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Did Race Play a Role in the Trayvon Martin Verdict?

| July 26, 2013 | 64 Comments
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Do Now

What was your reaction to the jury’s verdict that found George Zimmerman not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin? Do you think the verdict would have been different if Martin had been white?

Introduction

Unless you’ve been living in a hole for the last couple of weeks, you’ve probably heard by now that George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. On the night of July 13, after more than 15 hours of deliberation, the six-person all female jury announced its verdict, finding Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter. The announcement culminated an intensely controversial case that captivated the nation for weeks, sparking heated debates about racial profiling, state gun laws and the definition of self-defense.

Specifically, the jury concluded that Zimmerman – who is half Hispanic and half white — justifiably used deadly force because he reasonably believed it “necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm” to himself, which aligns with Florida’s legal definition of self-defense.

It all began on the rainy night of February 26, 2012 in a Sanford, Florida subdivision. Martin, a 17-year-old black male who was visiting his father, was walking back from a convenience store when Zimmerman, a 29-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer, accosted him. Moments before, Zimmerman had called the police to report suspicious activity and was told to stay in his car. The two men got into a physical confrontation and Zimmerman fatally shot the unarmed Martin in the chest. Zimmerman admitted to the shooting, but claimed he had acted in self-defense. He was later released by the Sanford police, in large measure because of Florida’s bold stand-your-ground laws, which allows someone who reasonably believes he or she is in danger to use deadly force, even if walking away from the situation is an option.
After a series of protests around the country accusing Zimmerman of blatant racial profiling and demanding that he be tried for murder, he was officially arrested on April 11 – roughly six weeks after the incident – and charged with second-degree murder.

More than a year later, Zimmerman is again a free man. He was even given his gun back – the one he used to kill Martin.

The verdict has ignited another flurry of protests in cities around the country, with dissenters alleging that justice was not served. The outcome of the case, many argue, would have been very different if Martin had not been black, an assertion that has helped reignite debate over civil rights and racial profiling in this country.

Trayvon Martin’s family may now decide to file a wrongful-death civil suit against Zimmerman, for monetary compensation. Many analysts, however, say that it would likely be lost.

Resource

PBS NewsHour video Was Justice Served in Murder Acquittal of George Zimmerman? – July 15, 2013
The George Zimmerman verdict has provoked passionate debate about legal justice and race in the U.S. Judy Woodruff gets reaction from Christina Swarns of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, New Yorker contributor Jelani Cobb, Jonathan Turley of the George Washington University Law School and Carol Swain of Vanderbilt Law School.


To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with @KQEDedspace and end it with #DoNowTrayvon

For more info on how to use Twitter, click here.

We encourage students to reply to other people’s tweets to foster more of a conversation. Also, if students tweet their personal opinions, ask them to support their ideas with links to interesting/credible articles online (adding a nice research component) or retweet other people’s ideas that they agree/disagree/find amusing. We also value student-produced media linked to their tweets like memes or more extensive blog posts to represent their ideas. Of course, do as you can… and any contribution is most welcomed.


More Resources

KQED The Lowdown post Reactions to Verdict in Trayvon Martin Case Split Sharply Along Racial Lines – July 25, 2013
A Florida jury’s verdict earlier this month that acquitted George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, instantly fueled angry protests across the nation. From Atlanta to Oakland, demonstrators took to the streets, condemning the verdict as racially biased.

KQED Forum radio segment Fallout from the Trayvon Marton Verdict – July 15, 2013
A Florida jury’s decision to acquit neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman of murder charges in the death of Trayvon Martin has ignited anger and protests nationwide. Forum discusses the case and fallout from the decision.


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Category: Do Now, Do Now: Government and Civics

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About the Author ()

Matthew Green runs KQED’s News Education Project, a new online resource for educators and the general public to help explain the news. The project lives at kqed.org/lowdown.
  • Tina Gruen

    Justice may have been served, according to the letter of the law, as written by racist, regressive, republicans; but the laws are not fair, or just, or blind. Trayvon should be alive, munching skittles and drinking iced tea with his family, like many a teenager. George Zimmerman should be in jail for the rest of his life, for stalking a young man and killing him, like many a murderer.

    • chente121

      definitely agree with you on this. It is sad the legal system somehow works against common sense and justice and show we need to re-look at how our justice system works and sadly a young man’s life was taken here.

  • http://edmodo.com pamela webb

    why did the jurry didnt go on why the people didnt keep doing tryvon martin justice man people dont understand

  • Naarah Compton

    My react to the verdict of the trail with Zimmerman was very shocking. I couldn’t believe that jury said that he was not guilty. Yes, the verdict would have been much different if Martin was white, because this case was really big on the race.

  • Angelica Smith

    What was your reaction to the jury’s verdict that found George Zimmerman not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin? Do you think the verdict would have been different if Martin had been white?
    My reaction to the verdict that found George Zimmerman not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin was that i feel like it was a race thing and that the only reason he was found not guilty because of his race . I think the verdict would have been different if he was white because they would want justice for there own kind.Not only that but then it would have been a white on white crime but then again I don’t cause George Zimmerman dad is a judge so he have connection to still help him not be found guilty .

  • Brianna Stephens

    My reaction to this trial and the verdict is that justice was NOT served, at all. I believed that they should redo the verdict again. If Trayvon Martin was not dead, he would speak for himself and tell the truth. But, he is dead and he can’t speak for himself. I think that Zimmerman should got to jail. It would have been way different if he was white, I believe the situation would have gone a totally different way, and ended a different way.

  • Raven Sherrica Dollar

    What was your reaction to the jury’s verdict that found George Zimmerman not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin? Do you think the verdict would have been different if Martin had been white?

    When i heard that George Zimmerman wasnt guilty i was mad because i look at it as if it was my big brother, and they should take that as a consideration.
    Yes the verdit would have been differnt if Trayon Martin was white because to me rascis is back to me,because if zimmermzn would have killed a white boy he will be in jail..

  • http://education.kqed.org/edspace/about-do-now/ Shanika Walker

    Visualize being in Trayvon Martin shoes. A young 17 year-old male who is freed and is treated with no justice. This make me feel some type of way about whites in Florida, because I feel like it was all whites in the courts and no one stepped up to be respectful to say that it was wrong. This was considered racism so from now on I dont want to go to Florida anymore.

  • Jasmine Stovall

    My reaction toward the Zimmerman case wasn’t to surprised, and I knew that he was going to get off. I think that the case was racist and that they let him get away with murder because of the boy’s color and background. If Trayvon was a different color then maybe Zimmerman would have been behind bars.

  • Kendria Lawton

    The way I react is the world has gone wrong even though there was a trail trayvon Martin is still dead and it still will not be no justice made . But it is just like a grown African American man shot a white teen the man will go to jail but in this case it was like Trayvon Martin was trying to hurt him . And yes I turly think the the verdict would be different if Trayvon Martin was white.

  • Jasmine Rogers

    I feel that our justice system is a HOT MESS! Zimmerman should’ve got something but instead he walked out as if nothing happened.

  • Jasmine W

    My reaction to the jury’s verdict that found George Zimmerman not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin was that yes it was an unfair verdict because in the start Zimmmerman was stalking trayvon for his strange activities the police told him to stay in the car but he didn’t and confronted him when they said not to.

    Yes, I do think that the verdict would have been dramatically different because if Trayvon was white he wouldn’t have even been shot.

  • Areleesia Bell

    My reation to the jury’s verdict was that I was disappointed due to the fact that Trayvon was doing nothing wrong. And yes I do think the verdict would have been diffrent if Martin had been white because off the back they judged him by his skin color.

  • hydeia Beaty

    I was highly upset when the verdict found George Zimmerman not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. I truly believe that if jury was a mixed race that the verdict would be totally different. The jury was all white women and i don’t think that was fair. If Martin was white, the the verdict would be different. This is an outrage, that Martin will never get justice for his death. The world is coming to an end if people are being killed based on what they are wearing and what color their skin is.

  • Jasmine gastelum

    What was your reaction to the jury’s verdict that found George Zimmerman not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin? Do you think the verdict would have been different if Martin had been white? I think that it was roung that he was not guilty. It was not fair at all because George was roung about that he did and what he was thinking about him he was assuming that that 17 year old boy was a criminal and he wasn’t I feel like u should have went to jail. Yes I think if he was white I think I would have been so different George would have definitely went to jail.

  • naquasha parks

    What was your reaction to the jury’s verdict that found George Zimmerman not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin? I Wasn’t as surprised as other people because it seemed that, that would be the verdict through the whole trial.
    Do you think the verdict would have been different if Martin had been white? yes, because they would have wanted his parents to have justiice because of their race.

  • Tiffeny M

    Trayvon Martn was just a normal teenager that got shoot for no reason just like some other teenagers

  • ahmad Jackson

    im still wondring why he fond not gultiy

    • Kennady Paige

      me too

  • Samariya Schaffer

    Of course I think it would be different if the races were switched. justice needs to be served. Mark Zimmerman may have not gotten jail time. But now he and his family have to live in fear. They have to know that most of the world despises them and wish they were dead.

    • Samariya Schaffer

      *George Zimmerman

  • nolan v.

    I don’t think George Z. shot Trayvon because he was black. I think he just thought that Trayvon was going to hurt him in some way. He was just suspicious of Trayvon. But I still think it is wrong to just shoot a teenager without them attacking you first.

  • Keoni Akioka

    I think that even though you might have done it in self defense, he still killed a minor. Yes, he would had been not guilty by the start.

  • AXEL GARCIA

    I DONT THINK IT DID PLAY A ROLE. ISNT IT A LAW TO HAVE A FAIR TRIAL. SO RACE SHOULD’NT HAVE MATERD.

    • Kennady Paige

      Well it does Axel. Wake up and realize what society you live in. From you last name I can tell that you are of hispanic desent and more than likely you are a male. If a white male were to shoot you when you were just coming from the park or some thing minding your own business because they thought you looked suspicious looking then would you think it wasn’t a race thing??

  • Malik Gordon

    i believe that justice was not served because zimmerman got off and treyvon martin is dead so its not even and he shot him for no reason so i believe he should never get out of jail

  • Shawnnae’ Vasquez

    No matter what anyone does, they shouldn’t have to loose their life. Zimmerman should have never followed him he should have minded his own , and went on about his day. To be honest Zimmerman should be the one dead right now. TRAYVON WAS ONLY 17 YEARS OLD!!!!!!!!!!! The cops said Trayvon had weed in his system, oh well, Trayon might have hit Zimmerman first. Nobody knows that but Trayvon and Zimmerman …….. people talking about just for Trayvon Martin , what about Najon , and the other young black men that was shot and killed?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?! Zimmerman may not have got the time in prison that he was suppose to get , but he’s going to get whats coming to him.

  • Malia Knapps

    When looking half the jury was racist referring to Travon Martin as “That boy” …. The fact that Zimmerman’s wife and himself were caught lying also should have been thought about . It makes no sense of how you couldn’t find someone who was racially profiling a “African-American boy” makes it even more racist …… I felt in the end of it all most of the people who decided the faith of this case were racist and nothing else .

  • sajdah Waqia

    i believe that treyvon was killed because of his race and the verdict was wrong and zimmerman should go to jail for his crime that he commited we need justice

    • Kennady Paige

      I AGREE WITH YOU

  • j sahadi’s voice

    he was killed because george zimmerman is racist.

  • look behind you

    His death was very shocking and an act of racism.

  • Ian McCarthy

    I believe that Trayvon Martin Had no reason to be killed looking suspicious.There is a difference is that there should be some different or a different trudge i mean you cant change the verdict but you can believe what you want.

  • Chase Barloga

    There is no doubt to me that if Trayvon Martin was white the verdict would be different, there would definately not be as much publicity and controversy. George Zimmerman went out of his way to follow Trayvon Martin and shoot him dead. What shocks me more is that Zimmerman was not found guilty. He wouldn’t of had to defend himself and shoot Trayvon Martin if he hadn’t followed him.

  • Isys McCrea

    Treyvon Martin was killed cause Zimmerian was racest like really candy and soda come on now dude u killed him caue he proubly peed u off and u got mad and hot him and then your gonna lie bout it dont u put yo had on the bible when u inter court room then your dumb wife gone try and listen to u and the judge might have been racist because they all know he was guilty

    • Isys McCrea

      shot i meant and hand man im spellin words wrong uhhh and enter a

  • Jazmine Devlin

    my reaction to this whole case was, what was the jury thinking. the jury had to be either white and racist or stupid and confused. i am furious with how the case turned out. what i dont undrestand is that they gave Zimmerman his gun back. the same gun that he shot Martin with might i remind you. this whole thing is just disappointing to hear.

    #injustice

  • Nataya Bassett

    I think race played the biggest part in the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Gorge Zimmermanc should be sitting in prison right now. If Trayvon had been white, or anything but african american, I doubt Zimmerman would have shooted.

  • Ivonne Bravo

    I believe, Trayvon Martin should’ve never been killed for looking “suspicious” because anyone can look suspicious. I was surprised by the jury’s verdict because there was so many people on Trayvon’s side and there still is. I do think the verdict would’ve been different if Trayvon was white because it is possible that the jury set Zimmerman free because of something to do with his race.

  • Jovana Robinson

    Trayvon Martin should’ve been killed because of his colored and his suspiciousness.Zimmerman from my opinion killed Trayvon Martin because he was black he called 911 and the police told him to stay in the car and he shot him anyway

    • Kurtis Vetter

      wow.

    • Kellie Lewis

      Zimmerman shot Trayvon because he appeared dangerous, and appeared like he was armed, Zimmerman was part of the neighborhood watch and was watching his neighborhood. Zimmerman isn’t racist. Or more people colored people would’ve been shot. Is Trayvon the only colored person Zimmerman has seen in the neighborhood? No, hes probably seen MILLIONS… and you’ve only heard about him shooting ONE. You guys always say something about racism, and color. When that’s not the case WHAT SO EVER.

  • Jasmine Cooper

    I think George Zimmerman should be the dead! Trayvon had no reason to die. If I was Trayvon I would have hit Zimmerman first too if he would have followed me. The jury was set up so Trayvon wouldn’t get any justice, which is not fair to his family and friends. If the jury was half black and half white, Trayvon would have got justice! In the past Zimmerman only called the police only on African American what about the white people?

    • Kennady Paige

      I AGREE

  • Chyna Nash

    why did you kill travon martin did do anything to harm you
    at all and if he didn’t than you had no right to

  • Shyheim Reed

    What was your reaction to the jury’s verdict that found George Zimmerman not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin? I Wasn’t as surprised as other people because it seemed that, that would be the verdict through the whole trial. Do you think the verdict would have been different if Martin had been white? yes, because they would have wanted his parents to have justiice because of their race. – See more at: http://education.kqed.org/edspace/2013/07/26/did-race-affect-the-trayvon-martin-verdict-zimmerman/#more-7270

  • Lauryn Hearne

    I honestly think Zimmerman should be in jail because if it was vise-versa then trayvon wouldve been in jail already!!! My reaction about the verdic is that its not fair. It was only 1 African American women and the rest was Cacasion. But Verdict wouldve been way different if Trayvon shot and killed Zimmerman….

  • mikayla

    I think it was wrong for him to shot trayvon martin. He had alot of things ahead of him in life but never got to accomplish his goals i pay him and all his family all respect an wish them the best gone but never forgotten. R.I.P Trayvon

  • Alexander rex

    I do not know what to say here… this article did not give enough facts. If showed a camera surveillance of what happened I might be able to tell but i don’t know. Race may of had something to do with him being set free but if he was it was in self defense i do not know.

  • Jasmine Omar

    Racism played a big role in this case. I can’t believe the jury chose George Zimmerman as not guilty the jury made a really dumb choice . It would have been different if Trayvon Martin were white because obviously he’s racist.

  • Jasmine Omar

    This is very depressing

    • Kennady Paige

      YES….

  • Norisha Edge

    To be honest, I really did not care about the verdict because I really did not know who side to be on. The each side had many good reasons for him being guilty or not guilty.

  • Kellie Lewis

    There’s many comments, and decisions saying it’s because of race, and if Trayvon Martin was white, it wouldn’t have ended the same. I believe this too be false. George Zimmerman was acting in self-defense, in my opinion. Also, saying the jury which consisted of six females, was chosen because they would choose Zimmerman as not guilty is crazy, in my opinion. I know he should’ve stayed in the car as asked, but he didn’t and they got into a confrontation. Zimmerman felt dangered, and used self-defense. I don’t believe Zimmerman is racist, and I believe justice was served correctly.

    • Kennady Paige

      How was George Zimmerman acting in defense when he ran up to Trayvon assaulting him? The jury consisted of 1 minority female who had children; boys in fact and felt threatened by the other 5 or 6 white females that lived in the suberbs and most likely have never had contact with any other race. Outside of viewing what these white females see on crime television, they know nothing about other races; they don’t even have sons! Another thing, you contradicted yourself at the end of your statement. You know that Zimmerman is racist and you know he should’ve stayed in his car when he didn’t to attack Martin but you think justice has been served?! GET IT TOGETHER KILLIE!!

      • Kellie Lewis

        Zimmerman DIDN’T run up and assault him, Zimmerman felt endangered, and in danger, from Trayvon, and was using self-defense. Zimmerman was protecting the neighborhood, because that was his JOB. Maybe you need to get your FACTS TOGETHER, and THINK BEFORE YOU SAY ANYTHING.

        • Kennady Paige

          Girl Hush! Maybe you need to open your eyes and realize the society we live in. You’re only lying to yourself if you say that this was not a terroristic act against a different race.

          • Kellie Lewis

            Okay, how can you be so sure that this was a terrorist act against a different race ??? Please explain that too me.

          • Kellie Lewis

            Also FYI: Terroism, and Racism are TWO DIFFERENT things.

      • Kellie Lewis

        Also, my name is Kellie, not KILLIE….

    • Preston K.

      You hit it on the nose. If Zimmerman would have shot a White guy, we wouldn’t have even heard about it in the news. Everyone is worried about Racism, but everyone should look at themselves. Only you can change the world.

      • Kellie Lewis

        Yes, thank you.. so many people blame it on racism.. and its just crazy..

  • Kennady Paige

    I feel like the verdict was extremely unfair. I also think that the only minority female should have spoke up when she had the chance; when it mattered instead of waiting until the whole thing was over. All of the evidence pointed to this being an attack and the justice system did not do anything about it. IT IS UNFAIR AND A BREAK IN JUSTICE!!!!

  • joymccullough

    @KQEDEdspace I personally believe the verdict was wrong, and I believe it was because of race. If Trayvon were to be white, Zimmerman would be found guilty and be behind bars for 25 years to life or more. However in this case the victim was black so acourse the white man is going to get off, its typical. @MrshephardAG