The verdict is in on the first trial of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. I say first trial because there is now a drumbeat from the popular media and Internet savants seeking a civil trial and/or a federal trial based on allegations of racial profiling.
George Zimmerman, too, may resume his defamation lawsuit against NBC News for its editing of a tape of the call he made to police that night which made him appear to make racist statements when he did not.
Ever since the tragic encounter on the streets of Sanford, FL, on the night of Feb. 26, 2012, the incident has been exploited as a racial encounter, and labels have been attached to the names of the participants.
Trayvon Martin has always been portrayed as an innocent black youth on his way home from buying candy and a soft drink. In almost all reports, he is referred to as “the unarmed teenager,” and pictures of him always show a smiling, unthreatening kid in a hoodie.
George Zimmerman was first described as “white,” but that was changed to “white Hispanic,” when his Latino heritage was revealed. Any mention of his name is almost always accompanied by the term “wannabe cop.” Early on the media was joined by the anti-gun crowd in turning the whole case into a referendum on so-called Stand Your Ground laws, not just in Florida but in some two-dozen other states with similar statutes.
Regardless of how anyone views the jury’s verdict, this was a tragic event which some day may be the subject of a thoughtful novel, play or movie.
Besides the pain to the families involved, there were problems from the beginning. When the police first investigated the shooting scene, collected evidence and interviewed Zimmerman, they did not see enough evidence to file charges against Zimmerman. In response to the hue and cry raised by the media and some professional race baiters, the pressure was put on the police chief to charge Zimmerman. When he failed to do so, the politicians who hired him, fired him.
And in response to the early charges of racism, the state stepped in to appoint a prosecutor who would end up filing second degree murder charges. It was only as many legal experts around the nation began to cast doubt on the prosecution’s ability to obtain a conviction on that charge that the prosecutor asked the judge to instruct the jury that they could consider a lesser manslaughter charge as well. Despite the comments of legal experts, the case proceeded to trial, and became the subject of daily news reports and biased television and Internet commentators with an axe to grind, including people such as CNN’s Piers Morgan, who had just barely ended his weeks-long campaign for more stringent gun laws.
The trial actually turned out as more sober legal observers, who parsed the evidence presented to the jury, had predicted. The six-woman jury handed down their verdict of not guilty on the second degree murder charge and not guilty on the lesser manslaughter charge. Their verdict seemed to vindicate the original decision of the Sanford police chief.
The evidence seemed to support the defense team and Zimmerman’s version of what went on that fateful night. Perhaps some of the most convincing testimony heard during the trial was that of Dr. Vincent Di Maio, a veteran of the US Army Medical Corps, a famed forensic pathologist and a nationally renowned expert on the subject of gunshot wounds. Di Maio showed how the physical evidence supported Zimmerman’s claim that Martin was above him when he fired. Further, the pathologist’s testimony supported the fact that Zimmerman had suffered injuries at the hands of the “unarmed teen.” Many in the African-American community showed outrage and disappointment with the not-guilty verdict, and the media helped whip that disappointment into outrage. The way they had reported the story, the trial was supposed to find Zimmerman guilty not only of murdering Martin, but of profiling him because of race.
The NAACP objected to the verdict, joined for some reason by the Arab American Anti-Defamation League.
Florida state prosecutor Angela Corey in an extraordinary statement told CNN after the acquittal that Zimmerman is still a “murderer.” Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department would undertake a federal investigation of federal civilrights violations against Zimmerman.
President Obama spoke in such a way as to sympathize with the black community’s feelings about current race relations in the nation. Demonstrations and vigils were held in over 100 US cities after the verdict was announced, and perhaps Obama’s words, or those of Trayvon Martin’s parents, helped keep these gatherings for the most part peaceful and soberly thoughtful.
There are those who called the Zimmerman trial a “political prosecution,” among them noted Law Professor Alan Dershowitz and Bernie Goetz, who was also exonerated in a criminal trial years ago but lost in a later civil suit.
But as I rewind these past events, I still want to know where the media and public outrage is over a 14-year-old who shot and killed a 16-year-old boy on Buffalo’s East Side streets the same week that the Zimmerman trial ended. The shooter was too young to legally possess a handgun anywhere in New York or anywhere else, but he was apparently old enough to commit murder.