Commentary: What Have We Learned Since the Zimmerman Verdict?

One year ago, Trayvon Martin's killer was found not guilty and that has had ramifications around the country.

Posted: 07/14/2014 04:14 PM EDT

It has been a year since a jury of six women found George Zimmerman not guilty in the death of Trayvon Martin, one of the most emotional trials in recent years. The verdict produced resigned anger among one group of Americans, who felt that Zimmerman, the onetime neighborhood watch volunteer, had gotten away with murder in the killing of the unarmed African-American teenager.

A year after that warm night of the verdict in Sanford, Florida, there are lessons that are clear from this sensational trial. For many, particularly in the African-American community, the verdict underscored their constant disappointment and disillusionment with the justice system. And indeed, that is completely understandable.

There were questions about how ardently prosecutors pursue the task of preparing for the trial of a man accused of murdering a young Black teenager. There were questions about whether juries, particularly ones that are largely white, see young Black citizens as their fellow human beings and not as alien provocateurs.

But the time since the verdict has produced other, perhaps more lasting, lessons. The nation has become highly sensitive to the concept of racial profiling as a result of the death of Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman’s action made clear to an entire nation – indeed the world – that young people of color are often viewed and treated by a different standard than their white counterparts.

That sparked a good deal of discussion and action around the country. In its own way, it contributed to the ending of the New York City Police Department’s notorious stop-and-frisk policy. At the same time, the verdict and indeed the death of the unarmed Trayvon Martin produced a wave of protests and demonstrations by thousands of young people around the country. It galvanized young people to take a stand publicly in a way that had not been seen in a generation.

Then there is the matter of Zimmerman himself. After the verdict, he seemed to self-destruct. He has been arrested after pointing a shotgun at his girlfriend. And that came after being accused of domestic violence and threatening a woman with a gun. His estranged wife called the police on him, saying he had threatened her and her father while holding a gun. Shellie Zimmerman declined to press charges. To most of the nation, where there is smoke, there is fire.

For Trayvon’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, the period after the verdict has transformed them into impassioned and dignified spokespersons for the cause of teaching nonviolence for young people and calling for an end to "stand your ground laws." It has been a year with great sadness, but with also great accomplishment fueled by a desire to give meaning to the senseless death of a promising young man.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan

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(Photo: Joe Burbank-Pool/Getty Images)

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