After neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was charged Wednesday with second-degree murder in the February shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, the teen’s mother said she finally got what she asked for.
“Thank God. We simply wanted an arrest," Sybrina Fulton told reporters shortly after the charge was announced. "We wanted nothing more and nothing less, and we got it."
Fulton’s comments were among a wide range of reactions from people across the country who advocated for the arrest of Zimmerman, the 28-year-old man who claimed self-defense in Martin’s shooting and wasn’t charged until a special prosecutor’s review of the case.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who advocated for Martin’s arrest, said Wednesday that "there should be no high-fiving" over Zimmerman's charge. But he lauded the public pressure that he said caused Florida’s governor to order a prosecutor to review the case.
"If we did not get this far, we would condemn them," Sharpton said. "We must say that despite the fact that we are of ... different political persuasions ... we came together and said only the facts should matter."
Authorities have said Zimmerman was not immediately charged because there were no grounds, at the outset, to disprove his account that he'd acted to protect himself. But rallies – first in Sanford, Florida, where the shooting happened, and then around the country – called for Zimmerman's arrest and criticized the police department's handling of the case.
Martin's death has triggered a nationwide debate about race in America – Zimmerman is Hispanic and Martin was black - and Florida's "stand your ground" law, which allows people to use deadly force anywhere they feel a reasonable threat of death or serious injury.
Like Sharpton, a college student who organized a rally in Texas last month expressed relief over the arrest, saying that public pressure got the justice system to move in the way she believes it should.
“This is perfect. This is awesome. I'm glad they're jumping on it," Jylise Smith, president of the NAACP chapter at Texas Southern University, told CNN affiliate KPRC. "I'm glad that, as America, we're doing something about this.”
Benjamin Crump, the lawyer for Martin’s parents, said Wednesday that “we can take a short breath, because we are just now getting to first base."
"This is only first base,” Crump said. “Trayvon's legacy cannot be tarnished based on people doing sick things and acting (on) ignorance or using violence."
Martin’s father, Tracy Martin also said that “this is just the beginning.”
"The first time we marched (to call attention to the case), I looked to the sky and said, 'I will walk by faith,'” Martin recalled. "We will continue to walk by faith. We will continue to hold hands on this journey - white, black, Latino. … We will march and march and march until the right thing is done."
Ruben Navarrette Jr., a CNN.com contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group, wrote that the “case cries out for clarity and resolution, and the only place to get either is in court.”
But he wrote that too many people have their opinions of the case set in stone, and that everyone should take a step back and let the court process work.
“Whatever the verdict turns out to be, let's hope that both camps are mature enough to accept it. I'm not hopeful. Too many people have already made up their minds,” Navarrette wrote for CNN.com.
Zimmerman’s brother, Robert Zimmerman Jr., told CNN’s Piers Morgan on Wednesday night that he believes the evidence will show that George was attacked and did act in self-defense, and that he will be exonerated.
Robert Zimmerman was asked what he would say to Martin’s family if he had the chance.
“When the wheels of justice turn, and when all of the system exonerates my brother – we are confident that will happen, that the truth will come out, and that George has been telling the truth the whole time – please, for peace’s sake, for the whole world, and for people who are observing our legal system, please accept that answer,” he told Morgan. “Please, in the name of peace, let’s accept that answer. Let’s let the system do its job.”
Others looked beyond the charges and focused on what they feel are wider issues that the shooting exposed.
Benjamin Jealous, president of the NAACP, said he hopes the federal government will investigate what he believes was an inadequate initial investigation by the Sanford Police Department. He also said he believes Martin “was profiled because of his race,” and that the nation needs “to address the issues of racial profiling and the valuation of black men’s lives by law enforcement.”
“In the months ahead, the NAACP and our allies in the civil rights community will continue to take these issues on, as well as the urgent need to repeal stand-your-ground laws,” Jealous said.
Dennis Parker, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Racial Justice Program, said that Zimmerman shouldn’t be the victim of a rush to judgment after being charged. But he also said that regardless of the outcome of the case, “we would be doing a disservice to Trayvon Martin, to communities of color throughout the United States and to the nation as a whole if we failed to address the major issues of discrimination and fairness which this incident and many others have brought to light."
"The questions of whether the legal system truly provides due process to everyone regardless of race or ethnicity and whether everyone has the same opportunity to enjoy the benefits of our society still must be addressed and resolved," Parker said.
Shayan Elahi, attorney for the Florida Civil Rights Association, told the Orlando Sentinel that unrest in the Sanford area should lessen because of Zimmerman’s arrest.
"The arrest is partial closure for Trayvon’s family and the community at large," Elahi said. "It also means that Zimmerman will have his right to due process in court and not in the court of public opinion."
Gary Rufner, of Centreville, Virginia, told CNN affiliate WJLA that he thinks comment about the case is inappropriate until all the evidence is released.
"I don't believe we have heard all the facts. I don't think all of the facts in this case have been released as of yet,” Rufner said. “And from that perspective I can't give you an opinion."