On the Killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman

I interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to offer some thoughts on the verdict of innocent for George Zimmerman:

1) Last year—after Zimmerman was arrested—I wrote something hoping that he would be convicted. A commenter wrote in to object, saying that arguing for his arrest was justifiable. Arguing for his conviction was not. I acknowledged the point at the time. The wisdom of it seems even more appropriate today.
 
2) I think the jury basically got it right. The only real eyewitness to the death of Trayvon Martin was the man who killed him. At no point did I think that the state proved second degree murder. I also never thought they proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he acted recklessly. They had no ability to counter his basic narrative, because there were no other eyewitnesses.
 
3) The idea that Zimmerman got out of the car to check the street signs and was ambushed by a 17-year old kid with no violent history, who told him "you're going to die tonight," strikes me as very implausible.  It strikes me as much more plausible that Martin was being followed by a strange person, that the following resulted in a confrontation, that Martin was getting the best of Zimmerman in the confrontation, and that Zimmerman then shot him.  But I didn't see the confrontation. No one else really saw the confrontation. Except George Zimmerman. I'm not even clear that situation I outlined would result in conviction.
 
4) I think Andrew Cohen is right—trials don't work as strict "moral surrogates." Not everything that is immoral is illegal—nor should it be. I want to live in a society that presumes innocence. I want to live in that society even when I feel that a person should be punished. 
 
5) I think you should read everything my friend Jelani Cobb has written about this case.
 
6) I think the message of this episode is unfortunate. By Florida law, in any violent confrontation ending in a disputed act of lethal self-defense, without eye-witnesses, the advantage goes to the living. 
 
An intelligent, self-interested observer of this case, who happens to live in Florida, would not be wrong to do as George Zimmerman did—buy a gun, master the finer points of Florida self-defense law, and then wait. 
 
7) Circling back to the first point, it's worth remembering that what caused a national outcry was not the possibility of George Zimmerman being found innocent, but that there would be no trial at all.  This case was really unique because of what happened with the Sanford police. If you doubt this, ask yourself if you know the name "Jordan Davis." Then ask yourself how many protests and national media reports you've seen about him. 

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus