The Zimmerman verdict and why all stories are local

Anderson Cooper and Juror

I watched Anderson Cooper’s interview of one of the jurors in the Trayvon Martin case and came away with one overriding impression:  all cases are local.

This should not have surprised me because as a lawyer I know that local sentiment is the single most important factor in any jury trial.

But since the Martin case had taken the national spotlight it was easy for those of us who watched it from afar to think our perspectives on the trial were similar to those of the jury’s.

Seldom is that true.

Jurors  look at a specific case through the lens of the community where they reside.  There are no national juries or professional jurors.  They are just plain old citizens who share the opinions of the world where they live their lives.

For instance, based on what the juror said on Anderson Cooper’s show, it was clear to me that a top consideration in the trial was the role of neighborhood watches. If the guys who act as neighborhood watchmen in a community are viewed as heroes, quasi-law enforcement personnel, that is a huge issue.  For the prosecution to counter this public sentiment it would have to present an airtight case, and present it forcefully and persuasively.

That’s why the vibe of a local community plays such a large part in understanding the events that transpire in it.

And that principle is why all powerful stories are local.

Two  novels come to mind immediately.

To Kill a Mockingbird and The Old Man and the Sea.

The settings of these classic tales were as important as the story itself. The red clay of the American South and a small hut in a fishing village became the epicenters of the human drama.

It is one thing to say we should treat each other as equals.

It is one thing to say that man’s spirit is indomitable.

It is another thing to show a specific trial where prejudice carried the day.

It is another thing to show a flesh and blood person whose final heroic struggle against a great fish leads to his ruin.

And therein lies the rub for an author. She must tell a local story in such a way that it reveals something about the human community, so that it lifts a mirror in our faces and forbids us to look away.

Those who say they don’t know where their next story will originate can rest now.

The next story is right where you live waiting for you to tell it.

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