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Zimmerman Verdict: A Blunt Reminder of the Shortcomings of Our Judicial System

By Edited Nov 11, 2015 0 0
George Zimmerman

The George Zimmerman trial has captivated the American public for its multiple storylines that include the delicate issues of race and guns, and yesterday George Zimmerman was acquitted on charges of second-degree murder. Given the evidence, evidence that for the prosecution did not include any eye witness accounts nor the testimony of the late Trayvon Martin, it is difficult to fault the Floridian jury for producing the not guilty verdict. If we are to truly heed the 'innocent until proven guilty' clause, it can certainly be argued that the jury made the correct decision. However, the conclusions that can be drawn from this trial stretch far beyond Zimmerman's not guilty verdict--and frankly the conclusions are troubling.

Firstly, as for the courtroom itself--can we really depend on six members of the jury to adequately represent a jury of one's peers? At that, six women? Five of them being white, and one Latina. Of course, it's easy in hindsight to make the argument that women are more susceptible to a plea of self-defense similar to the likes of Zimmerman's, and it's also easy, in light of the not guilty verdict, to question why the race of the defendant was represented while the race of the fallen victim was not. But, the thing is, there is no need to use hindsight--this is something that any casual observer could realize just isn't right from the start. Historically, women have a propensity to adhere to self-defense claims more often than men; and in life, justifiedly or not, people identify with and support people of their own race more readily than those who look differently to them. Six women are not going to represent the interpretations of a nation, nor would six men, nor would six African-Americans. Our judicial system is always going to have imperfections, but there are simple ways to mitigate its flaws and using some common sense to pick a jury that holds someone's life in their hands seems to be a reasonable-enough expectation.

A second problematic precedent that a decision like this sets is that it will probably deter a future prosecutor from seeking the penalty that they deem fitting of the crime. An all-or-nothing system in which a man either receives a murder conviction or gets off scott free arguably represents two extremes on the spectrum. Perhaps George Zimmerman would have been convicted of manslaughter if the state chose to charge him with manslaughter. The fact that this question immediately comes to mind after a not guilty verdict may convince prosecutors to simply 'go for less' in order to ensure that at least some degree of justice is upheld.

Another blatant dilemma that recent decisions are bringing to the forefront is that it is truly impossible to paint a clear picture of the story when one side is no longer with us to truly tell what happened. In the case of Casey Anthony, of course her daughter could not have articulated what happened even if she had survived. But in the case of Trayvon Martin, we will never truly know what took place between he and Zimmerman because Zimmerman shot him to death. All we know is that Zimmerman stalked a kid that was not breaking any laws, and then of course we have varying stories as to what happened next--one side's perspective painting the other as the antagonizer. Even if Zimmerman's tale was accurate, is it right of us to expect a kid to not fight back after being stalked for no good reason? Would we not do the same? Clearly this case only leaves us asking more and more questions of our judicial system, but the takeaway can be that in cases where the stories are never going to align because one party is dead, then maybe that necessitates the need for the prosecution to only try for manslaughter rather than murder--going back to the aforementioned point about the prosecution's need to temper their expectations.

Finally, no matter how hard you try to ignore it, this case certainly raises questions regarding race and guns. The saddest hypotheticals of all being, would Martin have been killed if he were white and would Zimmerman have been convicted if he were black and Martin was white? No one truly knows the answer to these questions, but that we are asking them shows that there is a perception that our judicial system is filled with biases. Conservatives will claim, if Martin had the same opportunity to protect himself as Zimmerman, in the form of being armed, than perhaps calmer heads would have prevailed. Liberals will counter that an unstable man like Zimmerman should never be armed in the first place as he was a danger to innocent civilians like Trayvon Martin--and thus we need to have stricter background checks on gun ownership. Political affiliation aside, this verdict sets the precedent for any gun owner to kill an unarmed person and claim self-defense--even if it is clear that the gun owner instigated the altercation in the first place by at least proceeding to follow someone that was not breaking the law. Maybe Zimmerman did act out of self-defense, but the amount of leeway a decision like this gives for gun owners is unsettling to say the least.

Everyone will have differing opinions regarding the results of the trial, but the common theme is that no one seems completely satisfied. In fact, the only people that can be deemed wrong are those that are completely satisfied with a young man with all the promise in the world leaving us years before his time. If one agrees with the verdict, then we must work to eliminate misunderstandings like this from happening again in the future: assessing a situation through using dialogue rather than force, by both sides, would be a start. If one disagrees with the verdict, well, then there can be a number of different angles to take ranging from finding a way to pick a jury more adequately representative of a 'jury of one's peers' to continuing to try to stifle racism in a country that is still serving the interests of powerful white people.

Again, only George Zimmerman knows what exactly happened, and all a jury can do is make an educated guess at a proper verdict given the presented evidence in conjunction with American law. Time and again these verdicts leave a bad taste in the mouths of the American public--maybe that signals a need to reassess how our judicial system works. 



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