Race Was Not on Trial

I remember when "I am Trayvon" was a liberal applause line. I remember when thousands of people took to the streets, wearing hoods and calling for the immediate arrest of America's newest villain, George Zimmerman. I remember when Trayvon Martin was a symbol for a history of racial discrimination.

I fell prey to that impulse, and I was part of the problem. Before Zimmerman even stood trial -- before I even knew that there was a confrontation preceding Martin's death, before I even knew Zimmerman had a bloody nose -- I felt he was guilty, and exemplified a greater, dangerous ideology that was tearing at the fabric of our nation. I was the judge, jury and executioner.

The fervor surrounding this tragedy certainly didn't help. From the start, this was not your typical killing. It became something larger, something not about the justice or reserve this incident deserved, but instead about something neither Zimmerman nor Martin had anything to do with: a history, a societal injustice.

Then came the trial. It was there for everyone to see, so that every New York Times reader or MSNBC-watcher could become a juror. Everyone had something to say about the trial, regardless of whether or not they knew the facts, had watched it, or read anything about it. Our system of justice demands more -- much more.

Rest assured, race in America was not on trial; racial profiling was not on trial; Stand Your Ground laws were not on trial. No, George Zimmerman was on trial -- nothing more, nothing less.

Saturday's verdict does not change the fact that blacks are targeted more frequently than whites by law enforcement; Saturday's verdict does not change the fact that our nation has a tragic history with race; Saturday's verdict does not change the fact that guns are far too prevalent in our nation.

We should have been comfortable engaging those issues without a tragedy. We should have been comfortable acknowledging these serious problems without hijacking an isolated incident that, it turns out, we knew little about. To all those who took to the streets and decried Zimmerman as evil, your heart was in the right place, but your tactics were flawed. This is not a setback for your cause, it's a lesson.

If you still feel Zimmerman is guilty -- if you still feel Trayvon Martin is a symbol of a race problem bigger than us all -- then take issue with America's criminal justice system; don't label this verdict as a problem or an obstruction in and of itself.

Let's not allow this single case to diminish the passion and enthusiasm that is needed to combat a much larger injustice; let's instead see it as a learning experience, and a chance to change course. A death occurred, and that's certainly cause for sorrow. But our system of justice also prevailed, and that's something we can all root for.