Batts, ministers call for peaceful reaction to verdict

Baltimore's police commissioner and several African-American religious leaders joined together Saturday night to urge residents to express their reaction peacefully after a Florida jury found George Zimmerman not guilty in the death of Trayvon Martin.

"This is not the time for us to erupt in violence," said the Rev. Walter Thomas of New Psalmist Baptist Church.


Commissioner Anthony W. Batts urged people to react "in a very peaceful way." He said the department had made "preparations" for the verdict but did not elaborate.

The Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant, pastor of Baltimore's Empowerment Temple, was among those who went to police headquarters for the late-night news conference.


"When evidence is obvious and apparent to the entire community, it really just looks like the devaluing of black life again," Bryant said earlier in the evening. "It's really just confirmation that America again has slapped the value of our children in the face."

Bryant said he plans to travel to Florida on Sunday after church services to be with Martin's family. Sybrina Fulton, Martin's mother, visited Bryant's church last year, and the Baltimore pastor had been at her side shortly after Martin's death, among the first to call national attention to it.

Other community leaders also expressed disappointment or outrage at the verdict.

NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous said the Baltimore-based civil rights organization would press the U.S. Justice Department to bring federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman.

"We are outraged and heartbroken over today's verdict," Jealous said. "We stand with Trayvon's family, and we are called to act."

State Sen. Catherine Pugh, the Baltimore Democrat who is a leader of the Legislative Black Caucus in Annapolis, also expressed concern.

"When we say we're being tried by a jury of our peers, at least most of us think in a jury system they'll be fair," Pugh said. "The longevity in terms of what it took to bring this case to court skewed the verdict and the outcome. It took too long."

Activist Steven Ceci said a group disappointed by the verdict would hold a news conference at 9 a.m. Sunday and a demonstration at noon Monday at the Inner Harbor's McKeldin Square.


"We want people to still come out and organize and express their indignation at this verdict," Ceci said.