Saturday, a Florida jury of six women found Zimmerman not guilty in the death of Martin, who died on Feb. 26, 2012, after being shot by Zimmerman, 29.
Since the death of Martin, a black 17-year-old who was wearing a hoodie on the night of his death, the conditions were primed for elaborate role-playing.
By one reckoning, the rights of citizens to protect themselves — Zimmerman was an armed and zealous neighborhood-watch volunteer — were in conflict with those who claimed this case illustrated that it’s open season on young black males.
Foes of ever-expanding gun rights saw an opportunity to point to the “Stand Your Ground” laws in Florida and elsewhere. These laws set a loose standard for someone to justifiably use deadly force, specifically if a shooter reasonably believes he or she is in imminent danger. Meanwhile, gun-rights organizations pressed on with the argument that the path to a safer society was for more firearms in the hands of “good guys.”
Cable TV news outlets played their own roles. Fox News excelled at what it normally does — ensuring its mostly conservative audience is perpetually riled up. On MSNBC, host Al Sharpton crossed an ethical line by reporting on the story while at the same time acting as a spokesman for Martin’s family and loud advocate for a conviction. CNN, which continues to struggle to define its role in a hyper-competitive environment, did what it could to milk every ounce of drama from the three-week trial.
Yet, this case was real, and not merely an overheated Hollywood script. As roles are played and big lessons pursued, we can’t neglect the deep tragedy here that touches all sides. An innocent young man is dead. For the rest of his life, a man still in his 20s must carry the burden of killing an innocent teen. And, just as importantly, the roster of unheralded victims rolls on.
Trayvon Martin was not the only victim to have died at the hands of a gun since February 2012. These many others have not received even a fraction of the attention as the Zimmerman trial, but their lives were of no less value.