George Zimmerman verdict: US media react
- 14 July 2013
- From the section US & Canada
There has been wide-ranging reaction from the US media after George Zimmerman, the Florida neighbourhood watchman who shot dead unarmed black 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, was found not guilty on all charges. Below is a selection of the reporting on the case.
The New York Times' Lizette Alvarez and Cara Buckley write that this was a case that "began in the small city of Sanford as a routine homicide but soon evolved into a civil rights cause examining racial profiling and its consequences - an issue barred from the courtroom - and setting off a broad discussion of race relations in America".
But after three weeks of testimony, what happened on the night Trayvon Martin was killed following a fight with Mr Zimmerman is still "a muddle", they conclude, with no clarity over "who had started it, who screamed for help, who threw the first punch and at what point Mr Zimmerman drew his gun".
The Times notes that the prosecution's witnesses did not always help their case, especially Rachel Jeantel, the 19-year-old who was talking to Mr Martin on his phone shortly before he was shot and who "might have damaged her credibility by acknowledging she had lied about her age and why she did not attend Mr Martin's wake".
"Prosecutors also were not helped by the police and crime scene technicians, who made some mistakes in the case," the paper notes, adding that while typically police testimony boosts the state's case, here "the chief police investigator... told jurors that he believed Mr Zimmerman, despite contradictions in his statements".
'It feels wrong'
Writing for Slate, under the headline, "Zimmerman's Not Guilty. But Florida Sure Is", Emily Bazelon says we should "blame [Florida's] bad laws for Trayvon Martin's death" - a reference to the wide latitude the state gives citizens to use deadly force if they fear death or bodily harm.
"It feels wrong, this verdict of not guilty for George Zimmerman. It feels wrong to say that Zimmerman is guilty of no crime. If he hadn't approached 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, if he hadn't pulled his gun, Martin would be alive. But that doesn't mean Zimmerman was guilty of murder, not in the state of Florida," Bazelon writes.
"The jury could have faulted Zimmerman for starting the altercation with Martin and still believed him not guilty of murder, or even of manslaughter, which in Florida is a killing that has no legal justification. If the jury believed that once the physical fight began, Zimmerman reasonably feared he would suffer a grave bodily injury, then he gets off for self-defence."
The Orlando Sentinel's Beth Kassab says that "like it or not, the jury got this one right".
"Nobody wants to see two parents who already lost their teenage son also lose out on what they saw as justice. As painful as it may be, though, acquitting George Zimmerman was the only verdict the jury could logically reach.
"The state simply didn't prove second-degree murder. Or manslaughter. As much as I don't like many of the choices Zimmerman made the night he killed Trayvon, the evidence presented at trial gave way to more than one reasonable doubt about Zimmerman's guilt."
'Trials can't answer wider questions'
For Andrew Cohen, writing in the Atlantic, the "startling" verdict is a "blunt reminder" of the limitations of the US justice system.
"Criminal trials are not searches for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. They never have been. Our rules of evidence and the Bill of Rights preclude it. Our trials are instead tests of only that limited evidence a judge declares fit to be shared with jurors, who in turn are then admonished daily, hourly even, not to look beyond the corners of what they've seen or heard in court.
"Trials like the one we've all just witnessed in Florida can therefore never fully answer the larger societal questions they pose. They can never act as moral surrogates to resolve the national debates they trigger."
The Miami Herald report of the case notes that "the verdict is the last chapter in a saga that started with distraught parents mourning the death of their son and grew into a national movement, powered largely by social media and a chorus of civil rights leaders".
"Almost immediately, the case - and for some, the verdict - was viewed through the prickly lens of race: Zimmerman is a white Hispanic. Trayvon was African American."
Writing for The Nation, Aura Bogado argues that "White supremacy acquits George Zimmerman".
"Throughout the trial, the media repeatedly referred to an 'all-woman jury' in that Seminole County courtroom, adding that most of them were mothers. That is true - but so is that five of the six jurors were white, and that is profoundly significant for cases like this one," she writes.
Ms Bogado adds: "Media on the left, right and centre have been fanning the flames of fear-mongering, speculating that people - and black people especially - will take to the streets.
"That fear-mongering represents a deep white anxiety about black bodies on the streets, and echoes Zimmerman's fears: that black bodies on the street pose a public threat.
"But the real violence in those speculations, regardless of whether they prove to be true, is that it silences black anxiety."
For Erick Erickson on Fox News, "there is only tragedy" in the Zimmerman verdict.
"There are no sides but justice to root for, but a justice that will leave one side unsatisfied and still empty. Both sides made mistakes in this awful mess. George Zimmerman may not be guilty of either murder or manslaughter, but he killed Trayvon Martin.
"A 17-year-old is dead. A family has lost a son. And George Zimmerman must now now fear for his life because of hatred toward him stirred up by so many who politicized this mess.
"There are no winners here save for Zimmerman's not guilty verdict. He will have to live with this for the rest of his life and, sadly, Trayvon Martin will never get that chance. There is only tragedy here. There should not be politics here."