That was the verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman, accused of shooting and killing Trayvon Martin in Sanford, FL, in February, 2012. Martin was an African-American teenager, wearing a hoodie and carrying a fountain drink and a bag of Skittles, and walking at night in a gated community. Zimmerman was an Hispanic self-appointed neighborhood watchman, driving in his car with a gun in a holster. He saw Martin and called the police to alert them to this "suspicious" character in the neighborhood. The police told him to stay put, don't confront him, etc. etc. But Zimmerman didn't listen. And there was an altercation. And screams for help. And, in the end, Trayvon Martin lay dead on the sidewalk, shot at close range.
The jury of six women, only one of whom was a minority, spent over sixteen hours deliberating over their verdict. The judge had allowed them to consider manslaughter instead of the requested second-degree murder. Many of us on the outside of this case, especially those of us who live in Florida and have been treated to LOTS of media reports on all of this, thought, for sure, a jury could see that a dead teenager armed with Skittles should warrant at least manslaughter.
You might imagine, Facebook lit up with commentary from all sides. OK, my Facebook wall actually didn't show all sides. Most of my friends join with me in being horrified by the verdict, deeply saddened for the Martin family, and even more disturbed by the idea that the message is now out there to anyone seeking vigilante justice: if your target is a black male teenager in a hoodie with a bag of Skittles, by golly, stand your ground! There was one woman, on another friend's wall, who urged for everyone to consider that we weren't in the courtroom and listening to the testimony. And we weren't in the jury room, either. And we most certainly weren't one of the two people involved in this crime on a sidewalk in Sanford, Florida, on a rainy February night in 2012. Therefore, we need to not jump to conclusions about the verdict, and whether it was a miscarriage of justice.
She's white. Bless her heart.
I am not going to pass judgment on the jurors as people. Jury duty, especially in a case such as this one, is enormously stressful and difficult. They did want to know more about manslaughter, but I gather their question wasn't specific enough. Or at least that's what one legal commentator said. With all that in mind, I will not call these women names. But I do know, from years of reporting experience on court cases and talking to lawyers and legal researchers, that there is a very real phenomenon with jurors: if they can put themselves in the shoes of the victim, they are more likely to have sympathy and more likely to find the accused guilty. If they can not personally identify in that way, they will remain remote, and may decide the victim brought on the assault or their own death.
This jury was all-female... and all but one was white. Do you see what I'm seeing?
There are those who say this case is not about race, pointing out that Zimmerman is Hispanic. But, I'm sorry: in this state, and in this nation, it IS about race when an almost all-white jury is incapable of finding a man who was told to stay out of it with the "suspicious" Trayvon Martin, can not find him guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter. That is shocking. And it saddens me. And I guarantee that if the races had been reversed, and Zimmerman was an adult black male shooting a white-looking Hispanic teen-aged boy in Sanford, the verdict out of Seminole County tonight would be different. That's the way things roll in this state.
My only answer for any of this is for those of us who are in the power majority--white America--to come to terms with how disparate the system is and how we are culpable in that. And we must be willing partners to work to change that system. My way of starting, and this is just my way, is to recognize that we, all of us human beings, are one. The things that separate us (race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ability, and on and on) are borderlines that do not reflect the real truth: we are one, together, on this planet, and what happens to the least of us is going to affect us all. We must see the humanity, the brotherhood and sisterhood of us all, in each other and commit to lifting up those who are being beaten down by the economics and politics in our country. What will we surrender to bring about justice and freedom for all? How will we bring real justice to the family of Trayvon Martin?
O God, make speed to help us...