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George Zimmerman verdict should not divide racial lines

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It was October 1995 and my senior year in high school was just underway. I was on my way to 7th period anatomy class, when my teacher stopped me in the hallway.

 

“We’re going to see history today,” he said. “Don’t even bring your books.”

 

Mr. Kornak of course, was referring to the verdict in the O.J. Simpson trial, which was to be announced right around the time class started. The “Trial of the Century” (as the media billed it) stretched through parts of three of my four years in school, and now it was finally coming to an end.

 

Well, the time had come, and unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last 18 years, you know what the verdict was.

 

Although I attended a predominately white high school, I can vividly recall a bit of racial tension in the aftermath of Simpson’s acquittal as my teacher and classmates talked about the last 15 months of the trial in an open discussion. Whether Simpson committed those murders or not, everybody had an opinion on it. And regardless of whoever was making these assessments, the topic eventually focused on race- nationwide as well as in the classroom.

 

As the verdict in the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin trial was read Saturday night, I couldn’t help but think about that afternoon in 1995. The outrage that permeated Facebook after the recent verdict ranged from educated opinions to angry and emotional outbursts. While my white Facebook friends’ reactions ranged from angry to dumbfounded to even satisfied, I couldn’t help but notice that the majority of my black friends had no ambivalence in regards to the trial outcome- many were simply incensed. One even went as far as to declare that it’s “open season on them in America.” The “them” meaning “black boys”- as they emphasized earlier in their post. Zimmerman photo: newsbusters.org

 

There’s no need to rehash the entire ordeal in detail. In the end, a 17-year old boy died, and the man who claims he shot him in self-defense was acquitted by a jury. But before anybody (of ANY race) comes to the conclusions they come to regarding this matter, there are several factors to consider here before anyone marches in protest or starts rioting in the streets.

 

Trayvon Martin didn’t deserve to die. Was he simply at the wrong place at the wrong time? I can’t answer that- and neither can anybody else. There were a lot more factors that will forever be unknown and undetermined regarding the details of last year’s shooting. Zimmerman offered that Martin might have been under the influence of marijuana when he encountered him, which could have possibly prompted Martin to act in a different manner than he would have towards Zimmerman if not under the influence. There were traces of marijuana in Martin’s system at the time of his death.

 

Moreover, texts from Martin’s phone contained information that he had recently been involved in several fights. This could be completely unrelated to the blood on Zimmerman’s nose and lips at the time of the shooting, but it could also prove the notion that Trayvon Martin was no stranger to confrontation, and that Zimmerman shot him in self-defense. Yes, Martin was unarmed, but fearing for your life (in Zimmerman's case) can put your mindset in a whole other realm. The same could be said for Martin.

 

It also raises the question as to why Zimmerman had to carry a gun while making neighborhood rounds in a tiny gated community, why he profiled Martin and allegedly ignored a police officer’s dispatch warning him to not pursue Martin. This will almost surely make lawmakers revisit the implications of the Stand Your Ground Law.  

 

Zimmerman doesn’t exactly have a clean track record, either.  In 2005, his ex-fiancee filed a civil motion for a restraining order alleging domestic violence and he also tussled with a police officer as well at some point that year.  

 

At the same time, O.J. Simpson’s image was not exactly squeaky clean if you dug into his background. The prosecution attempted to use this against Simpson as his trial began. Did this automatically qualify him as a murderer?

 

Despite the claims that Zimmerman was a racist, keep in mind Zimmerman is of mixed race himself. Moreover, there were multiple burglaries in that Florida neighborhood in the last year and a half at the time of the Martin shooting. So whether Martin was white, black or purple, it could be understandable why Zimmerman was suspicious of anybody that looked unfamiliar around his neighborhood. Is it that simple to suggest that Martin would still be alive today if Zimmerman reportedly ignored the requests of the police and stayed in his car? Maybe it is, but more than anything, the media made this case a race issue. There are white and black gangbangers who blow each other’s heads off at the drop of a hat all the time in the ghettos of America, but you rarely hear about any of these acts of violence taking place. This case was media sensationalism at its finest.Protest photo: AP Photo/seattlepi.com, Joshua Trujillo

 

I can understand people’s outrage in thinking that Zimmerman’s acquittal means nobody was held accountable for Martin’s death. There are some things in life you just can’t answer, and there is a good possibility that Martin’s parents will never get the closure they need. It’s too early to tell. No matter what happens down the line, nobody won here. Not George Zimmerman or the family of Trayvon Martin. Don’t think just because he is a free man that Zimmerman will be able to walk the streets without looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life. He is already in seclusion. This alone could be worse punishment than any kind of incarceration.

 

Before the hate mail comes in, let me make this clear that I’m not taking either side in this issue no matter how it looks. I’m simply stating the facts as well as the possibilities. People can come to their own conclusions about this and make their own “educated” decisions, but the bottom line is this: While the judicial system is far from perfect, the jury deliberated and found no evidence to suggest that Zimmerman murdered Martin in cold blood with a reasonable intent to kill.

 

Only two people really know what happened that night in Florida and one of them is no longer alive to speak about it. The whole ordeal is senseless. We weren’t there. We don’t know the whole story and we never will. Trayvon Martin will never grow up, go to college or experience life. A mother and father lost a son, and nobody’s lives will ever be the same.

 

There’s nothing anybody can do to change that, and that’s the worst part of it all. I don’t know if it will ever be possible, but instead of fighting each other, let’s try to possibly find a way to help prevent an incident like this from happening again.

 

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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Zimmerman photo: newsbusters.org 

Protest photo: AP Photo/seattlepi.com, Joshua Trujillo