In My Opinion

Fabiola Santiago: Progress in the shadows of Trayvon tragedy

No matter the jury’s verdict in the State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman, the widely followed case has already brought to the limelight significant issues — and perhaps even put them on trial, too.

For one, I hope the 23 days of court proceedings and the jury’s not-so-quick verdict will temper the gun-happy people of this nation.

Given the jury’s request for an inventory list of the evidence almost two hours into deliberations on Friday — and later, the request to rest for the night and return Saturday – it’s safe to say Zimmerman, 29, didn’t get an automatic free pass on his self-defense claim.

That, in itself, is a victory for the prosecution and the parents of young Trayvon Martin, shot dead by Zimmerman two weeks after his 17th birthday.

Using deadly force — shooting an unarmed teenager who was minding his own business when Zimmerman came upon him — has remained the central issue of this case, despite all the props and ploys of the defense to shift the jury’s attention away from that reality.

“Your verdict is not going to bring Trayvon Benjamin Martin back to life,” prosecutor John Guy told the jury. “It’s not going to change the past, but it will forever define it.”

With their indication that they’re going to weigh evidence, the jury has already begun to do that.

Most importantly, despite popular wisdom that Florida law gave Zimmerman the right to shoot Trayvon dead because the neighborhood watchman feared for his life when his pursuit turned into an altercation, this case proves that circumstances matter.

Trayvon was not committing a crime or about to commit a crime, was not inside Zimmerman’s home but was making his way home from a 7-Eleven when the neighborhood watchman profiled him as a possible burglary suspect and began following him.

Zimmerman, Guy argued, was taught that Crime Watch volunteers only “see and call” and was warned against turning into a vigilante. He didn’t act like a responsible gun owner, but as a wanna-be cop hellbent on making sure his catch didn’t get away.

For the town of Sanford, the case has already brought about some positive change.

At the time of Trayvon’s killing, one of the telling signs that the case merited further investigation was the insensitive way in which the police chief kept publicly casting the killing as “an event.” The chief eventually resigned.

The new police chief, Cecil Smith, called Trayvon’s killing on Friday what it was: “a tragedy.”

Were it not for the diligence of Trayvon’s parents and the community’s outrage at the matter-of-fact handling of the shooting, this case would have been tucked away without an opportunity to air so many of the ills it has brought to the forefront.

Following a Justice Department investigation and Smith’s appointment, the police department has engaged the community in conversations and police have undergone “biased-based policing and ethics,” training, Smith said.

“We’ve gone into the community and talked,” he said.

It’s the jury’s turn now.

Read more Fabiola Santiago stories from the Miami Herald

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