I think the jury basically got it right. The only real eyewitness to the death of Trayvon Martin was the man who killed him. At no point did I think that the state proved second degree murder. I also never thought they proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he acted recklessly. They had no ability to counter his basic narrative, because there were no other eye-witnesses.
I think the message of this episode is unfortunate. By Florida law, in any violent confrontation ending in a disputed act of lethal self-defense, without eye-witnesses, the advantage goes to the living.
In trying to assess the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, two seemingly conflicting truths emerge for me. The first is that based on the case presented by the state, and based on Florida law, George Zimmerman should not have been convicted of second degree murder or manslaughter. The second is that the killing of Trayvon Martin is a profound injustice.
It is painful to say this: Trayvon Martin is not a miscarriage of American justice, but American justice itself. This is not our system malfunctioning. It is our system working as intended. To expect our juries, our schools, our police to single-handedly correct for this, is to look at the final play in the final minute of the final quarter and wonder why we couldn't come back from twenty-four down.
From Amy Davidson at The New Yorker: What Should Trayvon Martin Have Done?
There is an echo, in what people say Martin should and shouldn’t have done, of what people say to women when bad things happen to them in dark places. Why did you walk that way, why were you out in the rain? Why did you walk in the direction of the man instead of running? Why did you think you had the privilege to go out and get candy for a child? You didn’t; you should have known. It shouldn’t be that way. A woman should be able to walk on a dark street in Florida, or anywhere. That she might not be able to doesn’t make a similar restraint on Martin any more reasonable—one injustice doesn’t vindicate another—and, in a way, only adds to the pain. One of the answers, among the most mortifying, and rightly underlying the rage at the verdict, is that Trayvon Martin wasn’t supposed to act like a man.
He wasn’t quite one, yet. He was a child, who had just turned seventeen. He was learning how to be a man—and he had some reasonable guides in his parents, as we have learned through watching their utter dignity throughout the trial. That night, though, Martin was just guessing.
Finally, from Obama's speech:
You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African- American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African- American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that -- that doesn’t go away.
There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me.
And there are very few African-American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me, at least before I was a senator. There are very few African-Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.
And you know, I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.
Obama is at his best, in my opinion, when speaking on issues like this, as in what I consider his best speech, the one on race and Reverend Wright (PDF).
I was in France when the Zimmerman verdict came in, and at that moment the issue of race was fresh on my mind. I'd had brunch with my friend Michelle, a Chinese American, who has been living in Paris for a few years. She noted that a strain of anti-immigrant sentiment had been running through the city and country for some time, and she often had to make clear that she was an American and not an immigrant from China as the Chinese were among the target immigrant groups for such French resentment. An exception, she said, was being or seeming Japanese.
Her words echoed in my head later that day when my friends and I were strolling near the Louvre. Three of the four of us were Chinese American. A guy walking past us about a hundred feet away shouted an epithet in our direction. I looked over my shoulder, uncertain who it was directed at, and the guy made eye contact with me. This time he paired the insult with an unmistakeable hand gesture, a couple sharp jabs of his index finger directed at my face.
This is not to condemn France or Paris based on the actions of one ignorant guy as we had an otherwise amazing time all throughout the country. But it was a vivid reminder of anti-immigrant sentiments that are prevalent in many countries throughout the world, and of how in many more places in the world than the ones I typically move in that race is one of the most powerful shapers of one's context that exists.
We are still far from a race-blind world, and how tragic it must be to to be in a double bind in which one of your choices is to deny who you are.