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George Zimmerman verdict elicits shock, shame and pride

SANFORD, Fla. — Not guilty.

The jury verdict ended a case that has gripped America for weeks, sending a clamor of outrage through those who were convinced that George Zimmerman committed murder when he shot unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in a confrontation at a gated community in Florida.

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For others, there were proclamations that justice had been done. The prosecution, they said, never proved that the 29-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer set out to kill Martin that night in February 2012.

“Today ... I’m proud to be an American,” Zimmerman’s brother, Robert Zimmerman Jr., said on Twitter in the moments after the six-woman jury handed down its acquittal.

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Martin’s father, Tracy Martin, tweeted his disappointment. “Even though I am broken hearted, my faith is unshattered,” he said. “I WILL ALWAYS LOVE MY BABY TRAY.”

On the courthouse lawn, people strained to hear the verdict over their phones; when it became clear that Zimmerman would leave a free man, the crowd was mostly silent.

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Denica Crawford, from Sanford, and her cousin Jekeem Burk held a phone between them to hear the verdict. When it was announced, they cried.

Keith Mack, 22, of Jacksonville, Fla., sat in disbelief. “This is completely insane, the injustice and the abuse of power. I’m completely ashamed to be an American citizen in a country that allows someone to gun down a boy,” he said.

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“I’m ashamed that the courts allowed his Facebook and Twitter accounts to be used in the trial. He can’t defend himself, because he is dead,” he said.

The trial provided a national theater for the racial tension that still boils across the South and elsewhere as local and national demonstrations drove home the fact that the two men were divided by ethnicity: Martin was African American and Zimmerman is of Latino heritage.

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“I give up,” said Tonnetta Foster of Sanford, throwing up her hands and fighting tears as she stood outside the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center, where the trial was held.

Not far away, Erika Rodger of nearby Enterprise said she was shocked by the verdict. “I’m just heartsick,” she said. “I have a 20-year-old son; I would hate for this to happen to him. That’s why we have police, not individuals that think they can take the law into their own hands.”

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As expected, social media erupted Saturday night. Reactions across the country ranged from anger to celebration. Some expressed dismay with the American justice system and over perceived racism in Florida. Sympathy was expressed alternately for Martin’s family and for Zimmerman’s own ordeal.

“So glad #zimmerman was found not guilty. State didn’t prove their case. Left reasonable doubt,” tweeted Gabby Buehrle. Added Mitch Grosky: “My feeling — he was likely guilty, but it seems that the defense created reasonable doubt (self-defense) in the jury’s mind.” And a woman named Martha wrote: “The evidence was not there. Whether you agree or not you can’t convict someone if you can’t prove your case beyond any doubt.”

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Those who thought Martin was murdered were equally candid.

“I gave up on America today,” tweeted Danile Mena.

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“Not guilty!!! What? Pray for our judicial system,” said Mauro Vela.

Anticipation had built in the days leading up to the verdict. In a symbolic move, Martin’s supporters blacked out Twitter and Facebook profile photos and circulated the #Blackout4Trayvon hashtag.

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“We are blacking out our profile photos in a showing of love, unification and solidarity in support of Trayvon Benjamin Martin and have been joined in this effort by his family and their attorneys here on Facebook,” said a statement posted on the “Justice for Trayvon Martin” Facebook page.

About 30 law enforcement officers kept watch over the demonstrators outside the courthouse, some of whom broke into chants of “No justice, no peace” after the verdict and called for a nationwide protest.

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But less than an hour later, much of the crowd had dispersed; only 50 or so remained in the park.

Indeed, there were no signs late Saturday that the verdict had sparked violence or riots, as many law enforcement officials had feared, though rallies of protest sprang up in Philadelphia, San Francisco, Chicago, Oakland and Washington, D.C.

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As Tonnetta Foster stood outside the courthouse weeping, she turned to a stranger — mother Erika Rodger — a woman she had met not long before.

Foster is black and Rodger is white.

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The two women shared their grief over a teenage boy who had lost his life, their disappointment that a jury hadn’t convicted the man who shot him.

As the tumult of the protests unfolded around them, the two women stood there and hugged.

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john.glionna@latimes.com

carolyn.cole@latimes.com

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Times staff writer Devin Kelly contributed to this report.


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