Black pastors call for peace amid Trayvon Martin protests

Memphis, Tenn., Jul 19, 2013 / 12:08 am (CNA).- Reacting to the protests and scattered violence in response to the verdict in the Florida trial of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin, a group of black Christian ministers has called for peace.

“The black community knows that our civil rights were won through peace, not violence,” said Protestant minister Rev. William Owens, president of the Tennessee-based Coalition for African American Pastors.

“We are a nation of laws, not unlawful violence. The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy for everyone, but resorting to violence will only hurt our own communities,” he said July 18.

“What kind of message are we sending to our children if we perpetuate the violence in our culture?” added Rev. Owens, who organized students during the civil rights movement.

Protests were sparked after the July 13 "not guilty" verdict in the second degree murder trial of George Zimmerman. Most of the protests have been peaceful, although some have become violent.

Several thousand demonstrators filled New York City’s Times Square. A Los Angeles protest of about 200 people shut down a freeway, with some in the crowd throwing bottles. Some protests in Oakland were accompanied by assaults, vandalism, broken windows and arson attempts, the Los Angeles Times reports. Similar crimes have accompanied other protests.

A July 17 protest in Victorville, Calif., resulted in 17 arrests after some protesters began looting stores.

Some crimes unaffiliated with any protests have also taken place. One beating victim in Milwaukee has claimed one of his assailants said Trayvon Martin’s death motivated the attack, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says.

Zimmerman, a 29-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer in a Sanford, Fla., neighborhood, said he shot and killed 17-year-old Martin in self-defense on Feb. 26, 2012.

Zimmerman alleged that Martin punched him, breaking his nose, and pushed him to the ground, slamming his head several times against the sidewalk.

Prosecutors contended that Zimmerman, who is half white and half Hispanic, had followed the unarmed black teenager only because of his race and then started the altercation that resulted in Martin’s death.

Zimmerman was detained by police but was not charged for over a month, leading to accusations that race was a factor in the processing of the case.

Rev. Owens called for non-violent action, saying that “the hearts of people have been changing” since Martin’s death.

“Instead of divisive rhetoric, let’s continue to use our stories and our voice to address society’s problems,” he said.

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