In July 2013, the case of the handgun killing of Trayvon Martin reached an important milestone. George Zimmerman, the shooter, was acquitted of all charges by a jury of six women. He is now in the clear, as regards criminal charges in the state courts. Zimmerman is not in the clear, however, as regards possible civil charges of wrongful death. There is also a remote chance that the US Justice Department might bring charges against him involving civil rights violations against Martin.
The fallout from the killing of Trayvon Martin, a 17 year old African American armed with a pack of skittles candy, has been complex, political, and somewhat depressing. In the immediate aftermath of his death, American onlookers were quick to take sides based on their race and politics, while Zimmerman was at first excused from any legal procedures. To some it seemed odd to excuse Zimmerman from a legal investigation, as police officers are always investigated after the use of deadly force, and Zimmerman behaved as a wannabee policeman without a badge. Later, after a sustained public outcry, Zimmerman was arrested. His trial was colorful, and his defense was well-funded by financial donations. The prosecuting team was a less fancy crew- and perhaps a less competent crew as well.
It is possible that Zimmerman may have felt threatened the moment that he pulled the trigger. But it is also clear that Martin must have also felt threatened by Zimmerman, as he was pursued by a strange older male in a place he had a right to be. Clearly Martin committed no crime up to the moment he struck Zimmerman. This version of vigilante “justice”- baiting and harassing, with a concealed handgun in reserve just in case the harassment gets a physical response- looks too much like “Dirty Harry” to an objective observer. How to be sure that Zimmerman did not intend the outcome from the moment he spotted Martin? Was Zimmerman a meddlesome fool or a stone killer? Without the ability to read his mind, the answer to that question is elusive. But the only living witness to the entire final act of the drama is Zimmerman himself, since Martin is conveniently absent now. Zimmerman would manifestly be an even bigger fool than he in fact is, were he eager to take the stand to incriminate himself. In fact, Zimmerman never took the stand.
What should the United States of America look like? Not this. The wearing of a hoodie should not become a capital offense. Ignoring cause and effect becomes childish, yet there are some who seem to desire black to become white and white to become black- not in racial terms, but rather in terms to the basic nature of human interaction.
Zimmerman’s brother Robert commented to Piers Morgan on the fallout of the trial: “”There are factions, there are groups, there are people that would want to take the law into their own hands as they perceive it, or be vigilantes in some sense. They think that justice was not served, they won’t respect the verdict no matter how it was reached and they will always present a threat to George and his family.” How surreal! Robert Zimmerman took on the role of vigilante with ghastly results- and now his brother essentially attempts to pin that label onto the friends and relatives of a dead seventeen year old for acts they have yet to commit.
At a certain point it becomes too painful to regard this nonsense, and it becomes incumbent on all Americans to take a step backward from this cliff of racial animosity and political feuding. Clearly George Zimmerman is not responsible for the 12,000 odd gun murders in the USA last year- he only carries the moral burden of one death. Clearly, many of those killings were committed by African Americans against other African Americans. The killing of Trayvon Martin may not even qualify as a racist hate crime- but it is true that Martin was guilty of nothing when Zimmerman harassed him in an obvious case of incompetent profiling.
After the verdict, Juror B37 poured some more gasoline onto the fire with some wandering, semi-nonsensical rationalizing. While admitting that Zimmerman should have stayed in his car, she offered that he had a “good heart”, and then later offered the following:
“My prayers are with all those who have the influence and power to modify the laws that left me with no verdict option other than ‘not guilty’ in order to remain within the instructions. No other family should be forced to endure what the Martin family has endured.”
It’s hard to accept that as the final word. If that final sentence was spoken honestly, then why lead the charge to acquit the man who killed Martin, then blame “the laws” for the not guilty verdict that the juror herself enacted over the objection of another juror who held out for a manslaughter verdict?
In the end, the Zimmerman/Martin case ended with a legal verdict, but a moral judgment was missing. If a recurrence of this case was not desirable, then why issue a verdict that seems to actively encourage future vigilante kill shots? In the end, George Zimmerman cannot escape the realization that Trayvon Martin would be alive today if Zimmerman had possessed the self- control to listen to a police dispatcher and remain in his car.
In the end, the burden that looms for Americans is to work not only for greater justice in the courtroom, but also for greater self-control and less thirst for blood outside the courtroom. It is a tall order, and one not made easier by the resentments bred by this painful case.