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Trayvon Martin Verdict - Race in America

There is a deep distrust in the black community that the criminal justice system can ever be fair to them. The numbers alone of young black men who are arrested or incarcerated gives credence to their concerns. In fact, one wonders if the situation were reversed and Trayvon Martin had shot George Zimmerman would he have been acquitted?

Over the weekend the all women six member jury rendered a verdict of not guilty for George Zimmerman on all counts.

This verdict was met with very different reactions depending on the prism through which you view the world.

It seems this case has taken on several lives of its own, a metaphor for whichever your cause maybe - equal justice for Black Americans, stemming gun violence, supporting or opposing "stand your ground" laws, just another example of racism in America, etc.

The Cable Networks have broadcast this trial wall to wall for days.

Trayvon's family have created a foundation; NAACP President Ben Jealous and Rev. Al Sharpton are using the decision to champion civil rights and the defense team will certainly use their victory to burnish their credentials.

The verdict has ended the state criminal case but not the cries for justice from the black community and from some in the white community as well.

There is a deep distrust in the black community that the criminal justice system can ever be fair to them.

The numbers alone of young black men who are arrested or incarcerated gives credence to their concerns.

In fact, one wonders if the situation were reversed and Trayvon Martin had shot George Zimmerman would he have been acquitted?

Accepting the verdict means trusting that the system works and many black Americans simply do not believe it works for them.

The US judicial system is designed to decide guilt or innocence based on the analysis of the evidence presented against the law - not to find truth or solve all social problems.

It is intentionally tilted toward innocence requiring only a "reasonable doubt" - to acquit a defendant.

How the system works does depend heavily on the skill of your lawyer and that in turn means money buys better representation and possibly freedom.

This is why so many in the black community believe the deck is stacked against them from the start.

Those who watched the hours and hours of trial coverage were probably not surprised that the skillful defense team were able to establish a reasonable doubt in the minds of the jury.

The prosecution did not do nearly as well making their case.

Not so long ago, in 1995 another defense team did the same kind of thing in the O.J. Simpson case- establishing reasonable doubt that Simpson had killed his wife and allowing him to walk free.

This verdict evoked similar strong reactions and was met with incredulity from most White Americans who thought Simpson was guilty.

Even though OJ Simpson was acquitted this was in essence the end of his life as he had known it.

The later civil conviction and end to all of his endorsement contracts brought him to financial ruin.

As of late, the once star athlete was reduced to fighting to get back his own memorabilia at gun point which landed him in prison.

George Zimmerman is likely to suffer a somewhat similar fate - probably a civil suit brought by Trayvon's parents and a life spent hiding from the notoriety of this trial.

Black Americans have turned this case into a symbol for all the inequities they see in the US law enforcement and the judicial system.

For the most part black Americans view this case as one of an innocent, unarmed child just walking home and getting killed by a vigilante - who was able to justify his actions due the "stand your ground" law and the built-in prejudices of the US justice system.

On the other hand, most, but not all White Americans view this case as over politicized, not properly charged on the evidence and an unfortunate and horrible situation - however, they agree with the verdict on the law and the evidence as presented.

Despite this, many white Americans are in fact uncomfortable with the "stand your ground" laws and the pervasive availability of guns in US society.

"Race politics" and the history of slavery and repression in the US is always just barely beneath the surface.

Some believe that the presidency of Barack Obama has exacerbated these tensions.

Although President Obama spoke out before the trial, over the weekend the President did not appear but only issued a statement calling for people to respect the request for "calm reflection" and asked "how can we widen the circle of can we prevent gun violence and future tragedies like this?"

Rep John Lewis, the civil rights icon said about the verdict - "On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, I think it demonstrates the distance this nation still must go to fulfil the vision of equal justice Martin Luther King Jr. gave his life to defend. I hope this verdict will serve to open some kind of meaningful dialogue on the issues of race and justice in America."

Black American leaders have spent the weekend making it clear that this matter is not over - they are considering pursuing a civil rights claim comparing this case to that of "Emmet Till".

Bringing this civil rights claim may be very difficult since the standard for such a case is very high and the Florida prosecutors failed proving Zimmerman at fault on a much lower standard.

To bring a civil rights claim the US Department of Justice would need to find that Zimmerman acted with "racial animus" and "willful and specific intent".

Additionally, this case resolved certain key issues and Zimmerman cannot be charged again on those points which would be Double Jeopardy and is not permitted by US law.

The Department of Justice could also find that the local officials violated Trayvon Martin's civil rights in the manner they carried out their police work - in other words establishing a clear federal interest that federal law had been violated. However this does not seem likely.

The request to bring a civil rights claim will be coming from the NAACP, MoveOn.Org and many other progressive groups.

This is all happening against a political backdrop where many states have passed laws making it tougher for minorities to vote and a recent Supreme Court case which has eliminated certain protections against discrimination in voting in some Southern states.

This request will fall on the desk of the first Black Attorney General Eric Holder - and will put tremendous pressure on the first Black President Barack Obama and his Administration to deliver justice for those people whose vote returned him to office overwhelmingly - for a second time.

Race and the role it played in this case and continues to play in American Society and what it means to be Black in America will be the topic of discussion for all Americans for weeks to come.

Jon-Christopher Bua's blogposts for Sky News appear here

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