SANFORD, Fla. -- In front of the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center where George Zimmerman was granted bond, Pastor Terry Jones, the Gainesville, Fla., church leader who burned a Quran last year, gave a fiery speech Saturday in which he demanded the constitutional rights of Zimmerman be protected as his case moves through the judicial system.
"I am in no way taking a position on whether Zimmerman is guilty or innocent. I am here for truth and justice and standing up for the constitutional rights," said Jones, who heads Dove World Outreach Center and carries a pistol for his own protection. "Some of the black community just decided Zimmerman is guilty. I say there has to be due process. In America, you are innocent until proven guilty."
On Friday, a judge granted Zimmerman a $150,000 bond -- along with restrictions including electronic monitoring -- but it could be several days before he is actually released. He faces second-degree murder charges in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old unarmed Miami Gardens, Fla., teen who was visiting his father in Sanford, Fla., while suspended from high school almost two months ago. In the weeks after his death, communities across the nation held rallies and protests calling for Zimmerman's arrest.
Standing in front of about two dozen supporters, Jones said he traveled to Sanford to directly address simmering racial tension in the community which he blamed on "poisonous" black leaders Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. He said the two hijacked the controversial shooting case, fanned race-based fears and helped divide the town. Jones later acknowledged that he had not heard Sharpton, in particular, say anything racially provocative related to the case but said his response was based on comments Sharpton made in the past.
Both Sharpton and Jackson were in Sanford to lead rallies in support of Trayvon Martin and the arrest of Zimmerman. The neighborhood watch captain said he shot Trayvon in self-defense at the gated townhouse community.
"Race is not something to be proud of. Race is not something to be ashamed of. Race is simply what you are," said Jones, who made international headlines when he threatened to and, later, burned a Quran in March. "This is about America standing up for what is right and uniting. We cannot let this trial divide us."
In a speech that referenced Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King Jr., Jones said ultimately, Zimmerman deserved forgiveness from Trayvon's family. Zimmerman apologized to the parents at his bond hearing on Friday.
"The only true answer in terms of moving forward is forgiveness," Jones said.
During the rally, the few supporters -- many are members of his church -- held signs that read: "Justice for Zimmerman," "Justice for Martin," "Black Panther equals Racism" and "Due Process." Jones said fear and apathy kept more people from attending the rally.
"It's a tragedy what happened. But I don't believe what happened is racial," said Elwyn Humphreys, a retired Army veteran who grew up in Sanford and supports the Zimmerman cause. "I think Jones did a good job of making people understand this is about justice."
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