Zimmerman verdict brings sorrow and fear

Published 12:00 pm Friday, July 19, 2013

Many of those demonstrating their anger at the 17-year-old’s death and their disappointment in the jury’s verdict wore hooded sweatshirts. That was the article of clothing that Zimmerman, Martin’s killer, found so suspicious that rainy February night that he followed him.

The shooting of the black unarmed teenager by a white and Hispanic neighborhood watch volunteer had the elements of a racially divisive case from the beginning. But the racial diversity of the crowds that marched Sunday indicates that one doesn’t have to be black to be upset by the teenager’s death. …

During halftime of the NBA’s 2012 All-Star Game, Martin walked to a convenience store and bought Skittles and a can of iced tea. He never made it back home. On his way back, Zimmerman deemed him suspicious. There was a confrontation. When it was over, Martin lay dead.

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By all accounts, Martin initially ran. That didn’t save him. He eventually fought. That didn’t save him, either. Zimmerman said Martin’s aggression toward him left him no choice but to shoot him.

None of the witnesses who testified in the five-week trial saw how the fight between Zimmerman and Martin began, and perhaps the verdict is an indication that jurors believed Zimmerman’s story that it began with Martin felling him with a blow to the face.

But one thing is indisputable: We never would have known either’s name if Zimmerman had let Martin be, or, if after Zimmerman had called 911, he took the advice of the dispatcher and kept his distance. But he chose to follow the teenager.

That fact alone made the case bigger than Martin. Those who are honest in their struggle to understand why so many black Americans are in despair need to know that being watched, being followed, being suspected of something and being assumed a danger is a near universal experience for black Americans – black boys and men especially.

That unwarranted attention is wrong in and of itself. Add a killing on top of it, and it should be clear why so many Americans are tearful, why so many Americans are angry, why so many black parents in particular are on constant pins and needles whenever their sons walk out the door.