Don’t Talk Guns, Race, or Justice in George Zimmerman Case

George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin

Initially, I believed that the George Zimmerman trial was not a terribly important one. It represented an isolated incident that the media was blowing up to turn into a headline grabber like Casey Anthony or what will become of Aaron Hernandez. While I was saddened about the death of teenager Trayvon Martin due to gun violence, it was neither isolated nor high profile in the public mind. People die everyday at gunpoint. Once a trial was set, it seemed that justice would run its course.

Of course, as the trial proceeded and I heard views on each side of the story, I was suddenly hung up on the ethical and moral questions this case raised for modern society. Soon after the announcement of a verdict Saturday night, those on the Zimmerman side (if you can call it that) immediately tried to dismiss any such conversation that could move the country forward. “The case is over, justice ran it’s course, and it was not about gun rights or race relations.”

If that’s true, I’m scared.

This is the first politically charged topic I have tackled on this blog, but I feel that ignoring what has taken place would disrespect the memory of those who have lost their lives due to gun violence and all of us who have been affected by such acts. Ignoring the problems of this country by only taking extreme, uncompromising positions, is fracturing this nation and I believe that a country divided, cannot survive.

Don’t Talk About Justice

Several remarks fueled the fire to dismiss the conversation around the Zimmerman case based on the merits of justice. The first such claim is that the justice system is always right and so we must respect the process and decision.

To believe this stance one must believe that O.J. Simpson, Casey Anthony, Kobe Bryant and Ben Roethlisberger also hold no guilt. To believe that the justice system is always right is to ignore the work of the Innocence Project, which has successfully cleared 310 people wrongly convicted of crimes through DNA evidence, including 18 members on death row.

Other people have sarcastically pointed out that it’s ironic that people using social media are experts about the case, so much so, that they came to a more educated conclusion than the jurors.

This statement makes the point that the American jury is always right. Of course, to be selected for the Zimmerman jury, the women had to hold no opinion about a case that grabbed national headlines for over a year before it went to trial. There was evidence that was not given to the jury at the request of the judge, talk about race was not permissible, and the jurors were sequestered.

Meanwhile, the coverage was live on television everyday during the trial, which makes it possible for educated opinions outside of the jurors box. In fact, almost everyone else in the country was more informed about this case than the six people on the jury.

Another question that seems fair to assess is the American legal system’s standard of guilt. In a trial, a person can only be found guilty and not guilty, but never innocent. Zimmerman was definitely not innocent as he fired the shot that killed Trayvon Martin and his actions on some level led him to this confrontation. However, in a court of law, no one is actually fighting for an innocent verdict. The thin red line between guilty and not guilty haunts each verdict.

Personally, I think that the prosecution would have needed a perfect trial to find Zimmerman guilty of Second Degree murder, which required a depraved state of mind while killing Martin. However, the manslaughter charge only required that Zimmerman put himself in a situation that culminated in Martin’s death, according to Florida law. Apparently, chasing after an innocent person did not meet this qualification.

Don’t Talk About Guns

Only second to race, the muted conversation on gun violence around this case has left the weapon that killed Martin almost unknown. Gun advocates will state that this case was not about gun violence.  Zimmerman just happened to have a gun; thankfully he could use the weapon in self defense before the teenager killed him with his bare hands.

The precedent set by this case in Florida revolves around the “Stand Your Ground Law,” which gives any person the right to fire a weapon in self-defense, even when simply running away is an option. Stand your ground laws are in effect in 24 states and heavily backed by the gun lobby. Basically anyone who feels threatened has the right to shoot first and ask questions later. This was the same justice system that ruled the Old West.

Does the right to act in self-defense actually override the right of a citizen to life? The interpretation of self-defense for Zimmerman means that a person can feel unjustly threatened by me, but shoot anyway. This basically throws out the entire legal process.

When a gun’s right become more important than a person’s right, should there be a discussion?

Don’t Talk About Race

To some, the mention of race presumes that the United States still has discrimination and that this Zimmerman case was somehow a hate crime; therefore do not bring it up.

This is the argument that should really make you question the motives of people easy to dismiss this case.

Is America truly equal for people of all ethnicities, genders and sexual orientations?

It seems that having this conversation is painful for some because the outcome may mean a re-examination of the foundation of modern America. However, it is clear that there is still racial tension from the reaction around this case. Refusing to talk about racial issues breed’s animosity rather than understanding.

Zimmerman was not even charged with a crime until after there was a major movement, largely grassroots, through social media. There is a belief that justice and law are not evenly assimilated into the culture. This view was heightened by the New York City “Stop and Frisk” policy, the revoking of a key piece of the Voting Rights Act and finally the Zimmerman case.

Last year, a Florida mother was sentenced to 20 years in jail for firing a weapon twice at her husband, who was apparently brutally beating her. Her defense used the same “Stand Your Ground Law, but the claim was dismissed. No one died in this case. She was black.

Is America truly equal? Let me site a few of the same, overused facts. There are a grossly uneven numbers of convictions for black people. Despite making up fifteen percent of the population, the black population holds less than ten percent of the seats in the U.S. Congress and currently has no members in the Senate. There have been only six black senators in the modern era, including President Obama.

Does this sound like the even distribution of the law and equal representation in the American political system?

It’s not an easy question to ask and it’s going to lead to uncomfortable answers, but Trayvon Martin died a year a half ago and based on the verdict, it was apparently his own fault.

It’s time to start asking these questions.