The George Zimmerman trial is the racial metaphor that failed. It has proved that none of the ideological baggage heaped on the case ever made any sense.
George Zimmerman is not a symbol of white America, or — to borrow the stilted phrase the New York Times used to refer to him in its reports — white-Hispanic America. The case is not about race relations. Incredibly enough, even the attorney for Trayvon Martin’s family now says, “We don’t believe the focus was really race.”
Mentioning Martin in the same breath as Till is an offense against history and common sense.
When the national controversy over Martin’s killing first erupted, I thought it was wrong that Zimmerman wasn’t charged. I still think it was foolhardy of Zimmerman to get out of his car and trail Martin, and that if he had had the sense to leave the matter at his call to the police, a tragedy could have been avoided.
But that doesn’t make him a murderer. There was always a perverse wishfulness to the Zimmerman-haters: Look how rotten and backward this country is. Look at what white-Hispanics are capable of. Look at the corruption of our criminal-justice system. Look at this poor child murdered in cold blood.
MSNBC tried and convicted Zimmerman, executed him by firing squad, then propped the body up at the defense table so it could do it all over again. Host Lawrence O’Donnell said Zimmerman shot “a black teenager to death for having done absolutely nothing,” and opined that “I believe what we have here is evidence of a police cover-up.” At a rally, another of the network’s personalities, the Reverend Al Sharpton, compared the injustice done to Martin to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ — and that may have been one of his cooler-headed moments.
The most poisonous interpretation of Zimmerman’s conduct — that he sought out and assassinated a black kid for being a black kid — was never plausible. Assassins generally don’t call the police before tracking down targets. But it looks positively ridiculous in light of all the evidence suggesting that right before Zimmerman fired, Martin was beating Zimmerman, not the other way around.
The prosecution had the odd habit of calling witnesses who contradicted its case against Zimmerman. One of them, a neighbor named John Good, testified that Martin was mounted “MMA-style” on top of Zimmerman, drubbing him in a “ground-and-pound.” A forensic witness called by the defense, Dr. Vincent Di Maio, testified that the muzzle of Zimmerman’s gun was against Martin’s clothing, which in turn was several inches away from Martin’s body — facts consistent with Martin being on top of Zimmerman.
Accounts differ on who was crying out for help that night. Martin’s family says it was Martin; Zimmerman’s family says it was Zimmerman. But Zimmerman is the one who had the injuries consistent with getting beaten up and being in distress.
All of this suggests that Zimmerman fired in self-defense. At this point, if he is convicted of second-degree murder as charged, he will be the one failed by the Florida criminal-justice system — not Martin.
Justice, in the sense of a deliberate, lawful judgment consistent with the facts, was never the driving passion of the Zimmerman-haters. They wanted a racial morality play. If Trayvon Martin had been shot by another black person, no one would have cared. Al Sharpton wouldn’t have made him a cause. Lawrence O’Donnell wouldn’t have batted an eyelash. No one outside his immediate family and friends would have ever known his name.
Trayvon Martin’s shooting was an ideologically useful tragedy, and so the vultures did their worst.