Sunday, July 14, 2013

Where is the Justice?

Yesterday, a jury of six women acquitted George Zimmermman in the murder of Trayvon Martin. As you may recall, last year Trayvon, a 17 year old, was visiting relatives who lived in a gated residential community in Sanford, Florida. As he was walking through the community after a visit to a convenience store, he was spotted by Zimmerman who was on a neighborhood watch patrol. Trayvon appeared suspicious to Zimmerman. Zimmerman who was armed, confronted the boy. A struggle ensued and in the end, the unarmed Trayvon Martin was shot and killed.

Zimmerman was taken into police custody but initially released after police and lawyers from the District Attorney's office determined he was acting in self defense, as described by Florida law. Once news of the story broke, a firestorm of protest engulfed the country around the injustice of an innocent, unarmed young African American youth being killed by a private citizen, simply because he looked suspicious.

Responding to almost unanimous public outrage, the D.A.'s office eventually indicted Zimmerman on murder charges which ultimately led to his trial this month.

I wrote about this story not long after it took place last year. You can read that piece here. My feelings then are the same as they are today. Essentially I believe that this is an unspeakable tragedy and I have nothing but the deepest sympathy for Trayvon's family and for his young life cut short. I believe that, from what I know, Zimmerman was over-zealous in his pursuit of the young man, and in the end his actions proved to be reckless and foolish. However, given the testimony from the witnesses for both the prosecution and the defense, (Zimmerman himself did not testify), there was not enough proof beyond a reasonable doubt to convict Zimmerman of murder.

I realize this is a very controversial opinion that many people are not going to like. Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, has been portrayed in at least one sector of the media, as a racist, paranoid sociopath. All that may or may not be true, nothing that has come out about him, at least to my ears, either confirms or contradicts those accusations.

What is unquestionable is that Zimmerman profiled a young black man who was visiting his community as a potential criminal, because of the way he was dressed and the way he way carried himself. Zimmerman confronted Trayvon, and after some kind of altercation, (where Zimmerman's life may or may not have been threatened), shot and killed him.

According to Florida law, the question of whether or not his life was threatened during the altercation, is at the heart of whether or not Zimmerman is guilty of murder, or was acting in self defense. As a policeman member of my family said the other day: "only two people know exactly what happened that night, one of them is dead, the other is George Zimmerman." We simply will never know the facts of what really happened during that altercation, leaving me and obviously the jury to believe that while he may have acted inappropriately, perhaps criminally, the prosecution did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that George Zimmerman is guilty of murder.

We can expect in the coming days, public furor over the verdict in this case. Our legal system will be raked over the coals. But it must be remembered that our system of law, imperfect as it is, is designed not only to punish the guilty, but also to protect the rights of the accused. I remember when O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murder in his famous trial several years ago, many of the same people who are now excoriating the system, back then applauded the verdict because they felt that despite a preponderance of evidence to the contrary, there still existed a reasonable doubt that the former football star murdered two people. Remember this line of defense: "if the glove don't fit, you must acquit"?

The bottom line is that Trayvon's death and the media circus that surrounded it, is a tragedy that speaks volumes about our society and the way we treat each other. There are no winners here, just as there would not have been had the verdict been different.

As for justice for Trayvon, I will quote myself from last year:
Trayvon Martin's story on the surface is very compelling, filled with right and wrong, good guys and bad guys. It could have come off the pen of Harper Lee or any number of authors who have dealt with the tragic story of race in this country. Yet the reality is not as simple as we might have hoped. The grim truth is that Trayvon's murder is not simply a case of a paranoid vigilante, profiling and murdering an innocent victim, and a racist police force (and justice system) turning a blind eye on the death of a minority child. It is the tragic result of decades of stupid, senseless violence in our society. We can blame all sorts of causes for the violence; guns, poverty, racism, violent movies, video games and TV, the lack of respect for human life and dignity, the breakdown of the family, heck maybe even the people who commit the crimes themselves. Innocent people are murdered every day in this city and around the country at an alarming rate. Yet where is the righteous indignation over all those victims and their families?
Justice for Trayvon Martin will not come with George Zimmerman's arrest or conviction. Justice will come only when we as a society, all of us, learn to love, care and respect one another, and by God, figure out how to stop all the killing.
Then and only then will Trayvon's death, and the rhetoric that surrounds it, have any meaning.
Oh and since I'm spewing out my take on controversial subjects, here's another one: This tragedy should give pause to anyone who seriously believes that private citizens carrying concealed weapons in public is a good idea. In two words, it isn't.

Perhaps one life saved by someone realizing that he or she has no business carrying a gun around in public, would be the start to bringing justice to Trayvon Martin, his family, and everyone who dies needlessly because of violence in this country.

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