OAKLAND -- There are few places where the death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of a neighborhood watch leader who once aspired to be a police officer resonated as it did in Oakland.
In the city where Oscar Grant was shot and killed by a BART officer four years ago and the police department is under federal supervision in part over a failure to stop racial profiling, the 17-year-old Martin felt like kin to many African-American Oaklanders.
One day after George Zimmerman was acquitted of charges in Martin's killing, residents' anguish poured out from pulpits, pews and city streets.
"In America, it doesn't matter if you're just walking home," Pastor Zachary Carey told parishioners at True Vine Ministries in West Oakland on Sunday. "To them, we're all criminals. If you're black, you're a criminal."
For many in the pews, the verdict confirmed two unpleasant but deeply-held beliefs: that just because the country elected an African-American president doesn't mean it fully values their lives, and that those most vulnerable in a society rife with fear of young African-American men, are the young men who must deal with people clutching their bags or questioning them as they approach.
"You can see some of the other races, how they look at you with that suspicious eye," said 37-year-old Lamar Brantley of Oakland. "A person that's fearful is liable to do anything. It does make me fearful at times."
Ronda Johnson said that someone like Zimmerman might be a bigger threat to her two sons than gang violence, because while she can steer them away from gangs, "Zimmerman was always prepared to look for someone like Trayvon," she said.
Late Sunday afternoon, hundreds of people, many carrying signs reading, "I am my brother's keeper," and "We are all Trayvon Martin," gathered at Frank Ogawa Plaza for a march. Some two dozen police officers monitored the crowd.
Larry Everest, a writer for Revolution Magazine, said, "this verdict doesn't show the system as legitimate. It shows it's illegitimate. We need a whole new system," he said as the crowd clapped.
At True Vine Ministries earlier in the day, Carey directed members to turn outrage over the verdict into action, and denounced the "senseless" vandalism perpetrated in Martin's name throughout downtown Oakland on Saturday night.
"We should be marching on every state capital in America," he thundered. "We should march on Washington and tell them that this is no longer acceptable in America and we're not going to take it anymore."
Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, said he shot Martin in self-defense after Martin assaulted him and slammed his head against the sidewalk. At the heart of the case was why Zimmerman chose to follow Martin, who was walking home from a grocery store unarmed and wearing a hooded sweatshirt.
In Oakland, the case shows the need to train police and the city's growing neighborhood watch movement on de-escalating conflicts, civil rights Attorney John Burris said.
"The travesty in this whole case is that a young man minding his own business was deemed suspicious and wound up dead," he said.
Like many people interviewed, Olis Simmons, who runs the nonprofit Youth UpRising in East Oakland, noted that African-American NFL star Michael Vick went to prison for harming dogs, but Zimmerman will not be punished for killing an African-American teenager.
"The verdict was devastating because it says that the people who our nation needs to help it turn the corner can be killed at will because they fit the profile that the media has determined is threatening," she said.
Simmons said she is still struggling with what to say Monday to the teenagers in her program.
"I have to tell them the same thing I told them during the Oscar Grant stuff," she said. "That violence isn't justice. And that civic engagement leads to justice."
Natalie Neysa Alund contributed to this story. Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.