6 women and Trayvon Martin

A demonstrator wears a hoodie during a protest the day after George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the 2012 shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin, Sunday, July 14, 2013, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
A demonstrator wears a hoodie during a protest the day after George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the 2012 shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin, Sunday, July 14, 2013, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Posted: July 16, 2013

WE NEVER SAW their faces. We don't know their names or what they were thinking or feeling as they sat through three weeks of conflicting testimony.

We don't know what the dynamic was in the room as they sorted through the testimony of 56 witnesses and examined dozens of documents and exhibits.

But we all know whether they were right or wrong. Depending on which side of the racial divide we viewed this case from, we knew that Trayvon Martin was the innocent victim of a racially motivated stalker or that George Zimmerman was in fear of his life as he fired a fatal shot into his attacker's chest.

We knew all of that before the trial started. Even before the charges were brought, we knew. Nothing this jury could have found would have changed our minds, because we knew what this was. We've always known.

This was an injustice. We can blame it on an ineffective prosecution. We can blame it on police detectives. They were wantonly derelict in their duty to conduct an objective investigation of the events that ended with a boy of barely 17 bleeding to death a block or two from his father's embrace.

But this was an injustice precipitated by perceptions and prejudices. George Zimmerman was found not guilty. Trayvon Martin was convicted.

From the O.J. Simpson debacle to the long-overdue retrial of Byron De La Beckwith for the 1963 murder of Medgar Evers, I have covered more than enough of these show trials. They all follow a similar script.

The main players get reduced to caricatures as thin and lifeless as those cardboard cutouts used to represent Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman in that Sanford, Fla., courtroom. The prosecution's portrayal of Zimmerman as a hate-filled racist who hunted down his prey until he found and killed him was over-the-top even for me. The defense attorney's thinly veiled vilification of Trayvon Martin as a dark and brooding thug who hid in the shadows, waiting for a chance to pounce on Zimmerman, was an unconscionable attempt to make Trayvon Martin the perpetrator of a crime that cost him his life.

We know there was a confrontation that night. We know that George Zimmerman's decision to follow Martin, to get out of his car with his piece fully loaded and a round in the chamber was a direct cause of that confrontation.

That, in and of itself, is not criminal behavior. From the time the fight started to the point where he fired his gun, Zimmerman had a right to defend himself.

But so did Trayvon. By Florida law, he had every right to stand his ground when confronted by a man who had been stalking him for blocks. If Zimmerman had identified himself as a neighborhood-watch volunteer while he was still in the car, if he had heeded the words of a police dispatcher who advised him not to follow Martin, would there have been a fatal confrontation?

Does the law allow you to kill someone because you are losing a fight that you started? It may in Florida or in any of the states where stand-your-ground and castle-doctrine laws have sanctioned a return to frontier justice. This was not technically a stand-your-ground case. But the proliferation of those laws fosters a mind-set that always seems to favor the last man standing.

Or does it? If Trayvon Martin had pulled a gun, or if he had overpowered Zimmerman and killed him with his own gun that night, would the Sanford police have been so quick to conclude that it was a justifiable shooting?

I don't think so. But that's based on a long history of injustice in America, a history that forms the backdrop for this latest trial of the century.

I don't know if those six women were thinking about any of that, or if it was part of the dynamic that energized their deliberations.

Their job was to sort through the evidence before them and render as fair a verdict as they could. I think they did that, and I applaud them for reaching a verdict that I understand even though I don't agree with it.

That's enough to ask of six nameless, faceless jurors recruited from the ranks of everyday citizens. We certainly can't expect them to settle our differences.


Elmer Smith is a retired Daily News columnist.

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