News Column

Zimmerman Verdict Sparks Protests at Texas Capitol

July 15, 2013

Hundreds of protesters fanned the sidewalk in front of the Texas Capitol on Sunday evening, criticizing the George Zimmerman verdict as proof that racism exists in the justice system.

Austin police and Department of Public Safety troopers estimated between 200 and 300 people rallied Sunday -- many of whom were wearing hoodies and holding print outs of Travyon Martin's face.

Talitha Alexander brought her 6-year-old and 4-year-old daughters to the rally, which was organized by the Austin chapter of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty.

"This kid is dead and [Zimmerman] should've gotten time for it," said Alexander. "I wanted to let [my children] understand ... profiling or stereotyping can happen and how you can prevent it and walk away from it."

On Saturday, a Florida jury found Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder after he was accused of following and gunning down 17-year-old Martin in February 2012. The case prompted a national debate about racial profiling and self-defense.

Dana Cloud, who also attended the Austin rally, said Martin's death demonstrates how racism is still "alive and well."

"Travyon's case needs to be remembered for a long, long time," Cloud said. "I think Travyon's case changed the national conversation about policing, racism and hopefully it won't be open season on young black men."

On Sunday morning at David Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in East Austin, Pastor Joseph Parker, Jr. read out a prayer request from his congregation: that there be peace in the wake of the protests that occurred Saturday night in cities from New York to Portland.

Speaking after the service, Parker said he did not discuss the verdict during his sermon because there was no "clear Biblical position" he could articulate. He said though he thought the shooting of Martin was unjustified, other Christians might believe Zimmerman rightly acted in self-defense.

There's a need, Parker said, to probe the issues of race and profiling that weren't explicitly discussed in the courtroom.

"We need to have that uncomfortable conversation," Parker said. "This case touched a tender place in America. We have to figure out, 'Why was this so tender?'"

The verdict touched a nerve nationally, with political figures, including Gov. Rick Perry, voicing their opinions.

"Although there may be people on either side of this that don't agree with how it came out, the fact is that we have the best judicial system in the world, and we respect it," Perry said on CNN's "State of the Union," later adding, "That jury made the right decision from their standpoint."

The board of the Texas Crime Prevention Association, which includes law enforcement officers, issued a statement saying they respect the verdict -- and they made a request of the public.

"We ask those participating in neighborhood watches and our citizens on patrol to be the eyes and ears of local law enforcement and not to confront anybody in any way, shape, form or fashion," the board said.

Gregory Harrington, 38, attended the Capitol rally with fellow members of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, dressed in a black hoodie and sunglasses. He said he could see himself or his nephews being profiled like Martin. He said talking and learning about race is key to reaching equality.

"We are in a colored society and the negative piece is that race is not addressed enough," he said.


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Source: Copyright Austin American-Statesman (TX) 2013

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