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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Zimmerman from legal lens

The trial and acquittal of George Zimmerman drew a considerable amount of attention for something that simply was not a factor: race. Before looking at this issue of race, let’s lay out the basics of the second-degree murder charge that was brought against Zimmerman. Second degree murder is, by Florida’s definition, the unlawful killing of a person without premeditation.

This is a straightforward crime, and the confusion in this case arose when Zimmerman and his counsel argued that he was acting in self-defense. Many people have called into question Florida’s laws on self-defense, questioning the ‘stand-your-ground’ clause in the state’s statute on self-defense. However, the fact that people even refer to it as ‘stand-your-ground’ is misleading.

In Florida, as in 22 other states, the statute on self-defense states that a person does not have a duty to retreat when in a life-threatening situation. The use of lethal force in a self-defense situation is only allowed when the person feels that his or her life is in considerable danger. Zimmerman’s counsel successfully argued that Zimmerman felt his life was in danger, and thus was within his rights to protect himself with lethal force.

Now, those are the basic facts of the law regarding self-defense and second degree murder. Zimmerman thought his life was in danger and shot and killed Trayvon Martin. Where race comes into the picture is prior to the actual incident. Zimmerman, in his role as a neighborhood watchman, saw Martin walking down the street and called the police to report a suspicious person. After being told by the police that he didn’t need to follow Martin – he was never ordered to stop his pursuit – Zimmerman continued on and confronted Martin.

The media and much of the general public have cried out that Zimmerman targeted Martin because he was an African-American. This concept that Trayvon Martin was specifically targeted because of his race, while not necessarily false, was irrelevant during the trial, and was refuted in the testimony of multiple witnesses.

Nothing prior to the death of Trayvon Martin mattered in this case, because Zimmerman was only charged with second-degree murder. He was not charged with profiling or a hate crime. The prosecution, from the start, faced a difficult trial. In order for Zimmerman to be found guilty, the jury would have to have been convinced beyond all reasonable doubt that Zimmerman was not in fear for his life when he shot and killed Trayvon Martin.

Given that the testimony from witnesses for both the prosecution and the defense was murky and that Zimmerman had scrapes and cuts on his face, there was no way for the jurors to reach the conclusion that Zimmerman was not in danger. The decision in this case was the correct legal conclusion, and race, rightfully so, did not play a role.

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