The Zimmerman Verdict


The trial of the decade (so far) has ended and George Zimmerman is a free man. What are the important points we should take from this?

First, it’s clear that the system worked. Zimmerman received a fair trial. A jury of his peers found him innocent based on the law and the evidence presented at trial. Obviously, Zimmerman was foolish to ignore police advice and continue following poor Trayvon Martin. But he committed no crime in doing so. His actions provoked the confrontation that ended in Martin’s death, but again, under Florida law he was justified in shooting Martin in self-defense. The jury believed that Zimmerman feared for his life, and that’s enough in Florida to justify taking a life, even if the killer instigated the events that led up to the killing.

This trial was not a repeat of the first Rodney King trial, in which a jury consisting of ten whites, one Hispanic, and one Asian was almost certainly blinded by a conscious or unconscious fear of blacks. Nor was it OJ all over again, with a panel practicing jury nullification in support of the defendant. It did, however, resemble the OJ case in that the prosecution was quite inept. The prosecutors were ineffective in all phases of the trial, possibly because they had a weak case to begin with. The defense on the other hand hardly put a foot wrong, aside from the unfortunate knock-knock joke in its opening statement. The authorities also overcharged the case — there was never any prospect of finding Zimmerman guilty of second-degree murder. (Overcharging, by the way, is a tactic used by prosecutors all over the country as a means to get defendants to plead instead of going to trial. As such, it represents a major perversion of our justice system.)

We all should have the absolute right to defend our homes and families from aggression. But public spaces are a different matter.

We can be thankful that the verdict did not lead to major violence. The small-scale thuggery seen in Oakland and L.A. does not compare to the barbarism displayed in South Central L.A. after the King verdict. President Obama, who seems increasingly irrelevant both at home and abroad, performed a useful service by urging calm. On the other hand, the lack of a video in the Zimmerman case may have had as much to do with the absence of major violence as the measured words of America’s mixed-race chief executive.

Millions of people, both black and white, are deeply dissatisfied with the verdict. Many are urging the Justice Department to bring a civil rights case against Zimmerman. Such a case would be very hard if not impossible to prove. This analyst believes Attorney General Holder will decide not to bring a civil rights case against Zimmerman, for the simple reason that it would probably fall apart in court, embarrassing both the Justice Department and the president. That the Attorney General is an African-American probably makes it easier to resist the temptation to file federal charges against Zimmerman. An administration in which all the key players are white might very well feel compelled to do so.

Holder, like the president, has been a moderating voice in the wake of the verdict. This has been his finest hour — or rather, his first fine hour after four-plus years in office. In a recent speech he questioned the concept of Stand Your Ground laws, maintaining that people have a duty to retreat if they can safely do so — but adding the important qualifier, when outside their home. There needs to be a serious debate nationally about the concept of Stand Your Ground. In Vermont, where I live, the law says I should retreat even if a criminal comes onto my property or enters my home. This, to me, is crazy. The idea that I must flee from my home rather than subdue or kill someone coming onto my property with criminal intent repels me. But then Vermont is a crazy place.

In my view we all should have the absolute right to defend our homes and families from aggression. But public spaces are a different matter. It’s true that Zimmerman’s defense team never invoked Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. Nevertheless, that law hung like a storm cloud over the proceedings. The principle of stand your ground as applied to public spaces has led, in this case, to the death of a young man who was simply returning from a trip to the store. A cop wannabe decides to follow a teenage boy (whom he may or may not have racially profiled) despite police advice to desist, and thereby provokes a fight that leads to his shooting the kid to death. Despite these circumstances, the wannabe is innocent in the eyes of the law. The kid is dead; the wannabe walks. Surely in this case the law is an ass.

Share This


Jon Harrison

You're certainly entitled to your opinion, although I think your view is complete nonsense. But thanks for commenting.


I think we should refrain from judging "stand your ground" type laws based on this case. I don't think anyone living, except Zimmerman of course, will ever know what happened. That being the case, it's simply speculation to criticize a law which was not invoked in the legal case based on the unknown facts of the Zimmerman - Martin encounter on the night of the shooting.

Many folks simply don't want anyone to carry a handgun. Based on statistical data, most folks who do so according to the laws of the state in which they reside are amazingly responsible. There will always be those who carry carelessly, and I can only surmise that Zimmerman had not given much thought to how he would or should respond to a physical attack on his person, .... if that is in fact what occurred.

You claim that stand your ground was not invoked in Zimmerman's legal defense and yet criticize the law based on this case, "The principle of stand your ground as applied to public spaces has led, in this case, to the death of a young man who was simply returning from a trip to the store." I don't get your reasoning. Zimmerman's defense was that he had no chance to retreat, and had absolutely nothing to do with "stand your ground."

Let's suppose I have weapon in my daypack when I see someone physically abusing another person. Should I keep my mouth shut and move on so that I don't run the risk of having to use my weapon to defend myself? Or, if I choose to intervene will I later be accused of provoking a situation I could have avoided? This case wasn't about "stand your ground," but it was about wisdom. In the case in question, neither party had enough of that precious commodity to avoid a confrontation. Thus, while I support anyone's right to carry a weapon, I also recognize that a person should give long, considered thought as to whether or not he or she possesses the wisdom to do so.

Jon Harrison

A fairly thoughtful comment, John. Thank you. I really should have mentioned in the reflection that language from Florida's Stand Your Ground law was included in the jury instructions. I assumed that anyone interested enough to read the piece would have known that. My bad.

The problem in my view is not the verdict, but Zimmerman's actions in profiling, following, and confronting someone who had done nothing wrong. Had a black man done this to a white teenager in the same circumstances, I'm quite certain white outrage would have been loud and persistent.

If you see someone physically abusing another person in a public space, certainly you have a right, and perhaps a duty, to assist the person under attack. Such a circumstance has nothing to do with what I was discussing. My point was that if you get into a confrontation with another person (a one-on-one situation) in a public space, and have the opportunity to retreat, you should do so. Standing your ground in such a situation, when you can safely retreat, is opening the door to tragedy. Whether Zimmerman could have safely retreated, we can never know. That he provoked the entire incident by profiling and confronting someone who had in fact done nothing other than make a trip to the store, is certain.


Here are the jury instructions. There is nothing in the jury instructions. Did you even watch the trial.

Jon Harrison

I listened to the judge read the instructions to the jury just before deliberations began. I quote her words:

"If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked anyplace where he had a right to be, he had NO DUTY TO RETREAT AND HAD THE RIGHT TO STAND HIS GROUND and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself . . ."


Your point about public vs. private spaces here made me realize why I think the verdict is unjust, even if legally consistent.

Say someone (called X) invades someone's home (call the home dweller Y), and a life-threatening altercation follows; if X kills Y, can you imagine a justification for self-defense? I can't. Even if X felt in fear for their life. I recognize that most laws of self-defense are not valid if the killer is committing a felony (breaking and entering). But it goes beyond a felony. X invaded Y space and threatened their safety zone. If X wasn't breaking and entering, but was drunk and went into the wrong unlocked house, I still have trouble justifying his self-defense (and trespassing is probably not a felony).

Extending that notion, I think everyone is justified in expecting that they have a safe region around their person at all times. The definition of a "home" is irrelevant (and arbitrary). If someone comes into my tent when I am camping, it isn't my home, or my house, but I still feel justified in my self defense there. I feel that someone forfeits their right to self-defense when they invade the expectation of peace and safety of another.

The Florida law seems to give everyone the right to self-defense equally. That seems problematic. Two people get into a fight. Both feel fear for their respective lives. Both are justified in killing the other? Shouldn't there be some culpability, somewhere? Shouldn't a threatening invasion of someone else's space create that culpability?

So that's why this verdict offense my sense of justice. Zimmerman invaded Martin's sense of safety and forfeited his right to self-defense.

Jon Harrison

The hole in your argument is that the law allowed Zimmerman to do what he did. He may have gone beyond the law once the encounter began, but there was not sufficient evidence produced at trial to convict on any of the charges against him. Martin made the error of allowing the confrontation to become physical. It's hardly surprising that Martin responded as he did, given that he was seventeen, an age when testosterone is high and good judgment generally low. Add to this that Zimmerman was not a police officer, but just some cop wannabe, and it's hardly surprising that Martin started wailing on him. Unfortunately for Trayvon, he picked the wrong honkie to beat up.


"Martin made the error of allowing the confrontation to become physical."

Using the passive voice like this obscures the fact that Martin (who had a long history of starting fights and beating people up)was the one who threw the first punch, knocking Zimmerman to the ground. What, exactly, had Zimmerman done to deserve this?

What's more, instead of running away, Martin then pinned Zimmerman to the ground, where he proceeded to bash his head in to the pavement. Sure, Zimmerman should have stayed in his car, but Martin was the one who drastically escalated the situation in such a way that deadly force was all but inevitable.

Jon Harrison

In fact none of us knows for sure what happened during parts of the Zimmerman-Martin confrontation. Personally, I remain all but convinced (which is not the same as saying that I KNOW) that Zimmerman racially profiled Martin. How many times do we have to repeat that Martin made a trip to the store and was headed back home, nothing more?

The key point you make is: "Sure Zimmerman should have stayed in his car." Remember, I said (and continue to say) that the verdict was correct and Zimmerman violated no law (at least according to the evidence presented at trial). But yes, he had no business following Martin, and disregarded police advice in doing so.

Martin was certainly no angel, but he did not have a "history of starting fights and beating up people." It's been alleged by some that he was involved in fights, but proof is lacking. By the way, why didn't you mention Zimmerman's 2005 arrest for "resisting an officer with violence" and "battery of a law enforcement officer." Selective memory on your part?

I'm all for letting opinions flow freely here, but let's not report as fact things that remain in dispute, or ignore facts that tend to disprove one's argument.


I'm not coming to the unalloyed defense of Zimmerman. This was a case of bad judgment on the part of both him and Martin.

Regarding Zimmerman's history, his one brush with the law came seven years before his encounter with Martin. Not excusing, just saying there had been no subsequent run-ins during this time.

As far as his fighting skills, he was basically a creampuff. His MMA instructor said as much.

Martin had no history of starting fights and beating people up? These are the text msgs investigators found on his phone:

On Nov. 21, 2011, Martin is talking with someone about a fight outside of school, saying, “naw we thumped afta skool in a duckd off spot."

Martin boasts, "i lost da 1st round :) but i won da 2nd nd 3rd......"

The unidentified person responds, "Damee well at least yu wonn lol but yuu needa stop fightinqq bae Forreal."

Martin replies, "naw im not done with fool...... he gone hav 2 see me a again."

In another exchange on Nov. 22, 2011, he discusses losing the first round, saying, "Yea cause he got mo hits cause in da 1st round he had me on da ground nd i couldnt do ntn."

On Jan. 6, 2012, he tells a friend he got put in detention for watching a fight and the teacher accused him of hitting someone.

He talks about another fight outside of the school on Feb. 12, 2012, saying, "duh way I fight nd dug golds I had last year." His friend remarks that Martin has been fighting a lot, stating "u b fightn...yeah a lot."

© Copyright 2019 Liberty Foundation. All rights reserved.

Opinions expressed in Liberty are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Liberty Foundation.

All letters to the editor are assumed to be for publication unless otherwise indicated.