A Florida state court jury has deliberated for more than 16 hours and found George Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter in the death of Trayvon Martin.
The jury heard all of the evidence; I didn’t. Their verdict will settle the issue of whether Zimmerman committed a major crime under Florida law, although prosecution for violation of federal civil rights laws remains a possibility. Of course, that is a different question than whether Zimmerman bears significant responsibility for the incident in which Martin was shot and killed.
When I think of this case, I always come back to one thing: why didn’t Zimmerman simply walk away after he had reported Martin’s presence to the police and the police had told him not to pursue? He had advised the authorities, and it had become their responsibility to deal with the situation. If Zimmerman had just walked away, the course of events would have changed and, perhaps, the fatal encounter would never have occurred.
In virtually very confrontation, there is a tipping point at which the situation is defused or events escalate. The surly man in the bar who is becoming angry at the behavior of another patron chooses between having another drink or heading home. One driver in a road rage incident speeds up and flips off the guy who just cut him off or decelerates and lets it go. Or a would-be neighborhood watch volunteer decides whether to pursue an unknown visitor or let the police do their jobs. In each situation, choices are made and the causal chain moves in one direction or another.
One other point: in an encounter between an adult and a teenager, I put the onus on the adult to do what is necessary to avoid a physical confrontation. The adult should be able to draw on years of experience, appreciate the potential consequences, and exercise cool judgment when the teenager cannot. Any parent of teenage boys must hope that, if their sons become involved in such a situation, the adults around their children will, in fact, behave like adults.
It’s unfortunate that George Zimmerman didn’t just walk away. We’d be better off as a society if more people did so.