Arrests were made overnight in Los Angeles and Oakland as crowds protesting the “not guilty” outcome in the Trayvon Martin murder case turned violent. Had the verdict gone the other way, others would have protested. Even though, according to juror B37, the jury doesn’t seem to have viewed the case through the prism of race, it’s hard to say that race wasn’t a factor here. Under the same circumstances, would George Zimmerman really have pursued a white teenager, even one wearing a hoodie? He might have viewed him as a punk but probably wouldn’t have been so quick to tell the police that Trayvon was one of those “punks …who always get away.” Zimmerman was a vigilante, but, had Trayvon not been black, might Zimmerman have heeded the police warning not to pursue?
We’ll never know for sure. Obviously, if Zimmerman (half white, half Hispanic) had heeded the police directive to avoid confrontation, Trayvon Martin might be alive today. Who resorted to blows first is also a question. Certainly enough of the jury followed the judges instructions to follow Florida law and bought into the defense assertion of self-defense to produce a “not guilty” verdict. We must, however, remember that there’s a clear difference between what is deemed not to be a violation of Florida law and what is patently immoral. Jurors were not asked to address the latter.
In truth, by the end of the trial neither Martin nor Zimmerman was a sympathetic character. Martin was visiting in Sanford because he had been suspended from school, for the third time, for behavior including marijuana use. According to the Miami Herald, he had earlier been found with a burglary tool and women’s jewelry, which he said belonged to an unidentified friend. Zimmerman had a record of domestic violence and a short fuse. The bottom line, however, is that it’s pathetic to think a 17-year-old black boy, even one wearing a hoodie, couldn’t go out for an iced tea and package of Skittles without getting killed.
Salon has an interesting piece this morning about the complexity of race in this case. For those who see the verdict as a sign of injustice in the treatment of blacks in a white system, Zimmerman is seen as white. But, in some other circumstance, his Hispanic heritage might be the suspect variable. Trayvon Martin can also be differently defined, as an innocent child of 17 or a hooded threat.
So where does this leave us? This clearly was a tragedy. Each man unfairly profiled the other. The incident itself need not have happened. And perhaps the verdict need not have happened. The Sanford police didn’t help much. They waited weeks after the killing to do anything, failing to gather timely evidence. The prosecutor then made matters worse by overreaching, focusing on the charge of second-degree murder, rather than manslaughter and lesser included offenses.
The ready availability of guns and Florida’s stand-your-ground law, sanctifying the use of a gun if you believe that you are in imminent danger, made it a lot easier for Zimmerman’s vigilante mentality to translate destructively. This will stick with him for life, but at least he has that life to live. Not so for Trayvon Martin, whose demise reminds us of how far we still have to go to achieve a civil society. Could this be a teachable moment? Sadly, I have my doubts.
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