It is a staggering fact that in his own court case, George Zimmerman seldom appeared to be on trial. Not only was he not going to testify, but he was also not going to be judged. Throughout the whole process, he did not have to answer questions critical to the case, such as why the sight of a black teenager in a hoody disturbed him to the point of pursuit, or who the so-called “assholes” who always got away were and what it was they always got away with. These are crucial questions, telling of the mentality of a man who willingly chose to stalk a 17-year-old on his way home, yet Zimmerman never had to answer to them.
Instead, he sat silently as his victim’s life was dissected. When certain witnesses took to the stand, it was Trayvon who was portrayed as racist; and in what appeared to be a desperate bid to justify Zimmerman’s instinctive judgement of Trayvon as being “up to no good”, his defence team released pre-trial photos and text messages attempting to smear Trayvon. One of Trayvon’s text messages released by Zimmerman’s defence reads: “My mom just told me i gotta mov wit my dad … She just kickd me out." It is difficult to see what relevance at all the text has to the case, though less difficult to see more cynical reasons for the defence releasing this ‘evidence’.
It is also worth noting that everything released by the defence team, which also includes references to Marijuana and details of arguments with his parents, completely pales in comparison to Zimmerman’s domestic violence injunction and other closed arrests. Yet there was no similar release of Zimmerman’s private cell phone records or pictures attempting to incriminate him. This is exacerbated by the fact that, according to CBS News, texts sent by Zimmerman after the shooting “disparage leaders of ‘Justice for Trayvon’ rallies with language described as offensive”.
References to Trayvon in court were also frequently menacing and racially coded: he emerged “out of the darkness” and was shifty and suspicious, though again Zimmerman never had to answer why. His prejudices and prejudgements, his state of mind, were never a focal part of this trial. This stands in contrast to the battle that was played out in court as to who Trayvon Martin was. Amongst other things used against him was a toxicology report ruled admissible which showed the jury he had traces of marijuana in his system.
Perhaps most damning of all was the absurd manner in which Trayvon, carrying only iced tea and a bag of skittles, was repeatedly described as “armed”. To accentuate this point, the prosecution brought in – or were allowed to bring in – a slab of concrete, charging that this was what Trayvon was “armed with”. It is a criminally distorted argument, the logical conclusion of which is that any person walking on a pavement at any time is “armed”. So, for that matter, is any person standing near the branch of a tree or the pole of a lamp-post.
The failure to adequately challenge this points to another key component of this trial: the weakness and incompetence of the prosecution. This post comprehensively deconstructs the flaws of the prosecution, with the key point being both political and technical:
Moreover, in a situation where a legally armed man shot dead a young black man who he had profiled, pursued and deemed to be suspicious, the State Attorney said the case was “never about race or the right to bear arms”. Despite this, the defence argued overtly that Zimmerman was concerned about breaks in committed by young black men. And it is little wonder, too, that the defence also had the temerity to say that if George Zimmerman was black “he would never have been charged”. This depicts vividly the horribly skewed landscape of a case which has given another illustration of the potent violence of the law.
Even before the law spoke, some parties were busy fear mongering for months about riots and protests in the event of a Not Guilty verdict, suggesting that people coming out onto the streets is the biggest threat to society now. In reality, the biggest threat to emerge from this verdict is another - or many other - George Zimmermans. That is the legacy of this verdict: the empowerment and validation of dangerous armed vigilantes across America.
In a climate where every 36-hours a black person is killed by police, security guards or self-appointed law officers, George Zimmerman’s trial was an opportunity for American justice to temper the storm of racial killings – and it failed tragically.
Worse still, as the trial went on, it became more and more clear that it wasn't George Zimmerman on trial but Trayvon Martin and American justice itself. Both were found guilty and Zimmerman walked away scot-free.