The acquittal of George Zimmerman in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old African American Trayvon Martin has outraged many people in the US. Many believe that race played a role in the case.
The acquittal of George Zimmerman has stirred up strong emotions in the US and sparked heated discussion not only on the major television broadcasters, but also among people attending Sunday mass at St. Augustine, the main church for Catholic African Americans in Washington, D.C.
"A Caucasian male shot an African male," Raymond Umunna told DW. "It's easy to assume race; it is so easy to blame race. But that's where we need to be careful and have a critical mind to see beyond the veil of race and see what actually triggered this event, so that it could be prevented."
Although Zimmerman's father is white, his mother is originally from Peru. On a voter registration document from 2002, Zimmerman identified himself as Hispanic and a Democrat.
Others at St. Augustine see the case very differently from Umunna. One female churchgoer, who didn't want to be named, railed against what she considered a biased court proceeding.
An elderly newspaper salesman in front of the church door sighed, saying that the case wasn't just, because deadly force should never be used against someone who's unarmed. He said that the acquittal was connected not only to race, but also social status, because Zimmerman's father is a retired judge.
The priest in the church also addressed Zimmerman's acquittal. In his sermon, he talked about his many personal experiences with discrimination and exclusion. At the end, he reminded his congregation of the story of the "Good Samaritan," calling on his audience to set a good example despite the outcome of the Zimmerman trial.
'Stand Your Ground'
Michael Werz, with the center-left think tank Center for American Progress in Washington D.C., told DW that conservative lawmakers in Florida helped create the conditions that led to Trayvon Martin's death.
In Florida, the "Stand Your Ground" law allows citizens to use deadly force with a weapon when confronted with an unlawful threat, even if there's the possibility to retreat.
According to Werz, the law has created a "legal grey area." Zimmerman felt empowered to conduct armed patrols in his neighborhood and try to keep out people who he thought didn't belong there, Werz said.
For Werz, Martin's identity as a young African American male made him easy both to be profiled and later seen as a victim of profiling. "In this respect, the case has generated a high level of political volatility."
Obama pushes gun control
On Sunday, President Barack Obama called on Americans to respect the court's judgment. In 2012, the president provoked conservative ire when he weighed in on the case, saying that if he "had a son, he'd look like Trayvon."
"I know this case has elicited strong passions," Obama said on Sunday in a press release. "And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken."
The president used the Zimmerman case to make a renewed push for his initiative to tighten gun control laws.
"We should ask ourselves if we're doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis," Obama said.
Activists call for federal charges
After the ruling, civil rights activist Jesse Jackson called for restraint. But Jackson pointed out that none of the jurors in the trial were African American. He has called on the Justice Department to pursue federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman.
Trayvon Martin's parents have accused the authorities of failing to conduct a robust investigation, because their son was black.
According Werz, ethnic heritage, skin color and social status can all play a role in determining how a person is treated by the police and the courts.
Does systematic discrimination still exist in the US, some 50 years after Martin Luther King Jr.'s famed "I have a dream" speech? There seems to be a widespread awareness that skin color still plays a daily role in the US, even if the overwhelming majority of Americans believe that shouldn't be the case.
In the American media and on the Internet, the race question stands in the foreground of a highly emotional discussion.
"It's the case that prejudice plays a role, and that there's daily racism in the United States," said Werz.
"But the central tenet and the huge success of the civil rights movement was to anchor so strongly the individual claim to equality before the law - in public transit, universities and government institutions - that systematic discrimination is very difficult, if not impossible."
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