Sometimes justice is just not possible and the killing of Trayvon Martin may be one of those times. The threshold for conviction in our justice system is set purposely high under the premise that it is better to let a guilty man go free than to send an innocent man to jail. When the defendant is the only person alive who can say what happened between the time Martin asked “Why are you following me” and a witness believes that he saw Martin on top of George Zimmerman, then there is a lot of room for reasonable doubt.
Perhaps justice was doomed from the moment Zimmerman was charged with second degree murder. His actions on that night were based on a goal of having Martin arrested by the police, which under rational circumstances should not have resulted in an “assault in which death of the victim was a distinct possibility.” The Jury could have found him guilty of “the unjustifiable, inexcusable, and intentional killing of a human being without deliberation, premeditation, and malice,” but apparently they felt that at the moment that he pulled the trigger he feared for his life. One could certainly disagree with this conclusion without discounting the fact that it is logically sound based on the jury’s interpretation of the evidence.
The possibility of the Justice Department charging Zimmerman with a civil rights violation remains open, but I am doubtful that even this would be a clear cut case. It is also the point where we seem to once again divide ourselves into two countries based on our political ideology.
Contrary to how some on the left would like to portray these events, this was not a modern day lynching where Zimmerman killed Martin because he was black. Had this been the case he would not have called 911 or have gotten close enough to scuffle with the teenager. Instead, this case is about the subtle type of racism that infects our subconsciousness. Trayvon Martin may have died because he was black.
At least one juror did think that Zimmerman was guilty of “not using his senses” for his series of bad decisions that resulted in him pulling the trigger. This chain of events was set in motion by his determination that Martin was exhibiting suspicious behavior by “not walking briskly to get out of the rain” and “shifting where he was looking.” Only Zimmerman knows in his heart whether these suspicions were amplified by Martin’s race, but his past calls to 911 suggest the possibility. For example, in the space of three days in August 2011 he called in three different black teens as fitting the same description of a single suspect.
Perhaps Zimmerman was just overzealous in his responsibilities as a “self-appointed neighborhood watchman” and his racism cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. This would exclude the possibility of another court case but does not mean that the discussion of it’s existence is not worth having. The President and other African-Americans point out that Trayvon Martin could have been their sons or themselves at his age. Instead, I think that we should all ask ourselves in what ways are we like George Zimmerman.
Some studies have shown that we have an evolutionary need to sort people into groups. This helped our ancestors to promote in-group cohesion and quickly identify those we were in competition with or posed a threat. In the modern world this carries over to the woman “clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off” when a black man gets on an elevator. These impulses do not make us evil, but acting on them is harmful to the other person. Our primitive instincts can be negated with the acknowledgement that one person is never representative of an entire group.
Some on the right seem to confuse the progress our country has made in race relations with the elimination of racism altogether. For example, Rush Limbaugh has stated “that one of the reasons that WE elected and then re-elected Barack Obama was so that there would not be anymore race riots.” The incredulous emphasis on “we” is mine. Another blogger wrote “when white people initially put Obama in office in 2008, they were thinking, ‘Let’s put a black man in the White House and demonstrate how tolerant and color blind we really are as a nation.’” Maintaining that having an African-American President proves that racism has ceased to exist is as ridiculous as claiming that the only reason 59% of white people voted for Romney was because Obama is black.
While reasonable people can disagree on the status of racism in America or the result of Zimmerman’s trial, I cannot understand the vocal segment of the population who insist on demonizing Trayvon Martin. Without a corroborating witness we do not know if the teenager was in a position where he felt he had to defend himself or missed opportunities to deescalate the situation. We do know that there was no evidence presented during the trial to suggest that he was doing anything less innocent than returning from the convenience store to buy a snack when he was first noticed by Zimmerman. He certainly did not get “what he deserved, finally, saving taxpayers from the cost of Martin’s future criminal trials and incarceration.”
To be certain, Martin was not an angel and his school records reflect three suspensions for varying infractions. However, none of these had been elevated to the justice system as he did not have a criminal record. This was not a video game where Zimmerman could click on the black man in the grey hoody and pull up his history. The reality is that sometimes the hoody is a “uniform” of a gangster and sometimes it is what someone wears to keep dry in the rain. If Zimmerman had recognized this possibility perhaps he would not have been so convinced that Trayvon was an a-hole who was going to get away, he would have waited for the police to their job and Trayvon might still be alive.