USA TODAY US Edition
Murder charge puts Trayvon case where it belongs
Forty-five days after 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot to death by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla., the case is finally where it should have been much sooner and with much less prodding. It is headed to a court of law.
On Wednesday, special prosecutor Angela Corey charged the shooter, George Zimmerman, 28, with seconddegree murder — the most serious charge he could have faced. Zimmerman turned himself in to Florida authorities.
In the absence of new information, it’s impossible to judge whether this is the appropriate charge in the death of an unarmed black teenager. Sticking to ethical strictures that prohibit prosecutors from revealing investigative details, Corey did nothing to expand the well-known outline of the incident that has tapped a deep vein of distrust of law enforcement among African Americans.
While the facts of the confrontation that resulted in the shooting remain murky, the murder charge against Zimmerman does make a couple of things clear.
For one, it exposes the actions of local authorities as inadequate. They jumped too quickly to the conclusion that they were prohibited from arresting Zimmerman because of Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law, which allows the use of deadly force when people reasonably believe they’re facing bodily harm. That ill-advised statute, adopted by about two dozen other states as well, is likely to be on trial along with Zimmerman, who told police he acted in self defense.
And there’s this. If there had been no outcry from Martin’s parents over the too-quick closure of the case, no outraged tweets from celebrities, no marches in Manhattan or rallies in Sanford, the story might well have ended there. That would have been a second tragedy.
The case, of course, now must rest on the evidence and the law, not on public pressures or perceptions. Where it goes from here is uncertain, but at least it’s finally headed in a better direction.