The nationwide demonstrations that followed Saturday's "not guilty" verdict in the Sanford, Florida, trial of George Zimmerman featured placards that read, "Zimmerman: The people say guilty." Never mind the trial, never mind the jury, it's what "the people" think — or feel — that matters. The zealots of the French Revolution would have handled the case differently, one might imagine, executing the will of "the people" by marching Zimmerman directly to the guillotine. That would likely have been an outcome pleasing as well to America's young "revolutionaries" of a few decades ago, crying out for "Power to the people!" Sometimes the world still seems stuck in 1968.
The "verdict" of people in the street is one thing. But when someone found not guilty by a jury in a court of law is pronounced guilty by the editorial board of the prestigious New York Times, it becomes a little harder to ignore. To be sure, America's "newspaper of record" did not exactly say in its Monday morning editorial that Zimmerman was "guilty" of either murder or manslaughter in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. But the concluding paragraph constitutes, if not a conviction, then at least an indictment of Zimmerman — and his gun.
In the end, what is most frightening is that there are so many people with guns who are like George Zimmerman. Fear and racism may never be fully eliminated by legislative or judicial order, but neither should our laws allow and even facilitate their most deadly expression. Trayvon Martin was an unarmed boy walking home from the convenience store. If only Florida could give him back his life as easily as it is giving back George Zimmerman's gun.
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