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The first tragedy of the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case is that it was a case at all.

If Zimmerman had done as police instructed, there probably would have been no media circus and we would never have heard of either man. More important, the teenager would still be alive and Zimmerman would not have been charged with second-degree murder.

Unfortunately, Zimmerman, an armed neighborhood watch volunteer in a Florida gated community, did not stay in his vehicle and, for whatever reason, chose to engage the African-American teen whom he had been following.

That decision led to the tragic confrontation that left a young man dead from a gunshot to the chest, two families devastated, Zimmerman's life changed forever and spawned the latest gavel-to-gavel orgy of television courtroom drama.

In this image from video, George Zimmerman smiles after his not guilty verdict.
In this image from video, George Zimmerman smiles after his not guilty verdict. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

While Zimmerman's acquittal Saturday obviously relieved his family and friends, it also caused deep anguish for Martin's family and supporters, and has reinforced the notion of a racially biased legal system.

Most who closely followed the case were not surprised by the acquittal. This is a state that has a so-called "stand your ground" law that allows ordinary, nonpolice individuals to respond with lethal force when they are violently attacked. While it was not invoked in this trial, it does reflect a certain mindset about how Florida regards self-defense.

Clearly, there was some sort of an attack in this case, but the problem was establishing the aggressor. The prosecution alleged that it was Zimmerman who attacked Martin, while the defense claimed that it was actually the teen who attacked Zimmerman.


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Matters were further muddied during the trial when each man's mother separately took to the witness stand and unequivocally identified the screaming heard on a rough audio tape as that of her son.

Apparently, there was too much uncertainty about what really happened that night for a six-woman jury to be certain beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman was the aggressor. The jury had telegraphed its thinking when it asked the judge for reinstruction on the legal elements of manslaughter, a lesser charge than second-degree murder.

This was a challenging case from the beginning, although there were those who tried to pretend otherwise. To many in the nation who have suffered the crippling arrows of discrimination, this case reminded of a national history dotted with bigotry and a double standard of justice. This acquittal will only deepen those feelings.

In fact, we feel that the legitimate issues in this case have tended more toward the hyperbolic and political than the philosophical.

There have been protests about the verdict and some -- including in Oakland -- have turned violent. Protesting is fine, but violence is unacceptable.

The extrajudicial portions of this case were rife with racial overtones. Once again we are reminded of the need for an honest -- and nonviolent -- national conversation about race and the American justice system.