No one can see into the mind of George Zimmerman. A lot of the people disappointed in the not guilty verdict in his trial believe that he went out hunting someone, just like Bernard Goetz did in the New York subway system almost 30 years ago. But they’ll never be able to prove it.
In the same way, the district attorney was unable to prove that George Zimmerman committed either murder or manslaughter the night he shot Trayvon Martin. Six honest citizens weighed the evidence and found that there was reasonable doubt that Zimmerman committed a crime. Some are saying the judicial system failed in the George Zimmerman case, but they’re wrong. It worked just fine. Both sides presented their case and the jury deliberated a reasonable length of time. Both the prosecutor and the defense team employed a lot of resources—would that every defendant could have access to such topnotch legal services. The judicial system worked just fine.
What didn’t work and doesn’t work is the law itself. The extension beyond one’s residence of the right to defend person and property that Florida and many other (mostly Southern) states have made is wrong. It’s wrong because it’s based on another bad law: the one that allows private citizens to carry loaded guns in public.
Racism is not directly the issue in the murder of Trayvon Martin either, although as with most issues in America, racism is part of the backdrop, one of the reasons the issue exists. Gun culture is strongest where racism is strongest—that’s just a simple fact. But I’m not going to state or imply that anyone on the jury was racist. Unless shown otherwise in vivid detail, I’m going to believe that the jurors put aside their prejudices and rendered a decision to the best of their abilities.
George Zimmerman—now he’s a different story. I could believe that a hate or fear of African-American young men motivated him to pull the trigger. It might have motivated his desire to become a citizen vigilante. It might have motivated his desire to assert his right to fire under the law, his right to kill another man while still following the law. And it might have motivated him to seek a young black man as his target.
None of it would have mattered if the law were different.
From the start, the tragedy of the murder of Trayvon Martin has been about one thing and one thing only—the need of our society to finally stand up to the gun lobby and outlaw possession of loaded guns in public places.