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The George Zimmerman Verdict: Two Narratives Dividing Americans

Social media has exploded with responses to the George Zimmerman verdict since its release on Saturday night. And those responses are incredibly polarized.


To recap: Zimmerman, a volunteer security guard, was tried for manslaughter and second-degree murder. He shot and killed Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old boy, following an altercation between the two in a gated community in Florida where Trayvon was staying and Zimmerman was neighborhood watchman.

A neighborhood watch sign, via Flickr user hsivonen.

The trial ended in a not-guilty verdict. On Twitter and Facebook, reactions are falling mostly into two camps.

One is outrage over Trayvon Martin's death and the lack of consequences for the person who pulled the trigger and killed a teenager who, by all accounts, had been doing nothing more than heading home from a convenience store. They see it as a result of a flawed justice system and institutional racism.

A rally in New York City following the verdict, via Flickr user jerekeys.

The other viewpoint is that people should accept the jury's verdict, which is the only logical verdict under the law. To them, Zimmerman acted in self-defense, not hatred, because he was fearing for his life during a physical scuffle with Trayvon Martin - and race really has nothing to do with it.


For what it's worth, the jury apparently falls into the second camp.


What can we make of America's major disagreement over this case? How can we get both sides to better understand each other?

For starters, perhaps everyone should take a moment to really listen to, and think through, the two main positions being taken in the aftermath of the George Zimmerman verdict and the shooting of Trayvon Martin.


The jury ultimately believed that race was not a factor in the case against Zimmerman, and the "justice was served" narrative side argues that race should not have played into the verdict.

To them the case is about self-defense. Zimmerman was only responding to what looked like a suspicious individual in a community that had a history of break-ins.

To them, Trayvon was also an aggressor who could have killed Zimmerman.

They think the case should have never have been brought, and that pro-Trayvon supporters are stirring up racial aspects for no good reason.


Among the points this side raises is the fact that Zimmerman mentioned Trayvon's race in his call with police about the "real suspicious guy" only when the 911 operator asked him about it.

One of their biggest complaints is that the media unfairly framed Zimmerman as a bully and that people are overreacting.

They've also argued that Trayvon was physically threatening and accused pro-Trayvon supporters of using an innocent-looking photo of Trayvon when he was 12 (though some of that information has been debunked).


And there's been some discussion of the black community getting up in arms over Trayvon Martin while ignoring other deaths and problems.

All and all, they think people should accept where the jury stands and move on.



Discussion of race was mostly banned in the courtroom by the judge. But to the #JusticeforTrayvon contingent, race can't, and shouldn't, be ignored.

One question being raised: Had Trayvon Martin been white and George Zimmerman been black would the jury have decided differently?

The question of whether or not race was a key factor in the event, and should have played a role in the verdict, is what the two narratives disagree on.

Members of the black community who know what it's like to be stereotyped - and others - think the black teenager was unfairly, and wrongly, profiled. Racial profiling is the use of race as the basis for suspecting that a person has broken the law.

Photo by Flickr user Elvert Barnes.

Part of the argument is that whites don't and can't understand what it's like to look suspicious because of their race due to white privilege - the political and societal advantages white people benefit from that people of color in the same space do not.

People who are angry over the case believe strongly that race played a huge role in what happened that night and in the verdict, and that the justice system is rigged against black men.

Many also see Trayvon Martin as one of numerous black men who have been killed for no good reason.

And so, they've spoken out in anger and frustration.

Stevie Wonder is one celebrity who has called a boycott on Florida in protest of the verdict.

And allies of the black community have come out in support by acknowledging their white privilege.

I am not Trayvon Martin.

The Facebook post that started the "I am not Trayvon Martin" meme.

The white privilege discussion has sparked a popular Tumblr, "We are not Trayvon Martin," to attest to ways that skin color plays a role in the way the law and society treats us all.

Those calling for #JusticeforTrayvon point to some statistics that back up their claim that the justice system is tilted against blacks.

For example, African-Americans who use drugs are more than 4 times more likely to be incarcerated than whites. And black youth in juvenile court are more likely to end up in adult prison - which often deals out harsher punishment - than their white counterparts.

The point being made here is that this case is part of a pattern in which young black men like Trayvon are at risk of being targeted because of how they are stereotyped.

That's where the Trayvon supporters are coming from. They see the case as a powerful symbol of a biased society and slanted system, and the verdict as more confirmation that racial equality hasn't been achieved in America.

What now?

Things may not be over for Zimmerman, who may face a a federal investigation or a civil (not criminal) lawsuit, or both.

And the conversation remains divided.



Others really don't care.

The contrasting opinions haven't led to much violence, fortunately, but they haven't been particularly productive either. Both sides seem to be mostly talking past each other.

The million dollar question is: How can we prevent this from happening again?

In the meantime, how can we bring people together and promote better understanding?

Sound off in the comment section if you have an idea.


Participate in the Race Awareness Project >>

Create your race card >>

Urge the Dept. of Justice to file a civil rights case >>

Take the "who is white?" quiz >>

Donate to a scholarship fund in Trayvon Martin's name >>

Images used under Creative Commons licensing.

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The George Zimmerman Verdict: Two Narratives Dividing Americans

Jennifer Cain

Jenny Cain is a freelance writer from Orange County, California, and former banana slug, or UC Santa Cruz alum. She teaches classical and jazz piano to high school students and audits classes at UC Irvine. Inspired by Beyonce, Sheryl Sandberg, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and the Supreme Court’s 3 badass lady justices, she’d like to see the U.S. elect their first woman president. Like, yesterday.

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4 Responses

  1. DalekLuna says:

    Shouldn’t it be, “Had Zimmerman been black and Martin white…”?

  2. eidolon says:

    Talking heads have pushed this tragedy into the realm of melodrama, and I’ve seen enough of melodrama to know it is immune to reason. If all the people interested in self-promotion were put on mute, that would go a long way towards unclogging the channels of communication for real substantive dialog.

  3. eidolon says:

    About the only ones content in the national firestorm are the NSA, as it doesn’t involve them. Time to move to a saner country (if such a place truly exists), methinks.