The verdict in the George Zimmerman trial may be the most controversial since OJ Simpson was acquitted of double murder in 1995. Having received an extraordinary amount of press coverage from the outset, the question put before six female jurors on July 13th in Sanford, Florida seemed simple: Was George Zimmerman guilty of second degree murder, manslaughter, or nothing at all?
The incident in question — the fatal shooting of 17 year-old Trayvon Martin — occurred on February 26, 2012, when Zimmerman, 28, who was working as a neighborhood watchman for a gated community, fired his gun during an alleged scuffle. As the case unfolded and the press discovered stranger and more incredible details, the country quickly began taking sides.
On the side of George Zimmerman were many Florida residents and supporters of Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which empowers a citizen to use forcible, preemptive self-defense (concealed weapons are allowed by permit) in the event he or she feels “objective fear” of imminent death.
On the side of Trayvon Martin, people felt the incident resulted from racial profiling on the part of Mr. Zimmerman, who saw that Trayvon was African-American, felt suspicious of him based on no other grounds, followed him, and shot him in cold blood.
While both sides had plenty of opportunity to voice opinions via online forums, protests, and newscasts before the trial, the final verdict was left to six women who, after nearly two days of deliberations, ultimately determined that the prosecution had not met its burden of proof, reasonable doubt existed, and Zimmerman was to be set free.
It was late Friday evening (EST) when the news broke, but the hour or the day did not deter millions of people across the web from sharing their opinions about the verdict, especially celebrities, who took to the Twitter-lines with their excited and exacerbated outbursts.
From lukewarm justifications to hallelujahs, those who spoke out in support of Zimmerman had a lot to say. Donald Trump asserted that while Zimmerman was “no angel,” there wasn’t enough evidence to convict him, given Florida’s laws; and Larry King remarked, “I wasn’t at the scene & nobody reading this was there-only 1 man knows & thats the story,” but these statements are about as close as any celebrity (with the obvious exception of Anne Coulter) came to publicly cheering Zimmerman’s freedom.
In fact, for every pro-Zimmerman tweet posted, there were three that expressed a range of emotions — from resignation to outrage. Given these numbers, it may be that celebrity supporters kept their mouths shut on Zimmerman’s big day, especially given the enthusiasm and well-expressed frustration and anger than many other celebrities voiced.
A variety of extreme responses came from all levels of stardom. Political activists like Michael Moore pointed out the hypocrisy they felt inspired the verdict, saying, “if Trayvon Martin had stalked an unarmed George Zimmerman, and then shot him to death…,” and actors like Rachel Evan Wood expressed a similar sentiment about the stereotypically conservative Zimmerman supporter with a dash of sarcasm: “Amazing to see all those pro-life supporters … standing up for Trayvon Martin.”
Bill Maher, a popular left-wing pundit, simply expressed disillusionment and disdain. “This is America,” he said, “waddya expect?”
Some, like Judd Apatow, compared Zimmerman to OJ Simpson, and others expressed rage at a justice system they felt has repeatedly failed minorities, especially young black men. Actor Steve Harvey poetically expressed his sadness writing, “A Child is Dead & The Man that Killed Him is Free & Again The Child is Black … My Country Tis of Thee?”
Famous musicians, hip-hop artists, and singer-songwriters responded with a range of emotions. Rihanna tweeted, “This is the saddest news ever!!!,” and Nicki Minaj concurred. “We just paid to watch a murderer walk free,” she wrote, followed by a #GodBlessAmerica.
Miley Cyrus was just one of many stars to express how sick they felt upon hearing the outcome, and many like artist Keri Hilson expressed disbelief, saying “I have no words for the verdict.”
Others, like football star Roddy White had exactly the right words, although he was obligated to apologize for his outburst the following day. White tweeted at the time of the acquittal that the jurors responsible ought to go home and kill themselves.
While that may have been one of the harshest things said about the decision, it certainly wasn’t the harshest thing felt. The NAACP has petitioned the Justice Department, which will soon determine whether the case should be retried in federal court, an act that is certain to keep the country — and our favorite celebrities — divided.