Marches in the streets of New Haven. Hoodies in the halls of Congress. A family torn apart and a nation swept in a sea of outrage.
And finally, after six weeks, George Zimmerman is in custody — charged with second-degree murder and arrested without bail. The emotional rollercoaster about Zimmerman’s charge for killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin is over. The curtain on this case has closed, and the only thing left to determine is the severity of Zimmerman’s punishment.
For the nation, too, the curtain should close. The spotlight that shined so intensely on Martin’s case should slowly dim. It is time to leave this case, at least until Zimmerman’s punishment is determined, and tend to other pressing national concerns.
I’m not saying we should abandon our national dialogue about race and racial profiling. Of course, racism still exists, and it does, from time to time, seep into our most trusted institutions, like the police force and the justice system. When we see this sort of injustice, we must step up to the mantle as citizens. We must stand up like we did in Trayvon’s case; after all, without all the public pressure, it’s likely that Zimmerman would still be free today.
What I’m saying is that it’s time to stop crucifying Zimmerman. It’s time to move on. Zimmerman should not be demonized, nor should he become the scapegoat of this case. Yes, he killed a black guy with a hoodie on, and that’s blatantly wrong. But this sort of crime happens all the time. Zimmerman is not evil or Hitler-like or remotely close to a ruthless serial killer. He is a human being who committed a crime, and he should pay for what he did — nothing more, nothing less.
For the past few weeks, we have not protested against Zimmerman. The goal of various national movements was to point out the flaw in our criminal justice system, one that we claim is biased against minorities. The point was to pressure the police to arrest Zimmerman for Martin’s murder, not to turn Zimmerman into the embodiment of racial strife in this country.
Protests across the nation have been very constructive, for the most part. People are finally talking about the realities of race relations in America, in our personal lives and our public institutions.
But over the past few weeks, we’ve also seen a tendency to deviate from the main goal of pressuring the police to arrest Zimmerman for his alleged crime. Rather, some of the rhetoric and hate has turned to Zimmerman himself. We already assume he’s guilty. Even worse, we caricature him as a ruthless, evil man who deserves the death penalty, a person filled with no agenda except to kill blacks.
We know that’s not the truth. We don’t even have all the evidence in our hands; for all we know, Zimmerman may have indeed acted in self-defense. We should not hastily rush to judgment on what kind of jail term Zimmerman deserves.
So I’m simply asking for restraint. Now that Zimmerman is in custody, let the courts do their work. Let the jury, not the public, decide how long Zimmerman has to spend in jail. Let’s not demonize him even further, and let’s not immediately assume that a jail sentence of less than life is simply due to racial bias in the courts.
We are a country governed by laws, not men. The public anger in the Trayvon Martin case brought Zimmerman to trial, and now the anger must subside. The true test of this nation will not be whether Zimmerman is locked up in jail for the rest of his life but rather whether he gets a fair trial based on facts and not passions.
Geng Ngarmboonanant is a freshman in Silliman College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .