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article imageOp-Ed: Following Zimmerman verdict, outrage misguided

By David Delmar     Jul 22, 2013 in Politics
In a post yesterday, I referred to widespread social outrage over the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial as “misguided consternation.” Today I thought I would write a more detailed explanation of my thoughts on the topic.
The general consensus seems to be as follows: 1) George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin after provoking a conflict; 2) Zimmerman initiated the confrontation with Martin after racially profiling him; 3) the fact that Zimmerman was acquitted, and indeed the entirety of the circumstances surrounding Martin’s death, reflects systemic racial injustice in America’s criminal system. It is quite evident to me that all three prongs of the consensus are erroneous.
To start, the legal dynamics of this case were not complicated and the jury did not have a difficult decision to make. There was simply no way George Zimmerman could have been successfully prosecuted based on the evidence available to Florida prosecutors. The critical legal issue in the case was not whether Zimmerman killed Martin—Zimmerman admitted that he did--but whether, as he claimed, he did so in self-defense. In order to convict Zimmerman of homicide, whether murder or manslaughter, the state had to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that he provoked the conflict with Martin. This it could not do.
The first hurdle for the prosecution was explaining Zimmerman’s injuries. Testifying on behalf of the defense was renowned forensic pathologist Dr. Vincent Di Maio, who offered his weighty opinion that the injuries Zimmerman suffered from his altercation with Martin, as well as the location of the fatal bullet wound delivered to Martin’s chest, were consistent with Zimmerman’s self-defense claims. Dr. Di Maio confirmed that Zimmerman suffered a broken nose and facial swelling consistent with having been repeatedly punched by Martin. Furthermore, Di Maio testified that lacerations to the back of Zimmerman’s head were consistent with Martin having banged it against concrete, just as Zimmerman had claimed, and may have even caused an undiagnosed concussion. Lastly, Di Maio offered his expert opinion that based on the location of the fatal bullet wound on Martin’s body, the teenager had been on top of Zimmerman when the gun was fired—again consistent with Zimmerman’s account that he shot Martin in self-defense. Incredibly, the prosecution was unable to offer even a single expert witness to refute the bulk of Di Maio’s testimony.
Other defense witnesses further strengthened Zimmerman’s self-defense claims. As the New York Times reported during the trial, “the resident with the best view of the altercation,” a man by the name of John Good, testified that he saw Trayvon Martin straddling George Zimmerman in a “ground and pound” position. Police who arrived on the scene after the shooting observed wet grass on Zimmerman’s back and on Martin’s knees, which supported John Good’s account that Martin had been on top of Zimmerman.
While the prosecution had its own eyewitnesses, none were in a position on the night of the shooting to observe events with the same clarity as John Good. They testified in vague terms—for example, that the larger man was on top. Martin was the taller and Zimmerman the heavier man. Who, then, was “the larger man?”
Another prosecution eyewitness, Selene Bahadoor, testified: “I saw figures, arms flailing….It looked like arms moving." This kind of testimony is hardly noteworthy when juxtaposed with the likes of John Good, whose vantage point and description of the altercation between Martin and Zimmerman were both simply better.
Such a dearth of evidence was available to prove the state’s case that the New York Times reported prosecution witnesses were actually proving helpful to the defense. Prosecutors ultimately could not prove that Zimmerman started the fight, nor could they reconcile his substantial injuries with their insistence that he was the aggressor in the conflict.
Furthermore, the defense was able to create more than just reasonable doubt, offering in addition to testimony that Zimmerman was the one being beaten when the gun fired evidence that he was "physically soft” and lacked any fighting prowess whatsoever. But this is the man prosecutors wanted us to believe walked up to a person who stood several inches taller and provoked a fight?
To speak of this case in purely legal terms, however, is to ignore its alleged racial implications. Ultimately, it has been the racial claims about the case which have been the ugliest, and, ironically, the ones least-supported-by-evidence. Such claims were, in fact, the essence of the prosecution’s case, and they have persisted in the public domain after the verdict was rendered.
To take just one example, many have insisted on making the totally unsubstantiated claim that Zimmerman racially profiled Martin, and that this was the catalyst for the shooting. So baseless is this accusation that the judge in the Zimmerman trial barred the prosecution from making any mention of the words “racial profiling” in its argument. She was right to do so, of course. The prosecution had no witnesses, no statements, nothing at all to create even a reasonable suspicion that Zimmerman’s decision to follow Trayvon Martin that night, or to call the police, was rooted in racial profiling. Still, the prosecution inexplicably—and I think unethically—pushed the issue, instead arguing that Zimmerman “profiled” Martin (note the absence of the word "racially"). Based as it was on pure speculation, the prosecution’s accusation that Zimmerman “profiled” Martin was vindictive character assassination of the basest kind, no more sophisticated or redeemable than petty Beauty Salon gossip, but vastly more dangerous.
The public joined in the character assassination as well. Led by the insatiable race-warriors Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, whose determination to insert race into every conceivable situation has proven indefatigable over the years, a large segment of the American public has protested and rallied across the country, demanding “justice for Trayvon,” which translates into “jail for Zimmerman.” Those members of the public, like Sharpton and Jackson, never seemed interested in a fair or impartial trial for Zimmerman, who they had convicted of being a racist murderer long before evidence was made public which unambiguously supported his self-defense claims (how they did that is a mystery). This mob outcry, based on total ignorance of the facts, led to the resignation of the Sanford police chief who oversaw the investigation, Bill Lee, who later talked to CNN about how the investigation into the shooting of Trayvon Martin was “taken away” from Sanford police. Lee told CNN that he felt pressured to arrest Zimmerman to appease the public, and not as a matter of justice, which made him uncomfortable. Florida police were convinced after early investigation that Zimmerman’s self-defense story was merited and that insufficient evidence existed to charge him with a crime without appealing to higher authorities. Their view in this respect, though heavily criticized by Sharpton and others who accused them of—surprise!—racism, was ultimately vindicated when Zimmerman was acquitted in a trial where the prosecution’s lack of evidence was all too apparent. As to his investigation being hijacked for political reasons, CNN’s report of Lee’s statements is well worth considering:
It was a matter of protocol, Lee said. Arresting Zimmerman based on the evidence at hand would have been a violation of Zimmerman's Fourth Amendment rights, he said. Thus, the Sanford police presented a "capias request" to the state's attorney, asking that the prosecutor determine whether it was a "justifiable homicide," issue a warrant for arrest or present the case to a grand jury. "The police department needed to do a job, and there was some influence -- outside influence and inside influence -- that forced a change in the course of the normal criminal justice process," Lee said. "With all the influence and the protests and petitions for an arrest, you still have to uphold your oath."
"That investigation was taken away from us. We weren't able to complete it," he said.
After the verdict, Sharpton called it a “slap in the face” and urged the Justice Department to move forward with potential civil rights charges against Zimmerman. To this day, Sharpton seems unmoved by the fact that experts who have weighed in on the matter paint the likelihood of success if civil rights charges are brought against Zimmerman at next to zero, noting the total lack of evidence that Martin’s race had anything whatsoever to do with his death. But when it comes to race, evidence has never much bothered Sharpton, Jackson, or even President Obama, all of whom seem condemned to see the world through a racial prism. For his own part, President Obama has made his fair share of stupid remarks about race, indicating he cannot be objective, or exercise critical thinking faculties when it comes to the topic. And perhaps that is the sad reality about the topic of race in America: though racism remains a problem here, as in every country, the problem is exacerbated by the inability of most people to address the topic meaningfully and critically. Instead, public opinion demands that “discussions about race” be prompted by cases like Martin’s, where no evidence suggests that race was in any way involved.
Those convinced that Zimmerman racially profiled Martin have no evidence to support the claim. Still, they insist that statistics about disparate treatment of black teenagers by the criminal justice system prove their contention that, in this specific case, Martin was racially profiled. It is almost insulting to have to point out that this is a textbook non sequitur (literally, I have seen it in textbooks). One cannot prove a fact was true in a specific instance by inferring it from general data.
The defense team also put forth perfectly compelling reasons that Zimmerman followed Martin that night. There had been a rash of break-ins at Zimmerman’s Florida community which had terrified his wife and neighbors. One such neighbor, who testified on Zimmerman's behalf at trial, had sat behind a closed door inside her home, clutching a pair of rusty scissors in one hand and her child in another as an intruder tried to bust the door down. She testified that Zimmerman came to her home after the incident and offered her support and comfort. Zimmerman, who helped four people escape from an overturned SUV a few days after his acquittal, seems to have a genuine concern for others. Notably, in their relentless effort to put him in jail, prosecutors tried hard to twist this concern to paint him as a ”wannabe cop.” The cynical display was truly embarrassing to the Florida judicial system, and thankfully was ultimately unsuccessful.
There was evidence that due to the break-ins, Zimmerman was on edge on the night of his confrontation with Martin. When he saw a young man he did not recognize, weaving in between houses in the pouring rain at night, he made assumptions that—whether Martin was black or not—were understandable in the circumstances. Zimmerman fiercely contests the accusation that Martin’s race factored into his suspicion of the teen, and says he was instead alerted by behavioral cues. Is there any evidence that he is lying? None whatsoever. In fact, it has been reported that Zimmerman is a registered Democrat who supported Obama (at least before this mess), and that he tutored minorities. He is also Hispanic. Considering all these facts, it is quite clear Zimmerman is not your textbook racist. In fact, it is quite likely he is not racist at all. Given the total lack of evidence supporting the accusation of racism against him, it can more or less be dismissed—especially since the people making it are not known for exercising care in selecting targets for accusations of racism.
On an ironic note, the only evidence of any racism in the Zimmerman trial came when the state’s star witness, Rachel Jeantel, told the courtroom that Martin had called Zimmerman a “creepy ass cracker” while on the phone with her. Not surprisingly, this clear and convincing evidence of racism has been ignored completely, because it is for some reason socially acceptable for nonwhites to be racist.
There is also one more argument against Zimmerman which is worthy of addressing, if for no other reason than it has been advanced by a great many people. The argument goes: Zimmerman is culpable because he should never have gotten out of his car and he ignored the command of the 9/11 dispatcher not to follow Martin. While it is certainly true that the whole situation could likely have been avoided if Zimmerman had remained in his car, Zimmerman was under no legal or moral obligation to remain there. If in fact his story is true, and Martin attacked him, the fact that he got out of his car is irrelevant, and the shooting was still in self-defense. This argument lacks merit entirely.
The truth about the Zimmerman case is that it was a tragedy. Though the reasons are not entirely clear, a teenager’s life was ended for no good reason. It is perfectly possible that Zimmerman murdered Martin after provoking a conflict, and that he should be in prison. It is also possible he is a racist. But the lack of evidence upon which to base either conclusion means they should not be adopted. We are a society of laws, and we ostensibly believe in the presumption of innocence. A defendant should not be punished for his role in events surrounding any potential crime unless his guilt can be ascertained beyond a reasonable doubt in a neutral forum. In defiance of these principles, the American public rushed to judgment and now, even after the verdict has been issued, legions of liberals—most of whom are totally unfamiliar with the evidence in the case—are determined to make race a central issue in Martin’s death, and to be outraged at Zimmerman’s acquittal, regardless of the evidence. This is irresponsible and dangerous.
Despite that there was not enough evidence to prove Zimmerman did anything wrong, the Black Panthers have put a bounty on his head, and he will likely be forced to live the rest of his life in fear. Even his family has not escaped persecution, as they have received “an enormous amount of death threats.” This is the rule of the mob, not justice.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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