Many American television viewers were glued to the trial of Florida neighborhood watch leader George Zimmerman, who reached the height of national infamy in February 2012 when he was accused of shooting an unarmed underage African-American student who was on his way home from a convenience store. The resulting year and a half of media scrutiny yielded many valuable nuggets of information about the status of race relations in the United States during the administration of the man who many have called the nation's first post-racial president.
At first, the story seemed too clear and the crime too heinous for the verdict of any resulting trial to be anything other than a murder conviction for the middle-aged male who was believed to have followed young Trayvon Martin, but as is often the case as high-profile trials drag on, the truth became ever harder to determine and the emotions ever more difficult to handle, leading to the acquittal, which many considered unfathomable.
As a minority student in a nation which has long been known for both its culture of acceptance and its struggles with intolerance, I cannot help but feel an immense sense of dread at the message that the lenient verdict on the accused will have on not only societal perceptions of race but also on how minority communities view the justice system in the years to come. Even before this tragic situation unfolded, many minorities felt a profound sense of fear and disgust at what they perceived to be institutionalized prejudice against them within the law enforcement community and the justice system, as we can all see by the number of minorities in American prisons compared to their proportion of the nation's population. Hence, allowing a man to walk away with just a slap on the wrist with the entire country watching makes a mockery of the already-flawed justice system in our nation.
The United States has made a great deal of progress towards providing both equality of opportunity and equality under the law to all its citizens, however, it is for that very reason that the Zimmerman trial seems to pose such a problem at this point in time. When we should be coming together as a nation to deal collectively with the myriad challenges we face, we are instead drifting into discord and division, to the detriment not just of the minority communities most directly affected but to that of all Americans who wish for a brighter future for the nation we all love and the opportunities it provides that we all cherish.