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George Zimmerman verdict prompts local reaction

Parishioners pray and applaude as the community listens

Parishioners pray and applaude as the community listens to a sermon given by Rev. Dr. Sedgwick V. Easley as he talked about the verdict of in the George Zimmerman trial held at the Union Baptist Church in Hempstead. (July 14, 2013) Credit: Steve Pfost

Disappointment and anger cut through the 10 a.m. service at Hempstead's Union Baptist Church Sunday as congregants reacted to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

"The anger you feel from the verdict last night, talk to God about it," Union's pastor, the Rev. Sedgwick V. Easley, said, readying members for prayer.

The verdict sparked emotional discussions about race and equal justice in the United States.

"Set your clocks back 200 years, because that's how it felt," Easley told the congregation of more than 350 people. "For George Zimmerman to walk free in America after killing an unarmed African-American boy who only had Skittles and an iced tea, it showed us that he was the Emmett Till of our time."

Till, 14, was murdered in Mississippi in 1955 after reportedly flirting with a white woman.

Easley said the Zimmerman case is "not about Trayvon Martin; it's about the symbolism of what it means to be black in America."

Jonathan Gamble, 20, of Hempstead, noted his closeness to Martin's age, saying after the service that "justice wasn't served. It feels like a black person's life is less valuable than everybody else's."

Jordan K. Wilson, president of the Central Long Island branch of the NAACP, said the verdict shocked him.

"I don't understand how that could happen in the United States of America," Wilson said. "I'm hoping this situation will alert America about the racism that still exists in this country."

Walter Williams, 39, of Amityville, said he has a 14-year-old son and that the verdict made him "a little scared" for his son, who might wear a hoodie like Martin did on the day he was killed.

"Things happen because we let history repeat itself," Williams said after the service. "Everybody's going to go back to their regular lives . . . [but] something has to be done."

The Rev. Stretta C. McKnight, a minister at Union Baptist, said an August trip of church and social justice groups to Washington, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, has taken on added meaning.

"We need to be able to have a place where we can come together," she said. "And I believe the faith community has a responsibility to do this."

Easley said "the church needs to stand up . . . to march . . . and to raise our voices."

In Copiague, Pastor Alex Kirton, and his wife and co-pastor, Keyla Kirton, of the Circle of Life Church, said they expect members to need consolation.

"Our faith is not in the justice system, it's in God," Keyla said. "We will tell them to rely on their faith, on God, and not look at what they perceive as a negative outcome."

Freeport resident Keith McCarthy, 58, who said he has been following the Martin trial, had a picnic with his 17-year-old son, Keron, and their family at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow Sunday.

"No father wants to lose his son," the elder McCarthy said. "I can tell my son what to do, but I have no control over what may happen" when he leaves the house. Still, he said, "You can't blame the jury; this was a hard case to prove."

Anthony Basile, 52, of Garden City, also in the park, said, "I'm sure he didn't have any bad intentions," he said of Zimmerman's role in neighborhood watch and following Martin in the Sanford, Fla., gated community. "He probably wanted to be of use to society."

But Victoria Gumbs Moore, 42, a civil attorney from Wheatley Heights, called the verdict "unbelievable."

"I'm sure all mothers are going to hold their sons closer," she said as she left Union Baptist.

With Deon J. Hampton, Amanda Cedrone and Nicole Fuller

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