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Zimmerman verdict reaffirms the special burden of black men

Published: Saturday, July 20, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

Nobody else was there.

Confusion and ignorance about what exactly happened in the final seconds before George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26, 2012, are so great that nobody can even agree on who screamed. Witnesses at Zimmerman’s trial in Florida testified to both sides of that thinking, leading any fair-minded observer to marvel only at how one scream of terror can so much resemble another.

Nobody else was there – the basis of Zimmerman’s attorneys’ defense that there was “reasonable doubt” about their client’s actions and intentions – and a jury on Saturday night agreed, finding Zimmerman not guilty.

So be it.

This was not some racist railroading of justice revisited from the Jim Crow South of 1954.

This was a televised trial by an aggressive prosecutor that left most viewers, and likely the jurors, thinking, “What a mess.” Legal experts generally predicted Zimmerman’s acquittal.

This case was about race, but the jury’s verdict could not be. It became a national news story because any American with open eyes – not just African-Americans – knows the extent to which young black men in this country are casually assumed to be dangerous troublemakers just for nothing.

Just for walking down the street. Just for wearing a hoodie.

Had Zimmerman not profiled Trayvon Martin, as blacks are profiled across America every day, almost certainly there would have been no confrontation.

If any good came of this trial, it is a greater awareness of this sad truth: Black men carry a special burden in America from the day they are born. The fact that crime rates among African-American males is high doesn’t justify or lessen that burden for all black men. Judge the man, not a crushing stereotype.

At the moment Zimmerman shot Martin, we were not there. Nobody else was there. We cannot say, strictly in a dispassionate legal sense, exactly what went down.

A jury passed judgment on George Zimmerman: not guilty.

He smiled slightly and shook his lawyers’ hands. May he go in peace.

The jury did not – could not – pass judgment on the state of race relations in America.

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