The Court of Public Opinion vs. Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman

Following the tragic loss of Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman, almost everyone who is aware of the case has an opinion, and it is those opinions that have taken this story to a level of volatility that could become explosive. Trayvon’s death and the subsequent media swell around this has resulted in emotions on all sides of the war of public opinion being evoked and provoked. At this point, the controversy has taken on a life of its own, and the truth may likely have been lost.  Although charges have been filed against George Zimmerman, the underlying issues of race is so much bigger than the two of them.

In situations such as these, perception becomes so much more important than truth, and whether we all realize it or not, perception defines our lives, more often than truth. As it has been said, perception is reality. Our perceptions come from our life experiences, emotions, attitudes, beliefs, inborn inclinations, facts, and from hearing the opinions of those around us. We are more likely to adopt the perceptions of others who we respect, admire or feel that we need to take care of us, and historically many people in positions of power have abused their power through the manipulation of perception. Put those pieces all together and you can have a recipe for success or disaster.

Court is in Session

In the Court of Public Opinion, the division of perceptions favoring Trayvon or George falls largely along racial lines, with some variation. In line with our perceptions, we tend to stereotype people in news stories like this one not only by race or appearance, but also by roles like Victim, Persecutor, Rescuer or Martyr, but often those roles are not clear cut and can be manipulated by those playing their role as well as the media and other forces. The problem is that many times in our culture, people are forced to pick sides. People often demand it, and the side one chooses often results in judgments being made.

It is ours and other’s judgments that feed our perceptions. I often say that judgment closes our eyes and ears to truth, and in a rush to judgment, especially in this situation, the result can be the escalated situation that we face today, because no one is looking or listening anymore. We have already picked our side.

The Great Divide

Our country’s racial division is nothing new to us, but many like to act like it is not a problem when times are good. We can rally together around our troops, our teams, and our political parties, and even then, there is still an undercurrent of mistrust and betrayal within those settings. The emotion that is at the core of mistrust and betrayal is fear, and it is the way in which we look at fear that feeds conflict, especially in our perceived inequities.

True racial equity is not something that can be legislated or ruled on in court. Our biases and perceptions of inequity come from inside of each of us, and we are not going to change our attitudes and beliefs until we look deep inside ourselves and acknowledge what we feel and why we feel it. Then we can begin to have a meaningful discussion, and hopefully a collective therapeutic catharsis.

The Impossible Dream

When I work in therapy with people, I often hear them say the things that they feel are not possible in their lives. It is my role to help them to find the possible in what they once thought was impossible. In regards to the possible, there are two men in our history from different generations who had a vision, and one came in a dream. It was a powerful dream that rang across our nation’s Capital and into our hearts, minds and souls. Many often love to hear their proclamations and words of hope and inspiration, while others still feel threatened by them. But why would someone feel threatened by words of empowerment and equity, unless they feared their own powerlessness? Why is it that we hide behind our politics, our position, and our religion, when the answers are within us and between us? Why is it that a dream for the human spirit to rise up and not live in a place of shame, fear and inadequacy is seen as a nightmare by some?

I believe that sometimes individuals and their actions present opportunities to face an issue in a culture that comes with the price of their and others’ pain. The pain that is felt by the few often resonates with the many. It can shake us to our core, and prompt us to act, often not to truly represent them, but to address a pain within ourselves. It is how we act that determines whether or not the dream is realized or the nightmare is lived.

Make Medicine from Suffering

I believe that what has been presented by the tragic events surrounding Trayvon and George, offers a great opportunity to become an agent for powerful individual and social change. I would ask that we all take a step back and look at the gift that is being presented to us through this tragedy – the tragedy of the lives of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman being torn apart. And I will prompt those of you who may take exception with the fact that I put both of their names in the same context in the same sentence to take a look inside at yourself, your perceptions, emotions, and judgments. I would ask you to seek a knowing place deep within yourself to find your truth and not allow people who are colored by their affiliations and status to define it.

This issue of race started long before both of these men were born, and we all have the opportunity to turn this into a meaningful discussion of change and growth for a country that refers itself as the greatest in the world. As Americans, we have defied the laws of impossible to do great things. Let’s take the opportunity to live up to our potential in thought, word and deed. See neither Trayvon, nor George, as a Victim, Persecutor, Rescuer or Martyr, but as two people on a journey – one tragically ended. They were born to an imperfect human race that has the great potential to learn from each other. Let’s make this that time that we take the time to look, listen and learn from each other and make what seems like the impossible dream, possible…

…I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” – Martin Luther King referencing Abraham Lincoln


Dr. E …

Erik Fisher, Ph.D., aka, Dr. E… is a psychologist, media consultant and author who has appeared on CNN, HLN, FOX, NBC and has been interviewed and written for major print publications around the country. You may review his website at and follow him on Twitter at DCTRE.