Total Pageviews

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Reader Reactions to the George Zimmerman Verdict

When George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin, was acquitted of all charges, thousands of New York Times readers responded with a wide range of emotionally charged comments.

The trial was closely watched across the nation, provoking heated debates on racial profiling, civil rights and gun control.

“Sorry, ‘justice was served' crowd, but you have to twist yourself into some bizarre pretzel to justify this act,” Stephen Hampe of Rome, N.Y., wrote, garnering 1,624 recommendations from other readers, the most of any comment in response to the acquittal. “This was jury nullification.”

Others dismissed the protests, asserting that each side had been given its day in court. “Mr. Zimmerman was tried and found not guilty,” Don Ingram of San Diego wrote. “Our judicial system worked. If you want to protest anyone, protest the prosecutor for presenting a bad defense.”

Many readers said they believed that the verdict was a result of a lack of evidence in the case, with no witnesses to resolve questions like who threw the first punch and who screamed for help. “Even legal observers who wanted Zimmerman convicted of manslaughter often admitted that the prosecution had a tough case,” S.B. in New Jersey wrote. “The event occurred at night; there were no eyewitnesses; and prosecution-witness testimony that many commentators felt ended up benefiting the defense.”

The judge in the case emphasized that statements about race would be limited, and the term “racial profiling” was barred from the proceedings. “The Trayvon Martin case has become the elephant in the room of race relations and gun control opposition in America,” Wendy-Outrage in New York commented. “This case exposes the dark underbelly of policies gone awry.”

The allegations of racism became a widespread point of contention after the shooting, fueling protests throughout the country. “The case has fortified the stereotypical notion that black males in hooded sweatshirts are up to no good,” NY expat GT wrote. “It has reinforced preemptive execution of suspicious black men as an acceptable standard.”

Reacting to the verdict, dozens of readers pointed to a widespread misconception that Mr. Zimmerman left his car on the night of the shooting after the police had told him not to do so. In fact, Mr. Zimmerman was already out of his car and following Mr. Martin when the police dispatcher said, “We don't need you to do that,” and he maintains that he then stopped.

“There seems little doubt that Mr. Zimmerman instigated this entire situation by getting out of his car and pursuing Mr. Martin, even when he was told not to do so,” Shaun Narine from Canada commented. “To my mind, that fact in itself means he created a situation that ended up with an innocent young man dead.”

Linda in Oklahoma repeated that sentiment, writing, “The minute Zimmerman chose to ignore the police dispatcher, who told him to stay in his car and not follow Martin, is when Zimmerman put himself into the situation.”

The verdict also shined a light on controversial gun control and self-defense laws, including those known as “stand your ground” laws, which allow a person to use lethal force in self-defense even when there is an opportunity to retreat from danger. “Both men would be alive today if Zimmerman had not gone out that night with a loaded gun,” Richard from England wrote.

Since the verdict late Saturday night, protests in city streets and on social networks have also pointed to what many people perceive as the failure of the justice system and an underbelly of racism. “While we have an African-American president, U.S. is still far from color blind,” PeterS in Boston wrote. “In addition to the ridiculous ‘stand your ground' laws that are largely responsible for the death of Mr. Martin, the recent assaults on affirmative action and voting right laws in the Supreme Court can be seen as reactionary politics.”

Many readers said that protesting seemed like the only viable course of action in response to the verdict. “As with many other Americans, I am saddened and frustrated,” filosurfer commented. “I will pray for Trayvon's family and perhaps join others in a march. I'm just not sure what else I can do in light of this nonsensical verdict.”

Many readers, including Joe Willie of Hampton Bays, N.Y., disagreed, calling on readers to trust the verdict. “The jury has decided,” he wrote. “That is the problem with all these comments - they are based on the assumption that the writer knows more than the jury who heard the witnesses.”

Steve in New York City echoed that sentiment, saying, “Based on the actual trial and the actual facts and testimony presented at the trial (as opposed to what people think they know), the amount of reasonable doubt that Zimmerman was guilty of 2nd degree murder or manslaughter was overwhelming.”

What the thousands of comments largely share is an exploration of the verdict's implications, from self-defense and gun laws to race relations and civil rights. “Many people, on both sides of the issue, say the jury came up with the only ‘reasonable' verdict, based on the evidence and the law. If that is so, then the problem lies with our criminal justice system,” Eric of New York wrote. “There may be further legal action against Zimmerman, but aside from that, Pres. Obama is right when he says we must, as a nation, try to reduce gun violence.”

Perhaps Tony Glover of New York best summed up the wide spectrum of reader's reactions when he wrote, “George Zimmerman vs. Trayvon Martin is an allegory for America.”

This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: July 17, 2013

An earlier version of this post repeated a widespread misconception that George Zimmerman left his car on the night of the shooting after the police had told him not to do so. In fact, Mr. Zimmerman was already out of his car and following Trayvon Martin when the police dispatcher said, “We don't need you to do that,” and he maintains that he then stopped.