steffanie rivers

Steffanie Rivers

*They didn’t want to charge George Zimmerman to begin with.

It took everything short of an act of Congress for him to be arrested. Remember, it was only after months of national protests that Zimmerman, the former Neighborhood Watch captain, was charged with killing 17-year old Trayvon Martin as he walked home from the store that night in the rain. Sanford police were content to let Zimmerman walk away then. I’m disappointed, but not surprised in the not guilty verdict now.

Some might say the State of Florida pitched Zimmerman an easy not guilty verdict by doing a less than stellar job presenting what should have been a slam-dunk case. John Guy’s closing statement was okay, but he is no Johnny Cochran. Despite all the evidence against Zimmerman and even if Cochran was a Florida prosecutor and still alive, I doubt it would have made a difference in the verdict.

Apparently the defense team persuaded jurors that Zimmerman shot Martin because Zimmerman was afraid for his life. Apparently it didn’t matter to jurors that Zimmerman was a wannabe cop who, when he couldn’t get hired as a police officer in Virginia or Florida, created his own law enforcement job called Neighborhood Watch; It didn’t matter that he called Sanford police department so much they knew him by name; It didn’t matter to jurors that a police dispatcher told Zimmerman not to follow Martin but he did so anyway; or that Zimmerman lied about his knowledge of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law and walked around with a registered gun and two flashlights in the rain to follow one of “those f***in punks” who “always get away” as he told the dispatcher. Apparently jurors wanted to believe Zimmerman felt threatened by and had to shoot Martin in self-defense. These jurors probably are the same women you see on the elevator who clutch their purses tightly when anybody who looks like Martin gets on the elevator too.

Martin, the man-child who walked to the store in the rain for candy; the man-child who befriended and talked on his cell phone to Rachel Jeantel who most people teased at school, but not him; the man-child who – according to Jeantel – tried to run from the “creepy-ass” man who followed him in the rain before she heard Martin ask Zimmerman why he was following him and his phone connection went dead. The man with the gun persuaded jurors the man-child with the candy was a threat.

I want justice for Trayvon and his family. Apparently Florida’s criminal court system is not where they will find it. Prosecutors said this case had nothing to do with race. But other court cases where Florida’s Stand Your Ground law was used as a defense prove it has everything to do with race. The Florida version of the law says a person has a right to meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believes his life is in danger or he will suffer great bodily harm. At least 23 other states have their own version of Stand Your Ground in effect.

According to research, when the Stand Your Ground law was used to defend the actions of a white person on trial in Florida they were acquitted 73 percent of the time. When the same Stand Your Ground law was used to defend the actions of a black person on trial in Florida they were acquitted 55 percent of the time. Jacksonville resident Merissa Alexander used the law as her defense, but was convicted anyway. She is black. Ralph Wald used the law as his defense and was found not guilty. He is white. These are two examples.

This case never was just about Martin and Zimmerman. Zimmerman represents those who rush to demonize people who look, dress or behave differently than himself. Martin represents those who underestimate the level of hatred they attract to themselves just by being themselves. People like Zimmerman have a level of hatred and fear so strong they are willing to kill. And people like the purse-clutching women of the jury are willing to let them get away with it.

Steffanie Rivers is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas, Texas metroplex. Contact her at [email protected] for questions, comments or speaking inquiries.