The acquittal by a six-member Florida jury on July 13 in the trial of George Zimmerman for second-degree murder, with an option to convict for manslaughter, at least among rational people, produced relief and apprehension – relief because Zimmerman wouldn’t be headed to state prison; apprehension because the verdict likely would be a prelude to a federal probe. The latter is now underway. Attorney General Eric Holder, with the tacit approval of President Obama, has launched a campaign to delegitimize and overturn the verdict on the belief that Zimmerman, a white of partial Hispanic ancestry and a Neighborhood Watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla., wantonly shot a black teenager, Trayvon Martin, to death, and with racial intent. Any Justice Department action on this score would jeopardize rule of law and public safety. So it’s only fitting that this campaign got a boost this past weekend from demonstrations across the U.S. organized by Al Sharpton, a dedicated and destructive racial demagogue.
National Legal and Policy Center described this case in detail in early April 2012. The evidence, even then, overwhelmingly supported the view that George Zimmerman, far from being a glory-hunting vigilante motivated by “racism,” was the victim of a brutal and unprovoked beating by the 17-year-old Martin. Testimony during the trial convinced the jury, three members of which initially had voted to convict, that Zimmerman used his pistol to save his own life, not to callously take someone else’s. Photos indicating trauma to Zimmerman’s face and head were merely part of the body of evidence that state prosecutors chose to ignore or downplay. It is difficult to see how a federal prosecution would be justified.
President Obama thinks otherwise. He had been maintaining a low profile since his “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon” statement back in March 2012. But following the verdict, he let slip his disapproval. “We are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken,” he announced in a brief, scripted, tight-lipped televised statement. The president’s use of the phrase “a jury,” as opposed to “the jury,” was telling. In a clever lawyerly way, he was implying this particular jury was less than legitimate; another jury, presumably more enlightened, would have reached the opposite conclusion. The hint: “We’ll get ‘em next time.” He followed this statement with a much more provocative and personal one on Friday. Trayvon Martin, he said, “could have been me, 35 years ago.” Amplifying the sentiment, he stated: “There are very few African-Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off.” The president apparently sees fear of crime as “racism.” At the very least, Obama, trained as a lawyer, should know that a head of state who injects himself into a case like this could make a fair trial for Zimmerman almost impossible.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder notwithstanding is heading a Justice Department treasure hunt for evidence. Like his boss, he’s disingenuously playing the role of healer/unifier. In a speech last Monday, July 15, before a national black sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, he called Martin’s killing “a tragic, unnecessary shooting death.” He added: “We are determined to meet division and confusion with understanding and compassion – and also with truth. We will never stop working to ensure that in every case, in every circumstance and in every community, justice must be done.” The Attorney General apparently hasn’t had a problem with the Justice Department’s Community Relations Service sponsoring a series of rallies in Florida during which George Zimmerman was roundly denounced. Holder had been plenary speaker at the 2012 annual convention of Reverend Al Sharpton’s New York-based nonprofit group, National Action Network (NAN), an event held that April in Washington, D.C. During the event, Trayvon Martin’s parents appeared on stage with Sharpton.
As for Sharpton, a full-time MSNBC anchorman for the past two years, he seems as eager to make the news as he is to report it. Having already called the Florida verdict “an atrocity,” he vowed last Tuesday in Washington that he would lead a “Justice for Trayvon” day in 100 cities on Saturday, July 20, to demand, for starters, federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman. Sharpton, a frequent visitor to the Obama White House, remarked: “People all over the country will gather to show that we are not having a two- or three-day anger fit. This is a social movement for justice.” But the protests produced nothing resembling hundreds of thousands, much less millions, of people. In Chicago, the home turf of featured speaker and “civil rights” hustler Jesse Jackson, a crowd of an estimated 6,000 protestors showed up. In New York, a modest crowd attended a rally in Harlem outside NAN headquarters, an event that featured not only Sharpton, but also reigning hip-hop/r&b power couple Jay Z and Beyonce. In most cities, the rallies attracted only a few to several hundred persons. And the attendees were overwhelmingly black, undercutting the notion that the “Justice for Trayvon” movement is a multiracial “rainbow” that unites all Americans.
Jesse Jackson hadn’t been missing in action even before the Chicago protest. Several days before, he called for an investigation into the verdict by the UN Human Rights Council, a rotating body of 47 nation-states whose current membership include such human rights stalwarts as Angola, Congo and Kazakhstan. Jackson, founder-president of the nonprofit Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, also had issued a statement calling for “a national investigation of the racial context that led to Trayvon Martin’s slaying.” Let us translate: White America has blood on its hands and needs to engage in deep soul-searching as part of a “national conversation” on race.
Moral exhibitionism, however, isn’t the same thing as sound evidence. Any effort to put Zimmerman behind bars will face enormous obstacles. Indeed, it is hard to see how federal prosecutors would be any more effective than Florida prosecutors, whose case was effectively nonexistent. Not only would such a case be time-consuming and expensive, the very fact of its existence would raise the expectation of a conviction and thus the likelihood of mass rioting in the event of another acquittal. Indeed, in the immediate wake of the state verdict, rioting did occur. In Los Angeles, black rioters blocked traffic on Crenshaw Boulevard, at times jumping on vehicles. Part of the mob also invaded a local Walmart store, knocking down displays until security guards chased them out. Were it not for a rapid police response, things could have gotten as out of hand as they did in South-Central Los Angeles in 1992 in the aftermath of the jury acquittal of four police officers accused of beating an out-of-control motorist, Rodney King. Up the coast in Oakland, black hoodlums smashed police cars and broke storefront windows. Protests in Atlanta, Birmingham, Houston, Minneapolis, New York City and Washington, D.C., at least, were relatively peaceful.
The mass outrage was the culmination of a choreographed attempt to transform Trayvon Martin from an attempted murderer into a murder victim. Beginning in March 2012, only several days after the shooting, a nationwide groundswell of public sentiment had materialized to demand the prosecution of George Zimmerman for the February shooting death of Trayvon Martin. At the time, Martin was visiting his father in Sanford, Fla., not far from Orlando. Zimmerman, 28, was a patrol captain in a neighborhood crime prevention program. Local residents had formed the patrol following a recent sharp upswing in burglaries and other crimes. In fact, from January 1, 2011 through February 26, 2012 – the night of the shooting – police had been called to the 263-unit townhome complex where Martin visited, and where Zimmerman lived, The Retreat at Twin Lakes, more than 400 times. George Zimmerman, in other words, perceived his neighborhood to have a crime problem because there was a crime problem. And far from being a “lone wolf,” Zimmerman was well-liked in his community. Blacks as well as whites trusted him. And his Neighborhood Watch council worked with, not against, local police.
He would face a crime problem directly on February 26, 2012. It was just after 7 PM. Zimmerman, driving in his truck to a neighborhood convenience store, encountered a male teenaged pedestrian who looked suspicious. His name was Trayvon Martin. And he was on a visit from Miami-Dade County. He and his father, Tracy Martin, had come up to Sanford to stay for a while with the father’s girlfriend, also a resident of The Retreat at Twin Lakes. Far from being a “child,” as his sympathizers to this day insist on describing him (often displaying an absurdly dated photo), Trayvon Martin was at least six feet tall, a good four inches taller, in fact, than Zimmerman. He was in Sanford because he had been suspended, and not for the first time, from his high school in Miami Gardens. He also was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, or “hoodie.” It is common knowledge that criminals often wear this article of clothing so as to conceal their identity during a crime. As this was central Florida, it certainly wasn’t “cold weather” that induced Martin to don this apparel. Maybe this teen wasn’t about to commit a crime, Zimmerman thought, but he certainly looked more suspicious than the average person. It wouldn’t hurt to observe and report.
George Zimmerman, as a resident with his wife at The Retreat at Twin Lakes, had a personal stake in keeping the area safe. And he had been licensed by the State of Florida to carry a firearm since November 2009. At 7:09 PM, Zimmerman called a non-emergency police number to report a suspicious person on the premises. He told the dispatcher: “We’ve had some break-ins in my neighborhood, and there is a real suspicious guy,” adding, “This guy looks like he is up to no good or he is on drugs or something.” The individual, noted Zimmerman, had his hand in his waistband and was walking around looking at homes. About two minutes into the call, he told the police dispatcher, “He’s running,” to which the dispatcher responded, “Which way is he running?” At that point, there was a noise on the tape suggestive of a door chime, an indication Zimmerman had gotten out of his vehicle and followed the perp on foot. But the perp was fast and ran between townhouse clusters rather than along a sidewalk. Zimmerman soon lost sight of him. The dispatcher asked if he was following him. Zimmerman replied that he was. The police response: “We don’t need you to do that.” Contrary to popular misconception, the dispatcher wasn’t ordering him not to follow, but simply telling him that such action wouldn’t be necessary. Zimmerman in no way was “stalking” the suspect or taking the law into his own hands. Notwithstanding, he consented to the request, but did ask for a police presence. The call ended at about 7:15 PM.
Zimmerman went back to his vehicle. It was at this time that Trayvon Martin, seemingly out of nowhere, aggressively confronted Zimmerman, and menacingly asked, “What’s your problem, homie?” Zimmerman replied, no doubt with a high degree of fear, that he didn’t have a problem. He then reached for his cell phone. Martin responded, “You do now,” and charged at Zimmerman, decking him with a sucker punch. Having just committed a crime, Martin proceeded to amplify it, pinning a prone Zimmerman and slamming his head onto the pavement. When Zimmerman yelled in anguish, Martin told him to shut up and slammed his head again. And to emphasize his point, Martin allegedly told Zimmerman, “You’re gonna die now.” Zimmerman had every reason to take the assailant at his word. But he also had the means to save his life. Zimmerman pulled out a handgun from his pocket, and after a brief struggle, fired one shot at close range, hitting Martin in the chest. “You got me,” Martin said, falling backward. By 7:30 PM, he would be dead.
Police arrived on the scene soon enough. There had been, in fact, at least four neighbors who were eyewitnesses to part or all of the sequence of events; all eventually would testify at the trial. The cops took Zimmerman into custody, allowing him to be treated for head injuries. After interrogating him for five hours, they decided against arresting him for homicide; the evidence and legal basis just wasn’t there. But events outside Sanford conspired to ensure this was just the beginning. Trayvon Martin’s supporters, led by his parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, held a press conference on March 8 calling attention to the case. On March 14, the parents created a petition on a website, Change.org, calling for Zimmerman’s arrest. Within a week, the petition generated nearly 900,000 signatures. The attorney for the parents, Benjamin Crump, verified that his clients had received a flood of inquiries. On March 22, the pace accelerated at warp speed. Sanford Police Chief Billy Lee announced he “temporarily” would step down; Martin’s parents met with officials from the U.S. Justice Department; Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott appointed State’s Attorney (Fourth Judicial Circuit) Angela Corey as special prosecutor; and the peripatetic Al Sharpton came down from New York to give a speech before an eager throng at Sanford’s Fort Mellon Park. The following day, March 23, President Obama weighed in with his famous words, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”
The special prosecutor, Angela Corey, had exhibited a disturbing pattern of abuse of her position. And the niceties of due process didn’t much interest her. Recognizing a grand jury was highly unlikely to indict, Corey simply avoided that route altogether. She opted to play to a heavily media-driven image of Trayvon Martin as a helpless, innocent boy with a bag of Skittles in his pocket – an Emmett Till for these times – maliciously stalked and murdered by a white bigot. She gambled that the jury, one hopefully swayed by emotion alone, would vote to convict Zimmerman. Not long after, on April 11, 2012, the State of Florida charged George Zimmerman with second-degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin.
Angela Corey, however, gambled wrong. Once the trial finally got underway this past June 10, the courtroom prosecution team proved bombastic but ineffective. The attorneys were long on fist-pounding and assertions of racial hatred, but way short on evidence of an actual crime on the defendant’s part. On Saturday night, July 13, the all-female jury, following 15 hours of deliberation over two days, came back with its verdict: “Not guilty” on each of second-degree murder and manslaughter. The prosecution not only failed to rise to the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt,” it failed to rise at all. The state didn’t really blow its case; more accurately, it never had a case in the first place. The conclusion was inevitable: George Zimmerman acted in self-defense – and might be dead if he hadn’t.
Opponents of the verdict, with push-button outrage, responded, against all sound evidence, that this was a miscarriage of justice. Nothing less than a federal prosecution would do. Repeatedly, they have chanted, “Justice for Trayvon,” unwilling to face the fact that justice is an orderly, impartial process by which evidence can be presented, heard and debated. In other words, justice isn’t a guaranteed outcome to one’s liking. They are demanding the repeal of “Stand Your Ground” state laws, ignorant of the fact that Zimmerman’s defense lawyers at no time invoked Florida’s. The hanging jury in the streets is doing more than protesting. They’ve sent thousands of Twitter messages demanding Zimmerman’s execution, some including his home address. They’ve also sent death threats to immediate family members of Zimmerman, forcing them to leave their home. For some reason, Attorney General Eric Holder and the rest of the Justice Department haven’t seen fit to investigate these threats.
The U.S. Justice Department would do well to take a pass on this case. One finds it impossible how a federal jury, possessed of sound mind and character, could come to a verdict different from the one reached by the Florida jury. Reopening the case would be wrong for any number of reasons. For starters, it might well constitute a case of double jeopardy. Assuming a federal charge does clear this hurdle, it would be faced with the reality of no evidence of misconduct on the part of the defense or the jury in the state trial. And as for charging Zimmerman with a federal “hate crime,” it would be easier said than done. The prosecution would have to show beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman killed Martin because of his race. “It’s not enough to show that Zimmerman followed Martin because of his race,” says University of Virginia law professor Rachel Harmon, a former prosecutor in the Justice Department’s civil rights division. “They (prosecutors) would have to show that he attacked Martin for that reason…Proving that motive is why it’s hard to bring hate crime charges in general and why it is likely to be hard to bring them in this case.” But even that bar would be too low because Zimmerman did not “attack” Martin. It was the other way around, and with potentially lethal results. In other words, even if George Zimmerman really did hate blacks, such a fact would be immaterial because he was acting to defend his life. Keep in mind that last week this same George Zimmerman was a Good Samaritan in Sanford. On the afternoon of July 17, he and another individual rescued a family of four from a burning Ford Explorer SUV that had rolled off the highway in a single-vehicle crash.
The state case against Zimmerman would have looked even less substantial had Special Prosecutor Angela Corey not engaged in a series of ethically egregious moves. Corey, among other things, fired her information technology specialist, Ben Kruidbos, because Kruidbos had extracted photos from the cell phone of Trayvon Martin that showed a gun, a marijuana plant and jewelry, plus a text message referring to a gun transaction, and planned to turn the evidence over to the defense; Corey did not turn over the evidence. Writing about this, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley observed: “The failure to turn over evidence or the delayed disclosure is the most common form of prosecutorial abuse.” Zimmerman actually has legitimate grounds for suing the State of Florida. Harvard legal scholar and appellate lawyer Alan Dershowitz, for one, believes the behavior of Corey was “irresponsible and reckless” and “bordered on criminal conduct.” Dershowitz asserted: “In my 50 years of litigating cases, rarely have I seen [anything] as bad as this prosecution.” And who would the star witness for the prosecution in a federal trial be? If it’s the state’s “star witness,” Rachel Jeantel, the Justice Department might as well fold its tent. Ms. Jeantel, a 19-year-old black friend of Martin, proved uncooperative, ungrammatical, surly and self-contradictory while on the stand. During a post-verdict interview with the Huffington Post, she even admitted Martin most likely landed the first blow.
Let’s be blunt: As nonexistent as the case by the State of Florida against George Zimmerman was, any federal prosecution would be every bit as much so – and with the political motive even more transparent. One strains to think of a more obnoxious and politically-driven case than this. Yet the Obama administration, egged on by racial street hustlers like Al Sharpton, is bent on replicating the experience. And suppose a jury doesn’t come up with the “right” verdict – would there be mass rioting this time around? The Justice Department isn’t wasting any time finding out. Just one day after the Florida verdict, the department announced it was reopening its earlier investigation into the possibility that Zimmerman had committed a hate crime. Such is the nature of the “post-racial” America promised by Barack Obama when he first ran for president.