Much of the nation watched as Judge Debra Nelson’s gavel swung down in Florida, as the decision regarding George Zimmerman, the killer of unarmed black teen Trayvon Martin, was made.
The jury had decided that Zimmerman had not acted with malice intended, and found the defense’s argument of self-defense to be enough to acquit Zimmerman of both the lesser charge of manslaughter and the original charge of second-degree murder.
Naturally, this decision incited a variety of people invested in the case for a variety of reasons to react strongly, ranging from a sense of rejoicing or a sentiment of anger.
Who exactly, then, are the winners to come out of this ordeal?
Certainly not the Martin family. Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother, despite trying to remain calm throughout the process, couldn’t help but characterize the verdict as her “darkest hour.”
George Zimmerman? Although it may seem preposterous to suggest, it could be argued that he, in fact, is not emerging the case victorious either. During the year-and-a-half period between the shooting and the trial decision, he lived a “hermit lifestyle,” rarely leaving the house for fear of vigilante repercussion. Even with the trial officially over, Zimmerman will likely never be able to put the event behind him, as there will always be a portion of the population that will not accept the official verdict. His brother Robert had exclaimed that “(George) will be looking over his shoulder the rest of his life.” After the trial ended, it has been shown that George immediately returned to hiding, likely never to return to a normal or truly free lifestyle ever again.
Can gun rights advocates find a victory in the case? Certainly at a surface glance it seems as if this is a case in which gun owners finally received some positive press, the verdict of the case supporting the argument that “Stand Your Ground” self-defense laws did, in fact, not only protect a man from bodily harm but also can stand strong enough to withstand heavy court scrutiny.
Yet “Stand Your Ground” Laws cannot be considered safe ground yet – at least not for all people. On July 12, a mere day before the decision was made in the Zimmerman trial, Florida woman Marissa Alexander used the same “Stand Your Ground” argumentin another case – and failed, receiving 20 years in jail for unlawfully discharging a firearm.
While this may not be important to some, it should be noted that Alexander – who claimed to have fired warning shots in order to protect herself from her estranged husband – was black.
Officials in the Zimmerman case have repeatedly tried to distance the case from the issues of race and civil rights; state prosecutor Angela Corey, for example, had even previously argued that “The case has never been about race … we believe this case all along was about boundaries, and George Zimmerman exceeded those boundaries.”
These claims may not matter. For all of the officials’ insistences that it was “simply a murder trial,” people will, for better or worse, continue to view this as a matter of racial injustice and civil rights.
“I definitely think it’s an issue of race rights, it’s preposterous to say otherwise,” Paul Jones, the leader of DePaul’s Black Student Union (BSU), said. “One of the chief aspects of the case was racial profiling; the whole reason the conversation began is because he was profiled as a troublemaker.”
Jones is obviously not alone in this sentiment. Although the nation did not erupt in widespread violent riots (some expected riots to occur similarly as to how they did after the Rodney King incident), there were still many who took to protest in the streets throughout the last few days following the trial. Noted activist Reverend Al Sharpton called for a series of protests and vigilsin honor of Trayvon Martin, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has called for efforts to restart the caseas a civil rights case.
Regardless of the true causes of the shooting – and we will likely never truly know who was the true aggressor, whether Zimmerman outright shot Martin in cold blood, or if Zimmerman may have actually used warranted power in self-defense – it seems like much of Black America feels like the loser, not just in the Martin case but in the larger ongoing issue of unequal justice.
“This highlights the larger issue of profiling, which has always been an issue for black people,” Jones said. “I’ve personally been pulled over after 9 p.m. for unrelated crimes committed in my area, just because I am a black male. Many of the people I know (through BSU) have even been profiled in the classroom; they are assumed by professors not to know things, for example, in topics such as politics.”
Regardless of whether the shooting is the result of unwarranted profiling or not, we should realize that profiling in the streets and the justice system today remains a stark reality to many Americans. A report showsthat African Americans make up less than 15 percent of regular drug users, yet comprise nearly half of all drug users. Furthermore, the incarceration of Marissa Alexander in the “Stand Your Ground” case mentioned earlier may be due to the unequal application of the justice system.
Although the decision in the Zimmerman issue is almost certainly permanently finalized, Jones hopes that this event functions as a catalyst to highlight these larger issues of discrimination.
“We need to have ongoing talks,” Jones said. “Too often today, we’ll have something big happen; people will blow the event up on social media, then after a couple of weeks or months the light goes away. We need to put consistent pressure to show that it is a constant big issue.”
Much of America may be eager to put the Zimmerman Case, one of the ugliest events in recent history, behind us. Yet it is imperative that we remain sensitive to the everyday struggle still faced by many colored people – in Florida, here in Chicago or beyond.
Perhaps then, the next time a similar issue of nationwide scrutiny arises, there can be a few more winners and a greater sentiment of equal justice.