Another tragedy…

The verdict is in…not guilty. There are strong reactions to the verdict on all sides of the issue…but one thing is clear: this is yet another tragedy that has forever changed the lives of two families.

Of course the most obvious family affected is the family of Trayvon Martin. They have lost a child–a child who still had potential ahead of him. He was not perfect–he was a teenager, and anyone who has ever parented a teenager knows that they can be challenging. Some have said that the jury should have heard about his school suspensions, including one for possession of a small amount of marijuana, and that they should also have heard about his social media posts boasting of his prowess at fighting. Perhaps… But I would hate for my grandson to be forever judged by his school suspensions for stupid remarks and actions; they are not necessarily who he really is.

But George Zimmerman’s family has also been forever changed. For the past year they have waited, not knowing what the future would hold. And they still don’t know. Again, some have said that the jury should have heard about his previous domestic assault charge–saying that proved his propensity for violence. Perhaps… But again, does one previous violent act determine who one is?

Zimmerman was found not guilty. In one way he and his family are free–but he will be forever marked by the charge. It will be difficult–if not impossible–for him to return to anonymity, and if he ever makes a mistake, there will be those lying in wait to argue that that just proves he was guilty.

In so many ways, this is a tragedy…a tragedy that could (and should) have been averted. There are so many “what ifs”… What if Trayvon Martin had not gone to the store? or taken another way home? What if George Zimmerman had not followed him? had let the police take care of the situation? Was there another way to defuse the situation? Or were both individuals so scared of each other that once their paths intersected the end was almost inevitable?

Some have said that this was not about race but rather about the actions of two individuals. That may very well be true, but there are racial overtones that seem to have served as an unspoken foundation. I am white, and so I have difficulty understanding some of those overtones. The closest I can come to understanding it comes from an African-American friend who has sons about the age of my own–and when they were both teenagers and we were worried about the stupid decisions they were making, I worried about the impact they would have on my son’s future; she was worried about whether her sons would have a future or whether someone would response to their decisions with life-ending violence.

Perhaps there can yet be something good coming out of this tragedy. Can it open discussions about our love affair with guns? Can we talk about our gut reactions to seeing someone of a different race in our neighborhoods? Can this situation open avenues for serious discussions with our children about the consequences of actions? If so, then there is still hope, and while the tragedy will never go away, perhaps another pair of families will be spared having to go through it themselves.