George Zimmerman was found not guilty of second degree murder and manslaughter on the killing of the black teenager Trayvon Martin a year ago. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer shot Trayvon Martin, 17, who was unarmed. He was after the boy because he found him “suspicious”. After the shooting, he said it was in self-defense because the boy who only had on him a can of soda and some candies, fought with him, hurt him and put his life in danger, so he shot him in the heart. There were no direct witnesses.
Zimmerman wasn’t even arrested immediately after the shooting because of the “stand-your-ground” law of Florida. The self-defense laws in Florida states that a person may justifiably use lethal force in self-defense in certain situations, when there is reasonable belief of an unlawful threat, without an obligation to retreat first. Only the popular and civil rights groups protests that gave notoriety to the case made the Florida authorities made the authorities arrest him six weeks after.
The law’s critics argue that Florida’s law makes it very difficult to prosecute cases against people who shoot others and then claim self-defense. The shooter can argue that he felt threatened, and in most cases, the only witness who could have argued otherwise is the victim who was shot and killed.
This was the case of Trayvon Martin. Because there were no witnesses we only know Zimmerman’s version of what happened when he decided to go after the teenager. And we will never know what Trayvon would have to say about that fatal night because he is dead.
Something is wrong when a law gives protection and the benefit of the doubt to a person who kills another person even when the killer can avoid the confrontation. It gives too much power to gun owners to use their weapons against other people and then claim self-defense. If there are not witnesses, they may get free no matter the circumstances.
When Trayvon Martin was killed there was a big national debate about why was he considered suspicious by the watch volunteer who killed him and about race profiling, because the teenager had no criminal records, had no weapons and was going back to the house of his girlfriend after buying some snacks. The only reasons the watcher profiled him was because he was wearing a hoodie (it was raining), and was not known in the neighborhood. Zimmerman was advised by his supervisor to let the boy go, but he decided go after him anyway with the fatal result we all know.
The news of the acquittal of Zimmerman of all accounts on Trayvon Martin’s killing prompted protests and vigils in several cities in the US and an intense traffic on the social media. Some pointed to the fact that now that Zimmerman is a free man he will have his gun back. Others called for rallies in protest, or asked watchers and police to don’t shoot them if they are in a hoodie walking wherever they want. Others show their agreement with the civil rights organization NAACP calling on the Department of Justice to file civil rights charges against Zimmerman. There were also some (less) celebrating the verdict.
President Obama, who already involved himself in behalf of Trayvon Martin when he was killed saying that if he had a son he would look like Trayvon, issued a statement asking for calm and against gun violence:
“The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America. I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken.
I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son. And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities.
We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin,” he said.
United States Department of Justice