Newburyport Daily News
---- — 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.
However, an abundance of statistical evidence related to crime suggests the contrary. For example, an American Civil Liberties Union study released in June showed that blacks in Indiana were about three times more likely than whites to be arrested on marijuana charges. This discrepancy exists despite evidence that the incidence of marijuana use among whites and blacks is roughly equal.
Why is that? Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the concept of “institutional racism,” which suggests that minorities are often victimized because they are treated unequally by key sectors of society — government, education and employment opportunities in particular. Perception also plays a key role, as was evidenced by President Obama’s discussion of racial profiling that he experienced as a young man.
The issue is thorny and deep-seated; and the protest of the Zimmerman verdict is not without justification. Maybe one day in a case like George Zimmerman’s, judgment will be passed and few will feel that racial prejudice swayed the verdict. That day, clearly, is a long way off.