George Zimmerman Trial: Verdict Won't Resolve Issues of Race Or Guns


Monday morning marked the beginning of the trial that will determine whether Florida neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman is guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin in a shooting that ended the black teenager's life early last year. The details of why Zimmerman shot Martin and how the two ended up in such a deadly confrontation in the first place remain ambiguous. However, in the seventeen months since the teen's death, many have portrayed Zimmerman as an overzealous neighborhood watchman who racially profiled and unnecessarily sought confrontation with an innocent Martin, while others have come to Zimmerman's defense, asserting that a stronger Martin attacked Zimmerman, forcing him to use his firearm in order to save his own life. The ambiguity surrounding these events, combined both with allegations of racial profiling and the ongoing national debate over gun control, has since helped this case capture the public's attention. Citizens from across the spectrum of American life have recognized that their own political views could be either vindicated or discredited, depending on the trial's verdict.

This national obsession with Zimmerman's trial, however, is hopelessly misguided because America's legal system simply does not function as a rubber stamp for partisan political views.

Perhaps the most striking reason why this case will fail to offer clarity on America's deeper political issues is that Zimmerman is being tried for murder, not for a hate crime. Accordingly, the trial's primary focus will center around whether Zimmerman shot Martin in self-defense or instead stalked him and caused the confrontation that led to his death. Issues of whether or not Martin was profiled will surely implicitly appear in the proceedings as they are at least partially related to Zimmerman's motivations for pursuing Martin. However, discussion over Zimmerman's potential racial profiling have already been limited and mediated by the trial's presiding judge. As a result, the information coming to light in this trial and the verdict reached will not have thoroughly addressed the racial implications of Zimmerman's actions, making the verdict virtually useless for bolstering the position of both those who argue that Zimmerman's actions are indicative of an inherent racism that permeates the minds of people across the United States or others who assert either that Zimmerman did not profile Martin or, if he did, that it may have proved to be an accurate decision.

Politicians and pundits engaged in the national debate surrounding gun control will also find little concrete clarity in the verdict of Zimmerman's murder trial. Of course, Florida's regulations on who purchases firearms, where these firearms can be carried, and how they can be used are inherently related to the sequence of events that led to Trayvon Martin's death. However, even if Zimmerman's self defense plea of innocence is presumed false by a jury, his trial will only represent one highly specific case amongst many gun violence trials that occur everyday across the United States. To extrapolate this verdict as an overarching justification for more or less national firearms regulation would amount to nothing less than ignoring the many complexities and ambiguities surrounding the case as well as the inherent limitation of one judge's actions, one jury's decision (especially when that jury so scarcely represents an adequate sample of the American population), and the overwhelming bias of arguments from lawyers who are far more interested in obtaining a sympathetic verdict than unveiling the truth about what transpired between Martin and Zimmerman last February.