A Florida jury late Saturday found volunteer watchman George Zimmerman not guilty of murdering 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in a racially-charged trial that transfixed much of the country for weeks.
Crowds took to the streets in cities including Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeleson Sunday to protest the verdict.
In New York, several thousand rallied in Times Square waving signs with portraits of Martin, while others wore “hoodie” sweatshirts, despite the searing heat, as the teen did the night he was killed.
“The man was armed, the kid was not, and the man with the gun got away,” said protester Carli VanVoorhis, 21. “If we say it was not a racial issue, we would be lying.”
Despite the large crowds, the various marches were largely peaceful, though windows were smashed and cars vandalised in pre-dawn protests in Oakland, California.
Obama has urged Americans to step back and accept the trial verdict.
“We are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken,” Obama said in a statement. “I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son.”
Zimmerman, 29, was accused of pursuing Martin, 17, through a gated community in the town of Sanford, and shooting him during an altercation on the rainy night of February 26, 2012.
The defence successfully argued that Zimmerman shot Martin in self-defence after the teen wrestled him to the ground and was slamming his head against the pavement.
According to Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law, people who fear for their lives can use deadly force to defend themselves without having to flee a confrontation.
“We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this,” Obama said. “As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honour Trayvon Martin.”
Obama last year spoke emotionally about the case, noting that if he had a son he would “look like Trayvon”.
The jury was divided
A juror from the trial said the six-woman panel was sharply divided when deliberations began. The jurors ultimately came to a unanimous decision, finding Zimmerman not guilty, but in an interview on CNN, juror B-37 – who was not named and was shown in deep shadow – said that the first vote was split down the middle between those who wanted an acquittal and those who wanted to convict.
“We had three not guilties, one second degree murder and two manslaughters,” the juror said, adding that she was one of the ones who voted not guilty.
Martin’s parents – father, Tracy, and mother Sybrina Fulton – asked the public before the verdict to respect the trial outcome, and afterwards gave thanks for the outpouring of support they received over the past year.
The Martin family’s attorney Benjamin Crump declined to say whether they would file a civil lawsuit against Zimmerman, but said that “they are going to certainly look at that as an option”.
“They deeply want a sense of justice. They deeply don’t want their son’s death to be in vain,” he told ABC News‘s “This Week”.