(Photo credit/AP Photo/The Miami Herald, Carl Juste) )

Opinion: For many of us, Zimmerman trial is about race

Not Guilty.  As these words were read aloud in a Florida courtroom on Saturday night, the case that gripped a nation came to a close.  George Zimmerman is now a free man.  Across the country, thousands have taken to social media and to the streets to protest the killing of an unarmed teenager by a neighborhood watch volunteer.

From start to finish, for many of us Zimmerman’s trial was about race.  It was about race even though Zimmerman has been labeled a “white Hispanic.”  It was about race even though Zimmerman said that he shot Martin in self-defense.  And it was about race even though the Zimmerman family played down their own ethnicity during the trial.

When news of Martin’s killing first broke, commentators questioned the use of the term “white Hispanic” to describe Zimmerman.  Fox News contributor Bernard Goldberg said that Zimmerman was only being identified as “white” because the media needed to advance a storyline.  The National Review Online accused The New York Times of “playing the race card again” in using the term “white Hispanic.”  But this term is legitimate, if imperfect.  Although the public often thinks of racial issues in black and white terms, Hispanics are not a race.  The U.S. Census Bureau defines Hispanic as “A person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.”  So Zimmerman, the son of a white father and Peruvian mother, is indeed a “white Hispanic.”

A more accurate description of Zimmerman would be “part Hispanic.”  The “white Hispanic” label is a construct used to describe him to Americans who may not be aware of the fact that Latinos can be of any race.  Certainly, Zimmerman’s ethnicity is relevant to a case with broad implications for social justice.  Yet just because Zimmerman is Hispanic does not mean he was not racist.  Latinos are just as capable of racism as anyone else.

“Trayvon is not dead because of the color of his skin,” George Zimmerman’s brother Robert Zimmerman Jr. told Fox News Latino.  This is an astonishing statement.  Other than the color of Martin’s skin, George Zimmerman had scant reason to pursue the teenager.  Consider one question that went unasked at the trial: How was Martin supposed to react to a stranger chasing him?  No wonder so many Americans have reacted to this verdict with sadness and outrage.  A child was killed, and his killer went free.

George Zimmerman, according to his brother, deliberately did not play up his own ethnicity at the trial, not wanting to inject another racial element into the case.  How convenient for him.  If only Martin could have “downplayed” his blackness on that rainy night in Sanford, Florida, he might still be alive today.  Zimmerman’s brother further said that if George had a birthday party today, “a third of the music played would have been salsa.”  Meanwhile, for the Martin family, the heartbreaking reality is that their child will never have another birthday.

Without question, the not guilty verdict seems terribly unfair.  However, justice is not fair.  Justice is blind.  Justice is based on evidence and the rule of law, and the prosecution was unable to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman was guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter.  While civil rights leaders are now seeking new charges against Zimmerman, the critical takeaway here is that a legally justifiable verdict is not necessarily morally or socially acceptable.

Like it or not, the Zimmerman jury has spoken.  And the pervasive racial aspects of this case remain a troubling and unfortunate reflection of our society.

Opinion: For many of us, Zimmerman trial is about race  raul reyes nbc final1 e1370809324282 news NBC Latino News

Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors.

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