EDITORIAL: With trial over, it’s what we do now that matters

Jul. 16, 2013 @ 08:11 PM

It happened in Sanford, Fla., but it could have been anywhere — including a city of the same name 550 miles to the north.

An armed man pursued a youth he determined to be suspicious. An altercation ensued, and although many of the details remain in debate, the outcome is certain — a 17-year-old boy’s life was cut senselessly short, and another man’s life was irrevocably altered.

The shooting death of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman is an undisputed tragedy for all involved, and for our nation as a whole. The jury may have rendered its “not guilty” verdict Saturday, but the fallout from Martin’s untimely death will continue well into the future.

This case forced us to ask some uncomfortable questions of ourselves and about our society: How far have we really come in the realm of race relations? What are the parameters of self defense? What if this were my child?

There is no returning to Feb. 26, 2012, and stopping this fatal, very preventable, confrontation. But in the aftermath, we can learn, we can grow, and we can perhaps save lives in the future — if we so choose. Rather than dwelling on the minutiae of one highly publicized case, we can ask ourselves what it will take to ensure that two regular citizens, who are abiding by the law until their paths cross, have nothing to fear from each other.

Whatever one’s beliefs about the prevalence of racism in modern America, it’s nearly impossible to separate it from discussion of the Zimmerman trial or other recent happenings. Paula Deen fell from grace for admittedly having used racial epithets. Many argue that Martin’s only crime was being a young, black boy wearing a hoodie.

A jury determined that George Zimmerman’s actions did not constitute murder, or even manslaughter, and it’s no wonder that such a large segment of the population is dissatisfied — make that angry. A young man with his whole life before him is dead, and the person who pulled the trigger walked out of the courtroom a free man.

Legally, a host of unanswered questions may have left Zimmerman’s guilt in doubt, and the jury could reach no other conclusion than acquittal. Morally, something feels very wrong.

Perhaps even more to blame than Zimmerman is a culture in which racism is socially taboo but silently tolerated. Even more worthy of censure is the attitude that violence and aggression are appropriate responses to that which we don’t understand.    

Neither Zimmerman’s nor Martin’s behavior that night is beyond reproach. The takeaway from this whole, sad business is that everyone, if we’re being honest, harbors biases and prejudices and preconceived notions — which can reach a boiling point in the heat of a single moment.

Here in the “other” Sanford, an organization named One by One tries to combat racism through “frank and open discussion,” which is an infinitely better salve for our country’s social ills than rioting and retaliation. Those who were moved by this trial would better serve their cause by being more willing to listen, less quick to dismiss other viewpoints and more focused on systemic changes than this particular verdict 

It’s true, none of us were there — and we have the power to ensure that no one ever will be again.