Lessons From George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin



Seemingly everyone has an opinion as to whether justice was done in the not-guilty verdict for George Zimmerman. Predictably, much of the chatter has focused on the race of each man, Zimmerman being part-Hispanic and part-White, and Martin Black. Much of the opining from those not participating in the trial hinged on rumors or innuendo that never were evidence and would not be presented at trial.

Much as the O.J. Simpson trial a generation ago focused conventional wisdom (or is that an oxymoron anyway?) on race, the Zimmerman trial, its build up, and its dénouement, highlight the apparent race "issues."

Was it Race, or Something Else?

Read carefully between the lines of commentary, and Twitter chatter about this case and you will see it is not strictly race that splits schools of thought, so much as perception, preconception, and life experiences.

Just by reading the initial and rather hysterical news items about the unfortunate shooting of Trayvon Martin and one picks out stresses on racial identity of the participants, focus on various "good" or "bad" traits of each man. All of which feeds into the reader's "filter of experience" to form an impression of what happened, who was right, who was wrong, and what a just conclusion would be.

It is almost impossible not to form an opinion about each man once the racial identities, socioeconomic statuses, and roles are processed. However, ones opinion varies depending upon how one views society and through which prism of experiences. One only look at the seized upon "symbolism" of the hoodie Martin was wearing at the time to decide whether this was normal clothing to which no negatives are given or a clear indication he was up to no good. While either, neither, or both may be true, the interesting thing is that what one believes is determined by one's prior experiences, biases, prejudices, and life experiences.

What Did (or should) We Really Learn From This Trial?

  • It's not so much about race as it is about perception.
  • Truth through one set of eyes is a bald-faced lie through another set.
  • Different segments of society hold different beliefs about the reliability and integrity of the police system, the court system, and justice in general.

Why Does this Matter in Civil Cases?

When I wrote a blog about lying and how we perceive people who lie (The Truth, The Whole Truth, and Lance (and Manti)) https://www.hofflawyer.com/general/the-truth-the-whole-truth-and-lance-and-manti, I focused on how we perceive seemingly "good" or "kind" people as truth tellers, even if this ultimately comes to be false.

Similarly, in the Zimmerman trial, whether we believe justice was done, how we perceive the participants, and whom we believe is almost entirely dependent upon whom we are.

This means we truly must walk in another person's shoes before we can understand how or why someone might perceive an incident, a witness, or a piece of evidence. A reminder for trial attorneys, our clients, and our witnesses.

Categories: General