On July 13, George Zimmerman, the Florida neighborhood watch volunteer, who shot and killed Trayvon Martin last year was found not guilty of second degree murder and the lesser charge of manslaughter by a jury of six females.
Martin, a 17-year-old African-American teenager, was returning home from buying tea and Skittles at a convenience store on February 26, when Zimmerman, Hispanic, began following the unarmed teenager. Zimmerman mentioned a rash of recent burglaries in the neighborhood in his police report and thought it was odd to see the young man walking alone at night. (Related story: Florida Teen’s Death Raises a Variety of Concerns)
Throughout the trial, a lack of evidence and muddied testimony set the prosecution back, leading to the verdict. Prosecutors were working with little evidence to prove that Zimmerman acted full of ill will, hatred, spite or evil intent when he shot Martin according to The New York Times. Zimmerman is the only witness and he did not take the stand, so prosecutors were left pointing at his words during his call to the police dispatcher the night he spotted Martin.
Over the past year race and Florida’s Stand Your Ground law have been focal points of this case. The law “allows people to defend themselves with force if they feel threatened in their home, business, car, or a place where they ‘have a legal right to be’,” according to usatoday.com.
The law ultimately led to the delay of almost two months in the arrest of Zimmerman as it requires specific evidence to refute the self-defense claim. The defense, however, did not use the Stand Your Ground law as part of its case during the trial. But it did play a role on the trial according to the NYT article, “The self-defense claim also may have affected how thoroughly the police interviewed witnesses, preserved the crime scene and screened Mr. Zimmerman.”
“The Zimmerman case is not just about stand your ground, or self-defense; it’s about the prejudice that exists to this day, it’s about a prejudicial justice system that makes the color of the victims skin predetermine the verdict of not guilty, and the message sent out to other individuals such as Zimmerman that you can get away with it,” O.J. Semans, co-director of the voting-rights group Four Directions, said in an e-mail to ICTMN. “Here in Indian country we understand that all too well.”
Many human rights groups and activists decried the verdict shortly after it was announced with protests across the country, yet as usatoday.com addressed, the verdict was no surprise to many lawyers. Those protests as usatoday.com reported were by many people who feel that the bigger issues of race and justice are unresolved.
“The most important thing we can do as Native Americans is to raise our voices against injustice, to affirm our love for one another, and to show that we stand together with the Black community. Indian country knows in the most profound way, the hurt and historical legacy of centuries of oppression, war, termination, and disease all now deeply baked into a system of institutional racism. The lesson is that we as a nation cannot be afraid to look at race. And as a nation, America cannot grow into who it is supposed to be until we address race and racism head on,” Chris Stearns, chairman of the Seattle Human Rights Commission said in an e-mail to ICTMN. “From a human rights perspective, not only is there a fundamental human right to life, there is also a central human right to be free from discrimination. Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that all people ‘are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.’ Article 2 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination requires all governments to ‘take effective measures to review governmental, national and local policies, and to amend, rescind or nullify any laws and regulations which have the effect of creating or perpetuating racial discrimination wherever it exists.’ We have a right to not only expect, but to demand, better from our government.”
“The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America. I know this case has elicited strong passions,” President Barack Obama said in a statement on Sunday following the verdict. “And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son. And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities.”
When asked if there were similar laws in Indian country and how this ruling could affect American Indians Gabe Galanda, partner with Galanda Broadman, PLLC, in an e-mail to ICTMN stated, "I am not aware of any tribal government that has promulgated a stand-your-ground law. I doubt any tribe has authorized the use of force in self-defense as a matter of tribal statute. That said, I suspect many if not most tribes allow an accused to plead self-defense as a defense to certain criminal charges. The Trayvon Martin case may very well cause tribal councils as lawmakers, and tribal courts and juries as arbiters of fact, to bring more careful attention to legal notions of self-defense.”
According to usatoday.com Zimmerman’s court days may not be over as there is a federal civil rights investigation that remains open, and legal experts say that he could face a civil suit.
Obama closed his statement by saying, “We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin.”