Trayvon Martin: What Have We Learned?

How long will the furor over the killing of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman loom large on the public radar screen? What have we learned from this tragedy? Will anything change? There are numerous issues that beg for attention and responsible discussion.

This tragedy was avoidable. Zimmerman’s role as volunteer neighborhood watchman was to report suspicious activity, period. Not to apprehend but to report. When he reported activity he deemed suspicious, he was directed to stay in his vehicle. He did not. If he had heeded instructions, Trayvon Martin would still be alive. He likely would’ve been inside his dad’s house before the police arrived. The police are trained to investigate “suspicious” activity. Zimmerman was not.

What was suspicious about Martin’s activity? Did Zimmerman profile Martin because he was black, or because Martin appeared to fit a profile of suspects related to recent burglaries in the area? If the burglary suspects had been young white males, would Zimmerman have pursued them as he did Martin? Was this a case of racial profiling, or of a volunteer watchman assuming a responsibility for which he was neither trained nor qualified?

Why is Zimmerman not held accountable for Trayvon Martin’s death, when his poor judgment and unnecessary actions led to Martin’s death? Zimmerman had a choice: to stay in his vehicle and let the police do their job, or to take matters into his own hands. He chose the latter, and an innocent young man is dead as a result.

Did emotional public outcry get in the way of the criminal justice system, pressuring for charges that require evidence of intent, for which there was none? Did the prosecution fail because they tried to paint a picture of intent that did not exist, instead of charging Zimmerman with an equivalent of reckless homicide?

Can we non-minorities fathom what it means to be black in America? Do we make sincere attempts to be sensitive to what minorities experience simply walking down the street? Do we care?

What lessons do we take from this tragedy? How can we use these lessons to make our world safer for our children, and to honor the memory of an innocent young man whose life ended as a result of undeserved suspicion?

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