Now that the defense has rested in the murder trial of George Zimmerman, there will be a few rebuttal witnesses and then arguments by prosecutors and defense attorneys.
Then, Zimmerman’s fate will be determined by the Sanford, Fla., jury.
Regardless of what verdict is reached and how thoughtful the jury is in reaching it, the result will be applauded by some and lambasted by others. And while the case is specific to a Florida town, its impact will be national.
The undisputed fact is that in 2012, neighborhood watch volunteer Zimmerman shot and killed the unarmed Trayvon Martin.
Every other aspect of the case, however, is highly disputed. Zimmerman, who was licensed to carry the gun, contends that he acted in self defense and is not guilty of any crime. Prosecutors contend that Zimmerman committed second-degree murder under Florida law.
Meanwhile, the case has exemplified many of the divisions in America, bring into question racial profiling, gun rights, perceived biases in law enforcement and media fairness, especially in regard to editing that a television network did in broadcasting the 911 call from Zimmerman.
Regardless of the outcome, there are no winners in this case. Martin has lost his life. Even if he is acquitted, Zimmerman’s life will never be without the specter of this incident hanging over him.
And the societal issues that have arisen will be no more settled than they were before.
As with other high-profile, violent incidents involving race that have captured national attention, a major concern is how the verdict will be received. The worst-case scenario is that protests could develop that get out of hand, exacerbating an already volatile situation.
Florida officials have even taken the step of creating public service announcements featuring African-American and Hispanic individuals saying together that people should raise their voices if they want, but not raise their hands against one another.
It’s clear that this is a case many feel passionate about. It is just as clear that few people have found their opinions swayed by what they have read, seen and heard about the trial. Most who though Zimmerman was guilty to start with still think that, and those who decided early on he was not guilty have held firm to their opinions.
The court of public opinion, sadly, does not need actual facts to arrive at its “verdict.”
But a jury does, and that is something we should all want. These jurors, who have promised to be fair, have seen all the evidence and heard all the arguments. They have to arrive at a verdict based on law, not on emotion.
Emotion, however, will be felt by those closely watching the case, and it may influence reactions. We hope everyone will remember one point made in those PSAs — a decision made in an instant can have lasting effects. In the altercation between Zimmerman and Martin, had even one decision been better made that fateful day, had one action not been taken, the results might have been much different. A teenager might not be dead today and a man might not be on trial.
That is something we should all remember, and take to heart.