Friday, July 19, 2013

Was Zimmerman Trial About Race? Absolutely.

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, July 19, 2013
By Bill Gouveia

            The trial of George Zimmerman ended when a jury of his peers returned a verdict of not guilty.  The case is over, Zimmerman has been judged an innocent man, and the system has spoken and must be respected.

            Of course that is much easier for all of us than for the friends and family of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old boy killed by Zimmerman on that fateful night in Florida.  No verdict was going to bring Martin back, and his loss is something those who loved him will feel as long as they live.

            It is impossible to question the jury’s verdict unless you were privy to all the evidence, information and options supplied to them – so I won’t do that.  But there was a lot of talk about whether or not this trial was about race.  That subject is not going away, and there are a lot of legitimate arguments supporting the idea it was.

            Many believe Zimmerman would never have been charged except for the fact Martin was an African-American.  Many others believe Zimmerman would have been easily convicted had he been black and his victim white.  There is no way of knowing if either point of view is more valid than the other.

            But unless you are a young African-American male in this country, it is hard to understand how chilling and frightening this case and this verdict really are.  When all is said and done, Trayvon Martin is dead today for a number of reasons.  Chief among them are he was wearing the wrong kind of clothing in the wrong section of a community, and despite doing nothing illegal drew the attention of a man with a gun who followed him against the advice and direction of police.

            Some facts are undisputed.  Martin was unarmed.  Zimmerman followed him against the expressed wishes of authorities.  A physical altercation occurred between the two.  Zimmerman suffered some injuries.  Martin was killed when Zimmerman fired his lawfully-owned gun into Martin’s heart. 

            Race should not be a factor in any of that – but it was.  And then it became even more so.

            Local authorities initially did not charge anyone in the case, and the federal government got involved.  Eventually Zimmerman was charged after the racial aspects of the situation became nationwide news.  Then a jury of Zimmerman’s peers (not a single one of them African-American) was chosen to decide his guilt or innocence.

            There was a “Million Hoodie March” to support Martin.  Conservatives and others rallied around Zimmerman and tried to disparage the reputation of the slain youth.  And after the verdict, Zimmerman’s defense attorney speculated that if Zimmerman had been black, he never would have been charged in the case.

            Oh yeah – this was as much about race as investigating a violent death.

            Zimmerman’s story was that he killed Martin in self-defense.  He was armed, followed Martin because he thought he looked suspicious, and then killed him because Martin was winning a struggle between the two and he was in fear for his life.  We will never know what Trayvon Martin’s defense of his actions would have been, what version he would have told about how that fatal struggle began.

            So in the end, the verdict of the judicial system was Trayvon Martin was ultimately responsible for his own death.  Or at least, the man who shot him bore no legal responsibility.  The jury said it was not murder, and did not even rise to the level of manslaughter.  Martin simply “approached the wrong guy” as someone recently told me.

            Is the lesson here that it’s not what you are doing but what you look like that can seal your fate?  Had Martin been white and wearing a sports jacket, would George Zimmerman have followed him with a gun and felt threatened?  No one but Zimmerman knows for sure.

            The verdict is being respected.  Sure, there are protests – but with few exceptions they have been peaceful in nature.  Let’s hope they remain that way

            But it cannot be denied that race factored into this terrible tragedy.  If you are young and black, it would be understandable if your belief that if you obey the law our justice system will protect you has all but disappeared.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Did you even read about the case? The neighborhood was mostly African American and other minorities. This isn't a case of being black in a white neighborhood. Clearly Zimmerman did not think he was suspicious because he was black, because that would make most of the neighborhood suspicious.

You never make any argument for where race comes in - you just assert it is a factor. It might make you feel relevant to talk about race, but you should talk about it when it is appropriate, not when it is popular.