A scandal that began with an act of vigilantism is threatening to breed more of the same, after militant activists announced a US$10,000 ($12,250) reward for the "capture" of black teenager Trayvon Martin's killer.
George Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watch volunteer who followed and then shot the unarmed boy, had the bounty publicly placed on his head during a protest in Sanford, the Florida commuter town where Martin died.
It was announced by Mikhail Muhammad, leader of a small militant organisation called the New Black Panther Party, who said he was seeking up to 10,000 black men willing to form a militia to find Zimmerman and administer what they regard as justice.
Asked if he was inciting violence, Muhammad said: "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." To the sound of cheers from followers, who wore black uniforms, he promised: "If the Government won't do the job, we'll do it."
His comments were denounced by mainstream civil rights campaigners. Jesse Jackson called it a "diversion," telling reporters: "I think disciplined, persistent, non-violent action works."
The incident nonetheless highlights the increasingly polarising nature of the controversy surrounding Martin's death.
The 17-year-old, who was shot a month ago, was remembered during protests in Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago, New York and several other American cities over the weekend.
Demonstrators wore hooded tops and carried bags of Skittles, the brand of confectionery Martin was carrying during his fatal journey from a local convenience store to the home of his father's girlfriend, in a community called The Retreat at Twin Lakes.
Supporters of Zimmerman, who claims to have killed Martin in self-defence, began lobbying on his behalf. Joe Oliver, a "family friend" who appeared on ABC yesterday, said that he "couldn't stop crying" about the incident and is now in fear of his life.
Oliver, who is mixed-race, was accompanied by Craig Sonner, Zimmerman's lawyer. Both men vigorously denied that their friend, who was initially described as a "white male" by police but claims (despite his appearance and surname) to be Hispanic, is racist. Records show that Zimmerman had called emergency services almost 50 times in the past year to report suspicious activity in his neighbourhood. In most recorded instances, he identified the alleged "suspects" as young black males.
Shortly before Martin's death, Zimmerman decided to pursue him, against the advice of a 911 operator. On a tape recording of his telephone call to police, he complains, "these arseholes, they always get away". Then he appears to utter the slur "f***ing coons". Oliver was played an enhanced recording of the call by ABC, but claimed that Zimmerman was instead saying "f***ing goons". He insisted that "goon is a term of endearment in the high schools these days". He then alleged that a screaming man, who can be heard in the background of other 911 calls made to Sanford police on the day, sounded like Zimmerman. Martin's parents have previously identified the distressed man as their son.
Sonner used the ABC interview to claim that photographs of Zimmerman and Martin have given a misleading impression of the relative sizes of the two. Martin was taller than his killer, he said.
Zimmerman remains in hiding. Local police, who failed to arrest Zimmerman, arrested a man for sending threatening emails to Bill Lee, Sanford's former police chief. Lee decided to step down "temporarily" last week while officials review the case to establish whether Zimmerman should face charges.