In the last month, people across the country have been captured by the trial of George Zimmerman, a resident in Central Florida who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, allegedly in self-defense. On July 13th, a jury acquitted Zimmerman of all criminal charges, including second-degree murder and manslaughter.
Zimmerman lived in a multi-racial, gated community in Sanford, Florida. He coordinated the “neighborhood watch” group in his community. Martin’s father’s fiance lives in the same gated community. Martin had reportedly visited the complex several times with his father in the past.
The incident occurred on the night of February 26th, 2012. There are conflicting stories about the details leading up to the shooting. What is known is that Zimmerman was at his residence when he saw Martin, whom he believed to be a suspicious subject in the gated community. Zimmerman armed himself with a handgun and went outside to confront Martin. For unknown reasons, the confrontation turned into a physical fight and Zimmerman deployed the gun and shot Martin.
Zimmerman was originally questioned and released by police on the night of the incident. He was arrested and charged later, after great public outcry.
The legal issue at hand was whether or not Zimmerman used self-defense to thwart off attacks by Martin. There was no question that Zimmerman shot Martin, but a jury had to decide under what circumstances and whether or not Zimmerman was justified in using deadly force in self-defense. Many states have what is best described as “Stand Your Ground” laws, which give persons the right to use reasonable force to defend themselves from attack. The jury had to rely on testimony and evidence presented to them and try to determine if Zimmerman’s actions were reasonable and justified under the circumstances.
The most crucial piece of evidence is the 9-1-1 call to police that Zimmerman made himself during the confrontation. Zimmerman called 9-1-1 to report Martin as the suspicious subject walking through the gated community. After gathering information, the dispatcher gave Zimmerman instructions, which he ignored. Zimmerman went out to confront Martin, despite the advisement from the dispatcher telling him to stay inside his residence. The confrontation is captured on audio recording when Zimmerman dropped his phone and the dispatcher was listening to an open line. However, the confrontation escalated so quickly that it is impossible to clearly identify the voices on the phone to determine which person was the primary aggressor during the fight.
During the trial, racial issues began to surface. Many wondered what exactly Zimmerman, a mixed-race white man, thought was so “suspicious” about Martin, a black teenager, that he felt the need to go outside armed with a handgun. Witnesses at the trial testified that Martin may have referred to Zimmerman using profane, racial names over a phone call he made to a friend at the time of the incident. Additionally, Zimmerman may have used profane, racial names to describe Martin during his call to 9-1-1.
The jury acquitted Zimmerman of all criminal charges.
The verdict upset people groups across the nation. Activists Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson immediately made public statements regarding the verdict, calling it an “atrocity” (click here). Groups all across the country organized public assemblies to honor Martin’s life. However, candlelight vigils turned into peaceful rallies, then turned into demonstration protests, and finally turned into mob rioting. A wild group of 80+ subjects ran down the streets of Hollywood in Los Angeles, CA, spontaneously assaulting random people walking by and vandalizing businesses, all in protest of the verdict. Several more “rallies” are planned in 100+ cities across the country.
Conclusion and Personal Commentary:
This incident is a tragedy for all parties involved. It is a no-win situation. If Zimmerman was convicted, people would interpret that to mean that they cannot use any force to defend themselves from being victimized by an attacker because then they will end up in jail when they were the victim. Instead Zimmer was acquitted, so people interpret that to mean that they can simply use any amount of force they feel appropriate whenever they feel threatened. Neither one of these extreme interpretations honors any of the parties involved.
There are only two people who really know the truth about all the details regarding this incident and what led up to it, and sadly, one of those persons is now deceased. So we question the other person involved, gather relevant evidence and testimony from others, and present it all to a jury (presumably a group of people who can remain objective and unbiased) to come to a conclusion regarding the legal issue(s) at hand. A jury of twelve people unanimously found Zimmerman “Not Guilty”. This tells me this jury of people felt there was NOT enough evidence to clearly show Zimmerman was completely at fault; the jury believed his allegation that he had to use deadly force to stop Martin’s attack. Regardless of what people personally hoped the outcome to be, if there is not enough evidence to support their assumptions then they cannot continue to firmly hold their position without at least considering the opposite to be a possibility. There must be evidence to support your legal ground; without it, you have no standing to support your assumption.
I find it deplorable that people suddenly became “legal experts” when the verdict was announced, simply because they did not agree. Suddenly, they claim our entire criminal justice system is broken because the ruling did not come out in favor of the popular public opinion. And instead of having a mature conversation about the legal issues at hand to educate the public and bring change to the system, some people decide to make it a racial issue and turn to violence. A mob of people who run down the street assaulting passersby and vandalizing businesses have no legitimacy in their protest. They undermine their own ideals and further demonstrate the necessity for the very criminal justice system they are protesting.
If Trayvon Martin was such a good kid as everyone describes, then I do not think he would feel very proud or honored knowing that mobs of people are becoming violent to protest this verdict in his name.