At a time when cable and electricity were included in my housing bill, I constantly had the TV on and turned to one of my favorite liberal news stations.
On that particular day, there were reports that a man on a neighborhood watch in Florida had shot a black teenager who was walking through his community. All that I could gather in the wake of this event — in the form of countless reactionary interviews, bickering TV personalities, and playbacks of the 911 calls placed by the perpetrator — was a general sense of outrage and grief.
Then, out my window, a group of Grand Valley State University students marched by in a procession of protest, in solidarity, to honor Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old boy who had been killed. Their message was clear, simple and loud: We want justice.
Trayvon Martin’s family and all kinds of organizations across the country congregated to not only mourn the death of Trayvon, but to call for a legal proceeding to try George Zimmerman, Trayvon’s killer, for second-degree murder. Empathizers wore hoodies in commemoration of the deceased teen, and he quickly became something of an instant symbol of the minority shooting victim.
There is no denying there remains deep-seated, systemic and overlooked racial injustice in this country. Early analysis pointed to exactly that in the Zimmerman case. This story features a complicated storyline; many of its key points still resting in gray. But irrespective of the muddled facts and arguments, it has gripped America in an overwhelming emotional vice. It has shed light on many controversies even past the potentiality of a minority being murdered and justice ignored.
The shooting of Trayvon Martin happened in the midst of an ongoing context pertaining to gun violence in the United States.
Amid several mass shootings in recent years, President Obama and Democrats in Congress have persisted throughout Obama’s second term to pass legislation for gun control. Such propositions include background checks for firearm purchases, regulations on firing capacity and other such efforts to stem gun violence — most of which remain stagnant in Congress. The Zimmerman case is a part of this narrative, but it holds implications for a debate on a plethora of other sticky questions.
The death of Trayvon Martin sparked riotous frustration with the Stand Your Ground Law that exists in Florida. The law justifies shooting another person under alleged fear for one’s life or serious bodily harm — and, under this law, Zimmerman acted legally in shooting Martin, he claims.
The case ignited a feeling of distrust in law enforcement and the legal system. A teenage child shot dead. What could possibly have justified this? And where could empathizers, the affected and the mourning turn to seek closure, if anywhere?
The legal process in the trial of George Zimmerman is the source to which the country turned to seek an appropriate, democratic ending to a killing which leaves nothing to redeem, if only a chance for justice to play out in the American court system. And, as a casual reader of news, the process seemed to simply apparate from Point A (reaction and outrage) to Point B (the trial).
Since my vaguely memorable day at Grand Valley, self-concerned and stewing with writer’s block, I have written now 12 of these articles, delivered hundreds of pizzas to the Grand Haven-area community, experimented with facial hair, and passed a number of interesting and sometimes loathed classes. A lot has changed for me, while the shooting, the investigation, the debate and the trial have seemingly remained static.
To recall and reconnect with that initial period of time when the Zimmerman case erupted into the country’s consciousness is not as easy as I had anticipated, even with hindsight and experience.
A trial by jury has found Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder, due to a lack of evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he shot Martin for any other purpose than self-defense. It is a verdict based on the solidity of what is unknown, rather than one rooted in a particular piece of evidence. To the many who awaited this trial’s conclusion, this is not the decision they had hoped for.
People wanted justice — justice for Trayvon Martin’s family; justice for George Zimmerman; and justice in the context of gun violence, controversial laws and a complicated case.
To those most affected by the shooting, closure is scarce in light of the jury’s decision. A trial is exactly what the people wanted to quell the sadness and outrage. Trial by jury has provided no such tourniquet.
Neither legislation nor protest nor the legal system can heal a tragedy embraced by the nation. A verdict which yields no resolution and no profound answers is a prime example of the how our system requires patience.
Democracy is inefficient. Its effectiveness, its ability to provide people with closure, requires time and all-too-frequent disappointment.
To that end, the Zimmerman trial, and wherever it leads, provides a lesson in suspending hope, and reminds us that the justice system works, but that its purpose is not to provide catharsis.
— By Alexander Sinn, Tribune community columnist