This evening the jury in the trial of George Zimmerman returned a verdict of not guilty for the charge of murder in the second degree, and not guilty for the lesser included charge of manslaughter. Many will be surprised that the jury did not consider what occurred at least manslaughter given the fact that Zimmerman had pursued Trayvon Martin, who had done nothing wrong, and later shot and killed the teenager he had called a “fucking punk.” However, there is a reason to be grateful for the verdict and it is simply this: There was a verdict!
What people need to remember about this case is that there almost was no case. Immediately after the shooting, the Sanford, Florida police department abdicated their responsibility to conduct a proper investigation. They did not interrogate Zimmerman as a suspect. They did not interview witnesses. They did not collect evidence. They did not even test Zimmerman for drugs or alcohol. The police simply bought Zimmerman’s story, concluded that he had a right to shoot Martin under the “kill at will” law (aka “stand your ground”), and closed the case.
If there was any indication of racism, it was with law enforcement in Sanford. Their neglect of duty resulted in turning this local crime into a national drama. And eventually, justice was served when the people rose up to demand it, and the Republican governor of Florida agreed to appoint a special prosecutor who found that there was sufficient evidence to try Zimmerman. What’s sad is that it took a month for authorities to make an arrest.
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That’s what this is all about. And now there has been a trial and the jury has spoken. It was not perfect by any means. The prosecutors failed on many levels to make a convincing case. The jury cannot be faulted for the shortcomings of counsel. But the very fact that a trial has been concluded when at the start of this whole affair it was not even considered, is a victory. Trayvon deserved to have his day in court, and while the decision is not the one his advocates had hoped, at least his killer was put before the bar of justice. That nearly didn’t happen.
And this is still not over. In a post-verdict press conference, the defense attorney said that Zimmerman would not have to see the inside of a courtroom again, but that is not true. There is a federal case pending for the violation of Martin’s civil rights. There will also likely be a civil suit for wrongful death on behalf of the Martin family. In the civil suit Zimmerman cannot decline to testify. There may be some interesting new evidence unveiled due to that alone. Also, a civil suit does not require a unanimous decision by the jury to find a defendant liable.
It should also be noted that the vile cretins who predicted race riots were, as usual, wrong in their presumption of bad behavior by disappointed citizens. Just the fact that scumbags like Rush Limbaugh entertained the notion is proof of their inherent racism. The unfounded fear mongering about violence, and even worse, the suggestion that everyone from civil rights activists, to liberals in the media, to President Obama, actually wanted an adverse verdict so that they would have an excuse to act out with wanton destruction, never panned out. But those who spewed such repulsive predictions will forever be stained as the bigots that they are.
I believe that Zimmerman should have been convicted of manslaughter, at least. I believe that the prosecutors dropped the ball in several instances, while the defense seemed more motivated and better prepared (except for that stomach-turning knock-knock joke). I believe that Trayvon deserved better than to have his killer acquitted and that justice failed him in that respect. But I also believe that, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” And the fact that the people demanded and got a trial, after the law had brushed it aside, is a profound victory that should not be dismissed in the midst of these other defeats.
While there is much to regret in this outcome, it is important to remember that Zimmerman was not found innocent. When members of the jury come forward for interviews I expect that they will tells us that the state did not overcome the legal burden of reasonable doubt. And given the state’s poor case construction, I can’t say that I blame them. Prosecutors allowed their own witnesses to advantage the defense. They unnecessarily conceded much of the defense’s version of events (i.e. that Martin was on top during the struggle). They failed to offer a compelling story that explained what happened the night of the shooting. Zimmerman’s acquittal was due more to the inadequacy of the prosecution than to the status of the facts. A more aggressive, competent prosecutor could have got a conviction, but the absence of that is still not innocence.
Hopefully what people take from this is a more conscientious perspective of conflict resolution. I suspect that George Zimmerman will not pull out his gun so easily in the future. And anyone else in a similar situation should also think more than twice. While Zimmerman was not convicted, he did endure 16 months of criminal litigation, and his trials are far from over. I doubt anyone would want to go through that, particularly when another jury in another case might arrive at a different verdict.
And that’s what makes this verdict a victory. The fact that there was a trial and a verdict may help to prevent another tragedy such as the one that befell Trayvon Martin. We could not have said that if the Sanford authorities, who originally chose to do nothing, had their way. But the people’s voice was louder and we got the trial we demanded. And if we stay united and committed there will more and fuller victories to come.