The Florida jury’s decision to acquit George Zimmerman in the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin reverberated through Queens and the rest of the city, where calls were issued to dismantle “shoot first” laws.
The jury of five white women and one Hispanic woman reached the verdict that Zimmerman had the right to defend himself under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. Whether racism influenced their deliberations may never be known, but some legal experts contend the panel could not have found Zimmerman guilty under the controversial law because the prosecution’s case was weak.
Even though the U.S. legal system says the accused should be judged by their peers, the outrage over the verdict might have been tempered by having a black juror on the panel to reflect the race of the 17-year-old victim in this polarizing case. Zimmerman is part Hispanic.
The verdict was painful for the southeast Queens community, which was jolted last month by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.
U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks and two other black congressmen urged the U.S. Justice Department to determine if the nation’s civil rights law had been violated in the jury’s finding when it reviews the case.
“Fifty-eight years after the brutal murder of Emmett Till, I am disgusted that the murder of another young black man has gone unpunished,” state Sen. James Sanders said.
The 14-year-old boy’s killing in Mississippi helped launch the civil rights movement after his murderers were exonerated.
Weighing in on the Trayvon Martin case, Mayor Michael Bloomberg did not mention race but said the “shoot first” laws are drafted by gun lobby extremists in Washington, D.C., and must be eliminated.
Queens with its large black, Hispanic and immigrant population is keeping a close eye on the fallout from the case. The borough is an accidental experiment in tolerance with diverse groups quietly living side by side, but each enclave must believe that their civil rights are protected by law and they are not racial targets.
When a young black child not carrying a weapon is gunned down on the grounds of self-defense in this country, all who live in Queens are at risk regardless of race.