The public jury on Zimmerman

July 15, 2013 

The trial of George Zimmerman, charged with and acquitted of second-degree murder in the shooting death of an unarmed African-American teenager outside a gated Florida community, has again brought the issue of racial justice to the surface, not that it was buried deeply.

Trayvon Martin, 17, was visiting a woman to whom his father was engaged in late February of last year and was on foot and unarmed as he returned to her home from a visit to a convenience store. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator, was in a vehicle when he saw Martin pass by. The facts regarding the ensuing confrontation between the two differed considerably in versions offered by the prosecution and defense. Prosecutors contended that Zimmerman profiled Martin when he chose to call police and then follow the teen. Defense attorneys said Martin was on top of Zimmerman and beating him when Zimmerman fired in self-defense.

Zimmerman’s acquittal brought outrage from many Americans and some African-American leaders and prompted largely nonviolent demonstrations around the country. Zimmerman, whose father is white and mother Hispanic, is now free.

But the incident may prompt civil suits and even civil rights suits.

It is simply a fact of history that African-Americans have long had reason to believe they do not get a fair shake in the American judicial system, whether that means in an unfair prosecution or in being excluded from juries. The reaction to the Zimmerman acquittal is entirely understandable.

There must be more in the aftermath of this verdict, however, than lingering anger and complacency on the part of others. The racial divide that many assumed had narrowed because of the election of an African-American president clearly remains too deep and too wide. There must be communication, an ongoing dialogue, an ever-evolving attempt to somehow, some way, find understanding.

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