With the defense complaining of not having enough time to prepare, the George Zimmerman murder trial continues into its second day. Zimmerman is charged with murdering 17 year old Trayvon Martin in a killing he claims was self-defense.
Since the shooting death occurred inside a gated complex of residential dwellings in Sanford, Florida, issues of race and culture have cast a shadow over the proceedings.
There was forensic scrutiny of mumblings, screams, and even shadows in the night on the evening of the killing. Assertions that George Zimmerman was heard mumbling the “n” word in a background were disproved but questions remained as to whether Zimmerman profiled Trayvon Martin as a suspicious appearing thug instead of a family’s beloved teenager. Some Zimmerman defenders pointed to his Hispanic origins as proof of innocence, as if freedom from racial bias could void charges of murder in the 2nd degree.
George Zimmerman is not on trial for being a racist, though that may be difficult for a juror to remember. If an avowed racist, who has never committed a single crime, shoots someone to save his own life, that person is innocent of the crime of murder. That such a person can be portrayed by prosecutors as a “bad” person is irrelevant to guilt or innocence but may push jurors to a guilty verdict.
News coverage of crimes involving different ethnicities often notes the race or ethnicity of victims and of persons sought in connection with the crime. Where such descriptions are absent, online forum discussions following such accounts can be hotbeds of social tension, and sometimes, racial bias.
Compounding the problems for defense and prosecutors is that the public has differing views regarding the purposes of the judicial system. Traditionally, the first order of court business was to determine whether or not the defendant committed the crime. Yet, many people see the court system as a mechanism to apply what they perceive as social justice, even when facts argue in a different direction.
The Christian Science Monitor quotes a Texas jury consultant who seems to have put the case in a proper light.
“My expectation is that jurors are actually going to be judging a pretty simple case,” says the jury consultant.
The simplicity Douglas Keene refers to is in the facts of the case, some already determined, and others that may never be satisfactorily explained. Was it Zimmerman or Martin crying out desperately for help on the fateful night?
Most difficult for the Zimmerman defense is that he followed upon Trayvon Martin, even against the advice of the police dispatcher. It raises the question of whether Trayvon himself felt threatened and acted against Martin in self-defense.
Whatever really happened, Trayvon Martin’s future was fixed permanently by a bullet from the pistol Zimmerman carried on his neighborhood watch patrol. Zimmerman says he was under attack by the strong, gangly teenager, begging for his life before shooting Martin in self-defense.
Keeping that simple might prove to be the hardest thing in the world for all sides in this hapless tragedy.