George Zimmerman arrives for the 17th day of his trial in Seminole Circuit Court on July 2 in Sanford, Fla.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Orlando Sentinel, Joe Burbank, Pool
SANFORD, Florida (AP) — Police prepared for possible protests or even violence as a high-profile U.S. trial in the murder of an unarmed black teen neared its end Thursday.
Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty in the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, saying he fired in self-defense during a nighttime confrontation in February 2012 in his Florida gated community, where Martin was visiting family. Zimmerman says Martin was slamming his head into the concrete pavement when he fired his gun.
The case drew national attention and protests when Zimmerman wasn't arrested for weeks after the shooting, and racial tensions have been exposed.
As prosecutors' closing arguments continued Thursday, police and city leaders in Florida said they have prepared for the possibility of mass protests or even civil unrest if Zimmerman is acquitted, particularly in African-American neighborhoods where passions run strongest over the case.
"It's all right to be vocal, but we don't want to be violent," said the Rev. Walter T. Richardson, a longtime pastor and chairman of Miami-Dade County's Community Relations Board. "We've already lost one soul and we don't want to lose any more."
The situation is especially sensitive in Miami, where rioting occurred in 1980 in mostly-black neighborhoods after four white police officers were acquitted in the death of a black Marine Corps veteran. The man was beaten to death by police trying to stop him for a traffic violation. The three-day riot killed 18 people and did some $100 million in damage.
The Miami-Dade Police Department's intelligence operation has been combing social media to monitor signs of unusual interest in Zimmerman's trial.
The judge has ruled that jurors can consider the lesser charge of manslaughter for Zimmerman.
Jurors could begin deliberating as early as Friday. The defense was expected to give closing arguments Friday morning.
Prosecutors argued Thursday that Zimmerman, who identifies himself as Hispanic, assumed Martin was up to no good.
Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda told jurors that Zimmerman wanted to be a police officer and that's why he followed Martin through his neighborhood, even though the teen wasn't doing anything wrong.
"He assumed Trayvon Martin was a criminal. That is why we are here," de la Rionda said.
De la Rionda dismissed defense claims that Zimmerman acted in self-defense, accusing him of lying about what happened.
Associated Press writers Curt Anderson, Mike Schneider and Kyle Hightower contributed.
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