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Continued: Verdict in George Zimmerman trial reveals 2 visions of justice in America

  • Article by: JESSE WASHINGTON , AP National Writer
  • Last update: July 16, 2013 - 3:10 PM

"We can't have this discussion about whether the letter of the law is fair," Robinson says, "because the law is influenced by our culture — by bias and media depictions and all the other things that play into how judges make decisions, how police make decisions, how juries make decisions."

Many people don't know the racial history that influences current attitudes, says Randolf Arguelles, director of a tutoring center in San Francisco.

"If the jurors knew the sociological, cultural, and historical precedents for the specter of black male criminality, and how these tropes are propagated in mass media, then perhaps they would have viewed Trayvon as the kid he was, instead of the life-endangering black menace that justified Zimmerman's homicide," Arguelles says.

That idea boils down to a simple statement for Tina Williams, a high school guidance counselor from Philadelphia:

"Society has it set that we should be scared of black men, period."

Justice, broad or narrow? Two minutes of a fight for survival, or the real world, full of racial history, that surrounds those two minutes?

Demby, the NPR journalist, raises a third option: Justice does not have to be a binary choice.

It's possible, he says, that "George Zimmerman could have racially profiled Trayvon, and still also felt at that moment that his life was in danger."

But the idea that lethal self-defense was justified doesn't sit well with many people.

Blair L.M. Kelley, a North Carolina State University history professor, says Zimmerman's judgment was suspect from the moment he mistook Martin for a criminal, so it's "bizarre" to acquit him based on what he thought was real.

"Must we always take the mind of the person with the gun as the bench by which we must measure?" Kelley says.

Others resist the idea of racial profiling: "He may have singled out Martin for his youth, his dress, or his behavior; he might have been just as suspicious of a white teenager dressed and acting the same way," the National Review wrote in an editorial praising the jury's decision.

In the end, the verdict points to an American justice that can be imprecise, arbitrary or unsatisfying — even to the victors.

"Is justice fair to everybody?" Demby asks. "I don't know, that's what so messy about this."

"You can be found not guilty in a court of law," he says, "but that doesn't mean you didn't do something terrible."

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