Apr. 11, 2012
Zimmerman's arrest in Trayvon Martin killing met with relief, disappointment
Laura Isensee and Audra D.S. Burch | McClatchy Newspapers
MIAMI -- ]
For six weeks, they marched and protested and prayed for justice - at least an arrest - in the killing of a unarmed Miami Gardens, Fla., teenager killed 250 miles from home.
On Wednesday, Florida authorities announced second-degree murder charges against George Zimmerman, the Sanford neighborhood watch captain who shot Trayvon Martin as he returned from a convenience store on Feb. 26. The polarizing case, traveling at the warp speed of social media, soon became a national cause, in some ways echoing the civil rights movement more than a half-century earlier. Outrage over Trayvon's death and the lack of an arrest galvanized ordinary citizens, particularly in the black community, who saw the case as a symbol of the consequences of racial profiling and the hazards of being a young, black male.
Collectively, the arrest of Zimmerman and the charges he faces were met with measured relief by some and disappointment by others.
"I think it's important that the legal system carries out a fair process and a transparent process," said the Rev. Marcus Davidson, senior pastor at New Mount Olive Baptist Church, where a large Trayvon prayer rally was held last month.
Davidson, who leads one of the largest black churches in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said he hesitated to say if a murder charge is enough for justice.
"For real peace and real satisfaction, that will come at the end - after all that takes place in the legal system. I have a lot of trepidation in saying that just a charge will satisfy, not just African Americans, but all Americans. I think this has affected all Americans who are disappointed that we're at this point in 2012."
Two weeks after Trayvon's death, his parents launched a campaign seeking justice in their son's death that mushroomed into daily marches and rallies across the nation. From middle school students to celebrities to the Miami Heat basketball players - many donning the hoodie, like the one Trayvon was wearing at the time of this death - many made the cause their own.
"... tonight maybe America can come together and say only the facts should matter when you are dealing with the loss of life," said the Rev. Al Sharpton, among the leaders of the movement. "This is not a night for celebration, it's a night that never should have happened in the first place."
From the very beginning, the merits of case have been debated in living rooms, classrooms, even in Congress, perhaps most fiercely online. Following the charges, social media exploded with reactions ranging from elation to disgust.
"Finally justice for Slimm," said Suzi Charles, referring to Trayvon's nickname on a Facebook post. She was a friend and classmate at Dr. Michael M. Krop High School in North Dade.
Others believe the charges against Zimmerman were not warranted.
"I think the prosecutor bowed to pressure from the professional civil-rights community in charging Mr. Zimmerman," said Wayne Engle, 67, who has followed the case from Madison, Indiana, and responded to a Miami Herald query.
"The government is under tremendous pressure; they had no choice but to grandstand," said Anthony Petroff, another query participant from Seattle.
At Antioch Missionary Baptist Church of Miami Gardens, where Trayvon's mother was a member and Trayvon's funeral was held, a church minister announced the arrest of Zimmerman to a mostly stoic crowd of about 75 who had gathered for a mid-week prayer service. Minister Benton Aladin quoted Martin Luther King Jr., saying the "arc of justice is long" but the "faithful hand of a loving parent" bent that arc.
"Our responsibility is to continue to pray for that family ... that justice will continue to prevail," said Aladin, whose church helped send several buses to rallies in Sanford. "We will never take our hand off that arc until justice is served."
Trayvon's death was a special loss in Miami Gardens where he grew up, said the city's Vice Mayor Oliver Gilbert III.
Gilbert said he wants Zimmerman to be subject to the court of law - not the court of public opinion as he has been in recent weeks.
"I don't want to take his word for it. He left the car. He took the life of someone who wasn't doing anything. I want the laws to apply to him. That's a start," Gilbert said.
For students at Miami Carol City Senior High, where Trayvon was once a student, the case was personal. More than 1,000 students had participated in a mass walk-out at the high school - along with dozens of other South Florida schools - last month in honor of the slain teen.
"I feel relief," said senior Antonisha Alexander, 17, who stopped to watch the news announcement at work, together with other employees at a clothes boutique in Miami Gardens. At the same time, she thought the arrest should have happened sooner. "I believe if it was a black boy who killed a white male, he would have been tried and sentenced by now. But because he's a black male, they don't take it as serious."
Her classmate senior Jarquerria Perry added: "I felt like when Obama won, it was like a shock. I really didn't believe he was going to end up getting charged."
She said she had lost hope that something would be done because it had been so long - 45 days.
"This is just to show me to never give up on anything."
(Miami Herald staff writer Christina Veiga contributed to this report. This article includes comments from members of HeraldSource, part of the Public Insight Network.