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A jury closely examined the evidence before it and concluded that George Zimmerman was not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of second-degree murder, or the lesser charge of manslaughter, in the death of Trayvon Martin.
Rather, the six jurors accepted Mr. Zimmerman’s claim that the neighborhood watch volunteer shot the unarmed 17-year-old black youth in self-defense when the two scuffled on the street of a gated community in Sanford, Fla., on a rainy night in February, 2012. Mr. Zimmerman told police that Mr. Martin had knocked him down and slammed his head repeatedly against the sidewalk.
Whether Americans agree with the verdict — and many clearly do not — we all must respect it as an expression of what President Obama this week called “a nation of laws.” Those who would protest the verdict should heed the counsel of Mr. Martin’s bereaved father, who urged Americans to “stay peaceful.”
The U.S. Justice Department is reviewing the case to determine whether to prosecute Mr. Zimmerman under federal civil rights laws. A conviction on such an indictment would require the government to show that Mr. Zimmerman acted out of racial hatred toward Mr. Martin.
The review is potentially useful and even necessary. But it cannot proceed from a political agenda to a preordained conclusion. Mr. Zimmerman is owed protection against double jeopardy no less than any other criminal defendant who has been acquitted.
Similarly, demands for the immediate repeal of “stand your ground” laws such as Florida’s appear futile. Such laws are in effect in nearly half the states, including Michigan; they authorize the use of “deadly force” if a civilian reasonably believes that such force is needed to prevent death or grave bodily injury.
It would be more helpful if states with such laws now determine whether they include ambiguities that could encourage similar incidents, especially as more states expand their laws permitting citizens to carry concealed weapons.
The jury did not decide, and was not asked to decide, whether Mr. Zimmerman is a good guy. Only he knows what happened on that fateful night; the prosecution failed to persuade the jury that its theory of the case was correct.
Mr. Zimmerman did many things wrong: complaining to a police dispatcher about “punks” (he preceded the noun with an obscenity), deciding unilaterally that Mr. Martin “looks like he’s up to no good” (the young man had just bought candy and a beverage at a convenience store), and ignoring the dispatcher’s advice not to follow Mr. Martin.
Mr. Zimmerman likely will replay these actions for the rest of his life. Despite complaints that he has been allowed to walk free, he continues to face death threats and a possible civil lawsuit by Mr. Martin’s family.
This case is too emotional, too controversial, and too vulnerable to demagogy to serve as the basis of a national debate on racial profiling of minority youths, or gun control, or urban crime. Mr. Martin’s death was, and remains, a tragedy; certainly he should not have died.
But the tragedy would only be compounded if it led to even more political or media manipulation — or, worse, if someone decided to bring vigilante “justice” to Mr. Zimmerman. One death is already too much to endure.