It was a case that captured the attention of the American public from the day George Zimmerman pulled the trigger and shot Trayvon Martin last February up until the verdict came down as ‘not guilty’ in the Florida courtroom. It was a case that divided the public and brought the law and the justice system into question.
One side felt a boy was shot in cold blood with no repercussions, the other saw a man kill to defend his life. Regardless of personal opinion, the case was the most prominent in recent history, touching many Americans, including President Obama.
After several days of silence following the case’s verdict exonerating Zimmerman of guilt, Obama weighed in with his opinions and questions about Florida’s stand your ground laws.
He asked what kind of message is sent when a law states that someone who is armed “has the right to use those firearms even if there is a way for them to exit from a situation.” Adding that state and local laws, such as Florida’s ‘stand your ground’ law, need to be given a closer look.
However, possibly one of Obama’s more memorable quotes came when he said Trayvon could have been him 35 years ago. Implying that what happened to Martin could have happened to African American youth regardless of their upbringing.
While this case has been decided, it does not rule out working to ensure the laws and justice system represent a fair and equal balance for all races and ethnicities.
The most recent data from 2008 found that the homicide victimization for African Americans was six times higher than the rate for whites. At that same time, offending homicide rates for blacks was seven times higher than the rate for whites. What explains African Americans being on the high side of both victims and offenders? What is happening in the cultural fabric of the United States that perpetuates this experience? Some would contend the answer is racism—racism, discrimination, and bias across three important systems: social, economic and justice.
However, shockingly enough, both the victimization and offending rates on the part of blacks are substantially lower than in the 1990’s when homicides rates peaked, and overall, have continued on a downward dive the past 35 years.
Although, it appears that the overall trend is going in the right direction, it is also obvious work still needs to be done to ensure equality in the justice system. For Trayvon Martin, perhaps that equality wasn’t developed soon enough. And for George Zimmerman, maybe the stand-your-ground law doesn’t fulfill its intended purpose; what will be the lasting effects of this shooting on his emotional, and psychological well being for the rest of his life? In other words, where is there a winner in this situation?