Law and Justice and George Zimmerman

The exoneration of Travyon Martin's killer is a stark reminder of the limitations of our judicial systems and the choices we make about the laws under which we live.

July 13, 2013

In the next few hours and days you'll likely be inundated with analysis and commentary and solemn expressions of outrage or joy about what the acquittal of George Zimmerman means -- to the nation, to its rule of law, to its politics, to its racial divide, to its deadly obsession with guns, to Florida's ALEC-infused justice system, and to probably 100 other things I can't list off the top of my head. This is what happens when a verdict comes down in a high-profile criminal trial -- when life or liberty are on the line and the country is split, and angrily so, upon the wisdom and the justice of the outcome.

To me, on its most basic level, the startling Zimmerman verdict -- and the case and trial that preceded it -- is above all a blunt reminder of the limitations of our justice system. Criminal trials are not searches for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. They never have been. Our rules of evidence and the Bill of Rights preclude it. Our trials are instead tests of only that limited evidence a judge declares fit to be shared with jurors, who in turn are then admonished daily, hourly even, not to look beyond the corners of what they've seen or heard in court.

Trials like the one we've all just witnessed in Florida can therefore never fully answer the larger societal questions they pose. They can never act as moral surrogates to resolve the national debates they trigger. In the end, they teach only what each of us as students are predisposed to learn. They provide no closure, not to the families or anyone else, even as they represent the close of one phase of the rest of the lives of the people involved. They are tiny slivers of the truth of the matter, the perspective as narrow as if you were staring at the horizon with blinders on, capable only of seeing what was not intentionally blocked from view.

Read the full article on The Atlantic's website.