In the George Zimmerman second degree murder case, we are left with fragments of a puzzle. There are yet enough pieces there to form a clear picture of his guilt in a crime. These pieces describe what happened at the very beginning of his tragic encounter with an unarmed child, Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26, 2012.
Clearly Zimmerman expressed hatred and hostility toward Trayvon, someone he had never met.
In his interview with the Sanford police, he called Trayvon a “f****ng punk. This clearly shows hatred or hostility.
In addition to hostility, Zimmerman showed a degree of paranoia. He went on to say, “These a***holes always get away.” What was Trayvon getting away with? Wearing a hoodie?
Defence counsel Mark O’Mara tried to deny Zimmerman’s racialized hostility by arguing that hatred and hostility are emotions usually expressed between people who know each other. But where racial hatred and fear are involved, no relationship is necessary.
Harry Tyson Moore, a civil rights worker, was fatally injured when whites firebombed his Sanford home in 1951. The men who committed that atrocity need not have known Moore personally. Who Moore was was enough. The media may not get this but those who know black history will.
Zimmerman’s racial hostility led him to follow Trayvon and to exit his vehicle, recklessly seeking a confrontation with the
Miami Gardens teenager who was visiting his father. Zimmerman put Trayvon reasonably in fear of his life. Rachel Jentel made that point. No witness or evidence challenged her on that point.
Once the prosecution proves Trayvon was reasonably in fear of his life due to the reckless acts of Zimmerman, Trayvon had a perfect right to defend himself. It does not matter who threw the first punch after that or who was on top or who was on the bottom.
Zimmerman was over-charged. The case I have sketched out would not prove murder. But, by showing Zimmerman, motivated by hostility, recklessly confronted Trayvon while he Zimmerman was armed, putting Trayvon reasonably in fear, that is enough to get to the jury on a homicide. This was Trayvon’s story. This story was clearly supported by the pieces of the puzzle that we have. But this is not the story the prosecution tried to prove.
The defense, attorneys for their part, want us to look at only what happens toward the end of the story, the last few minutes of Trayvon’s life. They want to focus on “Who screamed?” and “Who was on top punching?” and “Who was on the bottom?”
That is where we are missing pieces of the puzzle. It is the part of the story that is unclear. The prosecution did not need to go there but that is where prosecutors went.
That set up a battle between dueling moms, each saying it the shout for help came from her son. It also set up a battle between dueling witnesses about who was on top. Rachel Jentel testified she heard Trayvon say, “Get off.” But one of the prosecution’s own witnesses said he thought it was Trayvon on top.
By buying into the framing of the defense, by trying to prove whose voice or who was on top, the prosecution created needless drama and ambiguity. The defense created a sense of doubt or confusion about what
The media, as well, carried water for the defense. Zimmerman’s attorneys brought out that Rachel Jentel could not read cursive. They were trying to portray her as young, black and dumb. The media gave oxygen to this cruel stereotyping. But what did this have to do with whether she was telling the truth?
When Jentel stuck to her guns under intense cross-examination, instead of earning praise for her courage, which was evident, she was stereotyped again for testifying with emotion. Jentel became the “angry black woman.” These stereotypes are the legacy of segregation. That the media would still run with them shows we shave a deep cultural divide in this country.
Sanford Florida is still haunted by its racial history, by the ghosts of Harry Tyson Moore and his wife Harriett. Now it may be haunted some more. Because the ghost of Trayvon Martin may not rest until justice is done. But the way the prosecution has presented the evidence makes it seem unlikely that justice for Trayvon will show up.
Absent a miracle, Zimmerman will walk.
Donald Jones is a law professor at the University of Miami. His latest book is Fear of a Hip Hop Planet: America’s New Dilemma. (Praeger 2013).