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A Higher Redeeming Lesson From Trayvon Martin Case

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Listening to one of the jurors being interviewed by CNN's Anderson Cooper, it became clear that the jury struggled with the verdict -- and that at least some of them realized a great wrong had been done to the teenager. That they came up finally with "not guilty" may in part have been due to the exclusion of narrow definitions of law, especially in the state of Florida.

Given their cultural backgrounds, it may also have been easier to identify with George Zimmerman and less with Trayvon Martin. Apparently, their decision did not even take into account Zimmerman's disregard with the police advisory not to follow the boy. That he did, and did so armed with a gun, against an unarmed boy walking home with a bag of Skittles in his pocket, is tragic. That he did so obviously projecting some negative intention on the part of the boy -- a projection based on past vandalism in the neighborhood -- is nonetheless tragic and false (in this case, the boy was not intending vandalism).

That the boy felt threatened and scared, feeling a territorial invasion of his space, is logical -- and that he was infuriated by this invasion -- call it what it was -- stalking -- is completely understandable. That the boy expressed this outrage, sensitive as he and other African-Americans can be to being victimized by profiling, and that he defended himself, is understandable. That it would have been better had he not assaulted Zimmerman is likely. That Zimmerman initiated this whole event by stalking the boy is fact. That the boy clearly was protecting himself, to me did not justify shooting and killing the boy. The juror interviewed by Cooper was crying several times. That she and the other jurors were bound by restrictive Florida laws, e.g., "stand your ground," strongly suggests those laws must be reviewed and changed or modified.

This said, I do believe that the entire effort of the prosecution was inadequate. Starting with jury selection. Clearly, a number of the jurors, due to their own cultural backgrounds, would have a hard time identifying with Treyvon Martin and his circumstance.

There is some higher redeeming lesson to be learned from this case. I believe that Trayvon Martin is now a symbol reflecting the need for an end to the racism that still exists in parts of our country -- and especially toward minority youth, in particular African-American youth. Looking more deeply, his story reminds us of how fear and isolation can intervene in blocking the heart, and blocking reality. When George Zimmerman acted in leaving his car against police advice, and in approaching Martin, what did his head tell him? My take suggests it was, "Here's a black kid who means trouble to our neighborhood."

Did he know Trayvon? No. Did he know he received exceptionally high marks in school? No. Did he engage in some kind of dialogue with Trayvon? No. Instead, he inferred things -- negative things; and he treated Trayvon not as a person, but as a troublemaker, as a thing, a "pest" that needed to be eliminated. Trayvon picked up this energy, and, in my opinion, courageously stood up for himself.

So what did Trayvon give us? And indirectly George Zimmerman? The lesson that when we project our biases towards others, they lose their humanity in our experience of them. When we come from the head, disconnected from the heart, we are dealing with our own internal prejudices and conflicts AND fears -- but not necessarily with anything real. People are real.

We must seek to communicate with each other, dialogue with each other, appreciate each other. We mustn't box people into isolation, or categories that separate us, that divide us from the reality that we are One, that we are connected, and we are worthy of respect and knowing each other.

Trayvon Martin has now moved into a hall of heroes, along with people like Medgar Evers. And George Zimmerman was a player in this tragic movie. He showed us the darker side of human behavior -- even though I don't think he is a bad person, just a person who acted on fear and disconnection from the heart. He is a flawed person, like many of us --m and in this particular case, his flaw was to act from his own internal drama without checking into reality to experience who he was confronting.


Mike Schwager is a writer, media coach, communications strategist and publicist. His communications websites are:, and
Mike is also editor-in-chief of a spiritual/humanitarian site, E-mail: