Last night, George Zimmerman was found not guilty of second degree murder and manslaughter for his attack and killing of Trayvon Martin. Here’s the full story: George Zimmerman Not Guilty. As a sociologist who has studies race relations now for almost 15 years, I’m not surprised of the verdict. Of course, my surprise isn’t due to the evidence presented to the jury but because scholarly research has shown for decades that if you are white and your victim is black, then you are less likely to be convicted than blacks who have white victiems, In addition, if a white person is convicted, she/he is less likely to receive the death penalty in comparison to their black peers in the same situation (Here are some links to support my point: Florida Shows Racial Bias in Sentencing, Justice Blind? by M. Robinson, Death Penalty Information Center, Blacks Convicted More Often with White Victims, Not Vice Versa).
Now, it may come as a surprise to you but I hypothesized, as my early post suggested in July of 2012 (check out this link), that Mr. Zimmerman would not be seen as of “Hispanic” origin but White. Here, I think we see that Zimmerman was counted as “White” in this trial partly because of a very “old west” law in Florida called, “Stand Your Ground.” As suggested by racism scholars, racism today is not as blatant as 1950’s lynchings or segregated bathrooms but as Omi and Winant (1997) suggested, racism will continue to be a central-organizing principle in which laws or institutional actions will not overtly call out to discriminate against one race over another but will subtlety prop up white supremacy. The Stand Your Ground law may be one of these institutional actions that have helped a “white-enough” George Zimmerman escape conviction and possibly the death penalty while other “not-so-white-enough” defendants find themselves convicted and punished to the fullest extent of the law (Here’s an example in Florida of a Woman Sentenced for 20 years for firing a gun in the air to defend herself from her abusive husband). In fact, would the same verdict came down if Trayvon had shot Zimmerman in their tussle? The research says, probably not. Trayvon would have been convicted of murder and received the death penalty.
While I understand that the jury has weighed and measured the evidence provided and found Zimmerman not guilty, the problem is that this verdict for many non-whites across America will signal another failure of the American Criminal Justice System to be fair, blind, and provide protection and justice for all of its citizens, regardless of race or ethnicity. Sometimes, we must think beyond the moment and consider the overwhelming evidence that some American institutions are broken.