US President Barack Obama appealed for restraint on Sunday as thousands marched across the country protesting the acquittal of a man who gunned down an unarmed black teenager.
A Florida jury late on Saturday found volunteer watchman George Zimmerman not guilty of murdering 17 year-old Trayvon Martin in a racially charged trial that transfixed much of the country for weeks.
Crowds took to the streets to protest the verdict on Sunday in cities including Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
In New York, several thousand rallied in Times Square waving signs with portraits of Martin, while others wore “hoodie” sweatshirts, despite the searing heat, as the teen did the night he was killed.
“The man was armed, the kid was not and the man with the gun got away,” said protester Carli VanVoorhis, 21. “If we say it was not a racial issue, we would be lying.”
Despite the large crowds the various marches were largely peaceful, though windows were smashed and cars vandalized in pre-dawn protests in Oakland, California.
Obama urged Americans to step back and accept the trial verdict.
“We are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken,” Obama said in a statement. “I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son.”
Zimmerman, 29, was accused of pursuing Martin through a gated community in the town of Sanford, and shooting him during an altercation on Feb. 26 last year.
The defense successfully argued that Zimmerman shot Martin in self-defense after the teen wrestled him to the ground.
According to Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, people who fear for their lives can use deadly force to defend themselves without having to flee a confrontation.
The trial divided those who believed that Zimmerman had racially profiled Martin, and those who believed he acted in self-defense.
Martin’s parents asked the public before the verdict to respect the trial outcome, and afterwards gave thanks for the outpouring of support they received over the past year.
The Martin family’s attorney, Benjamin Crump, declined to say whether they would file a civil lawsuit against Zimmerman, but said “they are going to certainly look at that as an option.”
“They deeply want a sense of justice. They deeply don’t want their son’s death to be in vain,” he told ABC News’ This Week.
Community leaders called for non-violent demonstrations after the verdict.
The NAACP, the largest US civil rights group, urged supporters to sign a letter asking US Attorney General Eric Holder to file civil rights charges against Zimmerman.
The US Department of Justice said on Sunday it will resume its probe into whether hate crime charges can be brought against Zimmerman following the Florida trial. The department has a long history of using federal civil rights law in an effort to convict defendants who have previously been acquitted in related state cases.
However, experience has shown it is hard to get convictions in such high-profile prosecutions.
Alan Vinegrad, a former US attorney, said federal prosecutors “would have to show not only that the attack was unjustified, but that Mr Zimmerman attacked Mr Martin because of his race and because he was using a public facility, the street.”
Federal prosecutors “will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation of any of the limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction,” the Justice Department said in a statement.