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The Zimmerman verdict



The not-guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial wasn't a surprise, at least not to me. I hadn't expected anything else. Proving beyond reasonable doubt that Zimmerman didn't act in self-defense seemed a steep climb.

Was Trayvon Martin beating Zimmerman, beating him so severely that Zimmerman was afraid for his life? Zimmerman said he was. Trayvon couldn't give his side of the story, and there were no witnesses aside from Zimmerman.

Who started that altercation? Zimmerman said it was Trayvon, and Trayvon couldn't give his side of the story.

Who was heard screaming for help? When did Zimmerman pull out his gun? Did Zimmerman set out to hurt Trayvon? We have only Zimmerman's word to go on. Trayvon couldn't give his side of the story.

And during the trial, did the prosecutors do the best job they could? Did they have the best expert witnesses they could find?

The trial ended with a lot of unanswered questions. But one thing is not in doubt: as Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old boy, walked down a street in a Sanford, Florida, neighborhood after buying snacks at a 7-Eleven, a private citizen decided he looked suspicious, followed him, and after a struggle with him, shot and killed him.

That should not have happened. And it did not have to.

And here are a few other things that are not in doubt:

1) The verdict sets a terrible precedent, making it likely that Stand Your Ground laws like Florida's will lead to more tragedies.

2) This tragedy would not have happened had Zimmerman not been carrying a gun. Trayvon Martin was minding his own business, walking in a neighborhood in which he had every right to be. Given that Zimmerman thought he was suspicious, he certainly would never have followed him had the gun he carried not given him a sense of security.

3) It may have been hard to prove Zimmerman guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but it is too big a stretch to say that race played no role, in Trayvon's death and in the trial, where the jury included no African Americans. The uncomfortable truth is that race colors our thinking about one another. And people of color are paying the price. We cannot consider Trayvon's death without taking race into account.

It's also too big a stretch to think that Zimmerman would have thought Trayvon was suspicious if Trayvon were white. Zimmerman's suspicion and Trayvon's death were not anomalies.

A slide show on has photos of unarmed black teenagers and men killed because somebody thought they were acting suspicious. Stories of black men and boys - minding their own business, like Trayvon - being stopped and questioned by police are common. Many black parents say they train their sons about how to act if police stop and question them.

And many black parents are terrified that what happened to Trayvon will happen to their own sons. Shortly after Trayvon's death, the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson referred to "the bull's-eye that black men wear throughout their lives - and the vital imperative to never, ever, be caught on the wrong street at the wrong time."

Early this week, Post columnist Robert Samuels recalled Michelle Obama saying that "her husband, as a black man, could be shot and killed indiscriminately at any time -- so she needn't worry greatly about attempts to assassinate the man who would be the first black president."

White Americans do not experience this.

"Though Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' law contributed significantly to Zimmerman's acquittal," Roxane Gay wrote on, "the root of the problem reaches far deeper and stretches all across these United States. We must forget the convenient narrative that racism only thrives in the South. Racism is an American problem."

Racism continues to eat away at the fabric of this country. It flourishes, in Rochester as well as in Sanford, Florida. And the George Zimmerman trial won't be the last time we'll try to pretend that racism wasn't a factor in a tragic death.

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