Here's what we know about America 2013: people are still not judged by the content of their character, but by the color of their skin. Race is still the lens through which Americans view events, the criminal justice system, the police, the courts, lawyers and judges. Anger by African-Americans for race based inequalities may have dissipated a bit with the election of an African-American president and advancement of other minorities in other professions, but it still bubbles hotly just beneath the surface of public consciousness and drives behavior.
In our small corner of the world, what we are concerned with is justice and fair trials. For us, the possible tragic outcome of this case are future jury verdicts that do not reflect the facts of the case. Future defendants-black, white, hispanic, whatever, could pay with their freedom over anger about the verdict in this case.
We've seen in media (social and standard) calls for the State to appeal the verdict, and criticism of the prosecution for not forcing the defendant to testify and explain his behavior. Shocking ignorance of basic constitutional rights to be sure, but we as legal practitioners ignore the feelings of the general public at our own peril. The burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt can be threatened by ignorant, populist politicians, and undermined by disgruntled jurors one case at a time.
We've yet to reach a level of non race based thinking where a white man can kill a black man in self defense and not have the disgraceful tragedy of the killings of Medgar Evers be resurrected.
Trayvon Martin was a boy. His life had barely begun. But Trayvon Martin was also (in police parlance) a young black male, and his presence in neighborhood was deemed a threat to a man who had a gun. Neither Martin (who apparently beat up Zimmerman) nor Zimmerman who clearly escalated this encounter, are blameless. Trayvon Martin paid for the misjudgments that young men often make with his life. Zimmerman paid for the tragedies that guns often create with his life inexorably changed for the worst.
What's the tragedy here? Martin was scared by Zimmerman and responded by attacking him. Zimmerman was scared by Martin and responded by killing him. The tragedy is that we need to stop being scared by each other. We need to stop shooting each other. We need to stop carrying guns wherever we go. We need to stop evaluating every encounter between two different colored people in 2013 based on their race, and most importantly, we need to stop screaming about throwing out cherished constitutional rights every time a case turns out differently than we wanted. White americans decried the justice system when OJ Simpson was acquitted and african-americans are now upset because Zimmerman was acquitted.
These cases might well be the cost we pay so the thousand or so criminal trials that happen throughout our country every month- trials no one pays attention to or tweets about- resolve in a just and fair way. No defendant in the future should be convicted because Zimmerman was acquitted. That would be the real tragedy if that was the legacy of Trayvon Martin's tragic and untimely death.
See you in court.
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