Published Saturday, July 20, 2013 in Lafayette Journal & Courier
By Clyde Hughes
I will be right up front. I was profoundly disappointed when a
Florida jury found George Zimmerman not guilty of second degree murder
and manslaughter in the death of Trayvon Martin last week.
It would be all too easy to endlessly relitigate the case. I found the result stunning, but hardly unexpected.
The challenge for everyone, regardless how you feel about the verdict, is: Where do we go from here?
truth of the matter is that Zimmerman’s fate was decided in the Florida
legislature long before he fired that shot into Martin’s chest, because
“stand your ground” laws protected him. Doesn’t anyone find it strange
that even though the defense did not claim the law, it still was
mentioned in deliberations, according to one juror?
fact, Zimmerman’s fate was decided during jury selection, with a group
that could not connect with a witness such as Rachel Jeantel, Martin’s
friend, even though her testimony was critical — vital, actually — in
the prosecution’s case.
are angry over the verdict. I saw a graphic on CNN Tuesday that listed
100 Trayvon Martin rallies scheduled that day alone. “Stand your ground”
laws are flawed pieces of legislation that give a person with a weapon
the ultimate power against anyone they deem as threatening to them. The
law, though, misses the most basic question — when is a person
reasonably in fear of their life?
in fear of your life is such a subjective phrase that it seems
incredible that it ended up in serious legislation from which the guilt
or innocence of a person can be determined. But six jurors in the George
Zimmerman trial were left with that ambiguous determination.
the end, with the absence of a way to define reasonable fear of life,
the six jurors gave Zimmerman the benefit of the doubt and allowed him
to walk free. This happened even with no evidence introduced beyond
Zimmerman’s own words that Martin started the fight. Nothing.
if all of these rallies, protests and boycotts do nothing to dismantle,
or at the very least dramatically improve, such laws, all these calls
for justice for Martin will end up falling empty, flat and hollow.
Don’t get me wrong. There is plenty to be angry about. Even
Zimmerman’s attorney Mark O’Mara concedes that the justice system is
skewered against most African-American males and deserves a serious
national conversation. Why can’t this be that time?
can’t these 100 rallies focus on fundamentally cleaning up “stand your
ground” laws by not allowing people who pursue a suspect and then use
self-defense as a claim? Why not change jury selections that would allow
change of venues on either social or class grounds to ensure an actual
and true jury of peers?
you may think. I find it radical that a teenager coming home with candy
and a drink can be profiled, confronted and killed before he reached
his front door, and the person who pulled the trigger walks away without
even a parking ticket.
if all the energy and angst over the Zimmerman verdict does not turn
into conversation and action, the next Trayvon Martin shooting will
happen sooner than you think, and everyone will be back in the same
important to engage law enforcement, engage public officials and engage
community leaders today and without delay. If you think “stand your
ground” laws have nothing to do with politics, you are foolishly wrong.
you really care about Trayvon Martin, you will not miss the next time
you have a chance to cast a vote. You will not miss the next time to
become involved when such laws are up for consideration in localities
and state legislatures.
bottom line is if you really care about the verdict in this case, your
actions will not end with a rally, but begin with taking action to
bring about change.
Hughes is a member of the Greater Lafayette Commerce’s Diversity Roundtable.