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Editorial: Use verdict as chance to have open dialogue

Jul. 15, 2013

The George Zimmerman verdict should not signal another step back in race relations. Rather, the verdict, no matter what side you are on, should provide an opportunity for even deeper discussion on how to build trust among races and in our communities.

The verdict should not pit neighbor against neighbor no matter the skin color. It should not continue to divide a country and communities or break down the bridges of trust and moral decency already established. We understand when George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the shooting death of young black man Trayvon Martin that emotions were going to run high. People were going to protest the decision or hail it as our justice system doing what it was supposed to do and not unfairly convict a man if the evidence did not support it.

Only Zimmerman knows what happened that night. Martin canít tell us. Zimmerman said he was acting in self-defense when he pulled the trigger on Feb. 26, 2012 ó ending a life much too early.

But his death should not be remembered for a justice system breakdown, or for further widening the race relations gap. Letís not make this about another fight or another opportunity to pounce when the next killing happens. We need to fight for solutions to strengthen race relations. His death should not be about angry responses, but rather hope in building a better future for all of us.

Zimmerman claimed he feared for his life when he shot Martin after a brief struggle. Maybe he did. Floridaís Stand Your Ground law allows him to protect himself. Maybe he walked the sidewalk that night, looking to hurt, even kill Martin because he did not like the black youth walking in his neighborhood. The all-female jury didnít think there was enough to prove intent on Zimmermanís part or that this was a clear case of racial profiling.

The jury worked with the evidence it was given and could not come to the conclusion ó beyond reasonable doubt ó that Zimmerman committed second-degree murder or was even guilty of manslaughter.

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The NAACP does have the right to lobby for civil rights charges against Zimmerman. More than 270,000 people have signed a petition demanding the Department of Justice pursue such charges. That is their right. It is how our justice system works.

But proving Zimmerman willfully intended to kill Martin because he was black will be extremely difficult. There does not appear to be any evidence to back up such a claim. But in the quest for justice, who wins? If such a case does move forward and Zimmerman is found guilty, does the black community celebrate a win? If Zimmerman walks away an innocent man one more time, does the black community again protest that the justice system has failed it once again?

We supported the Stand Your Ground law when it was first passed in 2005. We support it now. People have the right to defend themselves if they feel their lives are in jeopardy. However, a person does not have the right to kill another because of skin color. That is not the purpose of the law.

A task force commissioned by Gov. Rick Scott last year to investigate the merits of Stand Your Ground supported the law. Legislators have continued to debate its effectiveness and will probably continue that discussion into next yearís legislative session.

But letís also debate human life and the importance of working together to end senseless violence. We have the right to peacefully protest decisions in this country when we donít like the outcome. But after that, we need to work toward coming together as a country and as a community.

We need our leaders to step up and talk about what divides us and develop solutions. We need mothers and fathers and children and friends to do the same thing.

If we are willing to walk hand in hand and build a country free of racial tension and mistrust, then all the controversy and attention this case garnered will have meant something.

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