Dueling protests over George Zimmerman acquittal coming to River Oaks in Houston

July 20, 2013 4:57:31 PM PDT
Two opposing groups in Houston with opposite stances on the George Zimmerman verdict will likely come face-to-face Sunday in dueling protests.

One week after a Florida jury found Zimmerman not guilty in the death of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin, rallies were held Saturday in 100 cities -- including Houston -- to press for civil rights charges against the former neighborhood watch leader.

The Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network has organized "Justice for Trayvon" rallies and vigils outside federal buildings nationwide. He wants the Justice Department to pursue a case.

Galveston answered the call to action Saturday with a "Justice for Trayvon" prayer vigil and rally at the U.S. post office and courthouse on 25th Street. And in the Bayou City, hundreds of people gathered outside Houston City Hall and the courthouse downtown to participate in rallies. All churches, community organizations, fraternities, sororities and civic groups were called upon to protest. They held signs and shouted into megaphones, pushing for change.

"We've got to do something," one protester at the courthouse said. "Everybody has to take a position and make this place safe for all of our kids."

So far, all of the protests locally have been against the verdict. On Sunday, a group in favor of Zimmerman's acquittal will step out and speak up.

The Houston Police Department plans to have officers on scene when dueling protests kick off around 4pm Sunday in the River Oaks neighborhood. Those in support of Zimmerman are holding their own demonstrations along with the "Justice for Trayvon" protesters.

Residents like Richard Lo aren't quite sure what to expect. He didn't expect the fallout over the Zimmerman acquittal to reach his neighborhood.

"It seems like anything could possibly happen," he said. "Hopefully it's peaceful, but who knows what could happen."

The march through River Oaks is supposed to be a peaceful one, but the fact that a pro-Zimmerman group is planning on rallying at the same time as a pro-Martin group does have some neighbors concerned

"For people's fear of counter-protesters who may be armed, I understand their fear, and fear is reasonable when it comes to that," HPD Chief Charles McClelland said.

Organizers of the counter-protest supporting Zimmerman's acquittal rallied support through a Facebook page. They didn't want to speak on camera, but we spoke to one of them over the phone who told us they plan to march toward the Martin supporters for a non-violent encounter.

Jack Sartin, who has family in River Oaks, said the counter-protesters have every right to be there.

"I don't know what you can do about it," he said. "It's a free country."

Neighbors can expect a strong police presence trying to keep the peace.

"We're certainly going to have enough resources, and we have a plan to make sure all protesters, regardless of what group you're going to be with, you're going to remain safe; you're going to protest peacefully," McClelland said.

According to organizers, the Martin march will start at 4pm, taking off from Wiley Park. The counter-protest will begin at Lamar High School at 3pm.

Police will be monitoring both groups closely.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced this week that his department would investigate whether Zimmerman could be charged under federal civil rights laws. Such a case would require evidence that Zimmerman harbored racial animosity against Martin. Most legal experts say that would be a difficult charge to bring. Zimmerman's lawyers have said their client wasn't driven by race, but by desire to protect his neighborhood.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Find Simon on Facebook at ABC13SimonGutierrez or on Twitter at @sggutierrez

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