Not Guilty: Some Thoughts

Not guilty.

A wasp’s sting. I’d hoped for a conviction but I did not fully expect the primarily white, female jury to acquit George Zimmerman. I had little confidence that the prosecution would prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. Their charges were stiff, the burden of proof, high. Evidence was not collected at the crime scene or from Zimmerman that would have strengthened the state’s case. Indeed, Zimmerman was arrested only because of a national outcry demanding an investigation into the shooting. Now, due process complete and after weeks of a show trial, the public received a burning dose of social and legal reality.

Not guilty.

Something was very wrong here. I wanted justice for Trayvon Martin not a Zimmerman exoneration.

I thought about the jury. As a former juror who served on a criminal case in New York years ago I well understood the deliberation process–hours of sifting through evidence, determining the credibility of witnesses, weighing the prosecutor’s case, searching for reasonable doubt. Jurors are expected to be impartial in their deliberations but no one can be totally objective. Jurors do interpret what they see and hear in the courtroom through the filter of their own life experiences. Why was there only one black juror on this case. Why were others who could have added minority perspectives to this case not included?

I blamed Florida law and the prosecutors. Six jurors in a second degree murder case did not seem enough to tease out the truth. I know verdicts should be derived from the perceptions of the group based on evidence presented within the context of the law as explained by the judge, but I wondered if deliberation arguments and the outcome would have been different had there been twelve multicultural jurors on this interracial case.

Not guilty.

The verdict did not represent Trayvon’s perspective, how he experienced Zimmerman’s stalking. Was he fearful? Perhaps he should have called the police. But did he have any  expectation that the police would help him, a black teenager? We can’t know for certain. The seventeen year old is dead.  His voice, unheard. His killer, acquitted.

The jury spoke. The state’s case is finished.

Is there any recourse? Of course, the U.S. Justice Department would resume their case against Zimmerman, but could they charge him with a hate crime? How would they prove intent? Another high, judicial bar. I didn’t place much hope here.

My heart broke for Trayvon’s parents. Their ordeal had to be agonizing. I admired their grace, dignity, and strength. I wondered how they sat in court, day after day, and listened to defense lawyers blame their son for his own death. The loss of a child is a nightmare. Chilling.  As a mother, I have never had to deal with such horror. My own children grew to adulthood. Their child never would.

I knew Trayvon’s parents have the right to file wrongful death charges in civil court against Zimmerman, the right to seek a monetary settlement from him. It would not carry the same weight as a guilty verdict in a criminal case, but it would hold Zimmerman accountable for his actions. If he testified and if they won their case.

But how does one place a monetary value on one’s child’s life? A child who had a right to be where he was, a right to walk to his father’s home unmolested? How does one place a monetary value on any of our children? More importantly, why should we have to? All children, regardless of race, have the right to adult protection in our communities. This clearly did not happen in the Sanford, Florida neighborhood that Zimmerman claimed he watched.

Not guilty.

I wondered about George Zimmerman. His gun was returned to him in the courtroom. He walked out of there a free man. How does a free, adult man live with the fact that he shot an unarmed, innocent boy to death.? At point blank range. In the heart. I had not heard about any expression of remorse from Zimmerman. I could only surmise he believed the jury added a sense of righteousness to his actions. Now he was armed and back on the street. I wondered how he celebrated his acquittal?

Not guilty.

I blamed the Florida laws that allow people to carry concealed weapons and stand their ground. I believe that carrying a gun inflates one’s confidence with misguided power. One feels that one has life and death control over any situation. Carrying a gun reduces the chance of  responsible discernment in questionable circumstances.  The danger is that verbal communication can be replaced by lethality arising in the heat of the moment. I also believe that standing one’s ground should not allow for provoking a confrontation. Neither should it give one the right to claim self-defense for acts committed as a result of such provocation. Especially when the provocateur is told by a 911 operator to stand down and wait for the police to arrive.

George Zimmerman, by his own admission, did not wait for the police to arrive. Instead, he stalked  Trayvon Martin. In so doing, he set up the circumstance that allowed for a confrontation. When he felt he was losing the altercation, he pulled his gun and killed the teenager. In essence, George Zimmerman chose to take matters into his own hands. Tragically, they were matters of his own making. Had he exercised adult responsibility at the time, the seventeen year old would still be alive.

Perhaps if Zimmerman, as a neighborhood watch volunteer, had not profiled Trayvon as a criminal but asked the boy where he was going and inquired if he needed help, he’d have seen Trayvon’s bottle of iced tea and his bag of candy, and realized he had nothing to fear from the boy. Had he talked with Trayvon, he may have realized that Trayvon, like himself,  belonged in that neighborhood.  Instead, he acted on an untrue premise that ended in horrible fatality. And he walked away from it without consequence.

Not guilty.

It does not mean innocent.

2 thoughts on “Not Guilty: Some Thoughts

  1. Thanks Jo for this well thought out and well written analysis. You have covered all of the bases in this case and I heartily agree with your assessment. You got it right. This tragedy should never have happened and unfortunately it is still happening and will continue until the law is changed so that these self-appointed vigilantes are stopped from playing cops and robbers at young black men’s expense.


    1. Thanks, Bigi. We really need to address racism in our society as well as our gun laws and our criminal justice system. Our children are being killed when they should be protected and it’s appalling.


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