A Florida special prosecutor announced Wednesday evening that George Zimmerman was in police custody and will be charged with second-degree murder in connection with fatally shooting Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teen.
Zimmerman is now being held in Sanford, Fla., the same town where he shot and killed the 17-year-old boy on February 26. He claims he was acting in self-defense, and police did not initially charge Zimmerman due to Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law.
Asked by reporters why the charges came 45 days after Martin's death, prosecutor Angela Corey said that authorities worked diligently to build a solid case, and that the homicide investigation was only delayed when Florida Governor Rick Scott appointed the special prosecution team.
Corey expressed concerns about the amount of information on the case that was leaked to the national media.
"There's been an overwhelming amount of publicity in this case that we hope does not keep us from picking a fair and impartial jury," the prosecutor said.
Speaking at the the Annual National Action Network Conference in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday evening, Martin's parents and the Reverend Al Sharpton expressed relief that charges were filed against Zimmerman and thanked the special prosecutor for her investigation.
"We wanted nothing more, nothing less. We just wanted an arrest and we got it," said Sybrina Fulton, Martin's mother. "And I say thank you, thank you lord, thank you Jesus."
"We will march and march and march until the right thing is done," said Tracy Martin, the victim's father."
"We will monitor the trail at every step of the way," Sharpton said.
Trayvon Martin's parents with the Rev. Sharpton
Attorney General Eric Holder also spoke at the Wednesday conference, saying the Justice Department is conducting a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding Martin's death. He cautioned that the public discourse on the case must remain productive and respectful.
"This conversation is critical. It must be consistently elevated an advanced and not just in times of crisis," said Holder.
In Harlem, New Yorkers had muted reactions to the news that murder charges were filed against Zimmerman.
"I think that's good, because if he did it he needs to do his time," said a Harlem passerby.
"I think he deserves the worst possible punishment for what he did," said another.
For weeks, the country has been embroiled in a national debate on race and justice surrounding the Martin case.
Events and rallies demanding Zimmerman face criminal charges have been held in the past month in Lower Manhattan, Union Square, Harlem and the Bronx and thousands of New Yorkers signed petitions for similar reasons.
While the Florida special prosecutor said that public pressure had nothing to do with the decision to file murder charges, Manhattan Senator Bill Perkins disagreed.
"There's no question that public pressure on all levels throughout the country and even in other parts of the world had something to do with this," said Perkins. "Without the public pressure, this would have unfortunately gone away as if it was of no consequence."
Also on Wednesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined civil rights leaders in Washington to announce a campaign against "Stand Your Ground" laws.The "Second Chance Of First Shoot" campaign is designed to get the 25 states that have the laws to repeal or reform them.
Bloomberg said statistics show the rate of so-called justifiable homicides has increased for states following their adoption of the measures.
He maintained that while Americans do have the right to defend themselves, "Stand Your Ground" laws have nothing to do with self-defense.
"No civilized society that I know of outside of America has laws that permit anyone to just decide that somebody shouldn't be alive, pull out a gun shoot them and get away with it," Bloomberg said.
He also chastised the National Rifle Association, which is in favor of the laws.