Columbus residents react to Zimmerman acquittal

ajjohnson@ledger-enquirer.comJuly 15, 2013 

Tyrone Richard played basketball Monday with Trayvon Martin on his mind.

The black 15-year-old wondered what George Zimmerman’s acquittal would mean for his life.

“If that could happen to Trayvon, it could happen to me,” said Richard, while spending the afternoon at the Shirley Winston Recreational Center. “I walk home at night, and I don’t want to get shot like him for just wearing a hoodie.”

Richard was just one of many people in Columbus still stunned by the verdict that acquitted Zimmerman in the fatal shooting of Martin in Sanford, Fla.

Marquese Averett, president of Young Minority Leaders, said his group will hold a peace rally and candlelight vigil at noon Saturday in the courtyard of the Consolidated Government Center. He said the purpose of the event is to urge the U.S. Justice Department to pursue a civil rights case against Zimmerman, and also to bring awareness about other people who have died from gun violence. He said a candle will be lit for everyone that has been killed in Columbus the past five years.

“I think the verdict is very disappointing,” said Averett, a Columbus State University student who held a vigil for Martin in 2012. “Dr. King said justice delayed is justice denied. Justice was delayed from the very beginning of this case, and it took marches and rallies and protests to even charge Zimmerman with a crime. So, we shouldn’t be surprised that justice was denied in the end, because it was delayed in the beginning.”

Others in Columbus saw the case differently.

“I think due process was served,” said Peter Weeks, 33, an art major at Columbus State University. “They presented their cases and society has deemed him (Zimmerman) innocent of the charges. I think that’s the only way it could have gone. You could disagree with it, but the way everything is set up, they played by the rules. So, he is innocent.”

Jonathan Baker, 28, is an employee at The Burger Joint on Broadway. He said Zimmerman should have been convicted of manslaughter, but the prosecution just did a poor job prosecuting the case.

“It wasn’t a race issue when it came to the jury,” he said. “It’s a case where the jury was confused and the prosecution had not done its job explaining the case.”

Baker’s friend, Tekele “TK” Habtemariam, 21, agreed. Habtemariam, who is black, said he re-watched all the footage from the trial yesterday. Since then he’s avoided commenting on Facebook and Twitter because he knows it will cause drama.

“The defense team, like, rocked it out,” he said. “If you weren’t looking at race, and you weren’t looking at the whole social issue of it all, a man was following somebody. That’s not illegal. And he got into a fight, he got beat up by the person, you could hear screams for his life and he defended himself.

“But it’s just sad that it had to happen that way,” he said. “The system is not broke. It is built that way.”

Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said she has received calls from numerous people of all races saying they were disturbed by the verdict.

“One aspect of the criminal justice system is that people are held accountable for the loss of a life,” Tomlinson said. “And when that doesn’t happen because there’s no indictment or verdict of guilt, then people are concerned as to whether the justice system is working. And those were the calls that I was getting. Is the justice system working?”

Tomlinson said she, personally, accepted the jury’s verdict, but is still trying to understand Florida’s stand your ground law, and how it could protect someone who left the safety of his own car to follow someone with a gun.

“I have a hard time appreciating how the stand your ground law works when you as an armed person approach somebody else,” she said. “I think law enforcement has a concern about that too. The last thing we need is citizens arming themselves and going to reconcile disputes or going to engage people that they’re going to ask questions of.

“We need the great work of our neighborhood watch folks to be partnering very closely with our law enforcement and allowing those types of confrontations to occur with trained professionals,” she said. “I think it would be a misinterpretation of the intent of any stand your ground law to presume you could be armed and go out and confront other people.”

She said citizens who are concerned about the process and the justice system will have an opportunity to protest peacefully at Saturday’s event.

Nate Sanderson, president of the Columbus branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he was surprised by the verdict and hopes it wakes up the community.

“I did not think that they were going to get second-degree, but I was surprised that they couldn’t get manslaughter,” he said.

“You could argue the fact that Trayvon Martin was put on trial and had to prove that he was innocent. So, basically what we have in this decision, now, is that Trayvon Martin is guilty. He was guilty of defending himself, and George Zimmerman was justified in killing him because he (Martin) defended himself against somebody that was the initial aggressor.”

Sanderson said the case shows why people should get more involved in civic issues, especially the younger generation.

“We should take the energy that everyone has shown and propel it to be a movement that will change some of the draconian gun laws,” he said. “And if we can’t change the laws, we have to change the lawmakers. We need to organize and we need to show up at the polls and vote.”

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