Trying verdict: America comes to grips with the Zimmerman case

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In a society still fractured along lines of black and white, Americans knew, going into the murder trial of George Zimmerman, that the eventual verdict would infuriate someone.

And so the acquittal Saturday of the Sanford, Fla., crime watch volunteer, whose father is white and whose mother is Hispanic, in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, was followed by rallies the next day in various cities, including Pittsburgh.

Most of those who took to the streets were orderly, yet outraged over a case in which a 17-year-old carrying nothing more than Skittles and a can of iced tea could be fatally shot without his killer being found guilty of a crime. The jury of six women, all but one of them white, did not beyond a reasonable doubt convict Mr. Zimmerman of second-degree murder or a lesser charge of manslaughter.

The case stemming from the February 2012 shooting was infused with racial politics, but there was more to this tragedy than that. It also turned on how far a gun-toting crime watch member should go in monitoring an unknown person in the neighborhood, and it raised the question yet again of how to keep innocent citizens safe from a growing culture of guns.

Mr. Zimmerman, who was on patrol that night in a community that had seen a rash of break-ins, told a police dispatcher during a 911 call that he spotted a teenager who looked suspicious. The dispatcher advised Mr. Zimmerman not to confront or follow the youth and that police would be on the scene. Instead, Mr. Zimmerman got into a scuffle with Mr. Martin and said later that he shot him in self-defense.

The jurors' assignment was to uphold the laws of Florida, through the prism of the case that unfolded in the courtroom -- not the one seen on the nation's TV screens or framed by the endless parade of talking heads. Without sitting through every minute of the trial, it is not fair for the public to take issue with how the judge and jury did their jobs.

After the shooting, President Barack Obama injected himself into the case when he said, "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon." Yet on Sunday he offered perhaps the wisest counsel on the trial's outcome -- "we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken."

Some have said the verdict calls for more conversation in this country. The president challenged Americans to ask "if we're doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding" and "if we're doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence."

We question whether "stand your ground" laws like the one in Florida and "castle" laws like the one in Pennsylvania, which expand protections for gun use, invite unnecessary violence and unexpected tragedy. We are concerned about crime in all neighborhoods, whether the victims or the perpetrators are black or white, young or old, rich or poor. And we are impatient for the day when the opportunities of good education and family-sustaining jobs will be truly available to all.

This is the conversation America should be having after the verdict on George Zimmerman.

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