Why the Zimmerman ruling had nothing to do with racism

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The Zimmerman trial in Florida received extensive media coverage and great public attention in the US. After this weekend’s decision of the all-female jury, George Zimmerman walks. He was found not guilty.This decision has led to a big uproar, especially among the African American community. For all the wrong reasons. The case is regarded as another example of racism in the American justice system. And it seems obvious, doesn’t it?. A white man shot an unarmed black teenager and an all-white jury acquitted him. Why? For many, the answer seems obvious: because the victim, Trayvon Martin, was black and Zimmerman white. But the obvious answer is not always the correct answer and this is why:

1. Florida’s “Stand Your Ground Law”.

Every US state has different gun laws. Florida decided to introduce the stand-your-ground policy in 2000. The law states, in accordance with the Supreme Court ruling in the Brown vs. United States trial (http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/256/335/case.html) that:

The right of a man to stand his ground and defend himself when attacked with a deadly weapon, even to the extent of taking his assailant’s life, depends upon whether he reasonably believes that he is in immediate danger of death or grievous bodily harm from his assailant, and not upon the detached test whether a man of reasonable prudence, so situated, might not think it possible to fly with safety or to disable his assailant, rather than kill him.

In other words: If somebody, on his property, fears for his life and is not the attacker but feels that his life might be in danger, he can use deadly force to fight off the attacker and doesn’t have to retreat. Is this a ruling that relies strongly on feelings? Yes! Is it a very vague law? Absolutely! Has the crime rate dropped since introducing this law? Florida’s politicians claim they did, but really crime rate has dropped in the US in general, also in states without the “stand-your-ground” law.

Back to Zimmerman: He claimed self-defense based on the stand-your-ground law and could not be arrested right away. This has nothing to do with racism, it is a matter of state laws.

2. What about manslaughter or second-degree murder?

These would have been legal possibilities. But – in order for the jury to convict Zimmerman, the prosecutors would have had to prove BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT that Zimmerman wanted to kill Trayvon Martin and not, as the defense claimed, that he had to. With witnesses contradicting each other and little to no evidence of what had happened between Martin and Zimmerman, the jury could only do one thing: If they were not convinced that Zimmerman had EVERY INTENTION to kill Trayvon Martin they could only plead “not guilty”. And with the fishy evidence presented, it was hardly plausible to come to any other conclusion. 

3. What about racism?

The question if Zimmerman’s action had anything to do with racism is actually not part of the state trial. The violation of civil rights is part of a federal prosecution that can only follow after the state trial. Now, in order to charge Zimmerman with violation of civil rights, the Justice Department has to prove that Zimmerman attacked Martin BECAUSE of his race and also BECAUSE Martin was using a public facility. The shooting happened inside a gated community which will make it even harder for federal prosecutors to press civil right charges.

As emotional as the issue may be, this is not about feelings, it’s about facts and laws. And these make it incredibly difficult to convict George Zimmerman. The real issue is not racism, the real issue is the law. If you complain about the outcome of this trial, don’t blame it on racism, blame it on Florida’s gun regulations. If you want to change something about teenagers like Trayvon Martin killed by firearms, start by taking an active part in changing gun laws!

 

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