Since I'm neither any sort of legal expert, nor privy to what went on in the jury deliberations, I can only speculate, and admit my thoughts have no value at all. But, to make sense of the not-guilty verdict in the Trayvon Martin trial, I assume that, rightly or wrongly, the jury considered the events leading up to the confrontation irrelevant; that once they were fighting, Zimmerman had the right to defend himself. If that was it, well, then, I suppose it makes sense. I'd like to think it was that simple; not about who was of which race or vigilantes; not about hunting a kid down because he had a hoodie and Skittles. In his own neighborhood. Walking. Just about a single moment in a scene that had had an earlier beginning, considered immaterial.
If a guy A is tailgating guy B, honking his horn, giving the finger, trying to get him to move out of the way, waving his gun at him; and guy B finally slams on his brakes, gets out of his car, reaches into window A and starts punching, and guy A shoots him, is guy A's behavior when the cars were moving relevant? Maybe, in the narrowest legal focus, not. Guy B could have stayed in the car. Maybe that's the way the jury saw it, and/or was so instructed.
On the other hand, the law holds a bartender responsible for letting a drunk leave his joint and drive a car. And, as a recent article noted right after the verdict, there's a black woman spending twenty years locked up for firing a warning shot, which, contrary to the implications of the article, sort of confirms the Trayvon outcome, in that the claim was "stand your ground" didn't apply. (But, c'mon... twenty years??)
Here's a piece by Ta-Neishi Coates that sees the legal outcome the way I proposed it: according to Florida law, the jury had little choice. And then, in convincing fashion, he takes it much further, where it needs to go:
When you have a society that takes at its founding the hatred and degradation of a people, when that society inscribes that degradation in its most hallowed document, and continues to inscribe hatred in its laws and policies, it is fantastic to believe that its citizens will derive no ill messaging.
It is painful to say this: Trayvon Martin is not a miscarriage of American justice, but American justice itself. This is not our system malfunctioning. It is our system working as intended. To expect our juries, our schools, our police to single-handedly correct for this, is to look at the final play in the final minute of the final quarter and wonder why we couldn't come back from twenty-four down.