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Monday, July 22, 2013

Thoughts on Trayvon Martin

An Editorial by Kaitlyn Fydenkevez, 2L at The University of Connecticut School of Law
The views in this post do not necessarily represent my own, but I respect what Kaitlyn had to say about the trial and our legal system, so I asked to include it on this site.  You can read more of Kaitlyn's opinions on her website. -Geoff
What is there to say about the George Zimmerman case that hasn't already been said? Anger, outrage, confusion, jubilation, and apathy have all been expressed over the past 48 hours on just about every news outlet, street corner, and social media platform you can even dream of. Protests have been waged in cities around the country. The Department of Justice has renewed their interest in pursuing civil charges against Zimmerman. And yet, I can't help but feel that a lot of the energy that has been building in the wake of the verdict is somewhat misdirected.

One sentiment I saw repeatedly following the reading of the verdict was extremely off-putting: Our legal system is broken. I couldn't disagree more. Here's why.

It goes without saying that I'm horrified and saddened by the verdict in the trial. I can't even begin to understand what Tracy Martin, Sybrina Fulton, and all of Trayvon's family and friends have gone through, and continue to go through at this very moment. But the fact that the verdict that was reached was opposite of the overwhelming public opinion of the case in no way means that our legal system needs reform.

The burden of proof in a criminal case is "beyond a reasonable doubt" and it rests on the prosecution to meet that burden. The defense, then, carries the responsibility of establishing a reasonable alternative to the prosecution's theory of the alleged events. If the prosecution can't establish a strong enough case, it is against the very tenets of our justice system to convict.

The verdict in this case allowed a man who, by admission, shot and killed an innocent teenager, to walk freely out of the courtroom. (and even get back the very same gun he used). That is not, and never should be, okay. As people launch insults at how our legal system doesn't adequately serve justice, though, I can't help but think they aren't looking at the entire picture.

How did the prosecution end up in this situation with so little evidence in the first place? The answer is what I believe the real focus of the verdict aftermath should be.

Quite simply? Racism. This whole situation is the direct result of (what I feel is) undeniable racism.

I know I'm not blowing anyone's mind here by saying that there are clear racial overtones to this entire situation. But the prosecution had hardly any evidence to use to establish their case beyond a reasonable doubt because on the night of the shooting, George Zimmerman was treated as the victim, not Trayvon Martin. Trayvon was brought to the morgue as a 'John Doe' because police didn't feel the need to canvass the neighborhood asking if anyone knew him. Police went door to door confirming that neighbors heard Zimmerman screaming for help, instead of asking who they heard screaming - thus imposing a particular angle from the very beginning of the investigation. And, of course, Zimmerman wasn't arrested until six weeks later.

That has nothing to do with burdens of proof or prosecution versus defense. It has everything to do with deep-seated notions of "suspicion" and "danger" that the Other brings about in our society.

In order for real change to happen in the wake of this verdict, the outrage needs to be properly directed. The legal system doesn't need fixing. We need fixing.

       About the Author

Kaitlyn Fydenkevez is a second year J.D. student at The University of Connecticut School of Law in Hartford, CT. She living in New York City for the summer; working as a Disability Rights intern at South Brooklyn Legal Services. This fall, she will be studying and working in Washington, DC, as an intern in the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, helping with the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act. Kaitlyn is passionate about law and American domestic policy and is planning on dedicating her career to public interest law.