17 July 2013

State of Florida v. George Zimmerman

               The State of Florida v. George Zimmerman case has been on the nation's mind for quite a while now. Emotions have only intensified since Zimmerman was acquitted on Saturday. You can't go anywhere without encountering it somehow. It's all over facebook and various news-sites, and honestly probably every form of media, social or otherwise, at this point. People have called it a travesty of justice because he was acquitted, others have said that the travesty would have been if he wasn't.
               I've been thinking about this case a lot, just like most of my fellow Americans. I've been struggling to make sense of all of this in my own head and my own life. That of course meant that I had to write about it, since it is through writing that I often sort through my thoughts and feelings. I cannot give you an account of what actually happened on 26 February 2012, because I wasn't there. Likewise, I cannot say what for certain should have happened in court, because I do not have all the facts nor can do I know either man's mindset. But I what I can say is what it all means to me.
               This past Saturday I was in the apartment I'm subletting with my girlfriend. Her cousin had come to Boston for business and opted to come a couple days early to visit, and thus we had spent the evening and some of the night watching a few episodes of Better Off Ted and Once Upon a Time. Afterwards I got on laptop and decided to catch up on the Evolution World Championships that had started on Friday and would continue through Sunday night. It was late, probably 11:00 or so, and I took a break from watching recordings of Persona 4 Arena to check facebook. My newsfeed was filled with cries of injustice that clearly all pointed to the outcome of the Zimmerman trial, and I decided to go read a Guardian article on the outcome. I read through the article and learned that Mr. Zimmerman had been acquitted. No murder of the second degree. No manslaughter.
               Now, reading that (or, rather, allusions to it) on facebook had very little effect on me other than to pique my curiosity. After all, everyone on facebook (and I suspect this is true of most forms of social media) espouses extreme views on any issue that falls in or against their beliefs, so I had grown accustomed to exaggeration which I typically would ignore and make a footnote to myself to learn about the issue later. However, reading a news article that very matter-of-factly told me the outcome of the case, something happened to me that I wasn't expecting at all. My demeanor instantly soured, and I felt my stomach suddenly churn. It was the most visceral reaction I have ever had to reading a news story, and quite possibly to reading anything. I tried to return to watching Persona 4 Arena to take my mind off of it, but that didn't work. Soon I found myself reading the same story on other news sites. I read CNN, I read the BBC, I read Huffington Post, and NBC, and Fox. And they all said the same thing: Zimmerman was acquitted, O'Mara warned his client of riots, Martin's parents were considering a civil suit, and the NAACP was outraged.
               I felt stifled in the little studio apartment with two other people, so I locked myself in the bathroom and stared in the mirror in hopes of finding clarity as to what the hell I was feeling. Of course that didn't work, so I left the bathroom and said I was going out for a bit. I exited the building and sat on the stoop to complex. I stared at the building across the street, and I watched the drunk twenty-somethings exit Pour House and Whiskeys attempting to hail taxis. I sat there for hours. Thinking. Why was I so angry? What was it about this that made me feel crushed by rage and despair all at once?
               It was this: At that moment, with my understanding of that decision, my country had deemed that I was a second class citizen. That as black male, I'm inherently more dangerous than the vast majority of people I know. That I cannot be trusted to walk down a street without looking suspicious. That, like family and friends have always told me, directly or indirectly, I must prove that I am not a threat and deserving of the same kind of respect and opportunities as my white counterparts. I am not as good, nor will I ever be. Those were the thoughts that were swirling in my head.
               I had spent my entire life believing that while, of course, there was still a ways to go before we as a nation (and as a world) reached racial equality (and further still before equality of sex, gender, sexual orientation, and a whole host of other things I'm failing to list) that these things I had been told about how life would always be harder for me because I was a black male was the reaction of people from a different time. When people had to struggle for the right to attend the same schools and have the same jobs. But for the first time in my life I was slapped with the reality that we really weren't as equal as I thought. That's not something one just shakes off. That's not something one just accepts. But then, what is there to do? I didn't know. All I knew was that I was angry, confused, and depressed.
               I woke up the next day and decided the best thing for myself was to just not think about it until I could think about it more coolly. I do not enjoy being so gut wrenchingly controlled by my emotions; not when I simultaneously feel like I don't have the whole story. So I postponed my soul searching for the sake of fun and competition by watching the end of the EVO championship I had started. But as the day stretched on I began to attempt to understand what I knew about the case and how this played into my own feelings. It turned out that I understood very, very little. I knew very little of the facts. I had no idea what evidenced was introduced or what was testified. In fact, I only had a vague inkling that the prosecution had a fairly weak presentation.
               So I began reading. At first, I made the foolish mistake of reading comments to articles just to see what other people were thinking. This of course proved that, we humans, when we're impassioned about something, have a very high tendency to blatantly ignore discourse and instead resort to mudslinging, which is perhaps increased by the ability to be an "internet tough guy." So I read more articles instead, but that felt like reading more of the same. I began searching for some coverage of the court proceedings, which I had missed. There were some summations of witness testimonies and some descriptions of evidence that I located and I read them.
               Though I am by no means an authority on this case, or the legal system, after doing some research on the trial, it is absolutely no surprise to me that Mr. Zimmerman was acquitted. Often times the witnesses the State called to the stand gave very useful testimonies for the defense either via cross, or even occasionally during direct. Since the burden of proof lies with the prosecution and the defense need only show that the prosecution has not proved anything beyond reasonable doubt, this posed an issue when many of testimonies that did bolster the State's case did not bolster it much. One example was calling Capt. Alexis Carter Jr. to prove that Zimmerman knew about the "stand-your-ground" law, and thus imply he was a liar. While this tactic seemed to have worked, during cross, Capt. Carter stated that one need not wait until almost dead, nor need s/he wait until attacked. The person invoking the law could very well be the aggressor and need only perceive that their opponent will render them great bodily harm. Facts such as this combined with testimonies from other such as John Good, who provided a seemingly eye witness account of Trayvon Martin on top of Zimmerman, really meant that there was no way the State could prove beyond reasonable doubt that George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin with ill intent. In fact, in the face of something like the Stand-Your-Ground law, which I only have a very rudimentary understanding of, without damning evidence reaching the level of Zimmerman declaring in fiendish manner that he was going hunting for black criminals in his neighborhood, there was very little the prosecution could do. There was little actual hope for an outcome other than full acquittal with the way the prosecution handled the case, which, regardless of their efforts, was poor.
               Does that mean that I've had a massive change of heart and condone Mr. Zimmerman's actions? No, of course not. Despite what the defense would have you believe, you cannot arm yourself with the sidewalk just as you can't arm yourself with a house, and thus he shot an unarmed man. A man who was likely in similar physical condition (one being an athlete and the other practice MMA for at least six months). Did Zimmerman want to be a cop at some point in time? Evidence suggests yes. Did he say some nasty things while on the phone with the police? Evidence again suggests yes. Should he have gotten out of the car in the first place? Probably not. Was race truly an issue in this case? I would say yes, considering the fact that Zimmerman followed Martin, that he seemed spitefully agitated when on the phone, and the alleged things said by both parties.
               Though it is very hard to believe that a fairly young man killed another, younger man, and get's off scot free, it did happen. Zimmerman's injuries suggest that he was not yet in mortal danger, though if Martin, aggressor or not, stated what Zimmerman alleges he did ("... you are going to die tonight..."), then it Zimmerman's heightened sense of fear while in the struggle seems like it could be grounds to invoke Stand-Your-Ground.
               Despite what side one falls on in the debate of whether this is a travesty of justice or not, the fact is that where this happened, when this happened, and the ambiguity of the actual events of that night, meant that there was only one possible outcome. This doesn't suddenly neglect the fact that it came to stand for race equality, or rather, the lack thereof, in the United States. The assumptions that there would be riots, or that radicals would attempt to harm Zimmerman if things did not go their way was ludicrous. The hopes of a successful civil suit are likely slim. So we are left with the facts of the case and how each of us feels in the aftermath.

               If I compare myself now to Saturday, which wasn't that long ago, I can most certainly say that I'm calmer. I can say that I'm not immediately plagued by anger and despair. But I can also say this, though legally correct, was this finding correct morally? In a case that represents everything that's wrong with race relations in the US, or at the very least between whites and blacks in the US, did it really boil down to something as disconcertingly black and white as find him guilty or follow Florida state law? I would like to believe that this isn't the case. I would like to believe that Justice, while possibly blind, isn't as simple as that. I would like to believe that we, as a nation, can pull past that and work to never let something like this happen again. But as idealistic as I would like to be, there is now that seed of doubt in the back of my mind that wonders if that's completely impossible and if I am forever doomed to be judged guilty until proven innocent because my skin is dark and I have a Y chromosome.

No comments:

Post a Comment