The verdict of the case against George Zimmerman highlights what is wrong with the U.S. justice system.
The state failed to meet the burden of proof necessary to find George Zimmerman guilty in the death of Trayvon Martin in a trial that, by all standards of the current judicial system, was fair.
But the bigger failure was the system’s inability to address racial injustice.
Whether or not race was a conscious factor in Zimmerman’s mind at the time he shot Martin, allegedly in self-defense according to his attorneys, race was very much a part of the case from its onset.
The topic is an uncomfortable one to broach in a society that has supposedly long cleansed itself from systemic discrimination and oppression, and even the public defenders representing Martin were quick to wash their hands of the subject, saying the case was “never about race.”
Many across the country have pointed out that the role of race is irrational and irrelevant. But race is highly relevant and cannot be ignored, simply because of the fact that this long hushed conversation is not something outside the realm of possibility and carries deep-rooted hurt for communities across the country.
Despite the nation’s gentrified view of the legal system, racism is very much alive in this case and many others. It is prevalent in that, regardless of why he was shot, Martin was followed in the first place because Zimmerman thought the black teenager wearing a hoodie looked suspicious, something society has conditioned us to fear.
Racism is prevalent in that a key witness for the prosecution, Rachel Jeantel, was mocked, criticized and diminished in importance for her appearance, language and other characteristics that black women across the country find themselves having to prove they do not exhibit in order to be embraced by mainstream society.
Racism is prevalent in the uneven application of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” laws. According to a Tampa Bay Times analysis of about 200 such cases, 73 percent of individuals who killed a black person, regardless of their race, were found not guilty, while 59 percent of individuals who killed a white person, regardless of their race, were found not guilty. While this doesn’t imply that the court system values the lives of white people over black people, racism is prevalent in the fact that a greater proportion of crimes where victims of violence are black are unable to meet the burden of proof necessary to find perpetrators guilty of a crime — something statistically indicative of a societal perception of black America and the need to defend oneself from it.
Racism is prevalent in the fact that young black men are more likely to be assumed a threat to one’s sense of safety than young white men, and the court system, by finding Zimmerman not guilty in the death of Martin, has essentially turned its head the other way on racial profiling.
While justice for racism in the death of the 17-year-old unarmed black teenager who was killed in Sanford, Fla. may not have been found in the outcome of the state’s case against the man who shot him, justice will have been found in the process, as long as the dialogue that has been created around race does not disappear.