George Zimmerman not-guilty reaction: Guns, race and vigilantism stir passions

Sanford, Fla., and America respond to Zimmerman verdict and its cultural baggage

Yahoo News
In this Monday, July 1, 2013 photo, George Zimmerman enters the Seminole County Courthouse, in Sanford, Fla., during his trial on second degree murder for the killing of Trayvon Martin. Whether they think he got away with murdering 17-year-old Trayvon Martin or that he was just a brave neighborhood watch volunteer “standing his ground,” many Americans can’t seem to get enough of George Zimmerman. And he can’t seem to stop giving it to them. (AP Photo/Orlando Sentinel, Joe Burbank, Pool)
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In this Monday, July 1, 2013 photo, George Zimmerman enters the Seminole County Courthouse, in Sanford, Fla., during his trial on second degree murder for the killing of Trayvon Martin. Whether they think he got away with murdering 17-year-old Trayvon Martin or that he was just a brave neighborhood watch volunteer “standing his ground,” many Americans can’t seem to get enough of George Zimmerman. And he can’t seem to stop giving it to them. (AP Photo/Orlando Sentinel, Joe Burbank, Pool)

Yahoo News asked Sanford, Fla., residents and others across the nation to react to the not-guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman case and cultural issues surrounding the trial. Here’s a collection of responses we received shortly after the verdict was announced.

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The law, not emotion, should always win out: I took quite a bit of grief from non-attorney friends when the Casey Anthony verdict came in: "How can she not be guilty?" "Don't you think she did it?"

It doesn't matter what I think; it matters what the state can prove. In order for a jury to reach a verdict, they must remove emotion and look at the law. In a criminal case the burden of proof is on the state. So, the question for the jurors is: Did the state prove George Zimmerman committed an act intending to kill Trayvon Martin? The jury said no.

The next question then: Did the state prove George Zimmerman committed an act that resulted in Trayvon Martin's death, an act not excusable under self-defense? Here, the jury also said no. I agree with the verdict from a legal standpoint. The state was unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Zimmerman committed second-degree murder or manslaughter, as defined in Florida.

— Bryan Driscoll

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What did Seminole County learn from the Zimmerman verdict?: The trial has had a major impact on Sanford, Seminole County, and our region. At times, it's been hard to gauge how interested the world outside our world is in the case. Of course, it was a firebomb in the beginning, but things quieted down for months. At times, we as local area residents ignored the minute details we would receive on the evening news as the days went by.

When I looked at Twitter as the verdict was read, though, I was reminded of how much this has impacted the United States as a whole. There are extreme emotions both ways, and even though I'm not happy with the verdict, I'm glad that everyone can now move on.

Unfortunately, what breaks my heart is that the Martin family will never be the same.

— Jessica Dawkins

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Tears, hurt and disappointment outside courthouse: Many residents in Sanford tonight are putting their best foot forward in trusting the judicial system in the case of the death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman. More than anything, the verdict has caused a frenzy of confusion, emotions and utter disbelief. While a number of people in Orlando/Sanford area felt George Zimmerman would not be convicted of second-degree murder, they at least thought he would be convicted of manslaughter.

To some, it appears there is little to no value placed on the African-American child. Based on the tone since the beginning of this horrible tragedy, many agreed Zimmerman had no right to claim self-defense when he, in fact, pursued, chased and stalked Martin to his death.

The one thing that is most notable is that people are not lashing out in anger regarding the outcome or in the days leading up to the verdict. Quite the opposite: There are tears, hurt and disappointment in the city of Sanford and in Orlando on Saturday evening.

— Vikki Hankins

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Label now on Sanford: Surprised? No. Disappointed? Yes.

Most central Floridians I spoke to over the course of the trial felt that George Zimmerman was guilty of something. The general feeling is that Zimmerman never should have gotten out of his vehicle to follow Trayvon Martin. But he did, and for that he should be held accountable.

The aftereffects of this case will have no more effect on Orlando or central Florida than the Anthony trial did. We will all move forward and most will not be changed. Soon it will be a blip in our history. It may even affect Stand Your Ground laws in Florida. But for the city of Sanford, it will always be known as the place Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman. That's not something anyone hopes for their hometown.

— Kim Czerniejewski

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Prevent future killings: Perhaps the focus now should be on preventing the other killings that occur every day, far too often, in every part of our country. Any killing is cause to reflect, to assess our values, and to resolve to try to make things better.

Adrienne Cohen

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Our system of laws made the right decision: The city of Sanford will never forget this case and the verdict. I would not be surprised if we see people rioting the decision tomorrow all over town. This case meant a lot to some people in Sanford, and they will not let it rest. There has been a lot of tension in the area of Sanford, which has caused plenty of brawls.

For one, I glad it is finally over and we can move on. This case won't be forgotten, but hopefully it won't cause many problems.

Residents here have been talking about Florida's Stand Your Ground law a lot because of this case. I completely agree with it. It states that if someone attacks you, you're allowed to defend yourself. That is exactly what Zimmerman did, and that is why he was set free.

— Joseph Rodriguez

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Gated siege mentality led to tragedy: While many in Sanford, Fla., and throughout the United States, will likely react negatively to this verdict, no one should be surprised at it. The United States, and in particular states like Florida, have developed over the past decade a siege mentality.

People of all races, if their economic circumstances permit, barricade themselves in gated communities, and have a tendency to view certain categories of people with fear and suspicion. It is unfortunate that Trayvon Martin fit the profile of one of the fear-inducing categories of people: young black males. The hoodie he wore as he made his way from a convenience store just outside the housing compound where he was staying with his father, added to the sense of dread that many feel when they see them on the street.

— Charles Ray

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'Not guilty' a backward time warp: The real question at the heart of this case is whether, by virtue of the mere color of his skin and the wearing of a hoodie, a person is dangerous. Yes, said the jury. Yes he is.

Dangerous enough to kill. Martin wasn't allowed to stand his ground against an adult man who followed him first in a car, and then by foot. His sentence for doing so?

Death.

The racists will crow, they've been crowing for weeks, and will talk about how Martin got what he deserved, how Zimmerman was justified. Any opinions to the contrary will be minefields of comments so ugly, so wrong as to make any sane person question the direction of humanity.

Saturday, the hideous past of segregation and racial violence was born anew, fitting like an old pair of shoes, still warm from their previous wearing. In a modern society, it should not be OK for an adult to follow a child home from the store in the dark, first in a car, then on foot. It should not be OK for him to shoot him dead.

But our society is getting less and less modern. And my fear for my friends — real people with real families — is overwhelming.

— Isa-Lee Wolf

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No closure, no justice: President Obama said, "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon." How many of us have sons — or brothers, cousins, uncles, friends — who look like Trayvon?

I hate to think that they could suffer the same fate, with their assaults being justified by law.

While I respect that the jury deliberated long and hard, and I wouldn't want to be in their shoes, I'm disappointed that the decision provides no closure for Trayvon's family. I'm worried that there will be more incidents like this. I'm sad and scared for the people in my life who don't fit the profile of "safe" — white, clean-cut and therefore non-threatening.

What justice is there in that? 

— Laura Cushing

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Acquittal restores faith in justice: It is a great day for America when an unsympathetic defendant is acquitted by jury ruling on evidence rather than emotion. This is what our Founding Fathers wanted. Those visionaries wanted a nation where facts and evidence trumped prosecutorial zeal. In tyrannical states from which emigrants fled the courts were often full of unsympathetic men and women, many of them completely innocent, who were prosecuted and convicted based on politics and emotion.

Founding Father Benjamin Franklin famously said "that it is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer." Though it would be easy to lock up Zimmerman and those like him — those who are unsympathetic and deemed not politically correct — it would be wrong and against our nation's founding principles.

— Calvin Wolf 

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Zimmerman not guilty of murder, but Martin still guilty of being black: Unfortunately, despite having a black president, racism is still very much alive in America. Being black is like wearing a target on your back, an invitation to be questioned, harassed, and in the case of a young Florida teenager, fatally shot. Black people are stopped by even real police officers more than white people, a situation that has prompted many police departments to develop special programs to reduce racial profiling.

Even a highly recognizable and respected black celebrity like LeVar Burton had to develop a strategy to look harmless when he is pulled over. He recently told CNN's Erin Burnett, "When I get stopped by the police, I take my hat off and my sunglasses off, I put them on the passenger's side, I roll down my window, I take my hands, I stick them outside the window and on the door of the driver's side because I want that officer to be relaxed as possible when he approaches my vehicle. And I do that because I live in America."

Driving while black has always been a game of Russian roulette for black people. With the death of Trayvon Martin, we now know walking while black is just as risky.

— Nancy Tracy

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Jim Crow redux: reaction to the Zimmerman verdict: We learn that black families should understand that many white people also see their children — whether they be honor students, volunteers, or athletes — as little more than potential suspects, and that all their activities, including evening strolls to the corner store for Skittles, should be viewed through the same lens as those white people with the guns. Namely, black children should assume that white people will view them as innately threatening. White people can approach, provoke, and initiate conflict with a black child, and that black child should not respond defensively in any form, because the white man with the gun has the right to stand his ground.

Essentially, what we learn from the George Zimmerman not-guilty verdict is that the Old South and the New South have a whole bunch in common. Not only did Florida rubber-stamp the murder of a child today, but it has created a new legal standard for lynching that is much more legal and expedient than Jim Crow.

— Vickie Mansour-Hasan

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Vigilantism should be tackled in wake of acquittal: The bigger issues that need to be addressed are Florida's Stand Your Ground law (whether it was a factor in the trial or not) and when self-defense is a valid excuse for taking a life. Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman. Martin was only 17 years old. He was not armed. While no one can say for sure what happened, Zimmerman started a fight with Martin. Zimmerman had a gun, and used deadly force when he started to lose the fight. The end result is that a teenage boy is dead and Zimmerman was found not guilty of a crime.

Stand your ground means just that: standing your ground. Not following or pursuing someone and then starting a fight. No one heard Trayvon Martin's side of the story. George Zimmerman silenced him. Only the forensics and crime scene photos could speak for him. Apparently that was not enough. How many more teens need to die before we take a good look at vigilantism?

— Lynda Altman

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Verdict shows America has a long way to go: Just because someone is dark-skinned doesn't mean they are looking for trouble. Wearing a hoodie or baggie pants does not make him a criminal. I've known many teenagers who rebelled by wearing a look that appeared to make them seem "dangerous." It's part of being a teenager for more than a few. They don't deserve to get shot by someone on a power trip.

Trayvon Martin had hopes of going to aeronautic school. He had plans — and those plans have been shot to pieces because of the prejudice that exists in America today.

When will America realize that we are all in this world together? There are good guys and bad guys within all races and all types of people. Unfortunately, it may take many generations before the majority of human beings realize this.

— K.C. Dermondy

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The Zimmerman verdict is about men and their stupid guns: As someone who doesn't live too far from Sanford, I'm nervous after the court announced that Zimmerman has been acquitted. I am praying the jury's decision does not lead to any violent retaliation in my community. As a mother of a son the same age as Trayvon Martin, I'm sad that a young life was lost. Why didn't anyone help break up the fight between Zimmerman and Martin before it turned deadly?

I blame the media for dishonoring Trayvon Martin by turning the issue into a race issue and dividing people. The Zimmerman case was not about race. It was about men and their stupid guns. I wish that Zimmerman could have left his gun at home that day. I've often wondered why people can't carry pepper spray to use as self-defense. I don't understand the male preoccupation with guns.

As far as what happened, there will always be a shroud of doubt and mystery. But what we do know is that, without the gun, no one would have been shot that day. Now we need to move on and be a little nicer to our neighbors. We need to put the guns away and learn to use our words. And, our words need to be a lot kinder because we are all the same.

— Laura Quinn

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America still too divided by race: The sad fact is that young men like Trayvon Martin are murdered ever day. But as the Daily Caller pointed out, these other cases do not cause the kind of nationwide passions that this case caused, because they tend to be killed by other young black men. That is despite the fact that these other young black men are just as dead as Martin and just as mourned by those they leave behind.

There is another said fact that there is a racial divide in America because too many people find it convenient to maintain it. President Barack Obama, too clever by half, helped to inject race into the case when he claimed that if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin.

So America will continue to be divided by race so long as it profits the unscrupulous to maintain it. Beyond the death of one young man and the branding of another for life, that is the essential tragedy of this case.

— Mark Whittington

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Verdict no time for celebration: This was not a civil rights or right to arms trial; it was a self-defense trial. We should all be careful not to build up tensions on either side now that the jury has spoken. I agree with the prosecution that this case is not about sending an emotional message about any larger issue, and we'd be well-advised not to make it one.

These six sequestered jurors were shielded from the enormous national and international attention the media has placed on this case. They deliberated in regard to facts placed before them and the burden of truth beyond a reasonable doubt, not an interpretation of broader issues. Neither should we.

In the words of George's brother, Robert Zimmerman Jr., "This is not a time for high-fives." And as Martin family lawyer Benjamin Crump stated, "For Trayvon to rest in peace, we must all be peaceful." Let's pay heed.

— Laurie Jo Miller Farr

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Zimmerman free, but not without flaws: Trayvon Martin's death will affect George Zimmerman for the rest of his life. Being found not guilty of such a high-profile case is a life sentence in many ways, and he could have avoided it and killing Trayvon by voicing his concern in different ways more becoming to an active American citizen: continuing to call the police department to report suspicious behavior in his neighborhood, running for office himself in an effort to clean up his town, or working to fight poverty and improve education.

Concerned citizens should eliminate the need to "watch" the neighborhood by making it more cohesive, not divisive. It should not have taken the death of a young black man to once again teach Americans this lesson.

— Ashley Mott

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A mockery of reasonable fear for life: As a woman, I'd have been terrified if a strange man got out of a car and followed me. If that man had a gun, I would have no doubt my life was potentially in jeopardy. Does it matter that I'm a white woman and Martin a black man? Does it matter that Martin was wearing a hoodie instead of a dress, or perhaps, business attire? It shouldn't.

The verdict in this case elevates the rights of cowboys and wanna-be cops over those of law-abiding citizens. With no evidence Martin was committing any crime, Zimmerman had no justification for sticking his nose — and his gun — into Martin's business. Martin didn't owe Zimmerman any explanation for his presence in the neighborhood. Zimmerman's carrying a deadly weapon — one which did not contain Martin's DNA, suggesting he never touched it — most likely put Martin in fear for his life. Letting Zimmerman off the hook over uncertainty as to who struck first whitewashes Zimmerman's provocation and the power imbalance between the provocateur with the gun and the unarmed citizen.

— Carol Bengle Gilbert

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America, keep calm and carry on: In the past, I might beep my horn at a car that cuts me off in traffic. That's not happening anymore. I won't go over to a neighbor who has a little too much to drink on July 4 and shoots fireworks onto my roof and into my yard. When a neighbor yells at me to turn the radio down, I'd have to do so. I'm telling my kids not to get involved in any pranks like toilet papering a house, or sneak into a friend's yard.

I never used to be concerned about these things, but in a post-Zimmerman world, the fact that the other person is more likely to have a gun, and feel justified in using it, is something that has to be fit into a calculation of "is it worth it?" We'll all have to be calm and carry on, until the next court case where a jury realizes that guns with hollow-points always beat a pack of Skittles.

— John A. Tures

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Prosecution failed to prove its case: To me, this verdict isn't about race, American culture, guns, carry and conceal, or even vigilantism; it's about burden of proof.

Our legal system is designed so that the burden of proof is on the prosecution, and charges must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt before a conviction can be made and punishment from judgment carried out. Sometimes this system allows a guilty person to go free, but it is better than the alternative of jailing or killing those who are innocent. The prosecution didn't meet that burden of proof, so the legal system performed as it was designed to.

— Lyn Brooks

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