The Zimmerman Verdict's Message

So there was the U.S. criminal justice system for everybody to see on TV: a judge, prosecutors, defense counsel and jury playing out their roles. They did so with all appropriate seriousness in front of the entire nation during a trial nominally about the homicide of a black teenager Trayvon Martin, but in reality about race relations in America. The only voices missing during the trial were that of the victim, Trayvon Martin, who could not testify, and the defendant, George Zimmerman, who chose not to retell his story under oath.

The system acquitted George Zimmerman of the murder of Trayvon Martin, but in so doing the system declared America guilty of continuing race-based social injustice. Mark O'Mara, Mr. Zimmerman's lawyer, stated after the trial that not only was his client not guilty of Trayvon's murder, but that he was completely innocent of any crime. According to Mr. O'Mara, the only reason his client was even charged was because of the willingness of the media and the prosecutor to publicize and legitimize a story that was spoon fed to them (presumably by the Martin family and their supporters) that turned Mr. Zimmerman into a racist monster. Apparently for Mr. O'Mara, the only person guilty of any possible wrongdoing during the entire episode on the street was Trayvon Martin.

I guess Trayvon should have ignored the fact that he was being stalked by Mr. Zimmerman. Or given Florida's stand your ground law, had Mr. Martin been carrying a gun and felt threatened, he could have just shot and killed Mr. Zimmerman. Then, as it was initially for Mr. Zimmerman, he would not even have been arrested. But had he been arrested, then again like Mr. Zimmerman, it's clear that a jury of his peers would find him not guilty after a trial.

It should be noted somehow that Mr. O'Mara and his team under normal circumstances would not have been representing Mr. Zimmerman. The entire cost of Mr. Zimmerman's defense, including his grooming and conservative attire during the trial, were paid for by unknown supporters.

My sense is that had these seekers of justice not financed Mr. Zimmerman's defense he would have been represented by a public defender whose knowledge and skill level may have been as good as Mr. O'Mara's, but whose limited resources and caseload constraints would have forced a downscaling of the defense. A Zimmerman defense by a public defender would have been very different and possibly ended with a different outcome. In the interest of social justice, Mr. Zimmerman should disclose who are the people who paid for his defense. The not guilty verdict is not the end of the struggle for social justice in America. It is however a setback.

Even if technical legally sound, the verdict's message as heard and felt in the street speaks to double standards when it comes to law enforcement and criminal justice. More generally, the verdict's message is about racial exclusion and people of color not being equal members of our society. That message is not acceptable in the Bronx. It should not be acceptable anywhere in America.