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Monday, July 15, 2013

Monday's Special Edition: When Not Guilty Does Not Mean Innocent: A Nation Struggles With the Zimmerman Acquittal



Thought for the Day: I could not simply write a Motivational Monday post today as if the George Zimmerman acquittal had not happened. I must admit I thought about it & delayed writing till after 10 AM today. However, I felt compelled to share some thoughts on the trial from a psychological & personal perspective. Many people across the United States are struggling with mixed feelings about the decision in Florida that George Zimmerman was found to be not guilty of murder or manslaughter. The jury decided that they could not determine beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman was not acting in self defense when he killed 17 year old, unarmed Trayvon Martin. Although the jury may have had no choice other than the not guilty decision, it simply feels wrong. It makes me fearful this decision will reinforce the vigilante-like actions & racially profiling tendencies which appear to have motivated Zimmerman to go after Trayvon in the first place. Even if Zimmerman feared for his life at the second before he pulled the trigger, as a society are we reinforcing behaviors that increase the chance for violence, prejudice & injustice? What do you think? How can the system be improved? Did it work properly or is it flawed?

There have been protests around the nation calling for action by the Federal Government''s Department of Justice to try Zimmerman for Civil Rights violations. The government has reopened their investigation in light of the protests. Our president, Barack Obama, acknowledged the strong feelings this case has evoked, "but we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son." 

Both my parents were lawyers who taught me to respect laws & the legal system on which our nation was founded. They were also political activists, who ingrained in me a responsible citizen's obligation to do whatever I could, legally, to change a law if I felt it was unjust. Lawyers tend to see things in black & white. Psychologists, on the other hand, see all the shades of grey, in addition to the rest of the colors of the rainbow. In complicated situations like this one, the restraint of accepting the verdict as the law of the land, helps me. However, it does not stop me or any citizen in this great nation from speaking out to reform laws & procedures which may lead to unjust policies.

I believe that we all must acknowledge, reflect & speak up about our feelings. If we feel things are wrong, we can protest & search for creative ways to change the current reality in our society. Over the weekend I received an e-mail from Sharon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action Against Gun Violence. She wrote: 

"Today, we are all Trayvon Martin’s mother. Trayvon, a 17-year- old victim of gun violence, was sadly one of the children and teens shot and killed every 3 hours and 15 minutes in America. Gun violence is a public health crisis of epidemic proportions in our country and, unchecked by Congress and many state legislatures, continues to spiral out of control. The lack of regulation of guns in America is a grave danger to all of our children....It is time for the 80 million mothers of America to stand our ground and demand new, common-sense gun laws and policies that will protect our children and honor the tragic shooting deaths of youths like Trayvon Martin. Collectively, we can use our votes and our voices to change policies and laws that will help keep American children out of the line of fire."
One way to do something about how you are feeling about the verdict is to Join Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense In America TODAY

There are other things which you can do in response to the feelings this case has conjured up. If you feel that racial profiling played a part in this tragedy, get involved in programs that teach tolerance of differences & work to eliminate prejudice. I have written in the past about programs & organizations that are working towards this goal (see recent series of posts on bullying: Part IPart IIPart III,Part IV). Get involved & advocate for their inclusion in our schools & communities. 

I would love to hear your thought about the decision & any ideas you have for reform of the legal system, jury selection you may have.

Photo of Trayvon Martin from Moms Demand Action
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