NEW YORK -- Thousands of demonstrators demanding "Justice for Trayvon" marched in major cities across the United States on Sunday to protest the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin.
While a jury of six women absolved Zimmerman of any crime with their not-guilty verdict, civil rights leaders decried the decision, and demonstrators took to the streets in New York, Boston, San Francisco and other cities.
U.S. President Barack Obama called for a peaceful response to the case that has polarized the U.S. public over the past 16 months. In general, the demonstrations were peaceful, though the New York march became disorderly at times.
Defense lawyers argued that Martin, 17, attacked Zimmerman, who shot the teen in self-defense. Prosecutors said Zimmerman, 29, who is white and Hispanic, wrongly suspected Martin, 17, of being a criminal because he was black.
Zimmerman called police to report a suspicious looking person, then left his car with a fully loaded Kel Tec 9mm pistol concealed in his waistband. A fight ensued in which Zimmerman suffered a bloody nose and head injuries, and Zimmerman shot Martin once in the heart, killing him.
"Trayvon was profiled, pursued and ultimately killed because of the color of his skin," said Angela Tovar, 33, an urban planner from Brooklyn.
About 1,000 to 2,000 of the demonstrators abandoned the protest site at Union Square to march in the streets toward Times Square, slowing or stopping traffic.
Police attempted to funnel the crowd into controlled lanes but were unable to. Later they halted the march about eight blocks short of Times Square, but the demonstrators made their way around the officers.
About 1,000 people sat in Times Square, drawing curious looks from the tourists who packed the so-called Crossroads of the World.
The protest was lively, led by several men on bullhorns.
In Boston, about 500 racially mixed protesters left their demonstration site in the Roxbury neighborhood and started marching in the streets alongside police escorts on motorcycle and on foot. Police called the march "very orderly."
"Morally it cannot be right, that a child cannot go about his business and go to the store," said Maura Twomey, 57, an acupuncturist. "Racism is not just an issue for the black community. It's for all of us."
Demonstrators raised signs saying "We Demand Justice," "Stop Racial Profiling" and "Never Forget. Never Again. Justice for Trayvon."
Roughly 500 people rallied on the streets of San Francisco, some carrying yellow signs with Martin's photo. About a dozen police motorcycles and vans trailed the tidy group of marchers, who banged on drums as they walked and continuously chanted, "Justice for Trayvon Martin."
"I feel a moral obligation to be in the street and object to this kind of racist policy," said Naomi White, 69, a retired teacher from San Francisco. "George Zimmerman got away with murder."
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT REVIEWING
The U.S. Justice Department said it was evaluating whether it has enough evidence to support prosecution of Zimmerman in federal court after his acquittal in Florida.
Zimmerman's lawyers argued he acted in self-defense the night of Feb. 26, 2012, when, they say, Martin attacked Zimmerman inside a gated community in the central Florida town of Sanford. They accuse civil rights advocates of wrongly injecting the issue of race.
"It was such a shame. The whole case nearly destroyed George from day one ... . That they put a racism spin on this prosecution just hurt him very deeply," said John Donnelly, a close friend of Zimmerman who testified in the trial.
Critics contend Zimmerman, 29, who is white and Hispanic, wrongly suspected Martin, 17, of being a criminal because he was black. Zimmerman called police to report a suspicious looking person, then left his car with a fully loaded Kel Tec 9mm pistol concealed in his waistband.
A fight ensued in which Zimmerman suffered a bloody nose and head injuries, and Zimmerman shot Martin once in the heart.
The teenager had no criminal record and was staying in the neighborhood at the home of his father's fiancee. He had been walking back from a convenience store where he had bought candy and a soft drink.
HURT AND SAD IN SANFORD
If found guilty of the most serious charge of second-degree murder, Zimmerman could have faced life in prison. Instead, the jury cleared him of that charge and of manslaughter, which could have resulted in a 30-year sentence.
In Sanford at the largely black Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church, pastor Valarie Houston dedicated a Sunday morning prayer service to Martin.
"I am hurt. I am sad. I am disappointed and my heart is overwhelmed with pains," Houston said. "I thought in my heart that justice would be served."
Zimmerman, who showed little reaction when the decision was read, was unshackled from a monitoring device he had been wearing while on bail. He previously only left home in a disguise and body armor, his lawyer said.
His brother said he would remain out of public view for some time. Friends said the former neighborhood watch volunteer had recently spoken about the possibility of entering law school.
The tense drama that climaxed with the verdict had been building for more than a year, since police initially declined to arrest Zimmerman for shooting Martin, whose gray hooded sweatshirt has become a symbol of injustice for protesters.
The acquittal will weaken any wrongful death civil lawsuit that Martin's family might bring. Zimmerman's lead defense lawyer, Mark O'Mara, predicted Zimmerman would seek and win immunity from a civil suit.