Thoughts of Attorney Russell Babcock on Zimmerman Acquittal
Predictably, our country, which remains divided on so many issues, is polarized regarding the acquittal of George Zimmerman. For those police officers and volunteers who face danger every day, many feel triumph. And for those with young children and who are members of a racial minority, many feel that there has been a failure of the justice system.
But what I feel in this case is shame and so much sadness. First, we must examine the tragic circumstances of how this young man died. Clearly, there was a racial component here and assumptions made by Mr. Zimmerman that turned out to be erroneous,– fatally so. Many of my Afro-American clients can’t drive in the neighborhood without being stopped by police officers who often wrongly assume “they are up to no good.” The family of Mr. Martin certainly has a reason to be sad.
But the jury verdict should and must be respected. A group of six individuals from the community heard the evidence, considered it, and gave it their best shot. A jury cannot bring back life, nor quell feelings of outrage. And a jury cannot reverse a history of hundreds of years of insidious racism in this country.
The law of self-defense is different than many defenses. Unlike an affirmative defense that a defendant must establish, self-defense in Florida and California provide that the prosecution must disprove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. Here with the evidence available, including the 911 tape which has an unidentified cry for help, the prosecution was unable to disprove self-defense. But the fact that the jurors found insufficient evidence that self-defense had been disproved beyond a reasonable doubt certainly doesn’t mean that Mr. Martin deserved to die.
A jury verdict is only as good as the values of society. Justice is not achieved, as often argued by prosecutors by a jury verdict—justice is achieved by the elimination of prejudice and incidents such as this. Unfortunately, both as a former prosecutor and now as a defense attorney, I have seen way too many cases occur like this case, even though they often don’t attract so much media attention
So lets move on. The real tragedy here is not that the jury reached a “not guilty” verdict. The real tragedy is that young man is dead who did not have to die and that a man who was found not to be criminally liable will still have to face the moral consequences of his conduct for the rest of his life. Everywhere Mr. Zimmerman goes for the rest of his lie, he will be known as the man who shot killed the unarmed kid who carried his iced tea and bag of candy.
The real shame here is not the jury verdict, but that this kind of incident still happens so often in America. We shouldn’t blame the jury: the blame all lies a little with each of us.