The shooting death of Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26 has touched a national nerve in an America that every day seems more poised toward division.
In fact, the only words that have been measured and to any degree comforting were spoken Wednesday evening when prosecutor Angela Corey announced the charge she was bringing against the shooter, George Zimmerman.
For the past month and a half, there have been countless protests and endless conversation about what should be done in the case. Demands have been made that Zimmerman be charged and tried for murder, and others have concluded that he acted in self defense. There has been criticism of Sanford, Fla., police; questions of how neighborhood watch organizations should function; calls for the revoking of the “stand your ground” law and similar ones in other states; investigations of Martin’s and Zimmerman’s backgrounds; criticism of images of the two presented by the media; criticism of the editing of the 911 call by TV media; the placing of a bounty on the head of Zimmerman by the Black Panthers, and much more.
The most troubling aspect of this case, without doubt, is the death of a 17-year-old. But also troubling was the question of how much pressure the national attention would exert in influencing the prosecutor who would determine what, if any, charges would be filed against Zimmerman.
Corey’s emphatic answer: None.
Most legal experts who offered an opinion on what Corey would do predicted a charge of manslaughter would be filed. When the announcement was made, however, a more severe charge of second-degree murder was lodged.
At her news conference, the prosecutor, who refused to go into details on how she arrived at her decision, made it clear that the national uproar had not influenced her.
“We do not prosecute by public pressure or by petition,” she said. “We prosecute based on the facts on any given case as well as the laws of the state of Florida.”
That statement should give us all a feeling of great relief.
The court of public opinion operates under its own rules. A large segment of the American public is convinced Zimmerman is guilty of murder. Another large segment is convinced he acted within his rights. For those who have reached their respective conclusions, no amount of contradictory evidence is likely to sway them.
Fortunately, the court of the justice system has a higher standard. And that is the only court that can deprive a defendant of his or her freedom for criminal acts that are proven to have been committed.
The only fact that is not in dispute is that Zimmerman, acting as a neighborhood watch captain, shot and killed Martin, who was unarmed. It will be some time before the case goes to trial and is decided by jurors who will have all the evidence that Corey had — facts to which the rest of us are not now privy — and all the evidence that Zimmerman’s defense attorneys will present on his behalf.
And the opinions of those 12 jurors, in the end, will be the only ones that count.