My younger daughter (age 13) came home from dance lessons and said, "everybody was talking about some white man who shot a black child and got away with it." I wasn't thinking about the Zimmerman trial just then, so I was quite surprised. Here is the conversation (more or less) that followed:
Me: Wow! That sounds terrible. When did that happen?
Younger Daughter (YD): I think the trial just ended.
Me: Ahhhh. Did they mention the name 'Zimmerman' by any chance?
Me: Well, it's a little more complicated than that.
YD: But he killed a child and got away with it!
Me: How old was this child?
YD: I think they said he was 12 years old.
Me: No, Trayvon was 17 years old.
YD: But he did kill him?
Me: Yes. Do you think it is always a crime to kill someone?
YD: It should be.
Me: How about when a policeman shoots a criminal to protect the public?
YD: Well, that's different.
Me: How about when a soldier shoots a terrorist?
YD: That's different too.
Me: Yes, both the policeman and the soldier were defending people.
YD: What's that have to do with this?
Me: Zimmerman claimed he was acting in self-defense.
YD: But he was older and bigger.
Me: He was older, but Trayvon was 4 inches taller than Zimmerman and more athletic.
YD: But they said that Zimmerman was following Trayvon. How could that be self-defense?
Me: Zimmerman noticed Trayvon walking around in the dark in the rain looking like someone might look if they were casing a house prior to breaking in. Zimmerman called the police and wanted to keep track of Trayvon until the police arrived.
YD: He called the police before he killed Trayvon?
YD: Then what happened?
Me: According to Zimmerman, Trayvon confronted him, punched him in the nose, knocked him to the ground, got on top of him, and started punching him and slamming his head against the concrete. Zimmerman did have a fair amount of blood on the front and back of his head when the police arrived.
YD: And then he shot him?
YD: Why didn't he just shoot him in the thigh or something?
Me: Good question, but I have a hunch if you're being pummeled by someone on top of you, it may be hard to aim.
YD: How can we be sure that's what happened?
Me: There were no witnesses who saw it clearly so we can't.
YD: So he might be making the story up?
YD: But how can we let someone who killed someone who might be lying get away with it?
Me: Well, our legal system is based on the concept of innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In other words, before we punish someone we want to be very sure he's guilty and we'd rather let some guilty people go free if we can avoid punishing innocent people.
YD: So the jury gave him the benefit of the doubt.
Me: Exactly. The jury didn't find him innocent, but rather found him not guilty beyond reasonable doubt. He may very well be guilty, but there wasn't enough evidence to prove that guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
YD: It still doesn't seem right.
Me: Yeah, I don't think there are too many parents who feel good about it. The idea of having a child killed is horrifying regardless of the child's age.
Me: Anyway, at least you now understand some of the more important details: that self-defense was claimed and that non-self-defense couldn't be proved beyond reasonable doubt based on the evidence, at least according to the jury.
YD: It's definitely not as bad as my friends at dance made it out to be. I guess sometimes bad things just happen.