Zimmerman Acquittal: We Don't Live in a Post-Racial America

What the Zimmerman trial taught us about race in America.

ByABC News
July 14, 2013, 11:44 AM

July 14, 2013— -- If there's any lesson to be learned from the murder trial of George Zimmerman, it's that racial tensions are tighter than ever in the U.S.

The role of race in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was muffled inside the Sanford, Fla. courtroom. But outside of it, a national debate about race dominated the conversation about the trial.

From the outset, the media and the public debated whether Zimmerman, who has a white father and a Peruvian mother, racially profiled Martin when he reported him to the police, followed him on foot, and eventually shot him dead. Supporters of Martin expressed skepticism that Zimmerman would be convicted, considering his race and Martin's.

The floodgates opened once Zimmerman was acquitted on Saturday night.

Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Martin's family, said that the verdict would go down "in the annals of history next to Medgar Evers and Emmett Till as symbols of the fight for equal justice for all."

Meanwhile, Zimmerman's attorney Mark O'Mara said immediately following the trial that, "things would have been different for George Zimmerman if he was black for this reason: he would never have been charged with a crime."

Protests over the verdict broke out in cities across the country. Most marches, like the one in Washington, D.C. were peaceful. But some reportedly turned violent, including a protest in Oakland, Calif.

Following the verdict, the NAACP is pressuring the Department of Justice to prosecute Zimmerman on civil rights charges.

"We will pursue civil rights charges with the Department of Justice, we will continue to fight for the removal of Stand Your Ground laws in every state, and we will not rest until racial profiling in all its forms is outlawed," NAACP President Benjamin Jealous said in a statement, according to ABC News.

Zimmerman's attorneys repeatedly asserted that their client didn't act out of racial animus. But racial questions weren't limited to his actions, they applied to the courtroom as well.

Five of the six jurors were white women and the sixth may have been Hispanic, according to the Associated Press. All-white jury pools in Florida convicted black defendants 16 percent more often than white defendant compared to when at least one member of the pool was black, according to a 2012 Duke University study.

Zimmerman claimed that he shot Martin in self-defense. But Martin's supporters couldn't help but wonder if that explanation would have worked if the defendant happened to be black. They cited the case of Marissa Alexander, a 31-year-old black Florida woman who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot to try and ward off her abusive husband.

(There is a legal difference between the Alexander and Zimmerman cases: Alexander tried unsuccessfully to use Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law to defend herself, while the law was not invoked in the Zimmerman trial.)

But back to the bigger picture. The aftermath of the Zimmerman trial shattered any lingering notion -- especially for younger generations who missed out on the Civil Rights Era -- that we are living in a post-racial America where racial divisions have become a non-factor in society.

Almost every step of the trial was tinged with some of America's oldest and deepest racial taboos. There's evidence that any parents, especially white ones, try to avoid conversations about sensitive racial matters with their kids to raise awareness of these issues. But others decided that this was as good a time as any to have that talk.

"Just sat my kids down and tried to explain racism," author Solomon Jones tweeted after the verdict was handed down. "Then we prayed for Trayvon Martin's family and ours."