Today is Monday, July 15, 2013.
On Saturday night, a jury of six women in Florida gave their verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman. The verdict was "not guilty." There has been a lot of emotional response to the verdict, particularly among those who wanted to hear a "guilty" verdict.
In times like these, it's a good idea to take a deep breath and step back a bit to make sure we know what's really going on. It's important to remember that a verdict of "not guilty" does not automatically mean that the defendant is innocent. It simply means that there is a reasonable doubt about whether the person actually did the crime. Often, what this means is that the prosecution did not adequately prove the defendant's guilt. Sometimes, unfortunately, it's almost impossible to prove guilt. The jury is constrained by what they can consider and what they cannot consider in rendering their verdict.
Do I think George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin? Well, somebody did, and Zimmerman was the one with the gun. Zimmerman was the one who was out to get the "f**king punks" in his neighborhood.
Do I think George Zimmerman was justified in killing Trayvon Martin? Well, the kid turned out to be unarmed, and I have a lot of trouble believing that a muscular, 29-year-old man with a gun actually felt that he was in imminent and extreme physical danger from a 17-year-old kid who stood only 5'11" and weighed 158 pounds.
Trayvon had just been suspended from school for ten days because of some drug residue in his backpack. He was visiting his father for the period of time that he was supposed to be out of school, so he was not well known in the neighborhood. It's too bad that his father didn't inform the "neighborhood watch captain" that his son would be visiting him.
Apparently, there were also some items of women's jewelry in the backpack at school, but none of the pieces of jewelry was linked to any theft reports. There was also a screwdriver in the bag, which police said could possibly be used in theft. OK, I understand that part, but any theft he might have committed was not proven, and until proven otherwise, a screwdriver is just a screwdriver. Some people say seem to think that these things should have been mentioned in the trial, but the fact is that it is irrelevant why Trayvon was staying with his dad, and the book bag was not in his possession at the time he was killed.
Besides, we don't sentence thieves to death in this country.... do we?
Trayvon sounds like a troubled kid, and I have to say, there are a lot of troubled teenagers, in part due to the divorce rate among parents of Trayvon's generation. It's not that the parents are totally at fault, but divorce is always a contributing factor.
Do I think that Zimmerman overreacted? Yes, definitely. Trayvon probably had no idea that Zimmerman was a "watch captain" and in any event, kids these days are instructed not to talk to strangers. (Do you tell your kids not to talk to strangers? If so, how does that make your kids' probable reaction any different from that of Trayvon when a strange man pulled up in an SUV and told him to stop?)
One of the things that always bugged me as a teacher was that many kids lack the facility with language to be able to explain to adults what they are doing and why. Another thing that bugs me is that many young people have a very defensive attitude toward any authority figure, and their behavior often automatically turns mean and surly, which tends to inflame the adult authority figure. (I know, because I've been that adult authority figure.) If more parents taught their kids not to sass off to adults and if more kids had the wherewithal to at least explain what they are doing, a lot of angry episodes could be avoided.
Do I think Zimmerman's behavior was racially motivated? Yes. Do I think Trayvon Martin's behavior was racially motivated. Yes.
Do I think Trayvon should have reacted less defensively? Yes, but I do understand that he had just had a very negative run-in with school officials, and was probably not feeling very charitable – putting it mildly – toward any adult authority figure. Teenagers are not known for their mature reasoning skills, and are liable to react to situations at the gut, or emotional, level. It didn't help that Zimmerman's behavior toward him was intended to "power him down." I can tell you that this never works, really, even if you get the kid to do what you want (or stop doing whatever they are doing), because when you power kids down, you will only manage to arouse their anger, and it will come back to you, somehow.
So... now Zimmerman is "not guilty" and he even gets to have his gun back. Some commentators say he will really need it, now. If he thought he was in mortal danger on the night he shot Trayvon Martin, he hasn't seen anything, yet. And his legal troubles are not over, either, because it's likely that he will be involved in a civil suit for "wrongful death" brought by Trayvon's family, or he will be sued in a "civil rights" case brought by the NAACP. Either way, we have not heard the last of George Zimmerman. :-(