It's been a few days now since the jury rendered its verdict in the George Zimmerman case and I've given myself a chance to digest the verdict and what it says. I'm no less outraged now than I was when I first heard the news on Saturday night. Bottom line is, a grown man shot and killed a teenage boy and is walking away scot free.
I'm still trying to figure out what it was that Trayvon Martin did to deserve to be killed. Walking in a gated community is not provacative behavior nor should it be on anyone's list of activities that invites trouble. The young man is minding his own business as he's walking back from the convenience store. Apparently Zimmerman feels that Martin, because he is young and black, is out to do some dirt. Really? Dennis the Menace was more of a threat to Mr. Wilson than Trayvon Martin ever was to George Zimmerman. Which guy do you think was looking for trouble? The one who was carrying a bag of Skittles and a soft drink or the one who was carrying a gun?
Ignoring the request of the police dispatcher that he phoned, Zimmerman continues to follow Martin. As for what happened next we only have Zimmerman's side of the story. He has recounted what happened several times and there were a number of inconsistsencies in what he has said. Thanks to Zimmerman, Martin never got to tell his side of the story. Not even once. The only reasonable assumption is that one of two things happened: Zimmerman wrongfully tried to detain Martin and Martin resisted, or Zimmerman made Martin fearful and nervous and as a result Martin reemptively struck. Neither scenario would ordinarily have grave consequences except for the fact that Zimmerman had a gun.
I know, Zimmerman had a right to carry a gun. But just because you have a "right" to do something doesn't mean it's the wise thing to do. I thought one of the reasons people live in gated communities is because there is no need to carry a gun. They say to a person with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Apparently to the gun-toting Zimmerman, every adolescent black male looked like a dangerous criminal. Sadly, guns that are carried and kept for "protection" and self-defense all too often end up killing innocent people.
What I find most outrageous in all of this is the insistence by the defense, and by at least one of the jurors, that race played no role in Zimmerman's actions that night. Does anyone seriously think this would have happened if Martin had not been a black man? Race had everything to do with Zimmerman's actions. To steal a phrase from Bob Dole, "I know it, you know it and the American people know it." Evidently the only people who didn't know it were the six people who sat on the jury.
I don't lay all of the blame for this unjust verdict at the feet of the jurors. This travesty is really the product of the Florida criminal justice system. How can you have an honest conversation about whether the evidence supports the inference that Zimmerman followed Martin because of the latter's race when the judge won't let the prosecutor use the term "racial profiling." When you are permitted to have juries of only six people how can you expect any diversity and the wider range of viewpoints and perspectives that would presumably come with it?
So an innocent young man is killed, and the perpetrator is going to escape punishment for it. What could be worse? I'll tell you what. Zimmerman is going to get his gun back. The gun he carried even though he had nothing to fear. With his newfound notiriety he arguably now may have something to fear. If you thought he was over-eager to use his gun before . . .
Craig Smith is a law professor and has been blogging about the local Santa Barbara scene since 2006. When he’s not teaching law school classes or blogging, he enjoys bike riding, skiing and playing piano.