I was saddened, but not shocked, by the not guilty verdict for George Zimmerman in the point-blank killing of Trayvon Martin. There is a simple explanation for it: it happened in Florida. George Zimmerman had Florida law on his side. Without the relentless publicity and the pressure brought to bear by national political and media figures, there never would have been a trial in the first place.
This was in Florida, where holding such a trial would have been unthinkable even a generation ago. This was in Florida, home of the infamous Groveland Four case, in which a duly sworn sheriff and a posse with interchangeable costumes of police uniforms and KKK sheets serially tortured and murdered a group of black men falsely accused of raping a white woman. Sheriff Willis McCall was not only never convicted, he kept getting re-elected to office. He died a free man.
George Zimmerman will die a free man too. But he will never be truly free. He will never be a neighborhood watch captain again. He'll be at least ten times as paranoid as he was the night he stalked and shot Trayvon, but maybe he'll think twice the next time he gets the urge to fire his weapon. Maybe all the other Zimmermaniacs roaming the earth will think twice about stalking and shooting every shadow they see lurking in the corners of their dull little minds.
This was in the United States of America, where even in one northern "liberal" city, a billionaire mayor and his police commissioner enforcer have legitimated racial profiling to a degree not seen since the pre-Civil Rights era in the south.
This was in the United States of America, the biggest arms dealer the world has ever known, where people still wonder why Congress couldn't even pass a modest background check law for gun purchases.
This was in the United States of America, where the Social Darwinism and financial austerity now implicit in public policy have made towns and cities so cash-strapped that they are resorting to using unpaid volunteers in their police departments. There are plenty of incipient Zimmerman wannabes out there with guns and badges and assumptions and low intelligence and an utter lack of training and self-control. Depending on where you live, your next 9-1-1 call may bring a gung-ho intern cop to your door, only too eager to serve, protect and defend you -- for free.
Meanwhile, the human casualties and tragedies resulting from unregulated capitalism, too much money in too few hands, will continue to mount. This is a violent country, with a per-capital murder rate one of the world's highest and a per-capita incarceration rate bar none.
So, the fact that the Zimmerman trial was held at all, and that it was a fair trial, is testament that we can indeed make tiny incremental steps toward a more just system. Even in Florida -- which, despite its awful Stand Your Ground law, is one of the few states that allows cameras in its courtrooms. Every court in this country should be opened to TV cameras -- from the lowest municipal court, where judges are often unqualified, corrupt political flacks, all the way up to the Supreme Court, where just the sight of Samuel Alito rolling his eyes at Ruth Bader Ginsberg's impassioned dissent against the evisceration of the Voting Rights Act would have caused an instant national scandal.
But this is the United States of America, land of official secrets and shadows. So the fact that Trayvon Martin's name is now a household word, that the George Zimmerman trial was held and that it was covered without interruption on CNN, is thus rendered all the more amazing. Trayvon did not die in vain. And Zimmerman is not innocent.