By Victoria Cavaliere
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Thousands of demonstrators demanding "Justice for Trayvon" marched in major cities across the United States on Sunday to protest the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin.
While a jury of six women absolved Zimmerman of any crime with their not-guilty verdict, civil rights leaders decried the decision, and demonstrators took to the streets in New York, Boston, San Francisco and other cities.
U.S. President Barack Obama called for a peaceful response to the case that has polarized the U.S. public over the past 16 months. In general, the demonstrations were peaceful, though the New York march became disorderly at times, and in Los Angeles protesters blocked a major highway.
Defense lawyers argued that Martin, 17, attacked Zimmerman, who shot the teen in self-defense. Prosecutors said Zimmerman, 29, who is white and Hispanic, wrongly suspected Martin of being a criminal because he was black.
Zimmerman called police to report a suspicious looking person, then left his car with a fully loaded Kel Tec 9mm pistol concealed in his waistband. A fight ensued in which Zimmerman suffered a bloody nose and head injuries, and then shot Martin once in the heart, killing him.
"Trayvon was profiled, pursued and ultimately killed because of the color of his skin," said Angela Tovar, 33, an urban planner from Brooklyn.
About 1,000 to 2,000 of the demonstrators abandoned the protest site at Union Square to march in the streets toward Times Square, slowing or stopping traffic.
Police attempted to funnel the crowd into controlled lanes but were unable to. Later they halted the march about eight blocks short of Times Square, but the demonstrators made their way around the officers.
About 1,000 people sat in Times Square, drawing curious looks from the tourists who packed the so-called Crossroads of the World.
The protest was lively, led by several men on bullhorns.
The Los Angeles protest stopped traffic for about 25 minutes, prompting police to issue a citywide tactical alert, the Los Angeles Times reported.
In Boston, about 500 racially mixed protesters left their demonstration site in the Roxbury neighborhood and started marching in the streets alongside police escorts on motorcycles and on foot. Police called the march "very orderly."
"Morally it cannot be right, that a child cannot go about his business and go to the store," said Maura Twomey, 57, an acupuncturist. "Racism is not just an issue for the black community. It's for all of us."
Demonstrators raised signs saying "We Demand Justice," "Stop Racial Profiling" and "Never Forget. Never Again. Justice for Trayvon."
Roughly 500 people rallied on the streets of San Francisco, some carrying yellow signs with Martin's photo. About a dozen police motorcycles and vans trailed the tidy group of marchers, who banged on drums as they walked and continuously chanted, "Justice for Trayvon Martin."
"I feel a moral obligation to be in the street and object to this kind of racist policy," said Naomi White, 69, a retired teacher from San Francisco. "George Zimmerman got away with murder."
(Additional reporting by Adrees Latif in New York, Ross Kerber in Boston and; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Christopher Wilson)