When the “not guilty” verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman for murdering Trayvon Martin was announced on 13 July, spontaneous protest demonstrations were held in cities and towns across the country. They have continued to this day. All black, civil liberties and civil rights organisations have denounced the verdict. The facts speak for themselves.
On 26 February, in the city of Stanford, Florida, in the deep south, Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American, was walking home from a store where he bought some tea and a snack. He had no weapon of any sort, not even a penknife.
He was staying with his father in what is known in the US as a “gated community”, which means it has fences and gates to keep out “undesirables”.
Trayvon was not engaged in any unlawful activity or any activity other than walking and talking to his girlfriend on his cell phone.
George Zimmerman, a self-styled vigilante, saw Martin and decided he looked “suspicious.” What he saw was an African American teenage male wearing a “hoody”. That was enough for Zimmerman, who called in to his police buddies at the local station and reported his suspicions.
If it had been a white youth in a hoody that Zimmerman saw, he would have paid no attention. To “driving while black” and being pulled over or worse, must now be added “walking while black and young”, which might get you murdered.
On his call to police, Zimmerman denounced “these people” as “fucking punks” and said, “These assholes. They always get away.” This time, he was not going to allow the “punk” to “get away”.
Zimmerman had a history of calling the station to report “suspicious” people. It turns out they were all black men.
Even the police dispatcher told Zimmerman to stay in his car and not to follow Trayvon, an instruction Zimmerman ignored. He got out and proceeded to stalk Martin, and started running at him. His puffing could be heard on the police tapes.
Martin noticed he was being followed and told his girlfriend over the phone that he was becoming concerned. She heard him being attacked, and his phone went dead.
There was an altercation, during which Zimmerman pulled his gun and shot Trayvon, killing him. When the police arrived a few minutes later, Zimmerman told them he killed Martin in self-defence. Zimmerman did have some minor cuts and bruises, and the police questioned him. They believed Zimmerman, and under Florida’s “stand your ground” law decided to release him without any charges.
There was an outcry in black communities across the country, with large marches and other forms of protest. In face of this uproar, finally, after a month and a half, charges were brought against Zimmerman by a special prosecutor who had to be brought in because of the police recalcitrance.
The trial itself was a farce. A jury was chosen that did not have a single African American on it. The jurors were not identified, ostensibly for their “protection” from you know who if they acquitted. The jury was composed, we are told, of five white women and one Latina.
One of the jurors said before the trial that the earlier demonstrations demanding charges be brought were “riots”, and she was not disqualified.
Although this was an open-and-shut case of racial profiling, those words were never spoken by the prosecution. Police who testified for the prosecution somehow always got around to praising Zimmerman. The prosecution allowed the case to revolve around exactly what happened in the altercation between Zimmerman and Martin. It was Zimmerman’s version, of course, that the jury heard, not Martin’s, since he was dead.
The only witness who gave a partial version of what Martin saw was his girlfriend, who recounted the phone conversation with him. This young woman is from Haiti, and had a Santo Domingan father, so her first languages were Haitian Creole (based on French) and Spanish. English was her third language. The prosecution and judge stood by and allowed the defence attorney to browbeat and humiliate her on cross-examination – I had to turn off the TV coverage at that point, it was so disgusting.
After the verdict, one of the white women jurors went on TV incognito. Besides saying that she thought Zimmerman did the right thing in killing Martin, she said she discounted Trayvon’s girlfriend’s testimony because she had difficulty following it, since “they all talk like that”.
In any case, however vigorously Martin fought back against his attacker, the 17-year-old didn’t have a gun or knife or club or stick. Zimmerman had a gun, and had enough room between himself and Martin to pull it out and kill him with one shot.
That is not self-defence. That’s murder.
‘Stand your ground’ law
The case was compounded by Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which expands the “self-defence” justification. Before that law, “self-defence” could not be claimed unless there was no way to flee the situation. More than two dozen states have ratified “stand your ground” laws.
These laws originated with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a gathering of business executives and right wing politicians founded by the fascist-minded Koch brother billionaires, which works to pass reactionary legislation
In her instructions to the jury, the judge explicitly used the “stand your ground” law, telling them that Zimmerman “had no duty to retreat” and had a “right to stand his ground”.
Zimmerman didn’t “stand his ground”; he ran after Martin and shot and killed him. If anyone had the right to “stand his ground” it was Trayvon, who had only his hands to fight back with against his armed assailant.
Just a couple of weeks before the Zimmerman verdict, the US Supreme Court overturned the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965 on the grounds that racism is no longer a big deal in the US.
Tell that to Trayvon Martin’s family.