Anger, Confusion and the Morning After the George Zimmerman Verdict
Late last night, the jury finally delivered a not guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, acquitting him of all charges for shooting and killing the 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida in February, 2012. More than a year later, the shooter would go free after a long, drawn out legal battle and a national debate about racial profiling. The white man walked, causing a massive surge of anger, confusion, protests and, possibly, new legal battles.
Update, 3:26 p.m.: The President released this statement about the Zimmerman verdict on Sunday afternoon:
The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America. I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son. And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities. We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin.
Original: Late last night, the jury finally delivered a not guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, acquitting him of all charges for shooting and killing the 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida in February, 2012. More than a year later, the shooter would go free after a long, drawn out legal battle and a national debate about racial profiling. The white man walked, causing a massive surge of anger, confusion, protests and, possibly, new legal battles.
The reaction Saturday night, shortly after 10 p.m. ET, when the six woman jury found Zimmerman not guilty of second degree murder and acquitted him of manslaughter for killing Trayvon Martin, was swift, immediate, and one primarily of disgust for a broken justice system. Zimmerman's lawyers and family got to go on television and dance on the dead black boy's grave. Martin's family thanked people for fighting for their son. There was a verdict, but no answers. Everyone from celerities to athletes expressed their outrage over what was seen as an extreme injustice.
But this verdict doesn't necessarily spell the end of Zimmerman's court career. There may be federal hate crime charges on the way, and civil trials. "What's next for Zimmerman? Almost certainly a wrongful death civil action for money damages filed by the family of Trayvon Martin," CBS's Andrew Cohen, who is also a contributing editor to The Atlantic, said last night. "Wrongful death civil case against Zimmerman would have more lax evidentiary rules-- and Zimmerman would have to testify under oath," he added. And the NAACP were already putting the gears in motion to bring federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman immediately after the verdict came down. NAACP head Ben Jealous confirmed to CBS's Charlie Kaye that he contacted Attorney General Eric Holder last night to discuss the possibility with the Department of Justice. A petition circulated by the group urging the DOJ to open a federal case against Zimmerman received over 100,000 signatures over a three hour span. This is not going away any time soon.
Spontaneous protests erupted all across the country. People gathered and instantly started to march against what people are seeing as a grave injustice. In Washington, hundreds of people of different races marched down U Street for hours with signs and chants to help guide them through the night. In Chicago, dozens marched through the city's downtown core chanting "Justice for Trayvon!" after news of the verdict broke. In California, protests formed in four different cities, including Oakland and San Francisco. About 100 people in Oakland vandalized businesses and police cars in the immediate wake of the verdict. It was the only city that documented any protest-related violence in America last night.
For the most part, people heeded the words of civil rights advocate Jesse Jackson Sr. while voicing their extreme displeasure with Zimmerman going free. "Avoid violence, it will lead to more tragedies. Find a way for self construction not deconstruction in this time of despair," he tweeted last night.
The anger was expressed on the opinion pages, too, as reactions came out at a steady pace through last night. "It is a complicated thing to be young, black, and male in America," wrote Gawker's Cord Jefferson, in one of the most touching pieces to come out in the last 24 hours:
Not only are you well aware that many people are afraid of you—you can see them clutching their purses or stiffening in their subway seats when you sit across from them—you must also remain conscious of the fact that people expect you to be apologetic for their fear. It’s your job to be remorseful about the fact that your very nature makes them uncomfortable, like a pilot having to apologize to a fearful flyer for being in the sky.
The anger in the air and on the page is palpable on this morning after. The Guardian's Gary Young wrote a piece, titled "It's Open Season on Black Boys After a Verdict Like This," but it was was pulled from their website after initially being posted during the wee hours of Sunday morning. "Let it be noted that on this day, Saturday 13 July 2013, it was still deemed legal in the US to chase and then shoot dead an unarmed young black man on his way home from the store because you didn't like the look of him," Young wrote in the original transcript, which you can read here.
The Guardian says the piece will be reposted shortly, as soon as they run it by their lawyers. "Apologies to all those asking about Gary Young's Trayvon Martin piece. It'll be back up again v soon: just dealing w a few legal glitches," the opinion desk announced on Twitter. "Nothing dodgy afoot, promise. All about different timezones and legal jurisdictions and an exhausted writer needing some sleep!"
Esquire had no legal trouble running Charlie Pierce's reaction Sunday morning in which he saw it much the same way. "Hunting licenses are now available and it's open season on assholes, fucking punks, and kids who wear hoodies at night in neighborhoods where they do not belong, at least according to George Zimmerman, defender of law and order, crimebuster, and protector of the peace, because that is what American society has told George Zimmerman, and all the rest of us, is the just outcome of what happened on one dark and rainy night in February of 2012," he writes. That this verdict will only give way to even more people acting like George Zimmerman did on that night in February, because they know they can get away with it. He also prefaced this dark tour of American celebrity waiting for George Zimmerman now that's he's been deemed an innocent man:
Calm is prevailing. For now. At least, that's something. There will be much for George Zimmerman to do. Things may be a little rough back home, but there will be the victory tour on Fox. And the inevitable book deal. There will be the long career as a hero to the people in the communities that feel themselves besieged by assholes and fucking punks in their hoodies.
Elsewhere, The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates was calm and measured in his response. "At no point did I think that the state proved second degree murder," he said, while clarifying that he doesn't find much of Zimmerman's story, even though it's the only one we have, very plausible. Nothing really adds up. It makes no sense for the non-violent offender to turn around and attack the strange man following him. But Coates closes on a very important point:
Circling back to the first point, it's worth remembering that caused a national outcry was not the possibility of George Zimmerman being found innocent, but that there would be no trial at all. This case was really unique because of what happend with the Sanford police. If you doubt this, ask yourself if you know the name "Jordan Davis." Then ask yourself how many protests and national media reports you've seen about him.