Kansas City reacts to the George Zimmerman verdict

The Rev. John Modest Miles was polishing this morning’s sermon on Saturday night when he heard a Florida jury had found George Zimmerman not guilty in Trayvon Martin’s death.

Miles, the pastor of Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church in Kansas City, already had planned to preach from Proverbs about people placing their trust in God. The verdict made that message even more important.

“We all are saying to remain calm,” Miles said. “And ultimate justice really comes from above.”

In the hours after the ruling, many around Kansas City expressed not only surprise but hope that people would accept the decision and remain peaceful. Miles had spoken with Police Chief Darryl Forté earlier Saturday about keeping the city and its residents safe.

Just Thursday, Forté reiterated on his blog the need for citizens to remain respectful of each other no matter Zimmerman’s fate. On Saturday night, extra police officers patrolled the Country Club Plaza and other areas as a precaution. As of 11:30 p.m., all was calm.

“It’s my hope that some of the anger and other emotions be directed at finding solutions to some of the major issues facing our city,” Forté said Saturday evening. “Let’s use some of that energy on what’s happening in Kansas City and to make Kansas City better.”

After the verdict came at 9 p.m. Kansas City time, it was discussed across the city.

“The way I feel about it is this: If Trayvon Martin was white and Zimmerman was black, there would not have even been a case,” Adrian Lang, 25, said as he worked his doorman’s job at Johnny’s Tavern in the Power & Light District. “He would’ve been in jail. … That’s the saddest thing (about this). That’s the thing we need to get over as a country.”

Johnson County criminal defense attorney Carl Cornwell said the decision surprised him.

“A 17-year-old who is unarmed gets killed by a guy who’s got a gun. Under normal circumstances, using a gun in a fistfight is going to get you convicted,” Cornwell said. “That said, having done close to 60 homicide trials, you never ever know what is important to the jury. And unless you sit on that jury and get to hear every word that is said, it’s hard for anyone to find fault with the jury.”

Kansas City lawyer Mike Yonke said he was disappointed.

“This is a young man who was clearly profiled because he was black,” Yonke said. “…George Zimmerman would never have confronted him if he wasn’t carrying a gun. … (The verdict) sends the wrong message to the community on what you can do in these situations.”

Dan Ross, a Kansas City criminal defense attorney, said it was a “tough case for the state to prove he did not act in lawful self-defense because it was all circumstantial evidence.”

Ross added: “Self-defense is colorblind, and I’ve used it successfully numerous times.”

Mayor Sly James used the verdict as an opportunity to lash out at gun violence in this city. He also reminded people in a written statement that no amount of anger, violence or media sentence would bring back Martin.

“It doesn’t matter how young you are, what color you are, where you live, or how much money you make — the results can be deadly when guns and emotions combine,” his statement read.

“I expect Kansas Citians to remember that the common vision we have for this city is greater than any of the issues, perceived or real, that divide us.”

Cornwell said people should also keep in mind that the jurors spent two days going over the evidence.

“Sixteen hours is a long time to make a decision,” Cornwell said. “I didn’t agree with the O.J. Simpson verdict, but you accept that.

“There are many people, I assume, who are not going to accept this verdict. But this is the way the system works, and you have to believe in the system.”