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'The system has failed': Crowds react to Zimmerman verdict

2:13 PM, Jul 14, 2013   |    comments
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Photo Gallery: Reaction to the George Zimmerman verdict

Video: Atlanta public reacts to Zimmerman verdict

Kat Crowe (L) and Melinda O'Neal react in front of the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center after learning George Zimmerman had been found not guilty in the Murder of Trayvon Martin on July 13, 2013 in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, shot and killed 17-year-old Martin after an altercation in February 2012. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

SANFORD, Fla. -- (USA Today)  Demonstrators exclaimed disbelief, one by one, as they learned on Saturday night that George Zimmerman was found not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin.

At 10:02 p.m. ET "Justice for Trayvon!" chants erupted from fist-waving people at the fountain across from the courthouse.

PHOTO GALLERY | Reaction to the George Zimmerman verdict
MORE | Demonstrators protest in front of Seminole County Criminal Justice Center

"The system has failed!" irate demonstrators started chanting.

The waiting game under way for the hundreds of protesters anticipating a verdict outside the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center was finally over.

Nina Mays of Tulsa, Okla., was outraged by the verdict.

"This is going to impact a lot of people in a lot of different places," Mays said minutes after the announcement., standing a few yards from chanting protesters.

"How is the law different for one and not for the other? Trayvon was standing his ground when Zimmerman came and messed with him, a young man coming from the store," she said.

"When do you gun down people for no reason? And why don't you get locked up for it when you do it?" she demanded, voice rising.

The large majority of the more than 350 sign-waving demonstrators wanted George Zimmerman convicted of murder.

Ramon Silvia, 27, had been waiting for the verdict.

"I think they are wrong," he said.

William Memola, an Orlando flooring contractor, displayed signs supporting Zimmerman on Friday and Saturday.

"It was the correct verdict. There are no winners. It's just, the law was written, and they followed the law. They got this one right," Memola said, standing on a sidewalk near the courthouse.

"But there are no winners. It's terrible for the Martin family and everybody involved. There's a young boy who lost his life," he said.

"It's just tragic. You can't help the verdict. It is what it is. They wrote the law -- they followed the law," he said.

Tampa resident Craig Woodord brought his 13-year-old son, Dante, to the courthouse Saturday afternoon to watch history in the making.

Dante wore a blue hooded sweatshirt and carried a bag of Skittles and a can of watermelon Arizona Iced Tea.

"My son's 13. And it could have been him. And so my heart really, really goes out to the Martin family, who lost their son that was doing absolutely nothing wrong," Woodord said. "But nobody wins tonight. George Zimmerman is free, but he has to come out into society -- living with a lot of people that don't like him."

Fifteen-year-old Tristan Bailey was stunned after hearing the verdict. "I don't know what to say," he said.

The teen identifies with Trayvon Martin. "He was just a teen, trying to live his dreams," Tristan said.

Shannon Mickey was also filled with disappointment.

"We were all nervous when we knew the verdict was coming down," the 41-year-old said. "It was a sense of shock. An unbelievable sadness."

For roughly 12 hours, Biko Misabiko stood at the courthouse fountain helping hold a large black-and-red banner that declared "End Racial Oppression: Justice 4 Trayvon."

At 10:55 p.m., the 21-year-old Florida State College at Jacksonville student folded up the banner -- which had been prominently featured in newscasts around the world -- and effectively ended Saturday's demonstration.

"I was blessed to be a part of this historic moment. The system just failed us again, as young black men," Misabiko said, tucking the banner under his arm.

"Oh man, this is a very hurtful day. Hurtful and disappointing," he said.

Misabiko was one of many who stood outside the courthouse all day Saturday.

Earlier in the evening before the verdict was announced Diane Whitaker, a disabled grandmother from DeLand, walked across the grassy plaza showing a sign "Murder Is A Crime: Guilty" while people milled about.

"While we're waiting, we're praying too -- for justice to be done. Because God said, 'Vengeance is mine,'" Whitaker said.

"We're waiting for a verdict of second-degree murder. Second-degree murder. Right is right, and wrong is wrong. He broke the law," she said of Zimmerman.

But James Dugan, a newly graduated Sanford high school student, thought otherwise. His hand-held sign read "Justice For George."

"I think he was covered by the 'Stand Your Ground' law. I think the defense has done their job -- and the prosecution has not," Dugan said.

"More importantly, not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that he's guilty of any ill will or malice when he shot Trayvon Martin," he said.

Earlier in the day, as dark clouds thickened overhead and a cooling breeze swept across the courthouse grounds there were a fresh series of chants from Trayvon Martin supporters.

About 60 demonstrators began yelling in unison and waving signs, clustering around the large black-and-red banner.

"Convict George Zimmerman!" the demonstrators repeatedly chanted.

"The people united will never be defeated!"

"When I say George, you say guilty! George! Guilty! George! Guilty!"

Fewer than 10 demonstrators carried signs supporting Zimmerman's cause.

Sisters Melissa and Amy Waz of Tampa traveled to Sanford to rally in support of Zimmerman. Amy carried the sign "Self Defense Is A Basic Human Right," while Melissa wore a black "I Believe You Zimmerman" T-shirt and carried the sign "It Doesn't Matter What This Sign Says: You'll Call It Racism Anyway!"

"We don't think this case should have ever been brought to trial. And if race hadn't been brought into it, we don't think it would have been," Waz said. "We think he deserves to go home to his family and live as much of a normal life as he can."

Earlier in the day as a reporter interviewed Casey David Kole Sr., an Orlando retiree and Zimmerman supporter, a man nearby interrupted the interview.

"I believe in George and what he stands for," Kole said. "The fact that he was the neighborhood watch (commander) on a voluntary basis - it proves to me that he's an upright citizen."

That statement drew a rebuke from a nearby shirtless, young man who said he legally changed his name to Malcolm X. He held a sign that said "How Long Will 'They' Keep Cannibalizing The Black Male."

"That's all it takes - the neighborhood watch - to be an upright citizen? If it was that simple," Malcolm X exclaimed, interrupting the interview.

Kole continued his interview, bringing up Trayvon Martin's school suspension. Malcolm X interrupted again, retorting that that does not mean Martin was a criminal.

"Justice for George Zimmerman," Kole began chanting, strolling around the grassy plaza.

Abby Cardona videotaped the two men.

The 52-year-old Winter Springs woman said she wants to have a record of events for her 11-month-old granddaughter, Skylar. She plans to discuss the trial, and its impact on her community and country, when Skylar grows up.

"You never know how history distorts facts," Cardona said. "There's a lot of passion ... I only hope that they exercise their First Amendment rights, but don't resort to violence. That's not going to solve anything."

Two sign-waving demonstrators stood in the grassy plaza in front of the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center - ringed by 16 media cameramen and reporters.

One of those demonstrators was Ed Wilson, a Lake Mary retiree displaying a colorful "We Love You George" sign with a peace symbol drawn on the back side.

"Let the jury decide. I think they can do a fine job," he said. "I think he was a nice guy that just caught up in things. Unfortunate. Very unfortunate."

The other demonstrator, a Sanford DJ who performs at downtown bars, identified himself only as Chris F. His sign read "We Are Americans: Not Color!" He said he hopes his city remains peaceful after the verdict is announced.

"Equality. We're not colored. We're all Americans. There's no black, white, no Hispanic, anything. We're all Americans," he said.

"I hope that no riots break out, and people realize that it's just a case - just like any other case - and the law does what it does," he added.

Chris and Mindy Drone of Sanford came out to see what they called the "three-ring circus." Their 9-year-old child stayed home after becoming scared of seeing images of demonstrators on TV.

The actual number of demonstrators they saw live was lower than they expected. The Drones took photos, including snapshots of media trucks and tents nearby, which they plan to share via social media with family members.

"I just wish they would come to a verdict so we can move on to something else," Mindy Drone said.

"It's something you don't see every day," Chris Drone said. He believes Zimmerman acted within his rights -- but he disagrees with the way the law is written.

Charlotte friends Jasmine Tompkins, 18, an Air National Guardsman, and Khadejah Jackson, who turns 19 Monday and is a pre-law student at Regent University, dropped by the courthouse during their Orlando vacation. Tompkins said she relates to Trayvon, and she does not think Zimmerman should walk away a free man.

"Justice should be served, just because of the simple fact that someone my age died. He didn't get to live life. He didn't get to go to college. He didn't get to take trips - just like we're doing now - and go to Florida or someplace else and vacation," Tompkins said.

Jackson agreed, but she voiced fears about the public's reaction to a verdict.

"I personally think he should do some jail time. But if he doesn't, I just pray and hope for his safety," Jackson said. "I hope that no one tries to take justice into their own hands and do anything to him."

"He is a person. He made a mistake. And I'm all about the peace right now," she added.

Ansley DeRousha, 20, is a Sanford retail worker who lives about two miles away.

"My belief is that two wrongs don't make a right," she said. "I really think that Trayvon and Zimmerman, they were both in the wrong. Trayvon shouldn't have come after him, and Zimmerman shouldn't have been following."

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