As most everyone knows (and posted about on social media) George Zimmerman was found not guilty on Saturday evening. The reactions I’ve seen have ranged from pleased that ‘justice was done’ to absolutely outraged that a child-murderer could go free. Some of the more thoughtful pieces on the topic have started to investigate what has gone wrong in America that such a tragedy could occur in the first place. However, what I’ve seen most is the inability to understand one another. I want to note that I am wading into incredibly muddy and difficult waters, so I’m open to correction and push back. I’ve largely avoided talking about the case because I simply don’t know enough about the particulars, both in legal and cultural terms, to be qualified to offer an opinion.
For those that think the justice system worked and that Zimmerman should have indeed been found innocent, I think they see a case in which the prosecution did a poor job and no one truly knew what happened that night except for Zimmerman and Martin. Sadly, only one person was able to give their version of events after the fact. All of this ambiguity obviously means reasonable doubt was in play for this faction.These same people can’t understand why anyone would be up in arms about a single, unclear case. There are of course racists and bigots, but I’m more interested in analyzing somewhat reasonable people.
On the other side, those that think Zimmerman should have been found guilty for murder, don’t simply see a single instance of injustice. They see this as emblematic of systemic oppression and injustice that has been happening since slavery, to Jim Crow, to Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit to the Civil Rights movement and all the way to today where African Americans are incarcerated and prosecuted at a much higher rate than whites. It’s not George Zimmerman that is on trial, it’s the systemic persecution of African-Americans throughout our history.
So when these two perspectives meet (whether on a Facebook wall or on CNN) there are inevitable clashes and resulting anger. One piece of advice to those that back the court’s decision, you didn’t lose anything, you didn’t suffer, take the edge out of your voice and have some empathy for those that are mourning the sad history that the Zimmerman case has touched on. For those that can’t possibly see how anyone could side with the court, try to remember they aren’t seeing past the particulars of this one case.
Of course, the media isn’t helping us out here. Instead of creating a dialogue where these two positions can begin to explore the meaning of this case for our country and culture, they continue to focus on the extremes. I assume that divisions make for better ratings, but it certainly doesn’t make for honest conversation.
Based on the little I knew, I had thought that Zimmerman would have gone to jail for manslaughter. Due to a series of events that he initiated, a young man ended up dead. Beyond that, because of the lack of evidence, I just wasn’t sure there was enough to get past ‘reasonable doubt.’Due to this, no one should cheer the outcome of the trial, it’s all bad, there is not much that is redeemable.
My prayer is that our deeply divided country can start to see where the other side is coming from and begin to heal the canyon that separates us. But we’re never going to be able to honestly discuss things like race, our justice system and what to do about it until we start speaking the same language.