George Zimmerman was found not guilty by a jury of his peers, our American justice system at work. The jury of six women — now that’s a travesty of justice, not that they were women but they were only six in number — looked at the preponderance of the evidence and found that the prosecution came up short.
They were right. The prosecution presented one lousy case for second degree murder and upon realizing at the end of the trial it had presented a lousy case, said, oh yeah, you can consider manslaughter, too. That was a more reasonable charge — one the original investigating detective wanted to make, but when the local prosecutor declined to pursue any charges at all, an appointed special prosecutor, doing what prosecutors so often do, went for second degree murder rather than the more sensible manslaughter.
The state’s attorneys presented one atrocious second degree murder case that had practically no chance of succeeding because Florida’s “stand your ground” law is the perfect defense against such a charge. The jury believed that at the moment of the shooting, Zimmerman feared for his life. That is all that mattered. Had he been charged with manslaughter — and had the jury heard a case for manslaughter — then everything that happened up to that point would have mattered just as much.
So George Zimmerman goes free and gets his gun back, and Trayvon Martin is still dead because George Zimmerman shot and killed him.
As much as ideological extremists want to believe, this case isn’t black and white, nor should it be.
Is George Zimmerman a racist ass? I don’t know. He fits my definition of ass, and Trayvon Martin was a black, teenaged boy. Did Zimmerman profile him? Almost definitely. We all do.
Let me say that again. We all “profile” people we see every day. We make snap judgements on people based on what we see. It happens so fast we don’t even know we’re doing it. It feels perfectly natural to us. It felt perfectly natural to George Zimmerman. His neighborhood had some break-ins. Seeing a black guy in a dark hoodie made him suspicious.
It felt perfectly natural, too, for Trayvon Martin to fear for his safety, if not his life, when he realized some white guy who looked to him like some kind of creepy pervert was following him around. That’s what he told his friend Rachel Jeantel on the phone. “Someone’s following me,” he said. “What’s he look like?” Rachel asked. “A creepy ass-cracker,” he answered. What’s a creepy ass-cracker? an attorney asked Rachel, on the stand. “A pervert,” she answered, looking down.
Zimmerman was told by a police dispatcher that the police didn’t “need” him to follow Martin, but Zimmerman did anyway knowing the police were on the way. He told police he wasn’t following the teen and got out of the truck to get a plainly visible house number when he was attacked.
In the fight, Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon. The original investigating detective, the one whose manslaughter recommendation was rejected by the local prosecutor, says he believes Zimmerman was following Trayvon and that Trayvon attacked him.
Former US Attorney Roberto Martinez, after listening to the trial, wrote that he thinks Trayvon attacked Zimmerman, too, and for good reason.
Perhaps I have a vantage point because I have teenage boys. I think of how our sons would react if they were being chased and pursued by a stranger at night. I have no doubt that if our sons felt the man was trying to hurt them and they could not flee, that they would confront the man, and, if they felt threatened, fight in self-defense.
Zimmerman couldn’t have known that Trayvon was an honor student, clearly thought the kid was possibly up to no good.
Trayvon couldn’t have known Zimmerman was a neighborhood watch captain and clearly thought the guy was a creepy pervert.
Two people, both scared. Both profiling. Both making bad choices.
But only one ends up dead, and the other one goes free.
Now my Twitter timeline and my Facebook newsfeed alike are lit up with dueling rants, the gleeful celebration of the right and the outraged anger of the left, both because a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty.
What I want to know now is this: How did a tragedy like this one become an ideological football? Why have we allowed this case to strengthen our convictions that there is an “us” and a “them” and “they” are forever out to get “us”? Why are we letting this case further separate us?
Don’t get me wrong. George Zimmerman was acting as a vigilante, wannabe cop that night, one who should never have even been part of neighborhood watch, much less a captain. His actions led directly to Trayvon Martin’s death for nothing more than being a black, teenaged boy in Zimmerman’s headlights. But because they were both scared, neither took any sensible steps to defuse the situation. Two scared people, one armed. Nothing unexpected about the outcome. Tragic. But not unexpected.
Nothing unexpected about the verdict either thanks to laws in Florida that give far too much weight to fear. Instead of encouraging people to think through their fear, Florida’s laws and others like them encourage people to react to fear, and if the results are deadly, so be it. Trayvon Martin was afraid, too, but he didn’t have a loaded gun.
That does beg the question if Trayvon had killed Zimmerman before George pulled out the gun, would local prosecutors have declined to press charges and would a special prosecutor have brought second degree murder charges against him? Would the jury have been swayed by the “stand your ground” law?
Trick question. We’ll never know since it didn’t happen. We do know this: George Zimmerman’s neighborhood made him Neighborhood Watch captain. Florida’s laws allowed Zimmerman to carry a loaded gun around in his car as he “patrolled” his neighborhood. A prosecutor charged Zimmerman with second degree murder and not manslaughter, making it possible for more of Florida’s laws to let him off the hook. If there are ideological issues to tackle, this is where they are, not in the courtroom. They’re in the realm of not letting fear dictate our laws. Murder is not illegal because we’re afraid it will happen to us. It’s illegal because it’s wrong to take a life. In Florida, that’s amended to “unless you’re afraid.”
Then again, we also know this: In May 2012, a Florida judge sentenced Marissa Alexander to a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison after a jury convicted her of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and discharging a firearm during the act. Marissa fired a warning shot in her home, attempting to get away from a brutal beating by her husband, against whom she had a protective order. The judge refused to consider the “stand your ground” law in her case. The prosecutor? Angela Corey, the state attorney who was appointed to investigate the Zimmerman case, the one who brought second degree murder charges against him.
Something is broken, for sure, but the breakdown is rarely just black and white.