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July 17, 2013

After trial, search for justice continues

“Justice for Trayvon Martin” has been the rallying cry for advocates of the slain 17-year-old, who was fatally shot by George Zimmerman in 2012. 

In the months after Martin’s death, many had no doubt hoped that justice would be found in a courtroom, when Zimmerman faced a charge of second-degree murder. But on Saturday, a jury of six women returned a verdict of innocent. 

For others — Zimmerman, obviously, among them — this verdict does represent justice. Zimmerman argued that he was acting in self-defense, and the lack of evidence in this case made it hard to prove otherwise. 

An initial lack of action by the Sanford, Fla., police department led to so much public pressure that the district attorney overcompensated, seeking a charge that had little chance of a conviction. Had Zimmerman been charged instead with manslaughter — an option held out to the jury at the last minute, too late to make a difference — it’s likely the outcome would have been different. 

For those of us who still feel uneasy, we are forced to confront the fact that, since we can know so little about what actually happened on the night of Feb. 26, 2012, we must seek justice elsewhere. 

Many issues stirred up by Martin’s death remain unsettled. “This case says so much ... about race, fear, crime, media, gun laws, prosecutorial discretion, minimum mandatory sentences, public trials,” H. Scott Fingerhut of the Florida International University College of Law recently told National Public Radio. 

The fact that Zimmerman is Hispanic and Martin black prompted, first some less-than-wise remarks by commentators such as Geraldo Rivera (who decried Martin’s “thug wear” of a hooded sweatshirt), then some more-thoughtful discussions about racial profiling. 

Then the focus shifted to Florida’s so-called “Stand Your Ground” law, which removes the requirement for retreat before using deadly force in self-defense. 

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