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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Defending George Zimmerman

Published: September 20, 2013
Section: Opinions

On July 13, 2013, the six-person jury of the 18th Circuit Court of Florida, tasked with delivering a verdict in State of Florida v. Zimmerman, rendered what might ultimately be one of the most controversial cases in the civil rights history of the United States. Specifically, the jury found defendant 29-year-old George Zimmerman not guilty of all charges, putting an end to a long and highly-publicized court trial in which Zimmerman was charged with the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on the night of Feb. 26, 2012 in a gated community in Sanford, Florida.

The verdict sparked a widespread outcry all across the United States, and members of the public from all corners of the country took to social media, and in certain cases, the streets, to protest what is perceived by many as a gross injustice perpetrated by the legal system. It even prompted President Obama to give an unannounced 20-minute speech in place of the regular White House daily press briefing, in which the President remarked, “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago”.

Despite the overwhelming proportion of people, both around the country and among my friends, who will readily criticize the “not guilty” verdict in this case, I actually find myself disagreeing with them. It’s not necessarily that I take the exact opposite view; it’s that I really don’t see what everyone is getting so worked up about. After taking some time to hear more opinions, I came to the conclusion that a lot of people made their minds up about the verdict based on emotion and a feeling that racism was somehow one of the major factors here. I believe that that is unfounded. Let me explain why I think what I think.

To start off with, many people have blasted the state of Florida for its “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows citizens to use deadly force in cases where the citizen fears death or “great bodily harm” without first attempting to retreat from the situation. This piece of criticism is perfectly justified, and I myself have questioned the wisdom behind this legal principle. But that is a matter of policy, not legal argument, and protests against “Stand Your Ground” law should be directed at governors and state legislatures instead. It was not the role of either presiding judge Debra Nelson or the jury to state that George Zimmerman shouldn’t be able to get away with shooting Trayvon Martin in self-defense without trying to retreat, so why are people chastising Zimmerman for doing what he had a right to do? It’s like complaining to a tax collector how high your taxes are, when it is Congress who imposes them.

Secondly, I have noticed that many people take issue with the fact that the jury didn’t find Zimmerman guilty on the second-degree murder charge or on the lesser charge of manslaughter. What I think many people don’t realize is the fact that given the circumstances of this case and what actually happened during the trial, there really is no other verdict that the jury could have reached. To start off with, the incident took place on a dark Florida night in a gated neighborhood, leaving Zimmerman as the only person who saw what happened that night in its entirety. Any witness who saw or heard what happened did so from a sizeable distance, meaning that the prosecution had very little evidence to work with. The defense attorneys were able to maintain a consistent narrative, and the forensic evidence more or less lined up with Zimmerman’s testimony, so the prosecution had an uphill climb. To make matters worse, one of the prosecution’s witnesses, while under cross-examination by the defense attorney, admitted to lying about her reasons for not attending Martin’s funeral. While this was not directly relevant, it weakened the prosecution’s case.

Lastly, I personally don’t believe that George Zimmerman approached Trayvon Martin that night just because he was black. Because of the multiple reports of break-ins in the neighborhood recently, Zimmerman, as a member of the Neighborhood Watch, was probably particularly wary of possible intruders and decided to find out what was going on. Martin probably took it the wrong way and a fight ensued, in which a gun was fired. While I can’t possibly rule out that Zimmerman racially profiled Martin, I consider that to be unlikely. Zimmerman is half-Peruvian, was raised as a Catholic, had a permit to carry the gun he used and he seemed to be a man in good standing with the community. He has no prior history of criminal activity or making racist statements. It was a fair trial and the legal system did exactly what it was designed to do, even if we’re not satisfied with the result. If you really believe in your heart that a guilty man walked free, then blame the prosecutor, Angela Corey and the Florida state legislature. I will freely accept the fact that I may very well be wrong, but this controversy at the very least warrants a second, more rational glance by all of us.