“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will
not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
Well, the trial of George Zimmerman is over. Kind of. It lingers on, especially in the black community, or, at least in a small but vocal part of the black community.
The fundamental problem here, and the one getting all the attention these days, is the perception by some, both black and white, that Mr. Zimmerman’s reason for shooting Trayvon Martin was racially motivated, that Martin was racially profiled, and that Zimmerman started the whole thing. Master Martin has been portrayed as an innocent child, merely walking home with some candy and ice tea, and then brutally shot to death by Zimmerman. It is this belief, mistaken in my opinion, that fed the outrage over the not guilty verdict.
After the trial, here is part of what Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA) told CNN’s Candy Crowley
“If you take race out of this, what you have is a young person who died going to buy candy, who was innocent, was not involved in any criminal activity, and a person who officials had asked not to follow him took a gun and killed him.”
Take the race out of this? No. This is all about race. And it has been almost since the beginning. For example, the New
York Times referred to Zimmerman as a “white Hispanic,” making sure everybody knew this was a white on black crime, while, at the same time, creating a whole new ethnic group, called Zimmerman a “white Hispanic.” (Interestingly, by that logic, president Obama would be a “white black!”)
It is this apparent inability by the most vocal of the civil rights leaders and white liberals to, as Jack Nicholson put it in A Few Good Men, handle the truth — or at least be open to the possibility that there is more to this tragic incident than implied racism.
A LITTLE COMMON SENSE
I’m not going to re-try this case here. (You’re welcome.) But I do think there are a few aspects of it that helped me make an informed opinion of the outcome. Unfortunately, there was not much evidence to rely on and so the sequence of events that night has to follow some logic and common sense. For example,
1. George Zimmerman saw somebody walking through the complex in a manner that he considered suspect. But his suspicion was appropriate. As reported by the Daily Beast:
“For years, Twin Lakes residents had been on edge—demonstrated by their decision last September  to start a neighborhood-watch organization, which was initiated by Zimmerman himself. The burglary of Olivia Bertalan’s home was just one of at least eight reported over the previous 14 months—several of which, neighbors said, involved young black men.”
On this particular February evening, Zimmerman observed someone who seemed to fit the description of other burglars who had been in the area recently. That person turned out to be Trayvon Martin. Some have called this “profiling.” And indeed, it was. But if you’re looking for Santa Claus, it’s hard to ignore the fat guy in the red suit with a white beard.
However, Martin’s parents and their lawyer believed what Zimmerman did was RACIAL profiling. And that inaccuracy is what prompted the outrage by Rev. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and other black leaders to bring national attention to the incident, which, in turn, started to push this case out of control at the very outset
2. I believe, along with others, that Zimmerman has a “hero complex.” He wanted to be a cop, but he just couldn’t make the cut. So, he opted to become a “concerned citizen;” some would say an overly concerned citizen. In fact, he made so many 911 calls, he probably has a callus on his index finger.
As I’ve watched Zimmerman over the last year and a half, he seems to be a dreamer, a guy who wants to be recognized as capable and helpful. He’s one of these people, we all know somebody like this, who drive down the highway of life but keep running off the road and then somehow set the car on fire. And he does so stoically, expressionless, as he demonstrated throughout the trial and when the not guilty verdict was read.
Because of apparent neurosis, Zimmerman would be expected to say things that were exaggerations or even lies to bolster his ego, as if to say, “Look at me, I told you I can be a good cop.” But Zimmerman’s embellishments and misrepresentations of the facts do not make him a murderer. And a review of his 911 calls does show his concern for public safety – for all races.
In fact, a thorough and objective review of Zimmerman’s background shows clearly that he is not a racist. And to impose that label on him without knowing anything about him as a person is racist in and of itself. Therefore, racism should have never been considered as a factor in this case and the focus should have been strictly on the events of that night – who did what, and when, and why, and how.
3. I think it is clear too, just from the physical evidence alone, that Martin was the aggressor and that Zimmerman was the one being attacked; not the other way around. No less than 5 witnesses noted grass on the back of Zimmerman’s jacket. That, together with the fact that Martin was virtually unscathed as compared to the obvious pounding Zimmerman took, tells me that it was Martin in pursuit of Zimmerman and that, by the law of common sense, it must have been Zimmerman’s voice on the tape crying for help. That being true, TRAYVON MARTIN HAD NO REASON TO CRY FOR HELP!
No evidence of a fight was found on Martin. No signs of any blows were identified, or even any injuries to his knuckles, except from a small scratch on his finger. The weather likely played a part in this; it was raining and the grass was wet at the time of the encounter. Martin was found face down with his hands underneath him and they could have brushed against the grass. In any case, we know that the hands and the hoodie were wrapped in plastic instead of paper bags, which is a big no-no. Due to the likelihood for destruction of DNA evidence, “there are very few instances in which biological evidence should be packaged in plastic in a wet state. For example, when a body is badly decomposed oily compounds result that will not readily air dry and thus must be packaged in plastic. In addition, there would have been little or no swelling from traumatic injuries because his body stopped responding due to his death.”
Notwithstanding this dearth of evidence, there are only two ways Zimmerman could have sustained his injuries: inflict them on himself, or have them inflicted by another party. Again, common sense leads to Martin.
4. In light of the circumstances outlined above, it seems likely that Zimmerman shot Martin in an effort to get Martin off of him. This means that there was no intent by Zimmerman to kill Martin – only to stop him from inflicting more damage. Therefore, the shot to the heart was probably an accident; a very tragic one, but an accident nonetheless. So, no intent, no murder. And. after all, he was acquitted on the 2nd degree murder charge. Therefore, those who continue to call Zimmerman a murderer are, in my opinion, committing slander and could, thereby, find themselves in court facing a civil lawsuit for damages.
On the other hand, I have no doubt that, had Trayvon survived, he would have been charged with Aggravated Assault. And if he did manage to crack open Zimmerman’s skull on the sidewalk, he would probably have been charged Second Degree Murder.
But great irony here is that, in either of those circumstances, TRAYVON MARTIN COULD HAVE AVAILED HIMSELF OF THE SAME “STAND YOUR GROUND” LAW OR AT LEAST CLAIMED SELF-DEFENSE JUST AS GEORGE ZIMMERMAN DID! (Note to those trying to get rid of the Stand Your Ground laws: Don’t shoot yourselves in the foot. No pun intended.)
5. I agree that Zimmerman should have probably stayed in his car. On the other hand, Martin should have just walked straight home. And, yes, Zimmerman probably should not have had a loaded gun on him. But maybe Martin shouldn’t have given any attitude to the man he called, “a creepy-ass cracker.” Zimmerman broke some rules, yes, but he didn’t break any laws. And he had reason for breaking those rules — trying in his own way to keep his neighborhood safe from any more break-ins. That motive was virtually overlooked during the course of this whole affair.
FOLLOWING THE LAW
The foregoing is what I see as the salient points that help to explain the events on that rainy night of February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida, and in the aftermath. It is in this context that I raise the issue of racism and what I believe to be the unjustified, opportunistic, and vitriolic reaction by some of those in the black community throughout this case.
I think everyone should respect the jury’s verdict. Here is the pertinent section of the instructions that the jury relied on in making its decision:
“In deciding whether George Zimmerman was justified in the use of deadly force, you must judge him by the circumstances by which he was surrounded at the time the force was used. The danger facing George Zimmerman need not have been actual; however, to justify the use of deadly force, the appearance of danger must have been so real that a reasonably cautious and prudent person under the same circumstances would have believed that the danger could be avoided only through the use of that force. Based upon appearances, George Zimmerman must have actually believed that the danger was real.”
This instruction by the judge is what guided the jury of six people — all of whom were women, and five of whom were white — to its not guilty verdict. And they have been widely criticized for their verdict, for not giving Martin “the justice he deserved.” But even a jury of 12, with men and women, and of different races, if they followed the law, would have had to find Zimmerman not guilty. As Aristotle said, “Law is reason, free of passion.”
Those jurors who elected to speak after the trial expressed regret at letting Zimmerman “get away with murder.” But of course Zimmerman didn’t get away with murder because there was never any murder to get away with! The evidence, however limited, along with a lot of logic and common sense, revealed that Zimmerman acted in self-defense, and did so beyond a reasonable doubt.
No, I think the jurors were empathetic with Martin parents, especially his mother, Sybrina Fulton. Mrs. Fulton has been a resolute and tenacious advocate for her son, who she sincerely believes is the victim of a crime. And I have a great deal of sympathy for her. I have raised two sons through their teenage years so it’s hard for me to even begin to imagine the grief and pain she must be going through.
THE RACIAL NON SEQUITUR
As noted above, I am of the opinion that this case took a wrong turn in terms of racial issues, starting a few weeks after the shooting. Understandably, Trayvon’s family was upset that Zimmerman had not been arrested or charged with any crime. The Martin’s family lawyer, Benjamin Crump, then contacted the media, asking them to give more coverage to the story, which they did. Suddenly, there was national attention focused on the town of Sanford. Shortly thereafter, a bevy of well-known civil rights activists showed up and begin their efforts to characterize the incident as a racist encounter.
At a rally on March 14, 2012, held to demand that Zimmerman be arrested, Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant, an African-American preacher and pastor of the Empowerment Temple AME Church, who had come to Florida from his hometown of Baltimore, told the crowd:
“This is a wake-up call for the state of Florida and for any racist who has a gun and thinks it’s a license to kill our children.”
And that, very succinctly, says it all. While the Sanford Police Department was still conducting its investigation, leaders in the black community had already tried and convicted George Zimmerman. He was a racist and racists like him can walk around freely and kill “our” (I suppose meaning African-American) children.
All this national attention, together with the pressure of certain civil rights activists, refocused the attention on racism. The Martin family lawyers managed to have the case removed from the SPD and taken over by the state. A Grand Jury was never called to consider an indictment and the police chief was, in effect, fired. Political correctness, in spite of the clearly racist tenor, won the day. This, in spite of attorneys appearing on the various talk shows saying the case has no legs – that there is no there there.
Thus began the gross distortion the justice in this case. The mischaracterization of the parties, and the misguided and one-sided pronouncement of guilt on one George Zimmerman before, during and after the trial, as aided and abetted by certain cable news shows, turned this into the spectacle it should never have been. A simple case of self-defense was blown up into a major confrontation between black and white.
For example, Michael H. Cottman of Black AmericaWeb.com, writes on July 14th (with my underscores added):
“The all-female jury of five whites and one Hispanic set a dangerous precedent by giving neighborhood watch captains and would-be cops the legal authority to stalk unarmed black men — and shoot them without fear of being jailed for using deadly force.”
I would merely ask Mr. Cottman and other black leaders who share his position, to consider the 2009 case in Rochester, NY, where Roderick Scott, a black man, was tried for having shot and killed an unarmed white teenager named Christopher Cervini, age 17. (Note: New York did not have a “Stand Your Ground” law at that time.) When Mr. Scott was acquitted, Cervini’s father declared:
“My son never threatened anybody. He was a gentle child, his nature was gentle, he was a good person and he was never, ever arrested for anything, and has never been in trouble. He was 16 years and four months old, and he was slaughtered.”
And, I should add, HE WAS ALSO WHITE!
THE RACIAL DOUBLE BIND
Notwithstanding the verdict, the more visible and outspoken civil rights leaders wanted to get a second bite out of the apple. One of those, a Rev. Anthony Evans, president of the National Black Church Initiative, joined in calling for federal civil rights charges filed against Zimmerman.
“We want the Justice Department to assure that other African-American males will not be killed because they ran into a white American who was afraid of their presence.”
Well, if the black community wants to have a “conversation” about race, then comments like those of Rev. Evans pretty much puts the kibosh on any such efforts. What Rev. Evans seems to be saying is that any confrontation between and black and a white is ipso facto a racist incident. Period. End of discussion, along with hope for any progress in race relations.
(As this is written – August 10th, 2013 – no civil rights charges have been filed against George Zimmerman. Nor, in my opinion, will they ever be.)
Having said that, it’s easy to see why the blacks find themselves in a double bind. The fact that black males make up a disproportionately high number of those in prison and those charged with serious felonies, only feeds into the negative stereotype that, in turn, results in racial profiling.
We also know that many blacks who are arrested and ultimately convicted are also victims of a racially biased criminal justice system. Some cops, for example, are known to have planted evidence, which makes for an easy arrest. Defendants are also up against certain prosecutors who see an easy win and stop looking for other suspects or any exculpatory evidence. Because they are usually poor, they get defense lawyers who are often incompetent or don’t really care. Worse than that, there are some prosecutors and judges who have connections with a privately-owned prisons that need more prisoners to make more profits, which they are then willing to share in the form of kickbacks.
But even adjusted for the wrongly arrested and convicted blacks, there are still too many criminal elements in black communities. And it may be getting worse. In her blog, Beyond Black & White, Kathy Henry writes:
“Urban terrorists have hijacked urban communities throughout America, but calling the police is considered ‘snitching’ and murderers walk around unafraid and unrepentant. Mothers hide the guns of their gang-banging sons and little children are left at home unattended with an empty refrigerator while their parents party in the streets. There are so many examples of this behavior that I could go and on but that would be redundant. However, one thing rings true, regardless if some folks do not want to face it: gutter, hood-related anti-social behavior is running amok in some Black communities.”
This concern is amplified by Bill Cosby, who said in a speech to the NAACP on the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, May 17th, 2004, among many other things:
“Brown versus the Board of Education is no longer the white person’s problem. We’ve got to take the neighborhood back. We’ve got to go in there. Just forget telling your child to go to the Peace Corps. It’s right around the corner. It’s standing on the corner. It can’t speak English. It doesn’t want to speak English. I can’t even talk the way these people talk: “Why you ain’t where you is go ra?” I don’t know who these people are. And I blamed the kid until I heard the mother talk. Then I heard the father talk. This is all in the house. You used to talk a certain way on the corner and you got into the house and switched to English. Everybody knows it’s important to speak English except these knuckleheads. You can’t land a plane with, “Why you ain’t…” You can’t be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth. There is no Bible that has that kind of language. Where did these people get the idea that they’re moving ahead on this. Well, they know they’re not; they’re just hanging out in the same place, five or six generations sitting in the projects when you’re just supposed to stay there long enough to get a job and move out.”
This speech along with others of a similar vein since then, not surprisingly, has raised a lot of controversy. Black leaders say Cosby is blaming the victims, the poor, those trapped in the ghettos with no way out. And it is a kind of Catch-22. Nobody wants to start a new business in a neighborhood riddled with crime. Banks don’t want to lend money for the same reason. The police and fire and emergency responders don’t want to risk being shot in those areas. And governments and charitable foundations are reluctant to provide grants or aid to such places.
Nevertheless, Cosby, in his book, Come on People On the Path from Victims to Victors, co-authored with Alvin F. Poussaint, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, attempted to provide answers to the critics. So, what Ms. Henry and Mr. Cosby and others in the black community are saying is that just blaming whites may feel good, but it won’t help to get the racial problems solved in any meaningful way.
Culture for any ethnic group is hard to change. One of the most powerful influences among black youth these days is rap music. Some of it can carry a positive message, but some can also be destructive. On this point, Norm R. Allen Jr., an African-American journalist, in his article, A Need for Black Introspection: Beyond Trayvon Martin, describes the issue this way:
“Hardcore rappers are drowning in ignorance and self-hatred. They glamorize the most destructive Black stereotypes known to humanity. Their supporters talk about the root causes of Black suffering such as poverty, racism, corporate greed, etc. To use an analogy, they will say that hardcore rappers did not start the fire. However, they have certainly thrown much fuel on the fire helping it to rage out of control. At some point, those fueling the fire become at least as responsible for it as those that started it.”
Nonetheless, change and progress are possible. There is a great article on the ChicagoReader.com by Dan Liberty titled How
to Get Rid of the Local Drug Dealer, in which he walks through the steps taken by residents of one area of Chicago, mostly black, who formed their own neighborhood organization, Citizens United for Safety (CUFS) that, after a few fits and starts, finally cleared out the drug dealers. And these ideas are being tried in other areas of Chicago. Similar efforts are underway in Philadelphia, Seattle, Boston, and other urban areas.
ABOUT COLOR AND CHARACTER
I think most reasonable people would agree that blacks have to take some responsibility for their contribution to the racial divide in this country. And that has to be a part of the conversation. Likewise, whites shouldn’t feel like they’re walking on egg shells for fear of offending blacks. Being honest and upfront without assigning blame or being stubbornly intransigent is, in my opinion, the only way for a constructive conversation and a path forward.
But many of the nationally recognized civil rights leaders seem more interested in promoting themselves and perpetuating racial tensions than in searching for common cause. In fact, these zealots may be doing more harm than good. In his After the Zimmerman Trial article in National Review Online, Robert Woodson writes,
“If black America continues down this lethal path of self-deception, we are in danger of returning to a practice of the pre-civil-rights South. When the white-controlled criminal-justice system refused to prosecute aggressively blacks who committed crimes against other blacks, but was most severe in punishing blacks who committed crimes against whites, what the civil-rights movement demanded was equal justice before the bar, as it was thought that this unfair application of justice devalued black life.
“Martin Luther King Jr. said, and I paraphrase, that the only way a minority can exist and prosper in a majority country is to require and demand moral consistency. To dishonor the justice system by refusing to accept a jury’s decision, and by refusing to insist on equal justice, is to turn back the clock.”
I believe these extremist black leaders have offended Martin Luther King in another way. They used the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington to promote civil rights action against George Zimmerman and thereby exacerbating the racial divide. Remember that the seminal event on that occasion in 1963, was King’s “I have a dream” speech. In perhaps the most memorable part of that great speech, Dr. King said,
“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
I believe Sharpton, Jackson, Benjamin Jealous of the NAACP, Marc Morial of the Urban League and the others have dishonored Dr. King. They are clearly judging Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman by the color of their skin and not by the content of their character. They have tried to deny Zimmerman his right not be tried twice for the same thing by calling for a civil rights action to be brought by the federal government. They have promoted hate against Zimmerman though the racists who have made death threats against him, who set up a Facebook page called “Kill Zimmerman” (but was then taken down). And they have inspired such black celebrities as Spike Lee to make Zimmerman’s life as miserable as possible by posting his address on Twitter (which turned out to be the wrong address) and forcing him to go into hiding.
All this and more because of a few racist demagogues who turned a non-racial event into something that has only widened the gap between blacks and whites. Shame on them. And shame on the rest of us for not calling them on it.
I learned a lot from this. My initial reaction was that, Zimmerman was much heavier, and tended to think he was the aggressor. Too shallow analysis on my part.