The Coalition of African-American Pastors (CAAP) has condemned reports of violence following the not guilty verdict in the case of George Zimmerman and the killing of Trayvon Martin, reminding Americans that civil rights were won through peace.
"The black community knows that our civil rights were won through peace, not violence," said CAAP President Rev. William Owens in a statement on Thursday.
"We are a nation of laws, not unlawful violence. The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy for everyone, but resorting to violence will only hurt our own communities. What kind of message are we sending to our children if we perpetuate the violence in our culture? We are only confusing our young people when we use violence instead of peaceful protest to change the culture and the law."
A number of cities have participated in demonstrations and vigils in support of Martin since a jury found Zimmerman not guilty of second degree murder and manslaughter over the weekend. Instead, they found that the neighborhood watchman truly feared for his life when he shot dead the African American teenager during a confrontation on Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford, Fla.
Protests turned violent in some cities earlier this week, including in Los Angeles, with L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck calling for calm after 14 people were arrested for clashing with police, throwing rocks and attacking a news crew.
"We don't want anyone hurt. We don't want any cars broken into, and we don't want any damages to business," Eddie Jones of the Los Angeles Civil Rights Association told NBCLosAngeles.com.
Garcetti added: "We are calling on people to practice peace, to not let the dialogue sparked by Martin's death be silenced by any violence."
Martin's parents, who insist that Zimmerman is guilty, have been backed by a number of churches, with the National Black Church Initiative declaring itself "outraged" by the verdict, saying that it gives white males "a license to kill young black boys."
"Not only are white males killing black boys but Latinos (George Zimmerman) feel free to kill our black boys as well. The verdict leaves this nation at a moral crossroads. We have to decide as a society if we are going to allow black boys to be counted as children of God who are worthy of human dignity," NBCI said in a statement.
CAAP's Owens urged Americans to cool tensions and stop engaging in divisive rhetoric, and to address society's problems instead.
"We don't need an extreme law like the one in Florida, and the hearts of people have been changing since this tragedy happened," he said, referring to Florida's Stand Your Ground Law, which found itself in the center of controversy last year following the shooting.