George Zimmerman: Not guilty, but responsible

 (Cartoon by Rob Tornoe)

(Cartoon by Rob Tornoe)

This is commentary from political blogger and cartoonist Rob Tornoe.

Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, dangerously “armed with concrete,” was found guilty of his own murder over the weekend, and gun-toting George Zimmerman, the man who pulled the trigger that ended Trayvon’s life, was nothing more than an innocent victim of reverse racism.

According to many, this is justice, a defense of the mindset that says people should be suspicious of young black men because chances are they’re doing drugs, acting thuggish and probably up to no good. A shining example of a judicial system that seems inclined to punish black men much more harshly than it does everyone else, even when they themselves are the victims.

George Zimmerman may have been acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin on the streets of a gated community back in February of 2012, but there is no doubt that this Skittle-loving young black man, hoodie and all, would most likely be alive today if Zimmerman had simply listened to police and not gotten out of his car in the first place.

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On CNN Sunday morning, Texas Governor Rick Perry told host Candy Crowley that our justice system is “colorblind.” Far be it from me to criticize the pro-life executioner who’s most famous moment was saying “oops” on national television, but I don’t think he and I are looking at the same statistics.

For instance, does Perry know that a black male that was born in 2001 has a 32 percent chance of spending at least a part of his life in prison? Or that an African-American who uses drugs is four times more likely to be arrested than their white counterpart? Maybe he wasn’t aware that a black man is killed every 28 hours by a cop or vigilante. Believe it or not, we have a larger percentage of our black population in jail than South Africa did at the height of apartheid.

And free African Americans and hispanics are three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than whites. Even New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, possibly Perry’s opposite on most policy issues, called out his police force for not searching enough black people.

Does that sound like a colorblind society to you?

Under Perry, Texas enacted its own “Stand Your Ground” law, and just two months later, a Houston-area man shot and killed two men he suspected of robbing his neighbor’s home. When he called 911, he was told by dispatchers to stay in his home, but he responded that he would shoot the burglars and told the operator, “I have a right to protect myself too, sir. The laws have been changed in this country since September the first, and you know it.” He went free of any charges, and the two men remain dead. Care to guess the race of all involved?

Nowhere in the country is this issue on display more prominently than in Florida. Just last year, despite invoking “Stand Your Ground” in a Florida courtroom, Marissa Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison for simply firing a warning shot to scare away her abusive spouse. Her use of the “Stand Your Ground” law as a defense was rejected because the judge thought she could have de-escalated the confrontation, so instead she rots away in prison on three counts of “aggravated assault with a deadly weapon with no intent to harm.”

Couldn’t George Zimmerman have de-escalated his confrontation with Trayvon Martin by not getting out of the car? Not loading his weapon? Not confronting the teenager, as police asked him to? Not housing prejudice thoughts about young black men, the “assholes” that always get away, in his thick skull?

Trayvon and his family may still get justice. The Justice Department is determining if it will file criminal civil rights charges in lieu of Zimmerman’s acquittal, but there would be significant challenges and legal hurdles they would face, so the prospects don’t look too inspiring.

George Zimmerman may not be guilty in the murder of Trayvon Martin, but he’s definitely responsible. And at the end of the day, the parents of Trayvon Martin will have to console themselves with tears over the loss of their teenage son, while the man that ended his life just had a court say he deserves to get his gun back.

Sound like justice to you?


Rob Tornoe is a political cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. See more of his work at, and follow him on twitter @RobTornoe.

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