Although completely disheartened by the verdict of acquittal in the Trayvon Martin trial, as a lawyer who is very familiar with the criminal justice system, unfortunately I am not surprised.
First off, let me start by saying that I personally believe that George Zimmeran is guilty of murder, or at minimum of manslaughter based upon my close following of the case since it began. However, I understand that my personal beliefs are irrelevant when it comes to our country’s justice system.
After reading so many tweets, facebook posts, and many conversations, I now understand that many of you are very confused about HOW in the world a jury, specifically a jury of all women, some who are mothers, can possibly justify their verdict of “not guilty.” So, I wanted to write a very brief and basic explanation so that you can at least have a better understanding and won’t feel so “in the dark” about the whole situation:
The justice system:
We live in a country where you are deemed Innocent unless and until proven guilty. That means, unless the PROSECUTION can PROVE that you are guilty, then you are deemed innocent by the system (the court). This means that the burden is on the state (the prosecutors) to prove that you are guilty. You do not have to prove that you are innocent. In order to prove that someone is guilty, the evidence of the case must show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the person is guilty. This means that no other logical explanation can be derived from the facts (the evidence) except that the defendant did committed the crime. If the jurors have no doubt as to the defendant’s guilt, or if their only doubts are unreasonable, then the prosecutor has proven the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If there is ANY reasonable doubt, the defendant must be acquitted.
Now, many of us believe that Zimmerman stalked this teenager, confronted him, and killed him. There is no doubt in our minds about this. However, as previously mentioned, our beliefs don’t matter. The only thing that matters in the justice system is what can be proven, and again, that proof must overcome any reasonable doubts.
The problem with this case, is that for many reasons, the prosecutors were unable to (or failed to) prove, beyond a reasonable doubt that George Zimmerman was in fact guilty. Zimmerman claimed he killed in self-defense. In order to overcome that defense, the prosecution had the burden of proving (showing by the evidence) that it was not logical that Zimmerman killed in self defense, but that he killed maliciously. One problem with proving so is the fact that NO ONE else was physically present to witness the killing; the case was based upon circumstantial evidence, and “he said, she said”, based on Zimmerman’s story and some of the witnesses’ assumptions or what they thought happened. Another factor is how prepared or nervous the witnesses were and the presentation of the case. The witnesses all testified to what they believe happened. However, it was not shown beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman maliciously killed Trayvon, whether we know and believe it or not. Based upon what was presented during the trial, there were just too many elements missing in the courtroom that were vital to prove what we know and believe.
The jury’s job is to base their decision SOLELY from the evidence of the case that is presented in the courtroom, during trial. Jurors are not supposed to base their decision off of personal feelings or beliefs and they are instructed not to do so. With that being said, I am a mother of 3 children, 2 who are boys. I cannot imagine sitting on a jury, where ANY child was killed under these same circumstances, and not finding the defendant guilty. However, I am a black woman. Why does that matter? It matters because in many cultures (not all) people (specifically women) are taught to fear black men. Black men are majorily dominant in stature, much larger than most women, and viewed as angry, dangerous, violent, and much more. Bad decisions of a few men who happen to be black become the stereotype of all black men for some people. Because of this stereotype, black men are racially profiled on a daily basis by many other cultures. As a result, those of another race may pass a black man and intuitively feel as though he or she needs to “be careful” or otherwise feel a bit uncomfortable. Not because they are racist, but because this is their perception based upon what was taught. And black people are not the only ones who experience this. Those who resemble Arab or other Middle Eastern terrorists of our time are similarly stereotyped every day. Is this okay? Absolutely not, but is this reality? Yes it is.
So, considering the fact that not one woman on the jury was black, although she may have had sons, her sons don’t fall into the same category as Trayvon, because Trayvon is black. It’s not easy for her to imagine her son being angry or violent like she likely imagined Trayvon, based on Zimmerman’s defense. It’s easier for her to picture Trayvon as this angry, dangerous, and violent teenager, than Zimmerman as the wannabe cop who was seeking to stop the “thug” from getting away. And the fact that doubt existed in the Prosecution’s case, made it even easier for her to justify her stereotype in her mind, rather than what we believe or know to be true.