On Saturday July 13 a jury of six women in Sanford, Florida found George Zimmerman not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin. The state charged Zimmerman with shooting and killing Martin, who was an unarmed seventeen-year old boy, last year. Zimmerman’s defense team argued he was not guilty due to Florida’s “stand your ground” law. The stand your ground law stipulates the use of a weapon in the act of self-defense.
In the months following the incident in which Zimmerman shot and killed Martin, community outrage in support and opposition of Zimmerman exploded in the form of protests, social media exchanges, and media coverage. Should he be held accountable for killing this boy, whether it was intentional or unintentional?
Many Americans are waking up today wondering what this case was about. There was no question that Zimmerman killed Martin. The legal question was did Zimmerman kill Martin out of self-defense?
Evidence and testimony indicated that a fight insued between Zimmerman, then twenty-eight years old, and Martin. Zimmerman approached Martin, an African-American male, who was wearing a hoodie walking through Zimmerman’s neighborhood. When 911 dispatchers told Zimmerman to stop pursuing Martin, he continued to and then the fateful encounter occurred.
Only two people know for sure what happened, but Martin is dead and can not give his side of the story. Zimmerman evoked his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination. So the prosecution set out to prove that Zimmerman did not act in self-defense. The defense presented scenarios that placed reasonable doubt that Zimmerman acted like a vigilante.
A jury cannot convict if there is reasonable doubt. Political pundits and legal experts are on the Sunday morning talk shows stating the state of Florida overcharged Zimmerman, though the jury was given the option to convict on manslaughter, second degree murder, or not guilty. Somewhere during the twenty-four days of testimony, the jury believed Zimmerman acted in self-defense.
Mr. Zimmerman was released from his bond and his gun was returned. While pundits in Texas passed the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation, there apparently was no respect for the life of Trayvon Martin, whose killer walked home with the murder weapon cleared of all charges.
What are the lessons to be learned here? I am in no way a legal expert, but I am a social science teacher, a concerned citizen, and a reasonable adult. In states like New York, an imbalance of force if someone dies in a fight results in a manslaughter conviction. Many may say that this case was not about gun control and yet, if Zimmerman was not allowed to engage in his volunteer neighborhood watch with a gun, would Mr. Martin still be alive today? He called 911 about his suspicions of Mr. Martin, and the police were notified. In this post-September 11 world, emergency response times to crime scenes has improved. Mr. Zimmerman took the law into his own hands by following and engaging Mr. Martin, thus resulting in the boy’s death.
And why was Zimmerman following Martin in the first place? This raises the question about racial profiling. While this was not a part of the legal questions argued in court, race had a prevalent over and undertone to this case. Would Mr. Zimmerman have pursued Mr. Martin if he were not a young black male? Mr. Zimmerman’s brother told CNN host Piers Morgan no, but what caused this man to ruin his life and end Trayvon’s life by suspecting him of foul play in the first place? The boy was unarmed. Did anyone stop to think that Trayvon engaged in force against Zimmerman in self-defense? No one likes to be followed, especially if he or she is not involved in illegal activity, which Trayvon was not.
The children of this country are growing up during very difficult socio-economic and political times. Since I started writing for The Examiner, I have observed so many high profile instances in which race and gun violence have taken the lives of many young Americans. From college campus shootings in California and Texas, to theater shootings in Colorado, to the elementary school shooting in Connecticut, to the shooting death of a college student in Atlanta, and the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida, our nation needs leadership in having the honest conversation about the Second Amendment, inequalities in our society, what respect for life means, and race.
We are not living in a post-racial, color blind America. If anything, this is an America that is so mired in mediocrity from politics to education to the justice system, that it is no wonder we are viewed as a second-rate nation by the rest of the world. The Soviet Union criticized the United States during the Cold War amidst the Civil Rights movement fifty years ago, for how could the greatest nation on earth perpetuate racial, gender, and class disparities?
We clearly have learned nothing from our history lessons. And when you look at No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, history and social studies are not included in the “important tested subjects.” How do we teach our children there are better ways to cope with life’s problems and settle conflicts? Undoubtedly our classrooms will be filled with many tough questions about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman for many days and weeks and months to come.