Nationwide rallies against the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin drew small crowds, a sign that Americans had largely accepted the verdict and that race relations are not nearly as frayed as Al Sharpton’s National Action Network had sought to indicate. The flagship rally in New York only drew a crowd of “hundreds,” while a rally in Newport News, Virginia struggled to draw two dozen.
Demonstrators showed solidarity with Martin by wearing hooded sweatshirts (“hoodies”) despite generally hot temperatures, protesting what they–and President Barack Obama–suggested was Zimmerman’s profiling of Martin based on his race and dress. Young black men across the country, many said, face similar profiling by police and by private citizens every day, placing their liberty at risk and their lives in danger.
However, polls indicated that only 24% of Americans disagreed with the Zimmerman verdict, while several prominent figures–including retired basketball star Charles Barkley and former President Jimmy Carter–said that the verdict had been correct. President Obama had called upon Americans to respect the verdict, though in a statement Friday he also cast it in racial terms that had been rejected even by the prosecution.
The Department of Justice is expected to drop plans to prosecute Zimmerman for civil rights violations, in spite of calls from the NAACP and Martin’s supporters to charge him, though Attorney General Eric Holder described an ongoing investigation in remarks last week. The FBI had previously found no indication of any racial bias by Zimmerman, in the fight with Martin or in general, after interviewing dozens of witnesses.
The protests were peaceful, despite occasionally violent rhetoric. The media continued to focus on the case on Sunday, with CNN’s Candy Crowley asking President Obama’s former rival, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), if America still struggled with racism. (“Old prejudices die hard,” despite progress, he said.) Yet Americans seemed to have moved beyond the media and their elected leaders in building a tolerant, diverse nation.