Now the jury has spoken on the question that riveted the public and filled cable news to the gills: Whether George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, murdered a black teenager Trayvon Martin because he happened to be a black kid in the wrong place at the wrong time and in the wrong outfit.
It is hardly a mystery why this tragedy exploded into the trial of the year. It was not just about Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence. It was about the state of race relations in America — about our racial guilt or innocence.
Alongside that trial, however, was another one — not about race, but allegedly about evidence and law. This second trial continues to get its share of media attention.
But there’s a problem when a trial’s racial components and its legal elements don’t mesh. Most of us were watching a racial drama, even as Zimmerman’s courtroom defense seemed intent on presenting a legal drama. It was “The Wire” vs. “CSI” – a story submerged in social context versus one based on police procedural.
This creates a major disconnect for the public. Watching the trial, one might have hoped that Zimmerman’s acquittal or conviction would be determined by how the jury objectively read the evidence — and that’s how Zimmerman’s supporters have viewed it. But the protestors and demonstrators see this ruling as something else — as the verdict of the racial trial.We saw this same disconnect with a vengeance in the Rodney King trial in Los Angeles in 1992. The racial and political context of that trial was unmistakable. King, a black construction worker who was severely beaten by a group of white Los Angeles police officers after a late night car chase, seemed to symbolize every African-American who had ever been victimized by the system. In some ways, he was less a man than a metaphor.