Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Tuesday warned those planning to protest the acquittal of former neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin to commit themselves “to a respectful, responsible dialogue about issues of justice and equality.”
In a speech at the NAACP’s annual convention in Orlando, Fla., Mr. Holder said that doing otherwise through violence or the destruction of public property would not “honor the memory” of the slain teenager.
Mr. Holder said people across the country “rejected this destructive path” in the wake of Saturday night’s verdict, handed down in Sanford, Fla., less than 30 miles from where he spoke Tuesday, and proved wrong those who doubted the nation’s commitment to the rule of law.
“I hope that we will continue to approach this necessarily difficult dialogue with the same dignity that those who have lost the most — Trayvon’s parents — have demonstrated throughout the last year, and especially over the past few days,” he said. “They suffered a pain that no parent should have to endure — and one that I, as a father, cannot begin to conceive.
“As we embrace their example — and hold them in our prayers — we must not forgo this opportunity to better understand one another,” he said. “And we must not fail to seize this chance to improve this nation we cherish.”
Mr. Holder said that while it was time to “strengthen our collective resolve to combat gun violence,” it also was time to “combat violence involving or directed toward our children — so we can prevent future tragedies.” He said the country needed to confront the underlying attitudes, mistaken beliefs and unfortunate stereotypes that serve too often as the basis for police action and private judgments.
On Tuesday, the Rev. Al Sharpton said he would lead a national “Justice for Trayvon” day in 100 cities across the country this weekend to demand that the Justice Department file civil-rights charges against Mr. Zimmerman in Trayvon’s death. He called the protests “a social movement for justice.”
While most demonstrations across the country since the acquittal was announced Saturday night generally were peaceful, one in Los Angeles on Monday erupted into violence when about 150 protesters broke off and began smashing store windows, vandalizing cars and attacking bystanders, police said.
More than 300 Los Angeles police officers were dispatched to the scene to restore order. Fourteen people were arrested.
In Oakland, Calif., protesters threw bottles and fireworks at police officers, smashed store windows and burned U.S. flags. Nine people were arrested.
“In the days leading up to this weekend’s verdict, some predicted — and prepared for — riots and waves of civil unrest across the country. Some feared that the anger of those who disagreed with the jury might overshadow and obscure the issues at the heart of this case,” Mr. Holder said. “But the people of Sanford, and, for the most part, thousands of others across America, rejected this destructive path.”
“This afternoon, I want to assure you of two things: I am concerned about this case and as we confirmed last spring, the Justice Department has an open investigation into it. While that inquiry is ongoing, I can promise that the Department of Justice will consider all available information before determining what action to take.”
Meanwhile, one of the jurors in the Zimmerman case told CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” she had “no doubt” Mr. Zimmerman feared for his life in the final moments of his struggle with Trayvon, and that was the definitive factor in the verdict.
She also noted that the jury initially voted three guilty and three not guilty but “after hours and hours and hours of deliberating over the law, and reading it over and over and over again, we decided there’s just no way, other place to go.”
“It’s a tragedy this happened. But it happened,” the juror said. “And I think both were responsible for the situation they had gotten themselves into. I think both of them could have walked away. It just didn’t happen.”