(CNN) — When the jury emerges from deliberations days or weeks from now to render its verdict in that Florida courtroom, when the family of Trayvon Martin leans forward in breathless anticipation and when George Zimmerman stands to hear his fate, you can bet your Disney vacation the whole affair will end badly.
Not because Zimmerman, on trial in the shooting death of Martin, will be found guilty or not guilty, but because millions of Americans have already made up their minds about what should happen. Large swaths of people are going to be disappointed no matter how the verdict falls. Probably more like outraged.
This is odd, because FBI statistics show there are about 13,000 murders annually; people shot, stabbed, beaten, run down with cars and thrown off of balconies; 13,000 times that we could get interested, get involved and pass public judgment.
So what is it about this lone killing that has inflamed passions to such a degree?
At Georgetown University in the offices of history and African-American studies, associate professor Maurice Jackson has an answer. At 60, he is old enough to have lived through the glory days of the civil rights movement and young enough to still fear for his own son’s life in a dangerous world.
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“I think this is very important to black people because it brings to mind their worst fears that this could happen to their sons. You have a kid with everything going for him, doing no harm, and going about his business, and all of a sudden he is marked.”
From his syndicated radio show in Dallas, conservative host Ben Ferguson has a different take.
“This has had everything to do with manipulation and race war from day one,” he says, citing what he has heard from listeners. “This is a life-changing, life-altering court case, and I’m not so sure people really care about if justice is served truly. It’s more: Did my side win or not?”
And at the trial itself, CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin believes the fascination lies in all that and much more.
“People care about gun rights. People care about race. People care about children. People care about the right to defend yourself. And this case has all of them wrapped up together, and that’s rare.”
Case didn’t start out as big news
Although it is hard to remember now, there was a time when this case was far from a national obsession. At first, the shooting on that rainy Sunday night in late February 2012 was barely a blip in the media.
A few Florida news outlets picked it up, but as the days passed and interest faded, it seemed destined to fall into that neverland of sad, forgotten stories with headlines like, “Young black man shot; police investigating.”
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But the victim’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, were convinced that the police were not investigating nearly enough. “I think this is very much about two parents who felt that their child was murdered,” Hostin says.
They pushed for greater exposure for their complaints and were connected with Tallahassee lawyer Ben Crump. Crump enlisted others, spread the word, and a week and a half later, their efforts paid off.