Special Bulletin: The Zimmerman Acquittal

Today’s plan had been to publish Blog No. 6, Part II, The Voting Rights Act and the Challenge before Congress. But in light of the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, and the reactions it produced, it seemed appropriate first to comment briefly on that case. The Voting Rights Act blog will be published later this week.

Reactions to the acquittal of George Zimmerman demonstrated once again the depth of the racial tensions with which we continue to struggle. Protests against the acquittal as racist are almost certainly mistaken: the forensic evidence was conflicting and ambiguous; what little eyewitness testimony there was seemed on balance to favor Zimmerman; the crucial details of the last moments of the fatal encounter remain shrouded in mystery. In short, the prosecution was unable to rebut Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense. Under those circumstances it is difficult to see how a jury could have found guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, irrespective of the race of the participants. (And contrary to some comment, Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law did not appear to play any role in the verdict.)

On another level, the protests are all too understandable and, in a sense, justifiable. One cannot quarrel with the observation of the Atlanta Mayor, Kasim Reed, that “I find it troubling that a 17-year-old cannot walk to a corner store for candy without putting his life in danger.” Of course it is troubling. And it is also troubling and true that if George Zimmerman had obeyed the advice of the local police and not followed Trayvon Martin, the tragic confrontation would have not occurred. Reed also observed that “I find it more troubling that a citizen could not see a young African-American youth without immediately concluding that he was up to no good.”

Although it is far from clear that Martin’s race played any part in Zimmerman’s decision to pursue him, the decision was an exercise of  bad judgment, and the racial difference between the two combatants intensified the feeling that justice–in a broad sense–demanded that the survivor be punished. Nevertheless, justice in the legal sense–that is, as our courts must  seek to apply it–depends on rather precise determinations of fact and law. Guilt must be established beyond a reasonable doubt and bad judgment alone does not support a guilty verdict. (Similarly, the initiation of a federal “Hate Crime Inquiry” may be a political necessity, but it will predictably lead to a legal dead end.)

For those who were relieved by Zimmerman’s acquittal, the occasion should not be one of celebration, but compassion for Martin’s family and, for the protesters, disagreement but respect and sympathy. Moreover, that disagreement should be leavened by a common goal of seeking to make race relations in this country less troubled: a complex task, but an important one. It is a hopeful sign, but surely not a reason for complacency, that, although we are in the midst of a “long hot summer,” the protest demonstrations were with few exceptions orderly and did not escalate into violence.

8 thoughts on “Special Bulletin: The Zimmerman Acquittal

  • Agree with you, Doug. If I had been on that jury I think I would have made the same call – would have had to assume Zimmerman’s innocence because he could not be proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In my opinion it is not acceptable to convict an innocent person – better to let a guilty one go free. It would appear from recent DNA tests that some of the people on death row were not guilty at all. This is a terrible travesty of justice, in the broad sense if not the strictly legal sense.

  • Doug – I was wondering if you were going to write about the Zimmerman trial and I’m glad to see you did. I agree with all your comments, well said.

  • With regard to your comment that bad judgment alone does not support a guilty verdict, I immediately thought of the financial crisis and the lack of punishment of guilty parties. There were myriad examples of bad judgment or stupid decision-making but none that rose to the level of provable criminal intent. We yearn to see righteous justice done but, in the financial crisis case as well as in the Zimmerman case, our justice system demands a higher standard of evidence.

  • It was refreshing to have a legally and politically knowledgeable analysis that was also unbiased. I hope we all can commiserate with the Martin family for their terrible loss and the Zimmerman family for the fear of retribution with which they must now live.

    And you are a beautiful writer! Keep up the good work!

  • DP…..fully concur. Folks like Al Sharpton should try not to escalate matters in this matter, but if he does, it will help him gain followers on MSNBC (6pm to 7 pm every night) so don’t hold your breath. It helps to be legally trained to best understand cases like these and why a jury would (have to ) acquit….unfortunately there are many who will not understand what went on in the court room

  • Well stated Doug. Based upon all I heard in the news media, it seemed impossible that there would be a conviction. It also seemed that some key information was prohibited from being admitted into the record for the jury to hear but I guess that is part of the legal system.

    Speaking of the news media, it is troubling to me how much some factions of the media seem to want to incite uprisings around this case. The media really hyped the OJ trial as well but I do not remember any racial uprising out of that acquittal???

    Hopefully common sense will prevail after the period of grief has faded.

  • Doug—you are right on point with your comments. I agree with you 100 percent! I await with keen interest your take on the voting rights case since Shelby County is in my back yard .

  • I am convinced of Zimmerman’s guilt not because of race but because of Zimmerman’s profile. He is a flabby weakling who has no established place in the world but he has big dreams of being a cop or a 10th rate John Wayne. Testimony tells us he was a joke at the local gym. He couldn’t finish cop school. He thought he would be a hero by jumping out of his truck and collaring Martin. What seems to have happened is that Martin swung one punch which knocked Jelly Belly to the pavement. Then as he tried to crawl away, Martin jumped on top of him. Zimmerman panicked and shot Martin. My guess a lot of the screaming was Fat Boy astonished and upset at what he had done.
    So I don’t think it was race so much as self image. He is half Peruvian and we get the term MACHO from Spanish. A lot of weak men do odd things like beat up their women to prove they are macho, by no means just Latinos.
    I think George was looking for manhood; pehaps he may have been called something like a “spik” as well as a sissy so he might hesitate to use racial slurs about any minority.

Comments are closed.