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Black Community Leaders: Zimmerman Verdict Unsurprising

Sal Falko/Flickr

Two members of Milwaukee's African-American community say the George Zimmerman verdict has a stark takeaway for black male teens.

Members of Milwaukee's African-American community, like others around the nation, are continuing to discuss the significance of the verdict in the George Zimmerman case.

Neighborhood watchman Zimmerman shot dead Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African-American teenager, in 2012 after a confrontation after Martin cut through Zimmerman’s neighborhood on the walk home from a convenience store.

The Florida man was acquitted from all charges last weekend under the state’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law. But while the legal case may be closed, this trial has sparked a widespread cultural conversation about race, gun laws, and the nature of the justice system.

Darryl Williams, pastor of St. Mark AME Church at 16th and Atkinson in Milwaukee, says the verdict has sent a stark message to the young black men in his congregation.

"It really spoke loudly to them as to how they're viewed in society," he says, adding that "we’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. It's really sad that this young man's life was taken because he was a young African-American male, again guilty of nothing except walking through a neighborhood."

But Williams was not surprised by the verdict - nor was news analyst and former radio host Eric Von. He says the real issue in the case was "the fear that people live with" of people different than themselves that would lead them to carry guns and take unnecessary protective action.

"These women who were on the jury probably shared the same fears that George Zimmerman does of black males, so to expect the outcome to expect the outcome to be any different than it was, I think was to be living in some false world," Von says.

Moreover, Von says the trial judge should not have de-emphasized race, calling the ruling "absurd."

"This whole thing was based on race; this happened because of race," he says.

Williams says the racial profiling in the case "speaks to how we need to really get to know one another and get beyond our prejudices."

He also cautions young black men to take particular care to stay out of trouble with law enforcement, given that they are presumed guilty until proven innocent. 

Von adds the lessons African-American parents teach their children about interactions with police must now be modified to include handling "would-be" law enforcers, like Zimmerman.

The federal government is still weighing its options for a possible civil rights case against Zimmerman. Additionally, another racially-charged trial ended today as a Milwaukee man was found guilty of murdering an unarmed 13-year old African-Americanneighbor on his sidewalk.