LAWYERS FOR George Zimmerman will make their closing arguments on Friday, the jury in his trial will begin deliberations, and more and more people are wondering if the unthinkable will happen--that the killer of Trayvon Martin will walk.
Zimmerman's attorneys have been presenting their case all week long, and it's been one ugly smear and slander after another--as if their client, who stalked an unarmed Black teenager and shot him to death, was the real victim, and not Martin.
Prosecutors, in their final arguments on Thursday, branded the defense account of the rainy February evening in 2012 as a lie, and repeated the facts of the killing that horrified people across the country when they finally emerged weeks after Martin died--that Zimmerman, the self-appointed head of a neighborhood watch in Sanford, Fla., spotted Martin walking through the gated community, followed and confronted him, and then killed him.
But prosecutors also asked the judge to give jurors the option of convicting Zimmerman of a lesser charge of manslaughter--a sure sign they lack confidence that the jury will find him guilty of the original indictment for second-degree murder. The speculation among media commentators is that the six jurors--with not a single African American among them--won't convict Zimmerman on either charge.
It's a stark sign of the enduring racism of U.S. society that the killer of an unarmed Black teenager could emerge from court in the coming days a free man. Does anyone doubt for a moment that if Zimmerman had been killed and Martin accused of murdering him, that the teen wouldn't be on his way to jail for the rest of his life--or worse?
If Zimmerman is acquitted--or even convicted of the lesser manslaughter charge--it will be bitter proof to people across the U.S. who were outraged by the racist murder last year of how little justice is to be found in the American injustice system.
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ALL WEEK, the media faithfully repeated the claims of Zimmerman's lawyers that their client was acting in self-defense. His version of events goes like this: He saw a "suspicious" teen in a hoodie prowling through his neighborhood after dark, which he reported to police. After losing track of the intruder, Zimmerman was jumped from behind. As Martin beat him, Zimmerman drew his gun and shot him.
But the holes in Zimmerman's account are gaping. Prosecutors, who called a parade of witnesses, some of whom contradicted one another, clouded what should be a perfectly clear case: a self-appointed armed vigilante hunted down and killed an unarmed teenager. It was easy for defense attorneys to further distort the facts. As Xavier Donaldson, an attorney and former prosecutor in New York, told a CNN commentator:
You have to look at the nature of the case and the racial, political and social economics of the defendant and accused. You have a young Black kid, walking with a sweatshirt on, and some guy, who wants to be a cop, assumes he's a criminal and shoots him dead. Zimmerman had an image in his community as a good guy, who wanted to protect people. So he--and not Martin, the victim--has gotten the benefit of presumption of innocence.Lost in the week's claims and counter-claims about Martin supposedly beating Zimmerman is how the confrontation came about in the first place. After Zimmerman called in his report to 911, the dispatcher told him to stop pursuing Martin--a protocol Zimmerman obviously understood as a serial 911 caller who had reported the presence of suspicious Black men on many occasions.
But Zimmerman persisted in following Martin. In his opening statement, the prosecutor recalled the jarring words spoken by Zimmerman to the dispatcher, demonstrating that he was profiling Martin in typical police fashion: "Fucking punks...These assholes, they always get away."
Zimmerman claimed that Martin covered Zimmerman's mouth with his hands, but no trace of Zimmerman's DNA was found on Martin. Zimmerman claimed that Martin was grasping at his gun, but none of Martin's DNA was found on Zimmerman's gun or holster.
Then there's the question of the jury that will deliberate in this case. There isn't a single Black person on it--even though Sanford, a suburb of Orlando, is nearly 30 percent Black, roughly the same as Orlando.
Failing to get even one African American among the six jurors and four alternates isn't the only mistake made by prosecutors. The fact that Zimmerman is the son of a retired magistrate judge doesn't inspire confidence in the state's commitment to getting a conviction. As Roxanne Jones, a founding editor of ESPN The Magazine and award-winning journalist, pointed out:
[T]he prosecution--Richard Mantei--appears to be lying low and taking too many punches. Could it be that Mantei himself buys into the theory that Zimmerman is some misunderstood do-gooder in the community? It's just puzzling.- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Words matter, as we have seen over the course of the trial. So when Mantei told the court before resting his case: "There are two people involved here. One of them is dead, and one of them is a liar," I was shocked. This is a murder case. One person is dead, and the other person is a murderer. Those words more accurately describe the facts presented in the case. There is no question that Zimmerman killed Martin, so there's no reason to tiptoe around the words.
AFTER TRAYVON'S killing, there was a character assassination campaign conducted in the media, complete with stories about his suspension from his Miami high school for possessing an empty bag with traces of marijuana and a pipe--as if this might have any bearing on why Martin was killed.
The issue of Trayvon's drug use came up again at the trial, with Zimmerman's defense attorney suggesting that even small amounts of marijuana can cause "aggression."
But almost nothing has been said, before or during the trial, about Zimmerman's many arrests and run-ins with the law. As Auset Marian Lewis wrote at the Indypendent Reader:
Although George Zimmerman was a wannabe cop, he was more likely to be a police suspect than a police officer. Between 2005 and 2006, he was arrested three times: a domestic violence arrest, "resisting an officer with violence," and a charge for speeding. With a violent history, packing a gun, this son of a Florida judge was not charged with the murder of this Black teenager for two months, until after a community petition and outrage.And, Lewis continued, for anyone who has any doubt about the role played by race in this trial:
Picture George Zimmerman Black and Trayvon Martin white. An armed Black man shooting an innocent white teenager in a vigilante killing. Can you picture that? I think we can all agree that Black Zimmerman would have been handcuffed on the spot and thrown into jail, never to see the light of day until he had served his plea-bargained sentence foisted upon him by some lackluster, hack public defender.Florida officials and media pundits have voiced concern that a not-guilty verdict could lead to explosive levels of anger, and they may be right. In Sanford, police from the very department that dragged its feet in the investigation and arrest of Zimmerman have turned to Black clergy to appeal for calm.
It's impossible to predict how the jury will deal with the case--but it's clear that the defense team's lies and slanders and the prosecutions missteps and missed opportunities have opened the possibility that Zimmerman will go free.
Anyone who cares about challenging racial profiling and vigilante justice needs to be prepared to take a stand in response to the Zimmerman trial verdict--to tell the truth about what happened to Trayvon Martin, and to rekindle the determination of the movement that arose to demand justice for him last year.