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Yessenia Gutierrez
Yessi Can

Credit: Amanda Suarez

Reactions to George Zimmerman’s acquittal are still running rampant on our Facebook newsfeeds, four days after the not guilty verdict. It’s a complex case which demands attention for various, intersecting reasons. I do not have nearly enough space to go in-depth into everything, yet everything mentioned here, and much more, all goes into understanding this case.

For one, it involves not just racism in United States society in general, but also white and white-passing privilege within the Latino community. Zimmerman has been called white, Hispanic and white-Hispanic. In case anyone was confused, he can be all three.

Zimmerman is half Peruvian, half white and identifies as Hispanic. However, police at the crime scene originally described him as white. As 2013 College graduate Emilce Santana, who self-identifies as Afro-Latina, noted, “I’ve come to realize that how I identify is not what people automatically see me.”

The case is also a legal labyrinth. Stefan Johnson, a senior at Villanova University, closely followed the case. Johnson, who self-identifies as black, gave an overview of why he thought the verdict was legally sound, including the case’s focus on self-defense. “I wasn’t surprised at all by the jury decision, and considering that 2nd degree murder and manslaughter were the only two options on the table, I think the jury got it right.”

This is a view echoed by several legal analysts, including Dan Abrams, ABC News’ chief legal affairs anchor. “As a legal matter, it wasn’t a surprise … I don’t see how they could have reached any other verdict, considering how the law works with regards to self-defense.”

But even among those that believe the verdict is sound, it leaves a bad taste in their mouth. After all, the legal system is not synonymous with justice.

“There seems to be somewhat of a mistake being made between being morally wrong and being legally wrong … Legally, is it wrong to follow an unarmed teenager and ask him what he’s doing? No,” Johnson said, adding, “I do think he should have some type of — something. I don’t know quite what that should be though.”

Was there more attention paid to this case than other similar cases occurring at the same time? Absolutely. But what people don’t understand is that these names were folded symbolically into Trayvon Martin’s case. Finding justice represented the difference between feeling safe in this country, and having it painfully highlighted how marginalized, even sacrificed, some people are in the legal system that superficially is meant to provide equal protection.

I am not Trayvon Martin. I am a short, younger-looking, light-skinned Latina who goes to an Ivy League university, which means I have my own set of worries when I’m walking home alone at night. Yet, few things make me angrier than someone telling an entire community how to grieve, especially when that person has white, white-passing, light-skinned, and/or economic privilege over that community.

Telling people that they should stop caring about this verdict is telling them that they don’t have a right to care about the safety of their friends, family or themselves — that this basic right is less important than whatever issue you’d rather focus on.

People don’t cease to be informed about other issues even if one story dominates. Yesterday I read statuses about increased student loan interest rates, drone strikes and of course the infamous New York Times article, and the various articles responding to it. We are capable of caring about multiple issues at once.

Sherri Shepherd gave a summation of the impact of this case on The View. “I teach my son … it’s cold outside, it’s raining, so you put on something to cover up your head…. I teach my son, and will teach him, you defend yourself if something is coming at you. So now, when I look at my son, what do you say to him, because apparently everything I will be teaching him gets thrown out the window because you can get killed for it.”

Rising College senior Elise Mitchell wrote, “…a lot of people are wondering what’s so different about Trayvon? And will people care if next time it’s my son, or brother or cousin?”

Ultimately, Mitchell hopes that everyone riled up by the verdict “stays passionate to see change occur, so that this doesn’t happen again.” Reiterating the complexity of the case and the various issues folded into it, she hopes that “Penn can act as a forum for such discussions this year.”

There’s a certain amount of protection that a PennCard affords us, even those of us who are otherwise marginalized by our race, ethnicity, religion, economic status, immigration status and/or gender or sexual identity. We need to acknowledge this, and use this platform to amplify the voices of the communities we come from, and those communities we will never understand given our privileged status.

Yessenia Gutierrez is a rising College senior from Hollywood, Fla. She can be reached at You can follow her @YessiWrites. “Yessi can” runs biweekly during the summer.

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