The acquittal of George Zimmerman in a Florida trial on charges of killing an unarmed teenager set off a new national debate on Sunday about race, crime and the American justice system.
The morning after the verdict was read in a courtroom in Sanford, Fla., President Barack Obama, politicians and civil rights leaders called for calm, even as many criticized the not-guilty verdict for Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot Trayvon Martin in February 2012.
Though the judge in the case banned discussions of race relations from the courtroom, the issue was driving many of the early reactions to the verdict.
From church pulpits across the country, pastors voiced dismay while searching for a silver lining to what many saw as an unjust outcome.
"Trayvon Benjamin Martin is dead because he and other black boys and men like him are not seen as a person, but a problem," the Rev. Raphael G. Warnock, senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, said in his Sunday sermon. "In the midst of all of this, we've got to pray. We've got to fight and pray. We've got to organize and pray."
In Goldsboro, the historic black neighborhood in Sanford, people mourned and seethed. Black residents gathered in front of a memorial to Martin, shaking their heads and whispering, "It could have been my son."
And in a fiery sermon at the Allen Chapel AME Church in Sanford, the Rev. Valerie J. Houston decried "the racism and injustice that pollute the air of America."
Supporters of Zimmerman, including his family, expressed fear for his safety in the wake of the verdict.
"Clearly, he's a free man in the eyes of the court, but he's going to be looking around his shoulder for the rest of his life," Zimmerman's brother, Robert Zimmerman Jr., said on CNN after the trial ended.
"There are factions, there are groups, there are people that would want to take the law into their own hands as they perceive it or be vigilantes in some sense," he said. "They will always present a threat to George and to his family."
Obama, in a statement on Sunday, called the death of Martin a tragedy "for America" and used the trial's end as an occasion to reflect on gun violence in the country.
"I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher," he said. "But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son.
"And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we're doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities," he said. "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."
Several small demonstrations surfaced across the country right after the verdict was announced, but on Sunday, the calls for calm were generally heeded.
"The whole world was watching this case to see if everybody can get equal justice, not just certain people," Benjamin Crump, the lawyer for Martin's family, said Sunday.
"We do want people to know that children should be able to live on this earth, walk on this earth, and not feel that they're going to be profiled by what they wear or what ethnicity they belong to," he said on ABC's "This Week."
Benjamin Todd Jealous, the president of the NAACP, said Sunday that the verdict was especially upsetting for black parents.
"It feels so often that our young people have to fear the bad guys and the good guys, the robbers and the cops, and the self-appointed community watch volunteers," he said on CNN's "State of the Union."
Others suggested that the verdict had set a dangerous precedent. Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, expressed concern that others might be encouraged by the verdict.
"What the jury is saying is, here's George Zimmerman back, here's his gun back, and what he did was perfectly fine, and he's coming to a neighborhood near you, or someone acting the way he acted, and that's dangerous," he said on CNN. He added, "I think justice will be done eventually, but I don't think we've seen the end of this."
Crump said that Martin's family was considering further legal action, perhaps a lawsuit. Separately, several civil rights leaders suggested that a federal hate crime lawsuit could be brought.
Sen. Harry Reid, the majority leader, said that as a trial lawyer himself, "I don't always agree with what the jury does, but that's the system, and I support the system."
But he said he believed that Floridians should take a close look at the law at the center of the case, which he called "so unusual."
He also said, in an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," that he thought Obama should have a role as the public debate goes forward.
Both he and Jealous indicated that the federal government would pursue the case. The NAACP leader said that he and his staff had spoken to the senior staff of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and had been assured that the Justice Department would study it carefully. He later indicated that the NAACP could file criminal charges under a federal hate crime statute.
"The reality, what you've got to do there is show that race was a factor in his decision making," Jealous said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "And there seems to be plenty of evidence that suggests that race may have been a factor. He called 911 a lot about a young black man that he suspected of being dangerous."
Asked on CNN whether the justice system in the United States is biased against blacks, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas said: "I think our justice system is colorblind."
"Although there may be people on either side of this who don't agree how it came out, the fact is we have the best judicial system in the world and we respect it," he said. "A very thoughtful case was made by each side, the jurors made the decision, and we will live with that."
Late Saturday, small demonstrations broke out in Atlanta, New York, Washington and several cities in California. In Oakland, protesters broke windows in some businesses and started small fires in the streets, The Associated Press reported. There were no immediate reports of arrests or injuries.
In Washington, protesters gathered in the early hours of Sunday along U Street, a night life district known to locals as the historical heart of the city's black culture and art. Hundreds of protesters chanted, "No justice, no peace," and held signs with slogans that read, "Stop Criminalizing Black Men."
As the protesters moved to the nearby neighborhood of Adams Morgan, their numbers swelled and vehicles from the Metropolitan Police Department blocked off a portion of the street for the marchers to proceed. The protest ended about 2 a.m.
There were calls for further protests on Sunday in Chicago, New York, Miami, Oakland and elsewhere.
Prominent New York political figures, including several candidates for mayor, reacted on Twitter shortly after the verdict was read, many of them condemning the decision.
"Today's acquittal in the Trayvon Martin case is a shocking insult to his family and everyone seeking justice for Trayvon," wrote Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker and mayoral hopeful.
Bill de Blasio, the city's public advocate and another mayoral candidate, wrote on Twitter: "Trayvon Martin's death was a terrible tragedy. This decision is a slap in the face to justice."
Jumaane D. Williams, a member of the City Council from Brooklyn who is often outspoken on civil rights issues, posted a photograph of himself in a dark hoodie, similar to the one Martin was wearing when he was shot.
"We are sick and tired of being sick and tired," he wrote in a statement. "What we are now charged with is the responsibility to sustain our unity and have our emotions fuel a relentless pursuit of reform."
"In 2013, it should not be this difficult, by every statistical metric, to be a black man in America," he wrote.