Among other things, the murder trial of George Zimmerman offered a glimpse of the world the National Rife Association envisions, a world in which, to paraphrase only slightly, "good guys with guns" are out there stopping bad guys, with or without guns. Do you want to live like that? Would you embrace that world if you were the parent of a black teenager?
Mr. Zimmerman, 29, was found not guilty on Saturday in the Feb. 26, 2012, shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager. Mr. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, claimed self-defense after the teen knocked him down, punched him and repeatedly slammed his head against the sidewalk. The six-women jury, which deliberated for more than 16 hours, essentially agreed that Mr. Zimmerman could have been justified in shooting Mr. Martin because he feared serious injury or death.
Mr. Zimmerman might have been losing the fight at that point — there were no direct witnesses — and felt the need to reach for the courage in his waistband. The prosecution had to make a difficult circumstantial case because it wasn't clear who started the fight or who was calling for help. The jury apparently didn't credit the testimony of Mr. Martin's friend Rachel Jeantel, who was on the phone with him and said she heard him say "get off," though it is not clear why.
A Self-Appointed Cop
What is clear is that Mr. Zimmerman racially profiled Mr. Martin — decided he was suspicious because he was a young black man in a hoodie — and followed him against the advice of police dispatchers, initiated the confrontation and killed him. Mr. Zimmerman simply shouldn't get away with this. The U.S. Justice Department should review the case for a possible civil rights action against him, and the family should consider a civil suit.
And we as a society should not live this way, with self-appointed vigilantes, wannabe cops, roaming around with guns deciding who is a "punk," as Mr. Zimmerman put it, and who deserves to be shot. This is crazy, and it's what wrong with the simplistic "good guy, bad guy" NRA view of the world. If the good guys aren't educated, trained and sworn police officers with strict guidelines for the use of deadly force, if the good guys with guns are self-selected, nobody is going to be safe. But then, the NRA vision is really about selling more guns.
A Waste of Time?
As with the O.J. Simpson murder trial and some other high-profile acquittals, the second-guessing began right after verdict was announced. Many said the prosecution erred in bringing a second-degree murder charge, some criticized the prosecution's preparation and the police work, others questioned whether the case should have been brought at all.
Yes, it should have been brought. Mr. Zimmerman started an incident that ended in his taking the life of an unarmed teen. He should have to account for that.
The case became a cause celebre for civil rights activists concerned about racial profiling, a subject not allowed in the courtroom. It's tragic that it takes the death of a 17-year-old, and a high-profile trial, to get the country to talk about race. We have a black president and blacks breaking boundaries in other areas, but this case should remind us that we have a ways to go to create a society based on content of character rather than color of skin.
Would that the young black and Latino men killed on the streets of Hartford and New Haven received even a fraction of the attention this case engendered. The problem isn't confined to Sanford, Fla.