Protests over Zimmerman acquittal close CA streets

AP News
Posted: Jul 15, 2013 2:33 AM
Protests over Zimmerman acquittal close CA streets

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Protesters angered by George Zimmerman's acquittal clashed with Los Angeles police and blocked traffic on a freeway and city streets Sunday, prompting the city's mayor to urge them to "practice peace."

Mayor Eric Garcetti issued the call for calm on Twitter after groups of people broke off from a large march and walked onto Interstate 10 by the Crenshaw Ave. exit, shutting the busy freeway for about 30 minutes. Some carried a large poster with a photo of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager who was shot and killed by Zimmerman. Others rode bicycles as traffic came to a standstill.

Police Cmdr. Andrew Smith said officers eventually dispersed the crowd and no one was arrested. However, at a nearby street corner a crowd threw rocks and flashlight batteries at officers, prompting them to fire beanbag rounds.

One man was arrested in the clash, Smith said.

In Oakland, police were trying to disperse a crowd at a downtown intersection after a small crowd began breaking windows and spray painting graffiti Sunday night, the Oakland Tribune reported.

Demonstrations across the state were largely peaceful Sunday afternoon as hundreds took to the streets to march in support of the slain 17-year-old, blocking traffic on major streets of San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles.

Police closed San Francisco's Market Street and escorted about 400 people as they marched across downtown to the waterfront Ferry Building. The racially diverse crowd of protesters banged drums, blew whistles and held signs that declared "Zimmerman: the people say guilty," and "The whole system is racist."

Rand Powdrill, 41, of San Leandro said he came to "protest the execution of an innocent black teenager."

"If our voices can't be heard, then this is just going to keep going on," he said.

A similar march shut down Crenshaw Boulevard in the heart of Los Angeles' historic black neighborhood. It was peaceful until small groups broke away from the march, Smith said. By late Sunday, a few dozen remaining protesters marched to Hollywood Blvd. and put traffic at a busy intersection at a standstill.

In Oakland, protesters marched about five miles before sitting at a major street intersection and blocking traffic. The Tribune said crowd was largely peaceful, but by 10 p.m. a smaller group of protesters began vandalizing businesses.

The demonstrations came a day after Zimmerman was cleared of all charges in the February 2012 death of the 17-year-old Martin in in Florida. Zimmerman has maintained the shooting was an act of self-defense. The death of an unarmed black teen unleashed debate across the U.S. over racial profiling.

In downtown Oakland Saturday night, people broke windows, vandalized cars and buildings and started small fires in the streets. Local media reports said some Oakland marchers vandalized a police squad car and officers formed a line to block the protesters' path.

Footage from a television helicopter showed people spray-painting anti-police graffiti.

In a statement Sunday, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said Martin's death "raised powerful, incredibly difficult issues" surrounding racial profiling, but she criticized vandals who "dishonored the memory of Trayvon by engaging in violent activities that hurt our growing economy and endangered people."

"We will not tolerate violence in our city," Quan said.

The Oakland demonstration followed a raucous but largely peaceful rally in San Francisco. Police say officers escorted demonstrators as they marched on the city's Mission District. The group was dispersed by 10 p.m.