After George Zimmerman was charged in the murder of a black teenager from Florida, residents of Chicago reflected on how Trayvon Martin became a symbol for racial injustice.
Nathan Linebarger, 23, a student, said the accused Neighborhood Watchcaptain should have been in jail earlier.
“It’s kinda just fixing something that should have happened a while ago,” Linebarger said.
On a quiet Florida night nearly two moths ago Zimmerman allegedly shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was reportedly unarmed. Zimmerman now faces a second-degree murder charge.
Chicagoan Michael Smith said he found the length of time it took to charge Zimmerman troubling: “I find it strange and alarming because it took over a month before they charged him.” Smith said.
Zimmerman’s main defense is Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law. According to the Florida Legislature, this law allows a person to protect their home with use of force if he or she feels threatened.
The law “basically makes no sense,” said Linebarger, the Chicago student. “I’m sure the legislators had some crazy idea in their head.”
When arguing self-defense, using a certain amount of force is understandable, according to experts.
Steven A. Drizin, a law professor at Northwestern University, said a person who claims self-defense can “only use the appropriate amount of force to meet the amount of force thrown at him by an assailant.”
More than 20 states have so-called Stand Your Ground Laws such as Florida’s. Illinois has a similar law known as the Castle Law or doctrine, which allows people to defend themselves in some circumstances. For example, the attacker has to be making a direct threat to the attacked person and refusing to retreat.
“In every state there are laws concerning self-defense that allow a defendant to argue he could use a reasonable amount of force as self-defense,” Drizin said.
The Trayvon Martin case has dominated news since it broke on social media a few weeks after Martin was killed. It has brought attention to racial profiling.
Brandon Chappell, 24, was working on schoolwork while sitting in the Harold Washington College cafeteria. “I think justice was served,” Chappell said, adding that media coverage in Trayvon Martin’s death has had both negative and positive effects.
Chappell said he has seen many photos on social networking sites that connect girls wearing tight skirts with rape and men wearing hoodies with getting shot.
The media have played a part in swaying what people think of the case as well, some said.
Alesce Moi, a 58-year-old computer major with an interest in law, was also in Harold Washington College’s cafeteria.
“I was like, ‘Wow nobody knows what is going on in that case,’” said Moi. She compared it to old country western movies she had watched.
She said in the movies when a person would commit a crime, everybody would be ready to hang them, but then one person would stand up and say the suspect deserved a fair trail.
This is how Moi said she feels about Zimmerman. “He deserves a fair trial,’” she said.
Moi said she thinks the Stand Your Ground Law is a bad idea. “I think that’s what encouraged him to do that,” Moi said. With such a law in Chicago, “this place would be like Al Capone. You have so much aggressive behavior already,” Moi said.
Louie Johns, a Chicago exterminator for 15 years, also believes Zimmerman should be given a fair trial. “I’m not like the rest of the public who want to condemn him,” Johns said. “Let him give his story”.
Chicagoan Jermaine Williams, 32, said the case has drawn a lot of attention because of race. But he also said that because Zimmerman is Hispanic and Martin is black, the case has not been handled fairly. “If a black man shot a white man, you better believe he’d be locked up that day,” Williams said.
“[Zimmerman] thought [Martin] was suspicious because he had a hoodie on,” Williams said. “We all wear hoodies, you feel me?” said Williams, dressed in a White Sox jacket as he waited for a train.
As a convicted murderer who served 15 years in prison, Williams criticized the judicial system. “What kills me is that they’re not as fair as they claim to be,” Williams said.
Bryan Pope, also waiting for the train, questioned the role race played in the situation: “What type of value are we placing on people who look a certain way?”
Ray Mayol, Sam Bohne, Aspyn Jones contributed to this report.