Basically, a volunteer police officer has a limited amount of power or authority. The volunteer is allowed to drive around or walk around in his/her neighborhood and call up the police if he/she sees anything suspicious.
One night, at 2am, Zimmerman saw a person he considered to be suspicious. He saw a young black man walking in his neighborhood and this young man was wearing a hood over his head. Because there had been burglaries recently in that neighborhood, Zimmerman called into the police station and reported this 'suspicious' young man.
The young man was 17 years old and had only gone to get some candy from a nearby 24 hour grocery store. The young man was not the burglar Zimmerman was looking for.
Zimmerman was told by the police to not do anything. They told him that they would send police over to check out the situation.
However, Zimmerman disregarded what he had been told and drove up to the young man.
The specific details of the rest of the story are in dispute - there are different versions of what happened next.
Zimmerman apparently confronted the young man and a fight occurred. Zimmerman claims that the young man hit him, knocked him down and then began smashing Zimmerman's head into the ground.
In Florida, people are allowed to carry guns with them (if they can obtain a license). Zimmerman had his gun with him. During the "fight" he pulled out his gun and shot the young man (Trayvon Martin).
At first the police did not arrest Zimmerman. They seemed to believe that he was just protecting himself. However, many African Americans were upset and began protesting around the USA. Indeed, many people of different races protested. After one month, George Zimmerman was finally arrested and is now standing (facing) trial for murder.
This is now the most-watched criminal trial in the USA. About 50% of Americans think Zimmerman is innocent and about 50% of Americans think he is guilty.
Basically, for the prosecution to convict Zimmerman (to have the jury find him guilty), they have to prove that Zimmerman started the fight with Martin. If Martin started the fight with Zimmerman, Florida law will allow the jury to find Zimmerman not guilty, because he shot Martin to defend himself.
Here is an article about the beginning of the trial.
Here's a video about the start of the trial. In the video you see this text: "The trial begins with an F-bomb and a joke." The 'F-bomb' is a term for the word "fuck." Apparently, the prosecuting attorney (the lawyer for the state) used the word "fuck" when he quoted from (repeated) what George Zimmerman had said when he made his call to the police on the night he shot Trayvon Martin.
In this video we see that Zimmerman's lawyer makes a stupid mistake. He tries telling a 'knock knock' joke to the jury.
'Knock knock' jokes often are jokes that take advantage of words that have different meanings but sound similar to each other: http://www.funology.com/knock-knock-jokes/
Zimmerman's lawyer says: "Knock knock. Who is there? George Zimmerman. George Zimmerman who? OK, you get to sit on the jury."
1) It wasn't a funny joke. 2) It was too difficult for the jury to understand. Basically the lawyer was saying that the people on the jury were chosen because they are open-minded and willing to listen to facts about who George Zimmerman might really be.
This is a murder trial, however, and nobody in the courtroom seemed to think any type of joke was appropriate (right for the situation).
Vocabulary from the introduction and article:
a volunteer police officer - someone who works for free, as a volunteer, for the police.
suspicious - if someone is suspicious he looks as if he may be ready to do something wrong or commit a crime.
a hood - coats often contain hoods - these can be flipped over a person's head if the person is cold. Trayvon Martin was wearing a 'hoodie,' a sweatshirt that had a hood attached.
a burglary - when someone breaks into a place and steals something.
disregarded - did not pay attention to it; did not take the advice seriously.
in dispute - in debate, under debate, still being argued about.
to confront - to meet the person face to face.
smashing his head into the ground - repeatedly taking Zimmerman's head and hitting it against the ground.
to protest - to gather with a group of people in order to publicly express anger over some issue.
standing trial for murder - going to trial for murder. Going into a courtroom to determine whether someone is guilty or innocent.
the jury - 12 people who will determine whether a defendant (a person accused of a crime) is guilty or innocent.
9/11 calls - if there is an emergency in America, you can dial 911 for help. Apparently Zimmerman had called 911 many, many times in the past 8 years for non-emergency reasons. The prosecutor wants to make it seem as if Zimmerman is kind of nuts (crazy).
non-emergency 9/11 calls - Zimmerman apparently called 911 for non-emergency reasons.
prosecutors - lawyers for the bstate.
to sketch his character - to explain his character, to describe his personality.
the trial judge - the judge who is in charge of the trial, even though he will not determine whether Zimmerman is guilty or innocent.
to shape the impressions of - to influence how the jurors will feel about Zimmerman. Zimmerman's lawyer wants to do the same thing in regard to Trayvon Martin. Martin had been kicked out of his school for having drugs, for instance.
a seething vigilante - an angry vigilante (a vigilante is someone who does not trust the police and who tries to carry out laws by himself or a vigilante group).
a stand-up community organizer - an honest and trustworthy person who organizes things for his community.
drizzly - raining slightly.
loitering - to loiter is to stand around doing nothing publicly.
toting - carrying.
murky - dark, not clear, uncertain.
to loom large - be important.
to tread carefully - to walk carefully, to act acrefully.
to pertain to -to be about.
zealous - overly eager, doing much more than you should do
a mind-set - attitude. They want to make it seem as if Zimmerman approached or looked at the world as an angry guy who wanted to harm certain types of people.
ill-will - the opposite of good-will. Bad-will: wanting bad things for others.
profanity-laced - having lots of dirty or vulgar or curse words.
expletive - a dirty word.
conscientious - wanting to do good things. This word comes from the word 'conscience' which is the little voice in all of us which tells us what is right and what is wrong. Pronounced: CON schinz. Don't confuse this word with conscious - to be awake. Conscience is a noun, conscientious is an adjective, conscious is an adjective.
to aspire to be - to dream of being, to want to be.
relevant - important or pertaining to; significant or meaningful to something.
to corroborate - to show it is true, to verify.
a minor - someone under the age of 18.
wrestling for - struggling for, fighting for.
a hoodie - a sweatshirt with a hood on it.
sparked fervent debate - caused heated or emotional arguments.
racial profiling - when the police believe someone might be a criminal just because he looks like one or because he is black or Latino.
liberalized gun-access laws - laws which make it easy to get a gun.
Based on what you read in my intro and the article, would you, at this time, find Zimmerman to be guilty or innocent? Why?