We Do Not Have All The Answers

The Trayvon Martin – George Zimmerman trial has just ended, and the righteous outpouring of outrage is dismaying. Every armchair lawyer in the country has somehow come to the foregone conclusion that the verdict is hopelessly wrong, that Zimmerman is truly guilty, that Zimmerman was some racist who was patrolling the streets looking for a black man to kill, and that the verdict reflects endemic racism that corrupts our entire society.

I disagree.

I’m not claiming that George Zimmerman is definitely innocent and acted in righteous self-defence. I disagree because I don’t know what happened that night. And more importantly, none of these outraged pundits do either.

Let’s review some facts from the case:

  • Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman, reported Martin to the police as a suspicious character, followed him & got out of the car to approach him

  • There was a serious physical fight that happened, with one person on the ground, helpless & screaming in distress, and the other person straddling him & throwing punches for 30 seconds

  • Zimmerman eventually fired a gunshot at Martin

  • Zimmerman had a bleeding nose, and injuries to the back of his head. When the police arrived on the scene, they noted that his back was wet and had grass all over it

Let’s review some things that no one knows:

  • Who threw the first punch? Zimmerman or Martin?

  • Who was on top & throwing punches for 30 seconds? Zimmerman or Martin?

    • A neighbor claims he saw Zimmerman on top, but is it conclusive?

    • Zimmerman claims he was on the ground being attacked for over 30 seconds. Is that true?

  • Whose voice was heard calling desperately for help?

    • Zimmerman’s family & neighbors immediately & very confidently identified him

    • Martin’s family initially said it wasn’t him, but later said it was definitely him

As for Zimmerman’s character as a supposed hateful racist, let’s review the one fact we know regarding this: Zimmerman had previously attended his city council to speak out against and protest police brutality against a black man.

I’m not saying Zimmerman is definitely innocent. The fact is, I don’t know what happened. I also know for a fact, that the hordes of people screaming with outrage don’t know what happened. If the questions I asked above were all answered in Zimmerman’s favor, no one would be outraged. And yet, even though they don’t know the answer to those questions, they are confident enough to claim the jurors got it all wrong, that the legal system is broken, that Zimmerman is a hateful racist, and racism is endemic in our entire society.

This isn’t something unique to the Zimmerman-Martin trial. We see this everywhere. We see this in the case involving Dominique Strauss Khan (DSK) & the hotel maid. We see this in the Duke Lacrosse case. In each case, we see the victims and defenders not as individuals, but as representatives of a larger group. We don’t know anything about them, and we don’t know anything about the event that actually transpired. In our ignorance, they instead become blank canvasses, where we project whatever we want to see.

The wealthy and elite see DSK as the hapless victim being taken advantage of by a money chasing immigrant. The populists see DSK as someone from elite society exploiting the working class and thinking they can get away with anything. People of color see Martin as an innocent black kid who was lynched by a vigilante. Others see Zimmerman as a responsible neighborhood watchman trying to keep his neighborhood safe from the burglars. Neither group actually knows what happened, and yet, from their respective perspectives, they have already reached conclusions about who is guilty and what had occurred.

Let’s step back here for a second and admit something to ourselves. We don’t know what happened. Zimmerman is not just a white/hispanic wanna-be cop. Trayvon Martin is not just a black kid. Neither of them is a representative of whatever societal group we may be projecting. Whatever stereotypes and assumptions we may hold about particular societal groups, there is no reason to suppose that they apply to Zimmerman or Martin. They are both individuals, with all the nuances and uniqueness that comes with it. We don’t know them, and we don’t know what happened. As unsatisfying as it might be, that is the one and only truth.

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