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OPINION - The jury's message

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU)  “This jury verdict sends the message that it’s open season on blacks.”

No, of course it doesn’t. But that’s the rhetoric that was spoken from the state house steps in Madison at Sunday’s rally against the George Zimmerman verdict.

Actually, the jury verdict doesn’t say anything – except that the prosecution didn’t meet its burden of proof to get a conviction. Juries are not like the Supreme Court, where precedent is set for future cases. Jury rulings are always narrow; they decide only the case before them. They’re instructed that they are not supposed to consider possible punishment, or what reaction to their verdict will be. Juror B37 told CNN last night, that while sequestered in their hotel rooms, the jury wasn’t away of how closely the case was being followed.

It’s important to remember that a jury does not find a defendant ‘innocent’. In some foreign courts, a verdict isn’t announced as ‘not guilty,’ it’s said to be ‘not proven.’

Truth is, I don’t particularly like George Zimmerman. He was told by a police dispatcher not to follow Trayvon Martin. The dispatcher’s exact words were “We don’t need you to do that.” Yet the provocative act in this case is not Zimmerman getting out of his car, it’s the throwing of a punch. The jury believes that first blow came from Trayvon Martin.

My reaction to George Zimmerman would have been similar to Trayvon Martin’s – up to the point where the confrontation turned physical. My old neighborhood in Brooklyn was patrolled by a private security company. (It was a neighborhood with a large orthodox Jewish population. Many of those families and the synagogue pooled their money together to hire a security patrol since they are required to walk to and from temple, and sometimes they returned home after dark.) If a security guard approached me while I was on the street and asked what I was doing, my response would be something along the lines of “none of your business.” Private security would be within their rights to keep an eye on me. I’m within my rights to tell them to leave me alone. If they want to call the police, that’s their decision.

This is what happens when two hot-heads collide.

But George Zimmerman is wrong if he says he’d do everything the same if the same circumstance unfolded again. He came within an inch of a conviction that landed him in jail for life. If you watched the trial, is there any doubt that that judge would have opted for the maximum sentence? Given another chance, Zimmerman would be a fool not to stay in his car.

Chris Conley