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Leaders Call For Calm In Wake Of Zimmerman Verdict

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Local and state leaders are calling for call in the wake of the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of 17-year old Trayvon Martin from Miami Gardens.

A jury of six women in Sanford took 16 hours and 20 minutes to find Zimmerman, 29, not guilty of second degree murder in the February 2012 shooting death of Martin. They also declined to convict on the less charge of manslaughter.

Across South Florida Saturday night after the verdict was announced there were a few peaceful gatherings to protest the acquittal. Miami-Dade's mayor called for those displeased with verdict to express their opinion without violence.

"The tragic loss of life of a young man – a product of our hometown – has been a very emotional issue for our community. I now call on all residents of Miami-Dade County to come together and pray for the families as we move forward in the healing process," said Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

"We are saddened by what we feel to be an unjust verdict for an inhumane act - but resolved to defy the expectations of a world that would have us compound tragedy with tragedy," said Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert.  "We will mourn Trayvon and grieve with his family.  We will continue to stand with them in their pursuit of justice and we will continue to strive to create an America that is safe for everyone."

"After Trayvon was shot and killed, I was one of the loudest voices demanding a trial and I am disappointed with the verdict," said Congresswoman Frederica Wilson in a statement. "My role in this case has been to help ensure that Mr. Zimmerman faces a court of law. While I am profoundly disappointed with the ruling in this case, the criminal portion of the process has run its course. I encourage Trayvon's parents to pursue vindication of their rights under civil law. I will support the family in any way possible."

"First of all, I'm very disappointed in the verdict. We are all praying for Sabrina Fulton, Tracy Martin and the entire Martin family. This is our wake-up call as an African American community. I believe the election and re-election of President Obama have caused us to become apathetic when it comes to Social Justice," said Bishop Victor T. Curry, said Senior Pastor at New Birth Baptist Church Cathedral of Faith International. "This verdict is our reality check; that in this country, you can kill an unarmed African American teenage boy (after disobeying a police dispatcher who instructs you not to approach him), you approach him anyway, kill him and walk away free."

"As clergy and faith leaders, we acknowledge the deep pain that this verdict has caused and how it will exacerbate this pain among those most impacted from this incident. While many of us believe that justice was not served, we respect the jury and believe that together we must collectively pursue justice and truth, according to a statement from  PICO United Florida, a non-partisan, multi-county network of church congregations.  "We call for organized and peaceful demonstrations of our collective outrage and pain from this verdict. We must channel ourselves into work that will create safer communities through sensible gun laws."

Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith decried the "not guilty" verdict and renewed his call for a critical examination of Florida's self defense laws.

"I am deeply disappointed in the jury's inability to hold this man accountable for the shooting death of an unarmed teenager," said Sen. Smith. "The fact that a child is dead and an armed man can now walk free without so much as a backward glance sends the wrong message to Florida and its citizens."

Smith added that the verdict underscored the growing need for a critical review of Florida's self defense laws.

"The self-defense claims invoked by George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin once again highlighted the glaring shortcomings in our self defense laws," said Senator Smith. "While "Stand Your Ground" was originally claimed by Zimmerman, his attorneys ultimately opted to defend their client under Florida's self defense statutes. And those statutes, whether they involve the meaning of certain terms, or the basics of provocation, remain fuzzily defined and broadly drawn, mirroring in many ways the same egregious loopholes found in "Stand Your Ground." And, as the Zimmerman trial unfortunately underscored, open to creative interpretation."

Smith – who last year convened his own task force of attorneys and other experts in the self-defense statutes to impartially examine the use and abuse of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law – added that the basic procedures used by someone in a self-defense claim needed to be on the table as well.

"The legislature has a duty to stem this culture of violence. If someone makes the claim of self-defense and the only other witness to the confrontation is dead, there needs to be a higher standard for proving that the use of deadly force was justified," said Smith.

The Florida Civil Rights Association (FCRA) issued a statement calling on the public remain calm and not be a self-proclaimed vigilante.

"The rules of discovery allow a level playing field for all sides, in this case justice prevailed for George Zimmerman and his family," said J. Willie David, III, the organization's president.

The FCRA calls for Judge Debra Nelson to withhold the names and addresses of the jurors for six months as a cooling off period.

"The jury system was created so that ordinary citizens can render a verdict of guilty or not guilty against people accused of a crime," David stated. "There is something noble when the U.S. Constitution put such absolute power in the hands of normal people. Juries can reach unpopular verdicts that could shock an entire nation. This is justice in America, and the people can like it or not."

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