I have some more thoughts about the Zimmerman trial, now that more information has come to light in the aftermath of the verdict. Like a great many other people, I wondered how it was possible for the jury to render a verdict of "not guilty" in this case, since Trayvon Martin is obviously dead, and it was George Zimmerman's gun that killed him.
Above you will find a comparison between the instructions given to the jury on the left and generic instructions that would have been given if Florida did not have it's infamous "Stand Your Ground" law in place. If you read the instructions (click on the image to enlarge it), you see that the jury was not asked to decide whether Zimmerman was guilty. Basically, all they had to decide was whether they thought Zimmerman believed that it was necessary to shoot Trayvon Martin in order to avoid "great bodily harm" or death. Since Zimmerman chose not to testify, the jury was not able to hear him make any statements of his own accord about how he felt that night. In other words, the jury was asked to make a supposition about his state of mind, according to circumstantial evidence and statements made by the witnesses who testified.
In all the trials I've seen or heard about, the only person who can establish a defendant's state of mind is the defendant, himself, unless there is a psychologist who is willing to testify, based on conversations with the defendant. I've even seen judges instruct the jury to disregard witness statements that have to do with the defendant's state of mind. Now, all of a sudden, the defendant's state of mind is the only thing that matters in his guilt or innocence.
As far as facts in the case go, all the defense had to establish was that Zimmerman had a right to be where he was that night and that he was was not in the process of committing a crime. Since the defense never actually mentioned the "Stand Your Ground" law, they didn't have to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Zimmerman thought his life was in danger. They knew that the jury instructions would reflect the "Stand Your Ground" law.
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There have been some amazing comments in the media and all over the Internet, not the least of which was President Obama's recent statement that he could have been gunned down just like Trayvon Martin.
"Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago," said President Obama, addressing the "context" of the case. "In the African- American community at least, there's a lot of pain around what happened here. I think it's important to recognize that the African- American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn't go away."
President Obama spoke for over 15 minutes in a surprise visit to the White House briefing room. He reminded us that the everyday experiences of African Americans and the way they are routinely treated by white people have an emotional impact on the way they interpret the incident itself, the late arrest, the trial, and the verdict in the case. The president also acknowledged statistics that show African American males are disproportionately involved in violent crime, and that Trayvon Martin's likelihood of being shot by a black man was actually higher than that of being shot by a person of any other race.
Very powerful words, indeed, when a man who has risen to the highest political office in the land has had experiences such as these.
President Obama reiterated that law enforcement in this country is a state and local affair, not a federal one, but he did outline some things that might be done to avoid another situation like this. Specifically, he suggested that there be more training for state and local law enforcement on the issue of racial profiling and taking a closer look at "Stand Your Ground" legislation. He also urged Americans to find ways to bolster African American boys and give them "pathways and avenues to succeed." He suggested that all Americans do some soul searching to determine whether they are truly judging others "not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."
Referring to the fact that Trayvon Martin was also in a place that he had a right to be (staying with his dad) and that he was not in the process of committing any crime, the president asked whether (if he were of age) Martin, also, had the right to stand his ground, considering that he was being followed by an unknown man in a vehicle. It's a question that others have also asked, recently. Do people of color also have the right to stand their ground? Do they have the right to shoot people when they feel threatened, even though no harm is actually committed?
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Another set of comments has been going around the web. These are comments made predominantly by white people. Many of these comments begin, "I am not Trayvon Martin." In their comments, these people give voice to a recognition of white privilege that has heretofore been understood but rarely mentioned in so many words. Young people, in particular, are doing a lot of soul-searching over the manner of Trayvon Martin's death. Hopefully, these young people will be proactive in teaching their children not to abuse white privilege, and in finding ways to level the playing field for all persons of color in this country. :-/