I would like to think that any reasonable person can agree that the fact that Travon Martin was fatally shot in an altercation with George Zimmerman on February 26, 2012 is truly tragic. On Saturday night, George Zimmerman was found to be not guilty.
In the Trayvon Martin case, I believe that so many people had already made up their minds that George Zimmerman was so clearly guilty that the facts didn’t matter. But the facts do matter. I always believed that the jury was going to find Zimmerman to be not guilty. Taking all of the emotion out of the case, when the facts were presented, I thought that getting a jury to unanimously agree that Zimmerman was guilty of 2nd degree murder (or even manslaughter) beyond a reasonable doubt was going to be difficult.
And it should be difficult!
Zimmerman’s team didn’t have to prove he was innocent. The state needed to prove he was guilty. But it always seemed reasonable to doubt whether it could be proven that what Zimmerman did was illegal.
On the night of Trayvon Martin’s death, as Zimmerman called authorities and followed Martin, did Zimmerman handle the situation in the absolute best way possible? Probably not. Could Zimmerman and should Zimmerman have waited for actual law enforcement to arrive? Probably. But without doing those things, as an ordinary citizen, Zimmerman still had the right to be out in his own community of residence, and he had the right to do that without being viciously attacked.
Zimmerman was participating in a neighborhood watch program and there had been a series of robberies which were reportedly perpetrated by an African American teenage male. Trayvon Martin fit that description and Zimmerman was curious. We can say that he shouldn’t have been profiling, but he still had the right to be where he was and to be doing what he was doing. And even if we can agree that police officers shouldn’t racially profile, Zimmerman wasn’t a police officer! He was a suspicious citizen. And as unjustified as some might think he was to be doing what he was doing, that still doesn’t change the fact that he had the right to be outside, in close proximity to Trayvon Martin.
As the situation escalated and a physical altercation between the two men erupted, with Martin on top of Zimmerman, with the risk of bodily harm or death, Zimmerman retaliated in self-defense. Martin was the aggressor. Don’t believe me? Think I’m wrong? In the trial, the state was unable to provide any evidence that contradicted Zimmerman’s account of the event or to show he was the aggressor. Once the assault began, Zimmerman was not in a position to remove himself. It’s not like Martin shoved Zimmerman and Zimmerman shot him. Martin was physically bigger than Zimmerman and had him pinned to the ground as he was fighting him.
And various political demagogues inflamed a nation with this case. Zimmerman may have been found not guilty but he still has a life sentence. He will never be able to lead a normal life. Threats are rampant as people call for justice for Trayvon. Zimerman doesn’t seem like a saint or an especially wonderful person. But he also doesn’t seem like a racist who was looking for trouble. He was a small time vigilante with no real authroty who got himself into a dangerous situation when he was in over his head and he needed to avct. To paraphrase a point made by lawyer and radio show host Mark Levin, it’s not like Zimmerman wasn’t justified in using deadly force up until the moment before he was beaten to death (as if such a thing could even be known). No in the middle of the situation, a decision needed to be made.
The result was unfortunate.