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.
Warning: I will never shut up about Trayvon Martin. #JusticeForTrayvon
— Maya (@myahj13) July 16, 2013
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.
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.
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.
Zimmerman is innocent. Get the facts! Don't listen to the ppl who turn the story to a race issue. Ex: Stupid Media! #SupportZimmerman
— Daniel Vasquez Jr.? (@daniel_vas20) July 14, 2013
To them, Trayvon was also an aggressor who could have killed Zimmerman.
9000 AfricanAmericans are murdered annually 93%of them are killed by another AfricanAmerican Yet everyones playing the race card #Zimmerman
— uhhuhhoney (@uhhuhhoney1) July 16, 2013
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.
— randi. (@aRedMosquito) July 15, 2013
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).
So it's cool for black people to support Trayvon, but wrong for whites to support Zimmerman? Mmkay. #TeamZimmerman
— Dalton Lee (@DaltonL227) July 13, 2013
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.
You asked for justice and justice was served. #TeamZimmerman
— Joshua Gicker (@Gickerman) July 14, 2013
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?
— IG: @TheRealBombKid (@TheRealBombKid) July 14, 2013
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.
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.
— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) July 16, 2013
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.
New York daily news front page on Trayvon Martin is pretty powerful pic.twitter.com/ongSQY1TlI
— Felicity Morse (@FelicityMorse) July 16, 2013
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.
— P Kearns (@patchworksoul) July 14, 2013
I was also stopped a few years ago about 3am close to home, walking (car broke down and phone dead) and cop gave me a ride. #WhitePrivilege
— Trish Robinson (@trishrobinson) July 14, 2013
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.
"if you stand your ground with your fists and you’re black, you’re dead." David Simon #JusticeForTrayvon
— Arlene Adamo (@ArleneAdamo) July 16, 2013
— Sheneka Adams (@iamShenekaAdams) July 16, 2013
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.
Things may not be over for Zimmerman, who may face a a federal investigation or a civil (not criminal) lawsuit, or both.
— Democracy Now! (@democracynow) July 16, 2013
And the conversation remains divided.
Unfollow me now if you support Zimmerman please. I don't respect you at all
— thick shady (@Kelsayy_XO) July 16, 2013
If you still support Zimmerman after looking at this, you're not a real human being http://t.co/6Hecn7leXL
— Chanelle (@Whoaanelley) July 16, 2013
Others really don't care.
:Everyone is all "justice for Trayvon" or "support Zimmerman" and I'm over here like "Twinkies are coming back?!"
— Rebecca O'Hanlon (@rebeccaohanlon) July 16, 2013
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?
I don't support Zimmerman, I don't support Martin, but I know the facts, don't blindly follow the pack you idiots
— Kyle Benson (@TI4B_Benson) July 14, 2013
Sound off in the comment section if you have an idea.
Images used under Creative Commons licensing.
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.