George Zimmerman's trial has begun after he turned himself into authorities on Wednesday. Zimmerman faces second-degree murder charges, a first degree felony. If the charges stand, Zimmerman faces up to life in prison.
The manner in which this case is handled will set a precedent for dealing with the racial tensions that have culminated in recent weeks. As such, we must be careful to execute and discuss this trial in a way that honors ourselves and all those who will be processed by the American justice system in the future.
This extremely explosive and divisive situation is reminiscent of another court case where Americans showed that the rule of law should be upheld at all costs: the Boston Massacre.
There are many similarities between the Zimmerman court case and the Boston massacre trial. The basic accusation is even the same: Did armed soldiers/neighborhood watchman really have reason to fear for their lives and use deadly force against an unarmed crowd/civilian? Hostilities between the British and Americans were very similar to the prejudices we are seeing today. Plus, they took place just tens days apart on the calendar. (Read the full account here.)
At the conclusion of the Boston Massacre, five unarmed American colonists were killed in Boston at the hands of the armed, occupying British. Captain Preston and his regiment were promptly arrested and put in jail as they awaited trial.
There was a media frenzy surrounding the trial. Sam Adams, the leader of the Sons of Liberty and John Adam's cousin, was furiously writing accounts of the Boston Massacre trying to control the conversation against the British in favor of the American colonists. The public was clammoring for them to be killed before they were even given a fair trial.
John Adams, a local lawyer and our second president, agreed to defend these men because none else would. It wasn't until after the trial when the facts were examined that a jury made up of the peers of the murdered actually acquitted Captain Preston and his regiment.
The evidence presented in the trial, despite the prejudices and conclusions drawn at the beginning, showed that Captain Preston and his regiment did have reason to fear for their lives even though the mob attacking him was unarmed.
Jail-cell writings of Preston revealed his "thanks ... to the inhabitants of this town -- who throwing aside all party and prejudice, have with the utmost humanity and freedom stept forth advocates for truth, in defense of my injured innocence."
I know we are all for justice, but we should not seek revenge at the expense of justice. Instead, seek justice for its own sake. The American colonists heeded this advice and avoided becoming murderers themselves. As John Adams aptly said, "Borne away by a torrent of passion, we make shipwreck of conscience."
During the Zimmerman court case, we should not be in a hurry to throw out due process to prove a political point. Equality under the law should exist first and foremost in America, even for Zimmerman.