Not guilty. Not surprised.
I’ll start by repeating something I said when relating my own experiences as a juror: if you didn’t hear the case yourself then you don’t have all the information the jurors had. Anything said about the Zimmerman trial, or any trial, has to be taken in that light.
Trayvon Martin’s death was a senseless tragedy by any account. It shouldn’t have to be said that the kid didn’t even remotely deserve to get killed. From what I’ve heard of it Zimmermann’s account of events doesn’t hold up. It comes off to me as a post hoc contrivance meant to portray Martin as the aggressor. I don’t buy that; it makes no sense to me that Martin would go after Zimmerman after Zimmerman had stopped following him. Nor do I find it likely that a lone black teenager, even a gangbanger which Martin assuredly was not, would instigate a fight with a white man in a uniform. Gangbangers might do so with a numerical advantage, maybe, but not alone on a dark street.
There were enough witnesses and evidence to create reasonable doubt. I knew that as soon as details stated coming out and thus wasn’t surprised by the verdict. I very much doubt race has anything to do with the jury’s deliberations. Nor do I think it played much of a part in the shooting itself. Zimmerman comes off to me as the kind of guy who wanted to be a cop so he could hit people in the face without going to jail. I expect he’d have shot Martin regardless of the kid’s race. I wouldn’t be surprised if it played a part in the police’s handling of the case though. I think it’s very possible that the cops just saw “black hoodlum shoot by white neighborhood watchman” and were all too ready to blow it off. Personally if find it, if I dare use this word on the internet, inconceivable that the police would not try to file charges in any shooting no matter how open and shut a case of self defense it may appear. I’m an advocate of gun ownership and self defense but I still think if you shoot someone there should be an inquiry. Your case should at least go to a grand jury. If that had been done here I think a lot of the public outcry would have been avoided.
As much as I am an advocate of self defense and despite the fact that they were not directly invoked in this case I think it’s clear that the “stand your ground” laws, in Florida and everywhere else, need to go away. I appreciate the sentiment behind them. It is clearly not fair that the honest citizen should have to yield ground to the criminal. But life is not fair and these laws produce cases that police and prosecutors, never mind juries, can’t make heads or tails of. There are also allegations that these laws are applied in a biased manner, though that is still in dispute. Nevertheless I think it is clear that a just society needs to limit the use of deadly force to the most egregious of circumstances, the old standard of “reasonable fear of imminent and inescapable loss of life or limb”. Sadly the various talking heads are saying this won’t happen any time soon, largely because the people responsible for those laws are still in office and won’t admit their mistake. Nevertheless pressure should be maintained to eliminate these laws or, failing that, to limit and clarify them. (On the other hand, I’m told that my state of New Jersey is insane in the other direction and has no legal concept of self defense. I’m not happy about that, either.)
We’ve had the usual accusations that the prosecution was incompetent, which seem to come crawling out of the woodwork every time someone the public thinks is “obviously” guilty doesn’t get convicted. In this case I do think they made a big tactical error by putting recordings of Zimmerman’s statements into evidence. Even the defense attorney has said this meant he didn’t have to put Zimmerman on the stand. A good cross examination might have broken Zimmerman’s story. Other than that I just don’t think the prosecution had anything to work with. I said above that the case should have gone to a grand jury in the first place, but I also think a grand jury would have refused to indict.
And, of course, we have the usual cries of “blame the gun” like this one. Complete with the pro forma claims of “I support responsible gun ownership” which doesn’t even begin to define what the speaker means by that, when it’s pretty clear that to them “responsible gun ownership” means no one should have one. A gun did not kill Trayvon Martin; George Zimmerman did. We as a society need to stop blaming inanimate objects for our problems.
As I’ve been writing this belated response to the trial, Zimmerman has been in the news again. He was credited with helping a family get out of a crashed car, though there have been questions as to how legitimate that was. (As noted in the linked article, there’s not a lot of meat on this bone so be wary.) He was also reportedly stopped by a traffic officer in Texas and replied in the affirmative when asked if he had a firearm. I think it’s likely that Zimmerman hasn’t learned much from his experiences.
Finally, while I could certainly understand it if Martin’s parents decided they’d had enough of all this and just wanted to move on, I do hope they proceed with a civil suit that leaves Zimmerman broke for the rest of his life. Zimmerman may not be criminally liable for Martin’s death but as I see it he is absolutely liable for Martin’s wrongful death. Why is Martin dead? Because Zimmerman shot him. Why did Zimmerman shoot him? Because they got into a fight. Why did they get into a fight? Because Zimmerman ignored a police instruction and pursued Martin. Martin’s family should take Zimmerman’s assets and leave him saddled with a outstanding judgement he’ll be paying for the rest of his life. As justice goes that would be pretty thin soup but it’s all Trayvon Martin will get.