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America polarized along race and politics

Date: 7/17/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

In the wake of the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, I have found what has been presented in social media has been pretty fascinating – and sometimes both sad and infuriating.

I’ve been especially intrigued that people who would classify themselves as “conservative” have been jubilant in the decision casting Zimmerman as some sort of victim and ignoring that a 17 year-old kid has been killed.

How is this a victory? Trayvon Martin is dead and Zimmerman’s life will be ruined, unless, of course, he is hired and supported by people who see it as part of a political agenda.

In some people’s minds, it is acceptable that a neighborhood watch guy, who was told by police to stay in his car, decided to take matters in his untrained hands and provoke a confrontation with an unarmed teen that resulted in the teen’s death.

It is not illegal in Florida to ignore the advice of law enforcement.

I’m also concerned about people who have become so emotional about the outcome that they call for an appeal, when there are no legal avenues for such a procedure.

One of the best analyses of the case I’ve seen is by a Florida attorney named Brian Tannebaum. Read his posting at

He wrote, “As for the case, I think it’s terrible that George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin. That’s a tragedy. I don’t think he had to shoot him, and had one or two things been different (he didn’t get out of his car, didn’t have a gun, on and on), we wouldn’t be here. I keep hearing Trayvon Martin would have killed George Zimmerman, I don’t think so, but I wasn’t there.

“You weren’t there either. You don’t know what happened, exactly. As much as you want to believe you were there and know what happened, exactly, you weren’t, and you don’t.

“Not knowing exactly what happened requires a not guilty verdict, no matter how angry or outraged you are. The jury didn’t free Zimmerman because they thought he was a good guy or because they weren’t sad that a young boy was killed (jurors were rumored to be crying during the state’s rebuttal), they found him not guilty because the facts and the law required them to do so.

“The state had a crappy case, they knew they had a crappy case. This is why they assigned three career prosecutors with a combined stat of probably over 500 trials. Their first problem was no witnesses to the event. You would agree, wouldn’t you, that witnesses help prove cases? Their second problem was a tape that no one could agree on. You know whose voice was on that tape? I don’t. The state never laid out, point by point, what happened. If I’m being asked to convict someone of a crime, and I know the state has the burden of proof, the state is required to tell me what happened, not just ask questions and tell me ‘you decide’ over and over again.

“Juries don’t make decisions because they are mad, sad, angry, or feel bad for someone’s parents.

“George Zimmerman is not guilty because the law says he’s not guilty. You don’t think it’s right that he killed Trayvon Martin, but that’s not what the law says in Florida where we like guns more than we like people. You have a problem with that, do something to change the law other than complain on social media. I know, you’re busy, you won’t. That’s for others to do.”

As difficult as it can be for those of us who were appalled by this case, we need to advocate change to prevent something like this from happening again.

We need to have discussions about race, because, yes, race played a major role in this case. I can’t help but wonder if this was some white kid walking through this neighborhood if this incident would have taken place.

Twenty-two states have similar laws to Florida’s Stand Your Ground. USA Today reported on July 15, “In a study of ‘stand your ground’ laws commissioned by the National Bureau of Economic Research, researchers found that in states with ‘stand your ground’ laws, the number of homicides had significantly increased from the years before the law was enacted. They found that the provision that allows self-defense ‘in any place a person has a legal right to be’ is the driver of the increase in homicides. The increase in homicides, they argue, negates the claim that these laws reduce crime.”

So, how have these laws helped stem violence? What have they accomplished?

The reaction to this case also shows that in the 21st century America is amazingly, heartbreakingly polarized along race and politics. We have so much work to do, but I fear there are too many people who believe our current status is just fine.

Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line at or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.