Failing to convict 29-year-old George Zimmerman of the Feb. 26, 2012 killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, Seminole County, Florida prosecutors overreached by charging the neighborhood watch captain with second-degree murder. When the six-women all “white” jury returned the verdict July 13 just after 10 p.m., the public groaned, especially the African American community. Found not guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter was not the fault of the jury but Seminole County prosecutors. It took their office 45 days under intense media and political pressure to charge Zimmerman with anything, considering the police viewed the case as self-defense or possibly a case of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, allowing crime victims to use lethal force if threatened. Prosecutors knew that Zimmerman sustained serious injuries in the Feb. 26, 2012 altercation.
Complicating today’s picture in Florida is a long and sordid history of police abuse with the Black community. It wasn’t difficult for the media to hype Zimmerman’s case as racism, when, in fact, it simply fell into the unfortunate category of self-defense with Florida’s liberal gun laws permitting concealed weapons. Had Florida not permitted concealed weapons, Trayvon would most likely be alive today. Seeing the Zimmerman case through the old lens of Southern racism fails to see what went wrong. “For many that the only problem with the new South is it occupies the same time and space as the Old South,” said National Association of Colored People director Benjamin Jealous, blaming Zimmerman’s acquittal on racism. Jealous knows that Florida’s loose gun laws increased the chances of lethal force, permitting Zimmerman to use his handgun to defend himself.
NAACP officials now press the nation’s first Black Attorney General 62-year-old Eric Holder to charge Zimmerman with civil rights violations. “The most fundamental of civil rights—the right to life—was violated the night George Zimmerman stalked and then took the life of Trayvon Martin,” Jealous wrote in a letter to Holder, demanding Zimmerman be charged with civil rights violations. Jealous is aware that well-over 32,000 U.S. citizens are gunned down every years, crying out for more sensible gun laws. Pressure on Congress from the National Rifle Assn. and other Second Amendment rights’ rights groups oppose any attempt at tightening gun laws. Jealous’ statement about Zimmerman “stalking” Trayvon Martin mirrors the same egregious hyperbole that lost the case for Seminole County prosecutors. Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda practically called Zimmerman a vigilante racist in closing arguments.
De la Rionda diverted juror away from the facts to the murky grounds that Zimmerman was a frustrated wannabe cop and vigilante racist. De la Rionda spent considerable time on 911 tapes where Zimmerman referred to hoodlums vandalizing his gated apartment complex as “F-ing punks,” not, as de la Rionda argued, using the “N-word.” Instead of sticking to the facts, de la Rionda inflamed jurors’ passions that Zimmerman was a vigilante racist that stalked, provoked and murdered Trayvon Martin, hiding behind Flordia’s self-defense laws. “This verdict represents a tragic miscarriage of justice,” said Barbara Arnwine, president of Washington D.C.-based Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, again, assuming facts that were not in evidence. Unless de la Rionda and others accuse to jury of racial bias, they have no factual basis for accusing Zimmerman of a targeted racial murder.
De la Rionda’s problems from the get-go involved charging Zimmerman with second-degree murder. When Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley charged Michael Jackon’s personal doctor Conrad Murray for the June 25, 2009 Propofol overdose with involuntary manslaughter, he did so because of the facts. Jackson family members begged Cooley to charge Murray with first-degree or second-degree murder. Unlike Seminole County prosecutors, Cooley stuck to the facts, ignored the media, charged Murray appropriately and got the conviction. “We truly believe the mindset of George Zimmerman and the words he used and the reason he was out doing what he was doing fit the bill for second-degree murder,” insisted special prosecutor Angela Corey after the verdict. Corey won’t admit she over-reached charging Zimmerman with second-degree murder.
When Seminole County Circuit County Judge Debra Nelson permitted the jury July11 to consider a manslaughter conviction, prosecutors knew they didn’t meet the burden of proof for second-degree murder. After hearing de la Rionda practically accuse Zimmerman of being a racist vigilante in closing arguments, the jury had heard enough. Overreaching on the original charge and making wild accusations in closing arguments sealed the deal for Zimmerman’s acquittal. “George Zimmerman was never guilty of anything except protecting himself in self-defense, and I’m glad the jury saw it that way,” said defense attorney Mark O’Mara. Whether a criminal offense or not, Zimmerman was 100% guilty of using bad judgment, carrying a concealed weapon and preemptively engaging Trayvon Martin. Had Florida’s gun laws been different, Trayvon Martin would still be alive.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.