On February 26, 2012, a confrontation between a young, black man and a neighborhood watch group leader sparked one of the largest social controversies the United States had experienced in many years. It was an event that rekindled issues such as racial profiling, civil rights, and ever-debated gun control laws. The altercation that was initially considered by police as an act of self-defense later brought on the activist star power of the likes of Jesse Jackson and Reverend Al Sharpton, and it even garnered attention from President Barack Obama. As widely known as the trial of O.J. Simpson in the mid-90’s, the trial of George Zimmerman in the case of Trayvon Martin’s death is sure to go down as one of the most infamous trials of the 21st century.
The general consensus of the story agrees that Trayvon Martin was walking down the street outside a resort community in Sanford when Mr. Zimmerman passed him by while driving on an errand. That is where the similarities regarding the separate points of view end. Mr. Zimmerman attested that, during a 911 emergency call, he had heeded the advice of the dispatcher and broke off his pursuit of Trayvon Martin, when Martin had allegedly jumped him behind some bushes and began assaulting him. An audio witness who was speaking with Martin on the phone at the time attests quite differently: that Martin was approached by Zimmerman and promptly assaulted in turn. At this point, the guessing game involves whether Martin’s death was due primarily to self-defense or to an issue of racial profiling and bigotry.
While police initially concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence to arrest Zimmerman on grounds of assault, Travyon Martin’s father Tracy pursued the issue further with the help of civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump. The case attention and criticism nationwide, and an Internet petition gathered over 2 million digital signatures that called for Zimmerman’s arrest. State attorney Angela Corey charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder, a move that was criticized by many legal analysts as overreaching, without the arrangement of a grand jury.
While many nationwide viewed this act as racially motivated and thus called for Zimmerman’s conviction after his arrest, there were those within the legal community who fervently believed this case never should have gone to trial. Beyond the prosecution’s challenge of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman meant bodily harm to Martin without provocation, interviews later revealed that the jury did not even give discussion toward whether or not Zimmerman’s actions were motivated by race. Zimmerman was found not guilty after 16 hours of deliberation.
What may have been just as shocking as the event itself was the dichotomy of opinion and involvement that developed from the verdict. Polls suggested that a vast majority of Republicans approved the verdict while a minority number of Democrats agreed. Of those polled, an overwhelming number of African Americans found the shooting unjustified, while a dramatically lower number of Caucasian citizens concurred. As a nationally-involved trial, several political figures, athletes and celebrities voiced their opinions on the jury’s verdict, just as divided as the general public.
There are those who criticize Ms. Corey for her decision to take this case to court, especially without convening a grand jury beforehand. There are those who believe this case was simply one that no prosecuting team could win given the evidence that they were to use. Some believe Corey suffered from intense political pressure, and so charged Zimmerman simply for the sake of deflecting that pressure from her office. Some believe that charging Zimmerman was not serving justice, the primary function of a prosecutor, and that Corey may have just been looking for someone to pin the crime to in light of the situation garnering national attention from the civil rights community and anyone who believed the event was racially motivated. Whatever the case, after Zimmerman’s acquittal, the Justice department closed their own investigation and decided against pressing charges as well.