A young man is dead. The fact that Trayvon Martin’s life was ended too soon would not change regardless of how the jury decided in the State of Florida v. George Zimmerman. It is tragic. It has put a spotlight on race relations in the United States and this case was unfortunately politicized.
As a parent and former youth pastor my heart breaks for Trayvon’s family. I can’t even imagine the pain they must be going through. I understand why African-American community who have experienced great injustice within our legal system are angry about the verdict. It seems unjust that a 17-year-old young man is dead and nobody will have to answer for it.
The shooting is tragic, but it isn’t criminal. When I called the verdict just on Twitter, a liberal blogger tweeted back that I wouldn’t feel that way “if a trigger-happy wannabe cop followed, then killed your teenager.”
No I probably wouldn’t, but this tweet is a mischaracterization of what transpired. Unfortunately the media didn’t help the situation, especially NBC News. It seemed everybody was rushing to judgment and the issue became politicized.
Rem Rieder of USA Today said the role of the media can’t be ignored in this case. I agree. Rieder wrote:
The storyline quickly took root, amplified by the nearly ubiquitous images of the two: a sweet-looking photo of a several-years-younger Trayvon released by his family, and a mug shot of Zimmerman from a previous arrest in which he looks puffy and downcast. The contrasting images powerfully reinforced the images of the menacing bully and the innocent victim.
Some of the media’s major mistakes stemmed from stories that fit neatly into that widely accepted narrative. NBC News edited Zimmerman’s comments during a phone call to inaccurately suggest that he volunteered that Trayvon seemed suspicious because he was black. In fact, Zimmerman was responding to a question when he mentioned the teenager’s race. The network apologized for the error.
Similarly, ABC News broadcast a story reporting that a police surveillance video showed no evidence that Zimmerman suffered abrasions or bled during the confrontation with Trayvon. Shortly thereafter, it “clarified” the situation, reporting that an enhanced version of the video showed Zimmerman with “an injury to the back of his head.”
When it emerged that Zimmerman’s mother was Peruvian, some news outlets took to referring to him with the rarely used phrase “white Hispanic,” which is kind of like calling President Obama “white black.”
The media and President Obama dramatically impacted public opinion of this case. It’s telling that the Sanford Police originally declined to charge Zimmerman. It was only after news coverage that State Attorney Angela Corey charged him with second degree murder. Also Corey apparently left significant information from her criminal complaint. The police originally saw it as a straight forward case of self-defense, but public pressure suddenly made this criminal? The media also overlooked Martin’s past which help provide context for the shooting as well.
I’m not letting George Zimmerman off the hook. He’s no angel either. He’s responsible for this tragedy. He shot and killed this young man. He chose to leave his car. He didn’t have to do that. While that may not have been the best decision that alone doesn’t make his actions criminal. His life, even after being found not-guilty, will be forever changed (not to mention there may be federal charges forthcoming which pushes the line on double jeopardy as far as I’m concerned).
People who oppose the verdict in their reaction seem leave out the fact that Martin became physically violent with Zimmerman.
“With a single punch,” the Orlando Sentinel, citing police sources, reported, “Trayvon Martin decked the Neighborhood Watch volunteer … climbed on top of [him] and slammed his head into the sidewalk several times, leaving him bloody and battered.”
“That is the account Zimmerman gave police,” the paper said, “and much of it has been corroborated by witnesses, authorities say.”
Was Zimmerman supposed to continue to allow Martin to continue to slam his head into the sidewalk? When is a person allowed to defend himself? Did the George Zimmerman exercise self-defense? That is the fundamental question.
How we feel about the shooting doesn’t matter. What the facts state do. George Zimmerman can not be convicted on outrage. He had to be convicted on evidence of which the prosecutors provided very little. George Zimmerman should have been considered innocent until proven guilty, and the prosecution could not dispute self-defense unfortunately the media and left-wing activists seemed to have forgotten that. According to the self-defense statute under Florida law, based on the evidence given at trial, the verdict is just, but no verdict could negate the tragedy of that evening.
Update: Al Mohler had a poignant piece which conveys this better than I have. I want to emphasize that this is a tragedy, and I by no means want to diminish the Martin’s loss:
As the father of a young man, I know the talks parents have with their sons–or should have. I have had plenty of those talks, and I know them from both sides. But there is one talk I never had to have with my son, and my father never had to have with me. That is the talk about what to do when the police pull you over and you are a young black man. The talk about what to do when you are eyed suspiciously by people just because you are a young black male. The talk about how to act and how to respond when people watch just to see if you are trouble.
America is divided once again in the aftermath of the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial. The decision of the Florida jury to acquit Zimmerman on charges of murder and manslaughter in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin has reverberated around the world. Americans are divided along some very tragic and recognizable lines in the wake of the verdict. But the line that I find most important is this—the line between those parents who have to have that talk with their boys and those who do not.
The trial in a Florida criminal court was laden with moral meaning, outrage, and controversy. These are elements that criminal trials are incapable of resolving. The jurors in the Zimmerman trial were asked to determine very limited questions of fact. Even without the complications of race and political scrutiny, this was going to be a difficult prosecution. The fact is that George Zimmerman was the only witness to what happened on February 26, 2012. Trayvon Martin was dead, and there were no other witnesses to the event. Given the fact that the initial investigation found George Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense to be plausible and the fact that the prosecution’s key witnesses faltered on the stand, the jurors were left with the question of finding Zimmerman guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. They did not find him guilty.
The central tragedy remains. A smiling 17-year-old boy who had gone to a convenience store to buy a soft drink and a snack was shot to death, and we will never know exactly how or why. We just know that it is an unspeakable tragedy. It is a moral tragedy that even the best system of justice cannot remedy, much less restore. It is a political tragedy, a cultural tragedy, and a legal mess. But far more than these, it is the tragedy of a boy now dead, of parents and loved ones grieving, and of a nation further wounded, confused, and tormented by the color line.
I think of the young black men on the campus I am honored to lead. I think of the faithful black parents whose families I so know, love, admire. I think of what they have to worry about that I never have to think about. I think of the conversations that must come for our nation and for our churches.
But most of all I am thinking of those parents who have to have that talk I never had to have with my son. I pray and yearn for that day when those conversations will not be necessary. May God watch over every single one of them, for they, starting with Trayvon Martin, belong to all of us.