Analysis: The race factor in George Zimmerman’s trial

Updated 9:10 AM EDT, Mon July 15, 2013

Story highlights

NEW: "A race war in America is sadly alive and well," radio host Ben Ferguson says

The race factor propelled it into a national story

Without the race issue, it would have been merely a local tragedy

Despite the frustration on one side of the verdict, others approved of the jury's decision

CNN —  

When the verdict came, it was as dramatic as anyone could have imagined.

A late Saturday night, a courtroom of breathless people, the accused man standing, and finally the words: “We, the jury, find George Zimmerman not guilty.”

Zimmerman blinked and shook hands with his legal team. His mother smiled. His wife cried. It was over.

Zimmerman fears for life

But outside, the reaction was just beginning. In the crowd milling near the court, some chanted, “No justice, no peace,” while others spoke about the disappointment they had dreaded.

An African-American man in a white shirt and gray vest stood with his arm around his young son’s shoulders.

“I believe that there is a family whose heart was broken, who probably believes once again the system has failed them,” he told CNN’s David Mattingly.

“We’ve been praying for both families because we know that it has been a hard time for everybody that’s been involved. But as far as justice … personally, I think that the system failed the Martin family.”

Common theme

Twitter erupted in disbelief.

Cover Drive wrote, “What kind of world do we live in where an innocent is killed, and the killer is found innocent?” Scotty tweeted, “America has given a free pass to murder Black Youth.”

A Twitter user by the name Sam Is Dead echoed a common theme among those frustrated with the decision, “Casey Anthony innocent … Zimmerman innocent … Mike Vick guilty… Racism.”

Suspected racism in the justice system, deep-seated, secretive and historic, was the crux of the case for millions.

That was what made it a national story, instead of merely a local tragedy.

What led jurors to this verdict

They did not believe it was just about a 17-year-old named Trayvon Martin being shot on a rainy night.

They believed it was about generations of young black men targeted, stalked, suspected and brutalized by police, security guards, neighborhood watches and courts.

“It’s something bigger because Trayvon Martin is all of our sons. He’s the son of all people who are African-American and of those who are conscious of what it means to be black in America,” said Maurice Jackson, a Georgetown University associate professor of history and African-American studies.

After the verdict, his message was somber.

“I feel for his parents,” Jackson said. “This is a sad day for democracy and for justice.”

A much harsher statement came around the same time from another professor who studies race at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

“This verdict was prepared from day one,” George Ciccariello-Maher said. “From the media campaign of demonizing Martin, to the selection of a nonblack jury, to the instruction not to refer to race … his was the chronicle of an acquittal foretold.”

On and on the outrage went.

’Tragedy for black families’

Reaction was swift, and varied.

Zimmerman could still be held responsible for Martin’s death, an online civil rights group, said it highlighted a deep-seated issue.

“This is another tragedy for black families. .. the verdict sends a clear message about the minimal value place on the lives of young black men and boys everywhere,” the group said.

Rev. Al Sharpton also weighed in.

“The acquittal of George Zimmerman is a slap in the face to the American people,” he said.

Not all agree

Despite the fury and frustration on one side of the verdict, others approved the jury’s decision.

“The actual case against Zimmerman was weak. Jurors should be commended for making the right call,” Chicago Sun-Times columnist and author, Richard Roeper, wrote on Twitter.

Doesn’t mean Zimmerman is ‘innocent.’” CaptYonah tweeted, “Fact is, the evidence PROVED Zimmerman not guilty.” GreeneBri wrote, “There is a reasonable doubt and I think our justice system did what it’s supposed to do.”

Many trial watchers, who suspected it would end this way, argued this case should never have been about race.