In a dramatic end to a case that has played out for over a year, George Zimmerman was found not guilty of any charges related to the death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager who was shot by Zimmerman.
The case wasn't just a fascination for the broader American public, but for politicians as well. This was especially true after President Obama said in March, 2012 that, if he had a son, "he'd look like Trayvon." Obama issued a statement about the verdict on Sunday afternoon. On Saturday night, the reactions from D.C. started coming in soon after the not-guilty verdict was reached.
The first came from Rep. Corrine Brown, who represents Florida's fifth district:
Thoughts are with #TrayvonMartin family. I pray for peace.— Corrine Brown (@RepCorrineBrown) July 14, 2013
Later on Sunday, Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson tweeted:
This bold response came early from Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro, who is widely viewed as a big part of the Democratic Party's future:
Defense attorney Mark O'Mara may incite a riot by his arrogance alone. Talk about adding insult to injury.— Joaquin Castro (@JoaquinCastrotx) July 14, 2013
Castro was referring, in part, to statements during a defense press conference Saturday night where O'Mara said that if George Zimmerman had been black, he never would have been charged with Trayvon Martin's murder. In explaining that opinion, O'Mara said that "those people who decided that they were going to make [Zimmerman] a scapegoat would not have" if he he was black. As The New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin pointed out, O'Mara didn't really do himself any favors opining here, calling his statements "absurd." The defense's position, which won out in the end with the jury, was that Zimmerman shot Martin in self-defense.
Castro later followed-up:
Thankfully, all is peaceful across the country tonight.— Joaquin Castro (@JoaquinCastrotx) July 14, 2013
In a separate press conference, Benjamin Crump, the attorney for the Martin family said: "To everybody that put their hoodies up, and to everybody that said 'I am Trayvon,' his family expresses their heartfelt gratitude." In response to a similar question about what would have happened had Zimmerman been black, Crump said:
Well, we know that a 17-year-old unarmed boy was killed. And I think all America has to dig deep in their hearts to find how we as a society can learn from this tragedy and make sure it's not repeated.
On This Week on ABC Sunday morning, Crump elaborated on O'Mara's statement about what would have happened had Zimmerman been black:
If you go to any courtroom in America on any given day, you will see the number of African American males being convicted on not much evidence at all. Not that it's right, but you will see that nobody in America worries that a black man won't be convicted in court. That's not a big issue.
Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York kept the "I am Trayvon" sentiment alive into Saturday night:
And Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland used the verdict as a call to action:
Turn your pain into passion and your passion into purpose. Now is the time to do so for #JusticeForTrayvon— Elijah E. Cummings (@ElijahECummings) July 14, 2013
Rep. Gregory Meeks joined the other New York members of Congress in commenting on the verdict on Twitter. Like Rep. Cummings, he hoped that change could come in the case's aftermath:
I hope that our country now engages in a much needed conversation about the consequences of racial profiling #IAmTrayvonMartin— Gregory Meeks (@GregoryMeeks) July 14, 2013
Former congressman and New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner also weighed in:
Keep Trayvon's family in our prayers. Deeply unsatisfying verdict. Trial by jury is our only choice in a democracy.— Anthony Weiner (@anthonyweiner) July 14, 2013
Weiner wasn't the only politician running for New York City office to weigh in. On This Week Sunday, former New York Governor and comptroller candidate Eliot Spitzer called the case "a failure of justice."
On the Republican side of the aisle, former RNC chair Michael Steele also spoke out on Twitter:
Defense Atty:"if George Zimmerman were black, he never would have been charged with a crime" Is he high?— Michael Steele (@Steele_Michael) July 14, 2013
Just because Zimmerman has been cleared on all charges doesn't mean that this case is over. The NAACP on Saturday night posted a petition to the Department of Justice, asking Attorney General Eric Holder to file civil rights charges against Zimmerman. New York Congressman Jerry Nadler seemed to voice some support for such an effort:
Trayvon Martin's death was a senseless tragedy & I'm deeply saddened tonight. Pleased that DOJ is continuing to evaluate evidence.— Congressman Nadler (@RepJerryNadler) July 14, 2013
In a retweet of NAACP president Ben Jealous, Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen did the same:
Although, as ever, a retweet is of course not necessarily an endorsement. On Sunday morning, Rep. Cohen followed-up with a response to the reactions he's seen to the Zimmerman verdict on Twitter:
Later in the day, Cohen explicitly called for the Department of Justice to take action:
On CNN Sunday morning, Jealous said he'd reached out to the Department of Justice:
on CNN, NAACP prez Jealous says his gp has spoken to "sr members" of DoJ team regarding fed civil rights case.— E McMorris-Santoro (@EvanMcSan) July 14, 2013
On Sunday afternoon, the Department of Justice issued a statement making it clear that they will continue to investigate the shooting.
Also on CNN Sunday, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said that "I think it's right to ask the Justice Department to fully, fully pursue civil rights violation...to lead to a consquence of charges if necessary." On the same show, Rep. Chakah Fattah (D-Penn.) particularly lamented the fact that George Zimmerman will get his gun back. And he was worried about the standard that the verdict will set: "If someone tells you not to follow a kid, then you follow him, and you get out of your car, and you shoot him and you kill him, then that's okay."
Texas Gov. Rick Perry was also on CNN, and was asked by host Candy Crowley about the Zimmerman verdict. Perry said that the killing of Martin was "without a doubt, a tragic event" but that "we have the best judicial system in the world and we respect it." Perry also said that he thinks "our justice system is colorblind." On the same show, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said much of the same: "The American way is colorblind." Quinn also disparaged Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, saying "we don't have it in Illinois, and we don't want it."
On ABC's This Week, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) called the Zimmerman verdict "devastating," and that she is "very concerned about the community." Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), on the other hand, said that "at least from all that I watched, it seemed to me that it was an accurate verdict" and that it appeared to him that justice was served.
On the same show, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said that "going through with the investigation is incredibly important," and Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) called the case "a tragedy that should've never happened. Clearly Zimmerman should've never gotten in that car, shouldn't have had a gun, shouldn't have been out." Cole, addressing the larger race issues surrounding the verdict, said that "we'll be talking about this case for a long time to come."
Asked on Fox News Sunday if Zimmerman should've been proseucted to begin with, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said no:
My sympathy goes out also to the Martin family and the Zimmerman family for this ordeal that they've been through. The evidence didn't support prosecution and the Justice Department engaged in this, the President engaged in this and turned it into a political issue that should have been handled exclusively with law and order. I regret that this all happened. I'm sorry that it was turned into a race issue by the media. Otherwise, it would have been tried or not tried depending on the laws that were there. This is unfortunate.
And in late into the early morning on Sunday, hundreds of people walked the streets of Washington, trailed by police cars, chanting "No justice, no peace."
This article appears in the July 15, 2013 edition of NJ Daily.