Away from the media maelstrom, America talks about the Zimmerman verdict

Published 6:41 AM EDT, Sat July 20, 2013

Story highlights

Zimmerman verdict sparks conversations, and rifts

A Connecticut woman speaks of the invisible divide between her and her husband

One man says he shut himself off from dissenting views

Another woman says she's too scared to even speak about it for fear of being labled a racist

CNN —  

Beyond the shouting and the stagecraft surrounding George Zimmerman’s trial and acquittal, beneath the crashing waves of news coverage, there’s a conversation going on in the United States about what it all means – about race, about guns, about the future.

It’s happening around dinner tables, at the workplace, over social media and e-mail. In some cases, it’s enlightening.

“My mother and I were talking about the trial itself and we both came to the conclusion that no one but Martin, Zimmerman and God will know the truth,” 26-year-old Natalie Mitchell of Dallas said.

Other conversations are downright scary.

“Ever since the Martin case was decided my family (we live in South Carolina) has been arguing through phone calls, texts and Facebook,” Ryan Cowsert wrote in an e-mail.

“Our family has resorted to blocking each other on Facebook and refusing to talk to each other,” he said. “It is crazy and getting out of hand.”

In many cases, these conversations reflect the binary bullet points so frequently argued in news coverage: Zimmerman was wrong, or not. Race was an issue, or not. Guns are the problem – or not.

But, in many of these private encounters, nuances lost in the broad brushstrokes of rally speeches, primetime sound bites and angry chants rise to the surface, revealing a more complicated depiction of who thinks what, and, why, in the aftermath of this case.

CNN solicited reactions to the Zimmerman verdict through e-mail and Facebook. Here’s a sampling of responses, edited for brevity and clarity:

An invisible line in my interracial marriage

I was really struck, walking around that day feeling so white. Most of the time in my marriage and my family, I don’t think about race. Usually, I don’t think, “I’m a white woman married to a black man.” But there’s a certain point where we don’t meet. His experience as a black man in American informs what he thinks about the Zimmerman verdict. He thinks it’s an outrage, it’s unjust, it’s unfair. And the way he feels about this is tied to his experience as a black man that I will never know. He has been profiled, where I certainly have not. He has a much more visceral reaction to it. I’m not as impassioned about this as he is. He’s very fired up over it. He very much talks to me like he’s trying to convince me. My emotional reaction is, “Lock that guy up. He sounds crazy. He’s clearly racially profiling.” I want Zimmerman away as a parent, but at the same time, you’re thinking about the facts of the case. And I think there’s room for me as a mom saying I want this guy locked up and if I was on this jury and I believed there was reasonable doubt, wondering if I would be able to lock him up.

– Amanda Freeman, a Connecticut blogger who wrote about her experiences after the verdict on TLC’s parenting blog; Caucasian

Citizens now afraid to get involved

I talked to my daughter. I have a 13-year-old grandson. I said, “Don’t let him wear his hoodie up.” Don’t give yourself that appearance that you’re hiding your face for a reason. That may be a profiling factor but it’s not racial profiling. Here in Florida, so many crimes are posted by the police department with videos of people with hoodies up, to hide their faces, whites, blacks, all races. Children just don’t have the same respect. They are more aggressive. Younger people are more aggressive. I think drugs play a big part of it. And the economy has played a big part in it. There’s more needy people, There’s more crime. I had burglaries two doors down on either side of my former residence. I got to the point where I would patrol. Anytime I went out instead of just coming down the street, I would drive down the alley, too. It’s a thankless job. You’re considered a nosy neighbor. You don’t get paid anything. Most of the neighbors don’t want to get involved, and now, with the profiling issue, you’re afraid if you make several phone calls like George Zimmerman did, and they happen to be of the same race, you’re going to be considered a profiler. It just incites fear in the citizen who might have wanted to get involved before.

– Sharon Lee, former neighborhood watch volunteer; Caucasian

’Surround myself by people who feel the same’

When the verdict was announced, my roommates and I cried a lot. It was as if Trayvon had died all over again. When I went to Facebook to vent my frustrations, I lost some friends. When asked by these people, “Are you really dropping a friendship because a difference of opinion?”, I replied “When it’s about someone getting away with the murder of an innocent kid, yes.” One of these people was my stepbrother. The verdict has made me sad, angry, not able to sleep well. I only want surround myself by people who feel the same way.

– Patrick Snipes, Atlanta; Race unknown

Watching the trial changed my mind

My nurse was the one who said, “Let’s watch the trial.” I was riveted. I started watching with the idea that perhaps George Zimmerman was racist and culpable for his actions. But we were swayed by the evidence. To me, the most damaging evidence was the forensics. The angle of the gunshot, the placement of the two people, along with the testimony of the neighbor who described Trayvon Martin as being on top “punching him MMA style.” There’s an internal hesitancy to discuss it. I’ve definitely brought it up to more Caucasian people. I don’t think it was racially motivated at all. I don’t think either one of them were wrong. I think it’s made things worse. They took a case that was not a racially biased case and made it into one. It’s made some people want to pull away from the discussion.

– Dr. Jennifer Beil, Marksville, Louisiana; Caucasian

’I was pissed off at him and I still am’

I have a friend who lives in Denver and I live in Seattle. My friend, Roger, is of Caucasian descent, I am of African-American. When the trial was aired, I didn’t realize his view was strong for Zimmerman until there was a tense moment between us both on Facebook. I actually had to stop our conversation because it was getting weird. We saw each other a few weeks ago at a tournament and didn’t discuss it or bring it up. When the verdict came out, “Not Guilty,” he posted. “They Got It Right.” I was pissed off and still am. I just can’t see how a young boy unarmed with iced tea and Skittles is dead by gun by a watchman who was told not to follow him. I still cannot understand that if we are calling this self-defense, then where was Trayvon’s self-defense? I posted the other day, “How does Florida convict a black woman for 20 years for shooting her gun in the air because her boyfriend was beating her, but Zimmerman kills a black boy and he is set free?” Still no response from my friend.

– Howard Russell, Denver; African-American

Race relations have been set back

If the case didn’t cause conversation between everyone in this country, I’d be shocked. The problem is too many people are joining the conversation, or having the conversation, without knowing a single fact about the case. It outrages me, especially since I was one of the insanely ignorant people that had George Zimmerman convicted as a murderer, just because I believed the tainted propaganda that the media shoved down our throats back in 2012. I had no intention of watching this trial. I happened to be on vacation during the trial, and my family was visiting from New Jersey, and they had been following the trial. So, with nothing but rainy days and not much else to do, I watched. I am really glad I did because it didn’t take but one or two witnesses to see that an innocent man was being railroaded for the sake of politics.