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The Trayvon Verdict — Race Was the Elephant in the Courtroom

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Artist Nikkolas Smith’s image of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in a hoodie.

The whys of the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case are being lost in all the shouting in the streets, on the airwaves and on the Internet. The “We Are All Trayvon” signs and the hoodies donned in solidarity are mechanisms for venting, but they do not address what actually happened in Sanford, Florida, and what should happen now.

What we Americans profess to want — a society that is truly colorblind and a justice system that operates from that premise — was never on the table for either the prosecutors or the defense lawyers in the case. Given the laws of Florida, and the mind-set of many of its citizens, it’s now apparent that the outcome was never in doubt.

As Christopher Darden, a former prosecutor who lost the O. J. Simpson murder case in 1995, wrote recently, “Our national collective expectation of equal justice is based on our feeling of morality — not legality. We want the morality of a situation to match the criminality. This is often not the result in our court system.”

To get a handle on why, we need only listen to the discrepancies between what prosecutors in the Zimmerman-Martin case said in court and what they said in post-verdict statements.

”One of Them”

The die was cast back in February 26, when local law enforcement officials bagged up Trayvon Martin’s body and tagged him as a John Doe after, of course, testing his body for drugs. In the meantime, they were quite cordial with Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer with connections in the local criminal justice community. He was one of them. His story seemed plausible to them. He was sent home, apparently without being tested for the use of substances that might have impaired his judgment. Trayvon, a teenager up to no good in Zimmerman’s eyes, was sent to the morgue. His family learned of his death after reporting him missing.

Only after weeks of protest, first primarily through social media, then with boots on the ground led by people like the Rev. Al Sharpton, did Florida governor Rick Scott reluctantly take the stalled investigation out of local control and assign it a special prosecutor, Angela Corey.

By then the Zimmerman-Martin confrontation had come to represent all manner of unresolved American issues: racial profiling, the overzealous targeting of young black males by law enforcement, the value of black life, a justice system that is anything but colorblind, the proliferation of guns, the right to carry concealed weapons, the limits of protecting one’s hearth and home — especially in a state like Florida where armed residents are permitted to “stand their ground” even if they have an opportunity to retreat from perceived danger.

“Say what?”

In such a gun-friendly state, prosecutor Corey and her team overcharged when they pursued second-degree murder (belatedly adding the lesser charge of manslaughter). Politics and public relations trumped legal calculations. They covered their hides and raised expectations among people who do not know how these things work.

At trial, with politics and juror sensibilities in mind, they hinted at race just enough to be able to claim later, as Corey did in a post-verdict news conference: “There is no doubt that he [Martin] was profiled to be a criminal, and if race was one of the aspects in George Zimmerman’s mind, then we believe that we put out the proof necessary to show that Zimmerman did profile Trayvon Martin.”

In reality, the prosecution tiptoed past this thorny issue. Another prosecutor, John Guy, spoke more accurately about the prosecution’s approach when he said the case was nothing more than “a determination about what happened between those two individuals.”

The jurors obviously did not buy what Corey said the prosecutors were selling — assuming they could figure out what the prosecutors were trying to sell from day to day.

It’s clear Zimmerman was very much aware that Trayvon Martin was a black teenager. He said as much in his 911 call. To him Martin was yet another black criminal — the kind he regularly reported to police as threats to the serenity of the neighbors he had volunteered to protect. “They always get away,” Zimmerman muttered to the 911 operator who told him to stay put and wait for police to arrive.

In the world beyond the courtroom, just about everyone knows that race was the factor in Zimmerman’s snap judgment. However, in the courtroom, according to Corey, “this case was all along about boundaries and that George Zimmerman exceeded those boundaries.”

The average sensible person may be forgiven for asking, “Say what?”

Indeed, Bernie de la Rionda, another member of the prosecution team, said in his post-verdict comments, “Who was following who?… What it boils down to is you had a 17-year-old kid who was minding his own business, wearing a hoodie and gets accosted, gets followed by an individual who wants to be a cop.”

Under Florida law, that sentiment, presented at trial, was apparently not enough to convince a jury that Zimmerman was in any way to blame for Martin’s death.

Now What?

Now all eyes are on the U. S. Justice Department and Attorney General Eric Holder. But just as “reasonable doubt” proved insurmountable in the state trial, so might what the Justice Department characterizes as “limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction.”

Don’t be surprised if, after a respectable interval and a perceived cooling-off among the protesting public, Holder announces that the feds will not press a civil rights case against Zimmerman.

In the meantime, amid warnings of an open season on young black males, amid the painful conversations black adults are having with their children — even in the form of survival workshops — the questions before all Americans include these: What is the proper forum for addressing these issues, since the trial of one man can never satisfactorily do that? When do we have that national conversation that we are told is overdue every time a matter of racial injustice rises to the level of round-the-clock news coverage and social-media buzz? If not now, when?

 

 

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GRAPHIC: http://www.buzzfeed.com/adriancarrasquillo/artist-creates-photo-of-martin-luther-king-jr-in-a-hoodie


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  • Carine Clary

    Wonder how long it’ll be before Zimm kills again?

    btw – Loved the Baba Wawa interview with his parents where they said they’d “lost everything,” presumably they were referring to $$, because, unlike the Martins, they still have their son (for whatever that’s worth).

    • Guest

      “Wonder how long it’ll be before Zimm kills again?”

      Exactly. That should have been the issue at the trial. When someone is foolhardy enough to confront someone he thinks is dangerous then winds up killing him, you have to wonder how much cheese has slid off his cracker.

      • Julie

        Except Zimmerman did not confront Martin, according to the evidence at the trial.
        He kept an eye on Martin from a distance, so that he could relay his whereabouts to the responding officers.
        The confrontation was initiated by Martin.

        • hepette

          ONLY GZ SAYS THAT. WE DONT KNOW BECAUSE TM IS DEAD

        • Julie

          The evidence bears out his claim. You’ve heard of evidence, yes?

        • hepette

          dont get smart……..the fact is we only heard one side of the story period

  • SO

    I’m not excited about this story. I haven’t even been following it. Some guy kills somebody and a jury has to sort it all out. The jury has done that. I don’t know whether or not justice was done. I never know whether or not justice was done. That is the jury’s job. This story is a diversion. It’s not really that important. We are being manipulated with it. It is far more important to know whether Michael Hastings was murdered by our government, or whether the FBI allowed the Marathon bombing to occur. These questions don’t get a jury. We must be their jury. And running off to chase every stick they throw doesn’t help.

    • intalecshul

      yep, this story has “HUGE DIVERSION” written all over it. As well as “DIVIDE AND CONQUER.” I’llBombYa and his minion Holder are doing hi-fives. Continue NSA spying, IRS harrassment, drone bombing of brown people, extraordinary renditions, torture, and assassinations as usual. It will go down as the most cynically manipulated story of the century.

  • cheeky

    Zimmerman called the non-emergency police-response line. He did not call 911.

    Maybe an important point ….

  • krinks

    Regardless Martin attacked Zimmerman. Zimmerman didn’t bloody his own nose and bounce his own head off of the concrete.

    • nicho

      Zimmerman stalked and attacked Martin — despite orders from police not to. Martin was merely standing his ground.

      • krinks

        There are no facts to back this up, none.

        • Mike G

          We also have merely the word of Zimmerman about how it all went down. A jury may have agreed, but we’ll never know what really happened.

        • krinks

          Try again. It is called evidence and witnesses. Add to this the character witnesses you weren’t allowed to be told about during the trial that proved Zimmerman a good and decent man and Martin a drug using, violent, thief.

        • Mike G

          Well, it’s become obvious there was a lot I didn’t know about the trial and the event itself. After reading more about it, I think the jury did have reasonable doubt. I was also not aware that there were actual witnesses, which makes a huge difference (no longer his word against that of a dead man). However, your characterizations of both men are a bit off the mark. Zimmerman has been in jail, Martin had not (though he was admittedly involved in illegal activity). I think both men made poor choices that night, Zimmerman’s make a bit more sense now in light of what was presented in the court room.

        • hepette

          thts such a crock of bs……..zim had been arrested 4 times for assaults…..hes never spent one day in his life being “a good and decent man”

      • Julie

        The evidence proves that Martin attacked Zimmerman, not the other way around. Doubled back and took him by surprise, in fact.
        Look up the elements of the crime of stalking, too, if you feel like learning something.
        But saying “Zimmerman stalked and attacked Martin” is much more dramatic and inflammatory than bothering with the boring old truth, right?

        • hepette

          neighborhood watch already settled monetarily with the martins….he wasnt supposed to be carrying a gun period.

      • Julie

        He was not ordered by police not to follow Martin. Police dispatchers do not issue legally binding orders over the phone. What she said to him was ‘we don’t need you to do that.’ Clearly not an order.
        Even if she had ordered him to stop following, and it was legally binding, and he failed to obey, he still wouldn’t be guilty of second degree murder.

    • ceeli

      Martin is the one who escalated the confrontation. He *profiled* Zimmerman as a short fat *white* guy and thought he’d have a little fun and kick some creepy cracker ass so he’d have a good story to go back and tell his smokin’ buds. He sucker punched Zimmerman but that wasn’t enough, he jumped on him and kept pummeling him. Zimmerman had no choice but to use the only means he had to stop Martin. Martin had a choice… he could have gone on home… you know, where he was headed in the first place.

    • hepette

      expert testimony said that gz injuries were MINOR. TELL THE TRUTH

      • krinks

        LOL. Let me bloody your nose and bounce your hear off of concrete and then we can talk about “minor”.

        • hepette

          you are too silly for words…..actually he was on the grass most of the time…

  • Joel

    This article clearly illustrates the problem of media manipulation. Lots of assertions here with very little context. No mention of the 8 break ins in Zimmerman’s neighborhood by black young men. No mention that Martin physically assaulted Zimmerman and threatened to kill him while pounding his head into the concrete sidewalk. No mention that Zimmerman, the racist, tutored black kids, went into business with a black guy, and sought justice for a black accused man. It’s what’s left unsaid and taken out of context that makes drivel like this so infuriating to read.
    This will be my first and last visit here. The only reason I gave the site credibility was the founders appearance on the Lew Rockwell Show. Goodbye.

    • nicho

      Buh-bye now.

    • hepette

      bye dont let the door hit you in the butt

  • tpmco

    Yeah, I won’t be putting many eggs in the DOJ basket. I would press that trial court, for all it’s worth, to override the jury verdict and order a new trial. Otherwise, you can look for a rapid ascension of the trial court judge in the judicial ranks.

    This one juror, B37 or whatever, has revealed some really uncommon stupidity, and outright incompetence, of which the trial judge should take notice and reject the verdict.

  • Zack B

    This leaves the question as to whether we have prosecutioral incompetence or prosecutorial malpractice.

  • Hymie Porkensteen

    What is interesting is Fox news seem to report most of the facts presented in the trial, within a week of the incident and even included pictures, while the other media outlets sounded like they were singing out of the same hymn book, and reluctantly and in piece meal, they would let out a fact at a time, while never wavering in their pro Martin stand. It is nice to see 6 women, beat the media and establishment. Justice 1, Media 0

  • oicu812a

    The above “article” is a stain on an otherwise excellent Website. The subject is obvious click-bait — and how cynically so. The position taken is predictable, weak, conjectural, emotional, and sigh-inducing. The author has failed at being a brave and honest journalist. Other than that, I enjoyed the visit! Good day.

  • dai

    I see, after reading this article, that this website should be changed from whowhatwhy to feelingsemotionspcthoughts.
    I’m removing it from my bookmarks.

    • hepette

      thts great………..bye bye

  • Vineda

    The real WHOWHATWHY is out there, the Trayvon Martin story™ was spun right from the start by professional media manipulators, too bad this site had to put up another emotional opinion piece.

  • Dan

    I thought this site was about uncovering the truth behind the media spin? It doesn’t appear to be the case here

  • tagalder70

    There is little doubt that race played a large part in this story but let’s get to the real crux of the issue. The Homeowners Association, the Insurance Companies and others who might have interest in discouraging Black youths from frequenting the gated community. Was Zimmerman paid by them or was he a zealot as he is being described?

    • hepette

      its my understanding that the neighborhood watch officials already settled with the martins cause gz was NOT supposed to be carrying a gun while doing the watch

  • Lee Cahalan

    ER Shipp REALLY misses the boat in his comments. (sorry I do not know the gender of the writer…) While he’s correct in admitting that prosecutor Corey should not have written charges of 2nd degree murder the pacts are that Ms. Corey should NOT have prosecuted this case at all period.

    The case STINKS of media and judicial grandstanding but first the facts. 1 The “Stand Your Own Ground” law should have applied as Z-man only pulled his gun well after he had no retreat or escape! In fact Z-man would have been wiser to pull his gun the moment he felt threaten with attack. Or certainly after Trayvon threw the first punch. Thyen fire at least a warning shot. THAT was Z-man’s only mistake (putting himself at risk) based upon the evidence applied in court. 2. There will be NO epidemic of Whites killing Blacks because the court didn’t convict Z-man. The FACTS are that Whites are murdered by Blacks at EIGHT TIMES THE RATE that Blacks are killed by Whites. AND… 94% of all Blacks murdered are killed by members from their own race.

    Seen from that perspective it seems that the Black community fits the definition of a “Hate Group”. Due not only to the racist attacks on non Blacks but from their attempt to kill their OWN race.

    I highly suggest that ER Shipp watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bF-Ax5E8EJc and get his facts correct. As it is now? His words are an embarrassment to this otherwise well researched site we know as “Who/What/Why” here. Thank you. Lee Cahalan

    • hepette

      86% of whites murder other whites…….fact….if gz had of stayed in his vehicle he wouldnt have had to worry about anyone period

  • IllegalAmigo

    This article is the most extreme example of the media trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. I am stunned that it appears on this website. There is not even a slight hint of racism in this sotry on the part of GZ. On the other hand, if there is any racism it was on the part of Trayvon. We may never know the reason he so violently attacked GZ, but one thing for sure is that he was the cause of his own death.

    • hepette

      nothing like blaming the victim…..gz injuries were MINOR according to expert testimony. you are a racist and arent even aware of it

  • IllegalAmigo

    I arrived at this article while searching for news websites that offered undistorted “REAL” news and information. Obviously this is not the place for that. This site is permanently checked off my list.

  • Politically Homeless

    I am very disappointed to see this kind of tripe published in a forum I thought was dedicated to a “pure journalism play”. I am always on the lookout for worthy candidates for my donations, places where the funds can be most effective in making the world a better place. WhoWhatWhy just moved far down, and perhaps just fell off, the list. If anyone wants a good, concise review of the pertinent facts of this case, go to the recent essays by Massad Ayoob on the Backwoods Home magazine website. It blows this nonsense out of the water.

  • doggirl

    “It’s clear Zimmerman was very much aware that Trayvon Martin was a black teenager. He said as much in his 911 call. To him Martin was yet another black criminal — the kind he regularly reported to police as threats to the serenity of the neighbors he had volunteered to protect. “They always get away,” Zimmerman muttered to the 911 operator who told him to stay put and wait for police to arrive.”

    This is not all factual. GZ was asked by the operator what race TM was. GZ did not offer up that information until the operator brought it up. This is a valid difference. Because if GZ had brought up the fact himself, instead of the operator asking, then it would seem more likely that race was a factor in the incident.

  • IslandGirl

    Thought this site was for journalism – not media spin. I am unsubscribing today!!!

  • Queen

    Excellent article. Thank you.

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