Found not guilty but clearly far from innocent
Editors Baltimore Times | 7/19/2013, midnight
Perhaps the toughest task of any jury, especially one involved in a criminal trial as high profile and emotionally charged as that of George Zimmerman, is to separate fact from supposition.
What is legal and provable doesn’t always satisfy our collective sense of justice— or our innate desire that a trial definitively reveal a crystal-clear truth.
When a case is rife with gaps and fails to account for every pivotal moment— as was the case in this deadly confrontation on Super Bowl Sunday more than a year ago— the legal outcome may feel incomplete.
In the hours after a Florida jury acquitted Zimmerman of killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, protesters across the country reacted with disappointment, many taking to the streets to express their outrage. The sentiment is understandable. But the larger question now that the jury has made their determination is what comes next?
There is mounting pressure on the Obama administration and the Department of Justice to pursue a federal civil rights case against Zimmerman and we agree that they should do all due diligence. However, even a federal conviction will in no way bring resolution to what is at the heart of what this case has come to mean to so many. The murder of Trayvon has resonated deeply with so many of all races that a successful civil trial nor a federal conviction will likely take away the emotional connection many have for this young man.
There are probably as many opinions about this case as there are Americans, but we can all agree that the nation’s criminal justice system is not built on a foundation of opinions. Honestly, would you want to be convicted on a presumption of guilt that fills in an otherwise incomplete storyline? No!
There is no escaping the fact that America has unresolved issues with perceptions of race and criminality, regrettable perceptions that mean that black teenagers in hoodies walking alone on a rainy night receive unwarranted— and unfounded— scrutiny. Yes, Zimmerman, a wannabe cop, contributed to the confrontation by getting out of his vehicle instead of allowing uniformed police officers to investigate.
Jurors were left to pick an imperfect option based on far from perfect evidence. They had to decide whether to assign blame to Zimmerman, who followed Martin after being told not to do so, or decide that he acted properly in self-defense during the fight. They had to make that judgment with only one of the combatants able to tell his side of the story. Ultimately, jurors concluded the prosecution failed to make its case.
This case should be a cautionary tale when it comes to elevating a criminal case into cause célèbre status to try to prove wider injustice. This nation has a long, ugly racial history that cannot be wished away, and the shooting rightly deserved the rigorous examination it received at trial. The legal system owes this to the victim and to the accused.
The discomfort and anger many people feel is due in part to the initial decision to let Zimmerman go free after the shooting. It appeared that the Sanford, Florida police had already made a determination about Zimmerman’s motives that fateful night. Their actions should be the focus of a federal investigation because they compromised this case from the start. Left to the local police, this murder may have simply slipped quietly into the night.
The acquittal doesn’t mean the jury absolved Zimmerman from any role in the altercation. It just means that, under the law, jurors didn’t think the prosecution delivered on its theory of what happened that evening.
As for the lingering doubts of equal justice under the law and ultimately whether or not America will ever be able to reconcile its racist past with the hope of a brighter and more just future— we have a lot of work to do.