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July 26, 2013

Zimmerman trial opens window onto unequal world

The trial of George Zimmerman for the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., cast a glaring light on both the U.S. legal system and the simmering distrust of that system among many African Americans.

The legal system worked the way it is designed to work. The jury heard three weeks of testimony and reviewed all of the pertinent documents. It reached the decision to issue a verdict of not guilty on charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter.

This is the way the U.S. legal system functions. All of the steps were followed.

From a layman’s perspective, though, we’re left to wonder whether the innocent-until-proven-guilty foundation of the system passes muster in a case where a man has been shot and killed and there are no eyewitnesses. The person who pulled the trigger can claim self-defense, and the dead man isn’t around to give his version of what happened. Shouldn’t the accused have the burden of proof that their well-being was tangibly threatened?

In the aftermath of the verdict, protests flared up around the country. African Americans, in particular, are aghast that an unarmed black teenager could be gunned down and the shooter be found not guilty of committing a crime.

Polls clearly showed the racial divide over the verdict — a Washington Post poll showed 51 percent of whites approved of the guilty verdict, while only 6 percent of blacks approved.

This strong negative reaction is another clear indicator that America has a long way to go, farther than most Americans believe, in creating a society where all, regardless of skin color, are treated equally — and believe that they’re treated equally. In fact, a 2011 study by Harvard and Tufts universities suggests that a majority of whites believe that whites have displaced blacks as the primary target of racial discrimination in America.

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