posted 2012-04-25 22:55:54

Justice by Jury for Trayvon

Zimmerman charged - now what?

Salim Westvind

Opinion Editor

After weeks of speculation that saw protests all over the United States, George Zimmerman has finally been charged for the death of Trayvon Martin. I’m sure everyone is familiar with the case, so I won’t bore you with a summary. But it is important to recognize that this saga is not yet over. Indeed, how we as a nation compose ourselves from now on will be an important reflection of our commitment to justice and peace. We must take stock of our laws and our legal system, and decide where changes should be made. And though many of us have preconceptions regarding the guilt of one party or another, the fact remains that all Americans have a right to a trial by a jury of their peers. As Americans, we have an obligation to abide by that ruling, whatever it may be.

Without delving into the specifics, what we do know about that night is simple: George Zimmerman called police to report a suspicious person, and began to follow him. The police dispatcher advised him not to continue. Shortly afterwards, screams were heard (exactly whose remains unknown) and a single gunshot was fired, killing Trayvon. Trayvon was unarmed, and Zimmerman waited for police to arrive. Those are some of the few indisputable facts we know.

What was most disheartening to me was not that Zimmerman was not charged right away—the facts were unclear, and under the American legal system, the accused is innocent until proven guilty. But I was shocked that there was no investigation that night: the local Florida police department instead appeared to take Zimmerman largely on his word. True, he was cuffed, and brought to the police station, but there was no formal crime scene investigation by homicide detectives that night. True, I may have watched one too many episodes of CSI in thinking that would have made a difference, but it might have. The fact is, any time there is a largely unwitnessed shooting death, a full investigation should be conducted—one side of the story (the side that fired) just doesn’t cut it.

But now that Zimmerman has been charged, with second-degree murder, we must put our faith in the justice system. If Zimmerman is ultimately convicted, so be it. And if he is acquitted, we must also accept that verdict.

I recognize that justice does not always prevail in jury trials as we would like it to—the Rodney King trial comes to mind. But beyond the simple similarity of alleged racism, there are too many differences to compare the two fairly. There is no videotape of this incident. There is no victim to present a counter-narrative. If there is enough evidence to convict Zimmerman, we must trust that he will be convicted.

Though I personally don’t believe his story, it may well be true: Zimmerman may have fired in self-defense. It is within the range of possibility. But the point is that it doesn’t matter what I think, or what you think. What matters is what can be proven to a jury without a reasonable doubt.

In the meantime, we should focus on the laws that allowed Zimmerman to walk around armed with a loaded gun. We should question Florida’s so-called stand your ground laws. We should discuss the power of the National Rifle Association in this country, and what it means for our democracy. And we should use this as an opportunity to have a conversation about race and racism in this county, and dispel the myth of a post-racial America. If we do these things, at least some good will come of this tragedy.