George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the killing of Trayvon Martin and people on both sides are speaking out. Those who support Martin and his family see the killing and verdict as clear evidence that justice in Florida is anything but colorblind and that racism in the state and in our country is thriving. Those who support Zimmerman see a clear case of self-defense. The trial was played out in the media long before its started and race, gun rights and the Florida Stand Your Ground law were all endlessly debated by a large cast of expert talking heads. So what should we feel or think now?
Well, first off, this thing is far from over. It is very likely the Martin family will file a civil lawsuit against Zimmerman for wrongful death and the burden of proof in such a case is very different than in a criminal case. Back in the 1980s, OJ Simpson was cleared of murder charges but ended up paying $33.5 million to the victim’s families. Also, the NAACP is asking the United States Justice Department to look into the possibility that Zimmerman broke civil rights laws and he could be charged with those crimes at a federal level.
Protests are now taking place across the country and Zimmerman has gone into hiding. The Stand Your Ground law is also on trial now and the fact that it exists in more than 20 states suggests that this debate is far from over. Also, a question must be asked. What would the trial and verdict have been if Martin had killed Zimmerman? Would the story have been as big? Would Martin have had such a high profile defense team paid for by more than $300,000 in donations from gun rights advocates?
No matter what happens next, a young man is dead who should not be. Another man’s life has been forever changed and our society must consider what sort of values this case and this verdict are teaching our children. Since the 9/11 attacks our country has operated in a state of fear that has been artificially created and strengthened by people who stand to benefit like gunmakers, defense companies, the armed forces, police agencies, spy agencies, and home security companies. Our civil rights have suffered and our quality of life has suffered. Air travel is horrible and immigration reform has taken on new, highly politicized aspects never before present in the debate. And are we safer? Not a bit.
This case should spark debate, but measured and intelligent discussion, not screaming and yelling. Security, whether it be personal or national, should not involve the killing of innocents due to fear, and those killings should not be protected by laws that make us all less safe. We need Trayvon Martin’s death to be a starting point from which to bring our country back to a place that balances personal freedom and personal safety without putting us all at risk. We ultimately need to live in a country where there won’t be another Trayvon Martin case. We owe that to ourselves and especially, to our children. This is not the society our founding fathers had in mind when they wrote the constitution no matter what the NRA might want you to think. We sincerely hope that our country can move forward in a positive, non-violent way and that Trayvon’s family can find some meaning and peace as they move forward.
Image courtesy of baylorlariat.com.