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Yes, race did play a role in the Trayvon Martin case

It doesn’t matter whether George Zimmerman was racist – the racial implications are being played out in courts, the media and websites all over the nation

Photo: , License: N/A

Photo: Photo BY Barry Kirsch, murdercityphotography.com, License: N/A

Photo BY Barry Kirsch, murdercityphotography.com


There were no eyewitnesses to contradict Zimmerman’s story, and Trayvon obviously couldn’t give his side of the story. Zimmerman’s defense team, meanwhile, effectively put Trayvon on trial, both in the courtroom and in the media. On their website in the days leading up to jury selection, Zimmerman’s lawyers released text messages and photos portraying Trayvon as a pot-smoking, gun-copping, gold-teeth-wearing, middle-finger-waving thug who had a propensity for violence and probably had it coming [“A portrait of Trayvon Martin as a young black thug,” June 12]. In court, they alleged that Trayvon might indeed have been up to no good, citing a discarded piece of awning found nearby a week after the shooting that could, conceivably, have been used as a jimmy, and argued that Trayvon had viciously attacked Zimmerman without provocation, using the sidewalk as a deadly weapon. They also contended that Zimmerman’s suspicions were reasonable, since a few weeks earlier a young black male had been arrested breaking into houses in the neighborhood.

In short, Trayvon became a defendant in this murder trial, too.

The prosecution simply couldn’t counter. The state’s case was a bumbling train wreck of contradictions and incoherence and lackluster, disinterested police work. Maybe prosecutors didn’t have much to work with, or maybe reasonable doubt was too high a mountain to climb. Either way, they didn’t do Trayvon any favors.

In any event, the deck was stacked against them. As Dan Gelber, a former prosecutor and Democratic attorney general candidate, pointed out on his blog (dangelber.com), prior to 2005, when the state legislature passed the Stand Your Ground law (which he opposed while in the state House), juries in self-defense cases were instructed that a defendant “cannot justify the use of force … unless he used every reasonable means within his power and consistent with his own safety to avoid the danger before resorting to that force.” Zimmerman’s jury – even though he argued self-defense, and not explicitly Stand Your Ground – was instructed that Zimmerman “had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so …” (all italics mine).

“By taking away from the jury the simple notion that people have an obligation to ‘avoid the danger’ or retreat if they could do so safely,” Gelber writes, “[the state was], essentially, authorizing stupid, venal and, as in this case, often tragic behavior.”

 

In 1870, A.T. Morgan wanted to get married. He was a white state senator from Hinds County, Miss., on the southern edge of the Mississippi Delta. His intended, however, was a black Northern woman at a time when, you’d think, these things weren’t acceptable, especially in the heart of the Old Confederacy. This was just five years after the Civil War, 13 years after the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision in which the Supreme Court decided that even free blacks couldn’t be citizens and had no rights, and a century before a more progressive court found that so-called miscegenation was constitutionally protected. But this marriage didn’t provoke a scandal, let alone violence. That year, in fact, Morgan was re-elected.

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