Saturday, July 13, 2013

Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman As a Teachable Moment

Trayvon Martin never should have died on February 26, 2012. His death is a modern American tragedy. His shooter, George Zimmerman, is scarred for life and may never be able to resume a normal life. The jury of six women, five of whom are mothers, acquitted George Zimmerman of Trayvon’s death. The jury had no choice. This case was not one of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The prosecution had so few facts in the case that they had no case; inferences, presumptions, aspersions, yes – but no facts. 56 witnesses, but no case for the prosecution, Even some of the witnesses for the prosecution turned into witnesses for the defense. The only clear, and undisputed fact, is that George Zimmerman fatally shot tray on Martin with one shot. The prosecution could never present facts to effectively rebut Zimmerman’s self-defense claim. George Zimmerman may have been overzealous in his role as the neighborhood watch coordinator, but that’s not against the law. This case is normal in that not all the material facts are known, and cannot be discovered. The known facts, not supposition, support the defense. The case never should have been brought, but the state had no political choice. Bill Lee, the Sanford Police Chief opposed filing criminal charges against George Zimmerman because the Sanford Police found no evidence to contradict George Zimmerman’s account of the shooting. He was fired. Governor Rick Scott (R Fl.) removed the local prosecutor and appointed a special prosecutor in the case. Trayvon’s death became a cause celebre in the civil rights moment. It seemed like yet another case where an overzealous white vigilante ruthlessly murdered an innocent teenage African American with the homicide being covered up by a racist police force. Elements of the media joined the chorus, as some did earlier with the Duke Lacrosse players. The initial impression was that George Zimmerman was white, fitting the historic pattern of white violence directed at African Americans. Once it was discovered that Zimmerman’s mother was Peruvian, first CNN, and then the New York Times on March 22, 2012 referred to Zimmerman as a “white Hispanic.” The lead word was “white.” An NBC broadcast went further. It edited the 9-1-1 call from Zimmerman to portray him as racist. The NBC broadcast had Zimmerman saying “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.” The actual recording is “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.” The 9-1-1 dispatcher then asked: “OK, and this guy, is he black, white, or Hispanic?” George Zimmerman responded “He looks black.” NBC never apologized on the air for the doctored tape, but several employees were fired. Zimmerman has sued NBC for defamation. The condemnation of George Zimmerman, as a trigger-happy racist, went viral. President Obama stated at a press conference “If I had a son, he’ll look like Trayvon .” The election of President Obama was said by many commentators to usher in a post-racial era in America. Unfortunately, it has not. President Obama has contributed to the racial divide in instances, such as the killing of Trayvon Martin and earlier in Cambridge. Cambridge, Massachusetts Police Sergeant James Crowley arrested African American Harvard Professor Louis Gates in July 2009 in Gates’ house. The police had received a 9-1-1 call reporting a possible break-in at the Gates house. The Professor was ill, and had just arrived from a long flight. He was uncooperative with the police, who thereupon arrested him. President Obama, without learning the facts stated at a press conference “The Cambridge Police acted stupidly.” As the facts came out, the President then said we have a “teachable moment.” He then invited the Professor and Police Officer to the White House to drink beers. The Trayvon Martin and Duke Lacrosse Team prosecutions also provide teachable moments. They tell us not to jump to conclusions because an initial set of facts, or often accusations, seem to fit a historic narrative. They teach us again that we are innocent until proven guilty, regardless of what a prosecutor or the media might say. They also teach us that juries normally follow the law and apply the facts. Sadly, race, as shown by the Zimmerman and OJ cases, can still affect perception.

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