At least 400 people took to the streets of Seattle on Sunday night to peacefully protest the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood-watch volunteer who said he was acting in self-defense when he fatally shot Trayvon Martin in Florida last year.
Chanting in anger over the verdict, they rallied for an hour with signs and speeches at Westlake Park, then marched several blocks in the street to the steps of the federal courthouse for more speeches.
“We want justice against Zimmerman, but on the other hand we want the system changed,” Semone Ander, 25, of Seattle told the crowd through a megaphone.
“(Martin) is the face of a problem that’s been going on for years and years and years. … Who’s going to change the system if not us?”
The protest at Westlake Park was among scores of gatherings organized around the country on short notice Sunday.
Signs reflected the overwhelming sentiment that African Americans, like Martin, are not valued in America: “Stop The War on Black Youth,” “Walking While Black is Not a Crime,” and “Stop Criminalizing Black Men,” among others.
Muhib Mohamoud, 28, of Seattle and her 6-year-old son, Abdul Kebbeh, joined the protest wearing T-shirts printed with the words “Know justice, know peace.”
Mohamoud said she followed the case closely for more than a year and cried hard Saturday night when she heard the verdict.
Pointing to her son, she said, “He could be walking down the street when he’s 17, 11 years from now, and go to the store for candy and get killed on the street. The system doesn’t care because he’s black.”
Nearby, Benjamin Muzzey, 34, stood holding his 15-month-old son, a pained expression on his face.
“I was praying for a miracle of (a conviction on) manslaughter,” he said. “I wasn’t surprised.”
Muzzey, who has a black father and a white mother, said he was encouraged by the racial diversity of the group protesting.
“I feel that if we come together like this, we can change things,” he said. “I don’t think America values black men’s lives very much. I want better for my son.”
Martin’s case reminded him of a beating he witnessed when he was riding the bus to school in first grade in Seattle, he said. The police had taken a night stick to a black man’s head, splitting it open. The bus driver told the black students on the bus that they would be treated the same way, he said, and that’s why they had to stick together.
“Even then, we weren’t valued the same way,” he said.
Demonstrations also were held in Miami, Philadelphia, Chicago and Washington, D.C., among other cities. In New York City, protesters took to Times Square while about 200 people turned out for a rally and march in downtown Chicago.
In Chicago, 73-year-old Maya Miller said the case reminded her of the 1955 slaying of Emmitt Till, a 14-year-old from Chicago who was killed by a group of white men while visiting Mississippi. Till’s killing galvanized the civil-rights movement.
In Oakland, Calif., some demonstrators broke windows, burned U.S. flags and started street fires. In Los Angeles, police said a crowd of about 100 protesters surrounded an officer and were dispersed by police firing beanbag rounds.
Organizers in Seattle urged support of the NAACP’s petition urging the U.S. Justice Department to file civil-rights charges against Zimmerman.
A six-woman jury deliberated for more than 16 hours before finding Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder and a lesser charge of manslaughter in the shooting, which sparked protests around the country last year when Zimmerman was not immediately arrested in connection with the shooting of the unarmed teen in February 2012.
Martin, who was African American, was walking through a subdivision in Sanford, Fla., wearing a gray hoodie and carrying Skittles and a beverage when Zimmerman, armed with a gun, called the police to report Martin as a suspicious person. Ignoring the police dispatcher’s instructions to not follow Martin, Zimmerman followed the youth in his car and on foot. A confrontation and a fight ensued, and Zimmerman drew his gun, shooting Martin in the heart.
There were no witnesses to the shooting, and conflicting accounts of the struggle were offered during the three-week trial.
Zimmerman, 29, claimed he was acting in self-defense under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which allows people to use lethal force if they have a reasonable fear of great bodily harm or death.
On Sunday, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn released a statement on the verdict, saying, “Stand your ground laws and those that create a permissive gun culture are indefensible. More troubling is the racial profiling of Trayvon Martin. Together it is a recipe for tragedy. We have much work to do.”
The Associated Press and staff reporter Brian M. Rosenthal contributed to this report.