The George Zimmerman verdict sparked mixed reactions in Philadelphia Saturday night after a jury of six women found the former neighborhood watch volunteer not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager whose killing unleashed furious debate across the U.S. over racial profiling, self-defense and equal justice.
NBC10 caught up with people gathered inside the Melrose Diner in South Philadelphia who shared their reaction to one of the nation’s most polarizing cases and its outcome. They ranged from anger to disbelief.
“I never felt like it was going to be a fair trial to begin with because they were making excuses for what happened,” said one diner.
“I’m surprised that they found him not guilty, but I actually thought the guy was not guilty, said another diner.
"At the end of the day, a young teenager lost his life," said one man. "Mr. Zimmerman has the luxury of living his life. It's just a shame that Trayvon Martin didn't have an opportunity to tell his side of the story."
Zimmerman, 29, who was cleared of all charges, blinked and barely smiled when the verdict was announced. He could have been convicted of second-degree murder or manslaughter. But the jury of six women, all but one of them white, reached a verdict of not guilty after deliberating well into the night.
People who had been following the trial for the last three weeks say it simply came down to who was able to convince the jury the best, the prosecution or the defense.
“The prosecution said they did the best job that they could and the defense said they did the best job that they could...you are trying to convince six people. In this case it was the Zimmerman defense that did the better job. But I think if you look at it from the face of it, people are going to say ‘so if my young kid is walking down the street and someone feels threatened does that give you the right to shoot them,'” said another diner.
Local legal experts also weighed in on Saturday night's verdict. Enrique Latoison, an attorney, said the prosecution had an uphill battle from the start of the case.
“I do believe the public outcry lead to charges in the Zimmerman case from the beginning. But in the end I think it was a very difficult case for the prosecution. In the end the prosecution could not tell the jury what happened,” said Latoison.
Former Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Renne Caldwell Hughes says she has concerns over how the not guilty verdict will be interpreted by some going forward.
"I'm really concerned that people will misconstrue what not guilty means. It doesn't mean that George Zimmerman was right. It absolutely means the prosecution didn't prove their case. Murder is a state crime and states have different laws. Much of what happened and what was allowed in this trial, in Florida, would never have happened in Pennsylvania. I'm not criticizing the judge; she operates under a different set of laws than we do (in Pennsylvania). I have a son and this case makes me feel that my son is less safe. This case is about racial profiling."
After the verdict, a crowd gathered outside the municipal services building at 15th and JFK Boulevard in Center City, carrying signs that read, "Justice for Trayvon." The group held a candlelight vigil and expressed frustration over the verdict.
"Justice was not served tonight," said Nadirah Nman, who attended the vigil. "I felt as though I needed to do something. I needed to go somewhere to talk about it and just be amongst people."
Numerous NBC10 viewers also shared their thoughts on our Facebook page.
"They got it right people sorry," wrote Jason Fedok. "It's sad the kid died and I feel bad for the family but in the end they got it right."
"Sorry Jason, they did not get it right," replied Carol Gardiner-Espen. "A young man no longer has the right to defend himself when being stalked. It is now open season on teenage boys when wannabe cops like Zimmerman think they should be. He was judge, jury and executioner."
Mayor Michael Nutter also reacted to the verdict on Sunday.
“While I respect the criminal justice system, I am deeply saddened by and strongly disagree with the verdict of “not guilty” in this case,” he wrote in a released statement. “A young black man is dead without any real explanation. George Zimmerman took an innocent life. Trayvon Martin, who at trial was made to appear threatening when all he had was a bag of Skittles and an ice tea, should not have died at Zimmerman’s hands and I believe the jury should have exacted a penalty.”
Nutter also urged people to keep Martin’s family in their “thoughts and prayers.”
“As a parent, I can’t begin to know what Trayvon’s proud and dignified parents are feeling right now,” he wrote. “But I pray for them in this dark hour.”
Nutter then commented on the state of the African American community.
“Every day in America, African American males die on our streets in outrageously alarming numbers,” he wrote. “Whether they die at the hands of a vigilante or another African American male, we must all commit ourselves to eliminating the conditions in our community that cause too many people to see young African American males as “threats” instead of seeing the promise within each child. If only we adults could find ways to offer a pathway of education and responsibility toward a productive life. We need to resolve to make life better in America for all our children, regardless of skin color. Let us focus our anger and resolve to work toward a more just, safer and more caring America.”