Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Nation divided over Trayvon Martin case?

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., Special to CNN
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Thu April 12, 2012
Activists march last week in Washington demanding justice in the death of Trayvon Martin.
Activists march last week in Washington demanding justice in the death of Trayvon Martin.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette Jr.: It's a step forward to have the Trayvon Martin case go to court
  • He says America seems divided into camps over George Zimmerman's guilt or innocence
  • The case cries out for clarity and resolution, which can only come in court, he says
  • Navarrette: Too many people have made up their minds, as they did in O.J. Simpson case

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a CNN.com contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.

San Diego (CNN) -- The case against Florida neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman -- which has, for the last several weeks, been exhaustively tried in the court of public opinion -- is now headed where it belongs: to a court of law.

Special prosecutor Angela Corey announced Wednesday that Zimmerman would be charged with second-degree murder in the tragic death of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. The 28-year-old Zimmerman, who had been in hiding even from his own attorneys, turned himself in to authorities and is in police custody awaiting a hearing on the charges.

For those Americans who think that Zimmerman acted in self-defense to save his own life, the decision to charge him is tantamount to giving in to a mob. In fact, as I skipped from one conservative talk radio show to another Wednesday afternoon, that's how I heard it described by hosts and callers alike.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

Yet, for those who believe that Zimmerman was the aggressor in this fateful encounter, that he racially profiled Martin and then essentially hunted him down, the decision represents something else: justice. That's how Martin's family described it in applauding Zimmerman's arrest.

Personally, I'm thankful the suspect is in custody. And that has nothing to do with which team I'm on -- Team Martin or Team Zimmerman. That's irrelevant. But, if you must know, I don't have a team. I don't know that really happened on the night of February 26 on that dark street in Sanford, Florida. And neither do you. After all, we weren't there.

How Martin family is coping in spotlight
Toobin: Corey 'threw the book at him'
Zimmerman family 'devastated'
Attorney: Zimmerman 'stressed, tired'

Of course, we all have our biases. And some of mine come from being the son of a retired cop who spent 37 years on the job. From that vantage point, I would just as soon people like Zimmerman leave the police work to the professionals. And yet, even so, once the struggle began and the two men are wrestling on the ground, if Zimmerman felt his life was threatened, I can't condemn his decision to use deadly force to defend himself.

I'm only sure of this much: This case had to go to trial. It had to be this way. Whether you think Zimmerman is innocent or guilty, we all should be able to agree on that much. We couldn't go on otherwise, with one segment of the country believing that someone got away with second-degree murder and the suspect looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life.

This case cries out for clarity and resolution, and the only place to get either is in court. We need to be able to see and hear the evidence, and let a jury decide whether Zimmerman is guilty as charged or whether he acted in self-defense.

Whatever the verdict turns out to be, let's hope that both camps are mature enough to accept it. I'm not hopeful. Too many people have already made up their minds. In fact, it's hard to see how Zimmerman can get a fair trial -- especially in Seminole County.

The strain is showing. The country hasn't been this racially divided since the O.J. Simpson criminal trial in 1995. And as with that trial, how you see these events seems to have a lot to do with the color of your skin.

But this time, there's a twist. During the Simpson trial, when the defendant was black and the victims were white, polls showed that most whites thought the former football star was guilty, while African-Americans urged us to wait for the evidence to come in. In the Martin case, the roles are reversed as many African-Americans seem quick to convict Zimmerman and many whites urge us to wait for the evidence to come in.

That's not a good sign. Do Americans need better laws, or just better memories?

Follow us on Twitter: @CNNOpinion.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette Jr.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT