Wide eyed and silent, a frightened looking George Zimmerman, arrested and charged for the shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, was escorted into a Seminole County Courtroom for his first appearance. Finally, a little bit of proof that the system works for everyone, only a mere 45 days, dozens of protest rallies nationwide, and more than two million petition signatures later.
The system does work for nearly everyone; It just needs a little encouragement for some.
Now Zimmerman is out on bail, whisked away last night to an undisclosed location after clearing $150,000 bond. He will wear an ankle monitor, have a dusk-to-dawn curfew, and be prohibited from carrying firearms. Is that enough, both for the circumstance and the outrage swirling around the alleged killer?
Special prosecutor Angela Corey, installed after the uproar that the local prosecutor would not press charges against Zimmerman, held a press conference on the findings of her independent investigation last week.
She made a huge show of thanking everyone from law enforcement, of which prosecutors are a part, to Florida Governor Rick Scott for bringing her into the case.
Corey has a daunting high wire act before her. She tiptoed into the political minefield that the Martin case has become trying not to set anything off in what was the first of sure to be many press conferences.
There was no explanation why her findings were at odds with the local prosecutor, who was going to drop the case. No explanation of why she felt that second degree murder was the best she could get. The charge is, in part, due to the murky circumstances: Zimmerman was not ordered to stand down by the police, but asked to stay put by a 911 operator. The struggle, at least with the evidence thus far presented, had no clear eyewitness unanimity. It is possible, with the manner in which the Stand Your Ground Law in Florida is written, that Zimmerman may actually be able to walk legally.
The nationwide clamor and calls for justice, as well as the threat of the Justice Department launching their own investigation set off the state-level investigation that took place over the last two months, put Florida governor Rick Scott on the hot seat. He does not want to alienate either gun owners or the politically-generous National Rifle Association (NRA), which backed the bill’s passage. To do nothing, though, invites in the Feds, and a case that could unseat Stand Your Ground in the more than a dozen states where it is law.
She held the press at arms length, stubbornly refusing to divulge any of the facts and details that led her to seek a second degree murder charge against Zimmerman, all the while masterfully assuring the public that she works for the victim.
Her office later released the probable cause affidavit which outlines the states case against Zimmerman. In this affidavit, the public learned some of what was initially turned up in the police investigation into this shooting.
Zimmerman was profiling Martin. He followed him after being told to stop by the 911 operator that was on the phone with him that day. Zimmerman is quoted as saying “these assholes always get away” and referring to the ominous “they” he called them “fucking punks”. As I told you in “Trayvon Martin: Justice Should Be Blind, not Racially Tone Deaf” at 2:26 in the 911 recording, Zimmerman can clearly be heard getting out of the car. The wind picks up. He mutters under his breath, but audibly: “That fuckin’ coon.”
The affidavit goes on to say that Zimmerman then confronted Trayvon and it follows the narrative of Trayvon’s friend, who was apparently on the phone with him at that time.
This witness, who has not yet been identified to the public, told the police that Trayvon was describing what was happening and that he was scared because he was being followed through his complex by an unknown male and didn’t know why.
Trayvon attempted to run home, but was followed by Zimmerman who by this time had exited his vehicle despite the 911 operator’s instruction to stay put. He followed Trayvon because he didn’t want the person whom he had falsely assumed was going to commit a crime to get away before the police arrived.
Zimmerman confronted a frightened Trayvon before he was able to reach his home a short distance away. A struggle ensued. Witnesses within earshot heard arguing, a scuffle, cries for help, a gun shot, then deafening silence.
Trayvon’s mother identified the blood curdling scream for help on the tape as that of her son.
When the police arrived at the scene, Zimmerman admitted to shooting Trayvon. He invoked protection under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. Zimmerman was taken into custody, questioned, and released the same night.
Forty-five days later, he stood to answer the charges for shooting the young, unarmed teenager who had done nothing wrong other than being a black teenager in a neighborhood that apparently doesn’t care for that kind of thing.
The facts that the affiants swore to in this probable cause affidavit are the same narrative that has been floating around in the media, which has been trying both the shooter, and, oddly enough, the victim in the court of public opinion. Those on Zimmerman’s side, with some help from the propagandists at Fox News and the Right Wing radiosphere, decided that they would defame Martin and not even question the guilt of the alleged killer.
Right wing media claimed that Trayvon was a no-good gangster with tattoos who smoked weed and maybe sold a little, despite the fact that he was found that day doing nothing of the sort, nor does he have a criminal record with the area police, although he was cited by school police for tagging a locker with the graffiti “W.T.F”.
They played up the fact that Martin had been suspended from school in Miami because an empty plastic bag with traces of marijuana and a pipe were found in his school bag, triggering the suspension that brought him into the neighborhood where George Zimmerman lived. White kids with traces of drugs are “troubled.” Black kids are bad. They claimed that he had been caught with a screwdriver and some women’s jewelry when he was detained by school police for a graffiti charge at school. Yet the school police’s records show no arrest for burglary, or Martin’s referral to the local police department for anything like that.
No drugs were found on his body. There were no weapons. The only thing that Trayvon Martin was armed with was a can of iced tea, a bag of Skittles and being black in a neighborhood which an overzealous Neighborhood Watch vigilante didn’t believe that he belonged.
In this country you are innocent until proven guilty. At this moment, George Zimmerman is innocent. Most of the outrage was because neither Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee nor State Attorney Norman Wolfinger would hold him to account for his actions in a court of law.
The case has taken the nation to a place of no return on race and exactly who in the public should expect public safety to apply to themselves. There will have to be a more open dialogue about race and racial profiling.
The black community, along with Trayvon Martin, is getting their day in court. We wanted to know that the system works both ways, that the law is applied equally to everyone. The law’s historic use to generate inequality between the races is a constant meme that runs through the history of Black America.
The justice system should work for us too.
From the Dredd Scott case of 1858 wherein a slave, Dredd Scott, unsuccessfully sued for his freedom after to being taken to a free state, to Brown v. Board of Education, wherein the walls of segregation began to slowly fall, the black community has sought relief from the courts. We have an odd trust in our legal system. We have faith that right will be right, even when we’re so often and unfairly wronged.
A second degree murder charge for Zimmerman is a step in the right direction. Should this be defined as a “hate crime?” Even with the use of the term “That fuckin’ coon,” Corey did not apparently think so.
Prosecuted to the fullest extent possible, even if Zimmerman is ultimately found not guilty by a jury of his peers, the first instinct of the local prosecutor was to sweep this travesty under the rug. With the U.S. Attorney General’s Office watching in the wings, holding its power to investigate and prosecute racial hate crimes in any state, if the state fails, the federal government still may yet find justice for the family of Trayvon Martin.
Let the truth of the matter finally come to light and be judged by the appropriate legal system, not by the mob calling for justice, and let that justice be color blind.