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Protests Nationwide Over Zimmerman Acquittal; Sharpton Says It’s Not Over

Thousands of protesters in dozens of cities across the country demonstrated outrage over the George Zimmerman acquittal yesterday, taking to the streets to show the collective power of mass protest.

Save for a couple of isolated incidents in California, the protests were peaceful, spreading through cities ranging from New York to Milwaukee to Atlanta, indicating that all the riot predictions were off base.

In fact, a protester in Miami carried a sign that read, “Don’t worry about more riots. Worry about more Zimmermans.”

Rev. Al Sharpton said in an interview that the presupposition there would be riots after the verdict was a racist stereotyping of African-Americans.

“What people have, in my opinion, purposely ignored was that we had huge demonstrations that caused the trial in the first place and we never had any violence,” said Sharpton, head of the National Action Network and host of “Politics Nation” on MSNBC.

And we’ve been disappointed before and didn’t have riots. We didn’t have riots after Amadou Diallo; we didn’t have riots after Sean Bell. So why did they think we were going to get violent now? I think the right wing kept putting out that there would be riots, the same way George Zimmerman tried to say Trayvon was a criminal. I think it was criminalizing and stereotyping the black community, like we did not know how to express our anger without becoming thugs.”

Almost the second the verdict was announced, Sharpton set his sights on the ongoing U.S. Justice Department’s investigation into whether Zimmerman violated Trayvon Martin’s civil rights.

Sharpton and other civil rights leaders have called for protesters to gather on Saturday in front of the federal buildings in as many as 100 cities to press the Justice Department to charge Zimmerman with violating Martin’s civil rights.

“Trayvon Martin had the civil right to go home,” Sharpton said on “Today” this morning. “At one level you dealt with the murder charges, now you have to deal with Trayvon Martin’s civil rights being violated. He had the right to go home. And you have to remember, George Zimmerman is not a policeman. He had no authority to interfere with that.”

Sharpton pointed out that ironically, it was the prosecution’s failure to bring up race in the Florida trial that opens the way for the federal government to pursue the issue.

“There isn’t double jeopardy here because they specifically said it wasn’t about race, which opens up the door now for the federal government to investigate what he meant when Zimmerman said, ‘They always get away with this.’  Who is ‘they’? And ‘get away’ with what, when there was no crime being committed?”

Sharpton said the Martin family has told him they will keep their options open in regard to pursuing a civil lawsuit against Zimmerman. 

“This is long from being over,” he said. “We will be with them every step of the way. Because this puts every child at risk. Any child can be interfered with going home, for committing no crime. That’s the bottom line here that must be answered.”

Leaders are asking outraged citizens to sign the many petitions springing up across the Internet to pressure the Justice Department. Sharpton also said people should funnel their outrage into protest marches like the ones that will take place on Saturday at the federal buildings around the country.

The Justice Department said the evidence generated during its probe is still 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, along with evidence and testimony from the state trial.

Peaceful protests in New York City last night shut down Times Square, as marchers zigzagged through Manhattan streets to avoid police lines. Chanting “Justice for! Trayvon Martin!” They started out at Union Square and headed north to Times Square, blocking traffic for more than an hour.

One of the few signs of violence occurred in Oakland, Calif., as protesters late Saturday night broke windows, burned U.S. flags and started street fires. In addition, protesters vandalized a police squad car and used spray paint to scrawl anti-police graffiti on roads and Alameda County’s Davidson courthouse.

In Los Angeles, police said a crowd of about 100 protesters surrounded an officer and eventually had to be dispersed by officers firing beanbag rounds.

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