Thursday, July 18, 2013

OP-ED: Howard University School of Law’s Response to State of Florida v. George Zimmerman

WASHINGTON, D.C.  -- George Zimmerman is not innocent; he was found not guilty of the charges of Second Degree Murder or Manslaughter. This verdict was not about justice for Trayvon Martin, which he deserved. We are profoundly saddened by this verdict because it means that there is yet another unarmed young black male's death at the hands of someone relying on racial stereotypes. This is why last year, Howard Law students insisted on raising the profile of this case by creating a video, “Am I Suspicious,” which was posted on YouTube and why they rallied with others in Washington, D.C. and Florida to have Zimmerman charged.

The verdict does not mean that Zimmerman is innocent or that he did not kill Trayvon Martin. At best, the verdict means that the prosecution did not sustain its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a steep burden. As a former prosecutor, my experience with juries is that they take their responsibility quite seriously which means they conscientiously consider the evidence and follow the law as given to them by the court. Until we learn otherwise, we have to believe that this jury did its job.

This case has initiated a national conversation about race and especially about the power of racial stereotypes that so often adversely affect young black men in Florida and around the country. Although it has been over 50 years since the horrific death of Emmett Till, young black boys are still being senselessly killed because they are black and male, which apparently translates into “suspicious” and results in the unthinkable – death.

One positive outcome of Trayvon Martin's death would be to continue this important discussion, and to examine the laws that can lead to a not guilty verdict in situations where an armed adult male kills an unarmed child who is lawfully where he should be. We must fight to change those laws so that they comport with common sense, fairness, and justice. This is why protecting the right to vote is so important. The electorate should vote for legislators who are more concerned about the lives of our children rather than protect those who carry concealed weapons. This is the surest way to truly give Trayvon Martin justice.

Howard University School of Law will remain committed to its mission of providing leadership necessary to advocate and defend the rights of all, but particularly of African Americans and other minorities, and to provide students with the education needed to do so. (View our Mission Statement here). I have offered the resources of the law school to support Trayvon Martin’s family as they pursue various legal remedies. Furthermore, we will host another program that will focus on the legal, social, and political implications of the Trayvon Martin case.

In March 2013, Howard Law School held such a program featuring Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, Benjamin Crump, the family attorney; Greg Carr, Ph.D., professor of African American Studies at Howard; Josephine Ross, professor of Law and supervisor of the Criminal Justice Clinic at Howard; and Howard law students who worked diligently on behalf of Howard Law and the Martin family. The program this fall will examine the trial strategy of both sides, discuss critical evidentiary rulings by the court, and critique the role of race in influencing the outcome of this case.

We will continue this conversation at Howard Law School where we are preparing the next generation of social engineers. We will continue to support the family of Trayvon Martin and will keep them in our thoughts and prayers.

Yours in the struggle,
Okianer Christian Dark
Howard University
Professor of Law and Interim Law School Dean

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