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Civil rights leaders, protesters seek action after Zimmerman verdict

Crime, Law and JusticeDemonstrationJustice SystemTrayvon MartinGeorge ZimmermanHomicideAl Sharpton

SANFORD, Fla. -- After a day of nationwide demonstrations protesting the verdict in the George Zimmerman murder case in Florida, civil rights leaders prepared to step up their calls for justice for Trayvon Martin, the unarmed teenager killed more than a year ago.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, a prominent civil rights activist and a television host on MSNBC, announced that his National Action Network will hold demonstrations and prayer vigils in 100 cities across the country on Saturday. Sharpton, who has been active in supporting Martin’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, made his announcement on NBC’s "Today" program.

Zimmerman, 29, was acquitted this last Saturday of murder charges in the shooting of Martin, 17, on Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford. Martin, an African American, was returning home from a convenience store where he had purchased Skittles and a drink.

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Zimmerman, who is of Latino heritage, maintained that he had shot Martin in self-defense when the teenager suddenly attacked him.

Local officials accepted the self-defense claim but civil rights leaders did not and weeks of local and national demonstrations followed. A special state prosecutor was eventually appointed and Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder.

In the wake of the verdict, there have been demonstrations by thousands of people across the country. On Sunday, protests crossed geographic and demographic lines, from New York to Los Angeles, from Florida to Wisconsin, drawing anywhere from dozens to hundreds. In Chicago, about 200 people peacefully protested. In San Francisco and Los Angeles, police closed streets. Although the demonstrations have been largely peaceful, police in Los Angeles and New York have reported making arrests.

Much of the battle over the verdict and its meaning has been fought on cable television, which covered the trial in detail. In addition to Sharpton, other prominent leaders, including Benjamin T. Jealous, head of the NAACP, have called for further government action by the Department of Justice. The agency said over the weekend that it was restarting its investigation into the death of Martin to consider possible separate hate crime charges against Zimmerman.

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Evidence is being evaluated by the criminal section of the Justice Department's civil rights division, the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office for the Middle District of Florida, the Justice Department said. A federal inquiry was begun shortly after the shooting but was delayed pending the resolution of the Florida charges.

Atty. Gen. Eric Holder is scheduled to deliver the keynote address at the NAACP convention on Tuesday. The prominent civil rights group is meeting in Orlando, near Sanford.

Several prominent congressional representatives have called on the Department of Justice to look at the incident. On Monday, Reps. Charlie Rangel and Jerrold Nadler of New York will be among members of Congress holding a news conference to discuss the case.

Also a possibility is a civil suit against Zimmerman brought by the Martin family. The family’s lawyer, Benjamin Crump, said again on Monday that he was considering a suit.

“We'll be talking about all of that in the days to come,” Crump said on CNN's New Day. “Right now, they are trying to make sense of this criminal verdict. As Sybrina Fulton said, we have to roll up our sleeves, because even though we've come a long way, we've got a long way to go to make sure that this doesn't happen to anybody else's child, especially after this verdict.”

President Obama and religious and civil rights leaders have urged calm in hopes of ensuring peaceful demonstrations. On Monday, pastors and officials in Sanford planned a prayer service for peace.

Muskal reported from Los Angeles and Hennessy-Fiske from Sanford. Times staff writer Richard Simon contributed to this report from Washington.

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