Politics & Policy

Stop the Zimmerman Debates

Both the Left and the Right have tried to turn Trayvon Martin’s death into something it’s not.

State of Florida v. George Zimmerman, popularly known as the Trayvon Martin case, is now a platform on which liberal and conservative advocates make major pronouncements on important issues of the day. However, this perch is a surprisingly rickety one, since the statements made from it usually have little to do with the facts in this sad, sad, sad trial.

Liberals, for instance, see this entire affair through the Left’s all-encompassing lens of latent white racism and the alleged widespread bigotry that targets blacks in America — fatally so, when it came to 17-year-old Martin. This is all quite interesting and actually might be relevant, save for one crucial fact: Zimmerman is not white.

As it happens, the 29-year-old Zimmerman is of mixed — essentially biracial — ancestry, much like President Obama. Indeed, it would be as accurate to call Zimmerman Hispanic as it would be to describe Obama as white. Nevertheless, public discussion focuses almost entirely on Zimmerman’s Caucasian roots, much like the notion that Obama is America’s first black president, even though he is, at most, 50 percent black.

George Zimmerman’s Peruvian-born mother sits on the lap of Zimmerman’s Afro-Peruvian great grandfather.

Zimmerman’s mother’s maiden name is Mesa. This reflects her birth in Peru. “He was raised in a racially integrated household and himself has black roots through an Afro-Peruvian great-grandfather — the father of the maternal grandmother who helped raise him,” Reuters’ Chris Francescani wrote in an eye-opening April 25, 2012 article on Zimmerman’s background.

So, amazingly enough, Zimmerman actually is part black. Regardless, numerous news accounts describe him as “a white Hispanic.” This unusual formulation is about as common as “a white black.”

Beyond all of these chromosomal specifics, Zimmerman seems to be anything but a racist. He is bilingual and informally served as a translator in his grade school, presumably bridging the English-Spanish language gap between administrators and foreign-born parents.

As several journalists, not least Reason’s Cathy Young, have demonstrated, Zimmerman might have been eligible for an NAACP Image Award were it not for his calamitous, chance encounter in Sanford, Fla., with the unarmed Martin. Among Zimmerman’s acts of non-racism, he took a black girl to his high school prom. Zimmerman and a black business partner jointly launched an Allstate insurance office in 2004. Zimmerman served as a mentor to disadvantaged black children. He also appeared at a January 8, 2011, public forum at Sanford City Hall. He spoke up there to defend Sherman Ware, a homeless black man who was beaten up by Justin Collison, the son of a white police officer.

Further diluting the Left’s anti-Zimmerman narrative: He is one of them.

Zimmerman is a Democrat and an Obama voter. As his brother Robert explained to Breitbart.com, George is “a registered Democrat. He registered as a Hispanic. He kind of did some internal family campaigning for Obama.” Referring to his brother, Robert Zimmerman added: “He was like many young people who thought that the president’s club had been a club of white men since our founding, and that there really wasn’t a good reason for that.”

Somehow, George Zimmerman — the reputed reincarnation of the late Senator Robert KKK Byrd (D., W.V.) — turns out to be . . . part of Obama’s winning coalition.

Liberals can holler all they want about white racism. And where such bigotry actually exists, hollering is justified. But white racism played no part in this case, as confirmed by the prosecution’s silence on the matter.

“I think all of us thought race did not play a role,” Juror B37 told CNN after the trial. Referring to herself and her fellow jurors, she added: “We never had that discussion.”

For their part, conservatives argue this case shows that black kids, especially boys, often run aground when they are reared by single moms. No doubt, when 73 percent of black children are born out of wedlock, trouble almost inevitably follows. This is a perfectly legitimate issue, but it also has nothing to do with this case. TV coverage of this trial showed Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, grieving in the court room, right beside Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father. George Zimmerman also has a mother and father. So, the impact of single motherhood is an important issue. But not here.

Liberals repeatedly complain about Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, and want such statutes stricken from the 31 state codes in which they exist in one form or another. This is a debatable proposition, as are most topics in the controversial area of Second Amendment rights. So, let’s debate it — as long as everyone remembers that neither the prosecution nor the defense in this trial invoked Florida’s Stand Your Ground doctrine.

Those who oppose Stand Your Ground laws should reserve a few calories of their outrage for none other than Obama. As NRO’s John Fund reported, in 2004, Obama sponsored S.B. 2386 in the Illinois State Senate. It successfully strengthened the Stand Your Ground law in the Land of Lincoln. That detail largely has been overlooked amid the criticism of these statutes, including Obama’s own disparaging words about them.

Since this case’s verdict, conservatives have focused on black-on-black crime. They are correct in arguing that young black men are far likelier to die at the hands of other black men, rather than as victims of white men eager to engage in neo-lynching. The Reverend Jesse Jackson’s comments are instructive here. As he told a meeting of Operation Push on November 27, 1993:

There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery, then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved. . . . After all we have been through. Just to think we can’t walk down our own streets. How humiliating.

This subject deserves open and candid conversation. However, let’s not forget that Martin succumbed to “white Hispanic”-on-black violence, not the black-on-black variety.

One of this trial’s jurors appeared on ABC with comments that also were, by her later admission, detached from the facts in this case.

Zimmerman “got away with murder,” Juror B29 told ABC’s Robin Roberts. (Offering only the first name of Maddy, this juror kept her surname private.) While this comment generated tremendous excitement, the story was less thrilling than the headline.

“You can’t put the man in jail even though in our hearts we felt he was guilty,” Juror B29 said. The Hispanic woman, part of this six-member, all-female jury, added: “But we had to grab our hearts and put it aside and look at the evidence.” (Emphasis added.)

So, she might have thought that Zimmerman was a murderer, but the facts did not take her there. Thus, she voted to acquit the defendant. She said: “I stand by the decision because of the law.”

In the end, B29 and the five other jurors did the right thing as they deliberated for 16 hours over two days: They acquitted Zimmerman of second-degree murder.

The defense raised reasonable doubts that disconnected the dots in the prosecution’s case. Based solely on what I saw of the televised testimony, these questions, at the very least, should have troubled the jury:

First, Jonathan Good, Zimmerman’s neighbor and a prosecution eyewitness, testified that he saw Martin straddling Zimmerman’s chest in “mixed-martial-arts position” as the two struggled on a cement walkway. Good said he saw “arm movements going downward.”

“The person you now know to be Trayvon Martin was on top, correct?” Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, asked Good. “He was the one raining blows down on George Zimmerman, correct?”

Good replied: “That’s what it looked like.”

Mind you, Good was a witness for the prosecution. His sworn testimony — as much as anyone else’s — scuttled the state’s case.

Second, Zimmerman’s broken nose and the cuts on the back of his head appeared to bolster his claim that Martin assaulted him.

Third, Sanford Police officer Timothy Smith, the first cop on the scene, testified that “the back of [Zimmerman’s jacket] was wetter than the front of it, and it was also covered in grass,” and said the same was true of Zimmerman’s blue jeans. Officer Smith’s statements reinforced Zimmerman’s claim that he was on his back, as Martin sat astride his torso, pinning him down and beating him.

Fourth, Sanford police asked Martin’s father to identify the voice of someone on a 911 recording, screaming for help, just before Zimmerman fired his gun. Tracy Martin testified that he first replied: “I can’t tell.” He eventually concluded that the voice was Trayvon’s, but only after police played Tracy the recording at least 20 times. Martin’s father’s initial reasonable doubts about that voice likely amplified the jury’s reasonable doubts about this pivotal aspect of the prosecution’s case.

No one knows precisely what happened that night in Sanford. However, it was the prosecution’s job to prove Zimmerman’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. For better or worse, the state of Florida’s case didn’t clear that hurdle; it crashed into it. Zimmerman and his attorneys had to prove nothing in Room 5-D of the Seminole County Court House, since their client was presumed innocent — just like every other criminal defendant in America’s 237-year history.

Once these and other reasonable doubts short-circuited the prosecution’s efforts to prove Zimmerman’s guilt, he correctly was acquitted. Whether Al Sharpton, Eric Holder, and Obama like it or not, that’s how America’s justice system works.

If, instead, Americans want to base justice on emotion, feelings, suspicions, racial grievances, and concerns about parenting and family structure, great. Let’s establish such a structure by amending the U.S. Constitution, revising state and local  statutes, and overturning 947 years of English common law. Until then, defendants remain innocent until proven guilty — and Florida did not prove Zimmerman guilty.

This is a nasty, dreadful tragedy. A 17-year-old boy  is now beneath a tombstone. His parents, relatives, friends, and other loved ones likely will spend his birthdays not handing him gifts but, instead, placing roses on his grave.

George Zimmerman has avoided jail and, according to the jury, rightly so. Still, he appears to be in hiding and likely will remain so while so many are bent on vengeance rather than justice. His parents have received death threats. This says far less about them than it does about the rank indecency of some who reject the jury’s verdict.

Now, poor Trayvon Benjamin Martin is six feet under. Rather than serve as a prop for debates both Left and Right, he should be allowed to rest in peace.

Like it or not, Lady Justice has spoken.

— Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor, a nationally syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service, and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University.

Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor, a contributor to National Review Online, and a senior fellow with the London Center for Policy Research.


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