spoke on ABC’s This Week program. “If the rule is that you have to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, there were plenty of reasonable doubts there [presented at trial]," he said.
Although acquitted of criminal wrongdoing, Zimmerman could still face civil charges if the Martin family or the U.S. Justice Department pursue that avenue.