One of the biggest stories in recent news is the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who was found not guilty of murder in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman killed Martin in self-defense in February 2012 after a violent altercation in Sanford, Fla.
Zimmerman’s acquittal set off a flurry of reactions and inspired statements from President Barack Obama, among others.
Rioters demonstrated in many cities across the nation; in Los Angeles, 13 protestors were arrested for assault and vandalism.
Peaceful protests occurred around the country and debates over the verdict dominated news coverage and social media.
Many people whose courtroom experience is limited to watching “Law & Order” episodes immediately became legal experts.
After his death, the media presented a Trayvon Martin with whom anyone could sympathize; coupled with the characterization of Zimmerman as a power-hungry cop wannabe, many folks felt strongly despite knowing very little about the case.
For example, the photo of Martin most commonly shown was taken years before his death. An innocent-looking 14-year-old in a hoodie naturally inspires more compassion than the 6-foot, 2-inch, 175 pound grown man he was in 2012.
In the trial, the prosecution struggled to provide evidence to convict Zimmerman of murder — it simply didn’t exist. In fact, local police didn’t find sufficient evidence to arrest Zimmerman after the incident; Florida’s “stand your ground” laws protected his right to defend himself against Martin’s assault. The legal process began only after the federal Justice Department intervened, thanks to the president and Attorney General Eric Holder.
Many have called for federal charges against Zimmerman, claiming he violated Martin’s civil rights. Another trial would be a senseless waste of time and money — taxpayer dollars have already been used to try Zimmerman once and a jury found him not guilty. The constitutional process was just and fair, whether or not the verdict suits the public. We must reject the idea that a court’s decision is wrong if we disagree with it.
Certainly, the death of Trayvon Martin is a tragedy — just like every death caused by violence — but the unfortunate fact is this story only made headlines because a young black man was killed by a non-black man. (Zimmerman is half-Latino/half-white, though the media consistently portrayed him as white.) Thus, the only “logical” explanation for such a tragedy is that it was a result of racial profiling. That idea makes sense to an awful lot of people but it is pure race-baiting.
In President Obama’s home city of Chicago, among the more than 500 murders last year, 18 were 17-year-old black men just like Trayvon Martin. Where is the public or presidential outrage or intervention in those senseless tragedies? Do those young men not matter?
Going deeper, in the 513 days between Martin’s death and the Zimmerman verdict, 11,106 black people nationwide were murdered by other blacks. That’s a rate of nearly 22 per day and few, if any, made headlines. Tell me again how a half-Hispanic neighborhood watchman from Florida is so newsworthy?
For as far as we’ve come in terms of racial equality, we cannot escape racism when we’re consistently painted as racists in situations that actually have little to do with race. Seeing racism where there is none is terribly divisive and only stirs up strife.
Consider how frequently the “racist” label is thrown at someone who disagrees with the president (who, for the record, is half-white like George Zimmerman) — it’s an insulting and dismissive way to label someone over something as basic a political difference.
Isn’t it time we stop assuming everything a white person does is racially motivated? Making broad assumptions about a racial group for no reason beyond race seems to be the very definition of prejudice. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We must learn to live together as brothers or we will perish together as fools.”
We have far more significant issues facing our country than the Zimmerman case — the economy, unemployment, foreign relations. As one pundit pointed out, if Zimmerman changed his name to “Ben Ghazi,” the president would never speak of him again. But it’s time we let it go.
Clearly, we have a serious problem with violent crime in the U.S., but a hyper-focus on one case changes nothing. In the case of Trayvon Martin, it seems our justice system and common sense are playing second banana to hate and intolerance masked by lofty intentions. It’s a very sad thing, indeed.
Rebecca Horvath of Johnson City is a wife, mother and community activist.