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“The Logic Of Profiling?”: What The Zimmerman Trial Was All About

A three-week long legal spectacle involving life-size human cutouts, a block of concrete, a forensic dummy, and a poorly considered knock-knock joke can be distilled down to two statements from the trial’s closing arguments: the prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda telling the jury that Trayvon Martin was dead because Zimmerman had profiled him as a criminal, and Mark O’Mara, one of George Zimmerman’s defense attorneys, saying that Trayvon Martin, unfortunately, fit the description of people arrested for burglaries in the retreat at Twin Lakes. The State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman is about many things: what constitutes self-defense, the echoing consequences of an increasingly armed public, the enduring and toxic way that race stains the most basic interactions. But, most fundamentally, it’s about what we’ve decided to do with our fear.

Before the trial began, Judge Deborah Nelson forbid use of the term “racial profiling” in the courtroom. At first, it seemed that the order would insure that throughout the trial race would be addressed the same way it was outside her courtroom—that is, by talking around it. Instead, it meant that by the closing arguments it was easier to recognize that race is just part of the problem. The logic of profiling itself is on trial.

Without a racial element the trial would never have happened. Not just because George Zimmerman, like so many others, probably wouldn’t have registered a white teen-ager as a criminal threat but also because a brew of vicarious grief, common experience, and the history of race in this country is what drove the crowds to don hoodies and gather around the country. It’s not simply that if President Obama had a son he’d look like Trayvon—it’s that millions of us have sons, brothers, and cousins who already do.

By degrees, we’ve accepted profiling as a central aspect of American life. Last month, I listened to Heather MacDonald, of the Manhattan Institute, argue that, though the N.Y.P.D.’s stop-and-frisk policy may be inconvenient for the many law-abiding black and Latino men it targets, it is ultimately necessary to make business owners feel safe. Surveillance has become a fact of life for unknown numbers of Muslims in this country. Our recent debates about the N.S.A. and the hazily expanding parameters of its surveillance programs center around this same question of profiling. If the majority of the public supports electronic eavesdropping, it’s because of the assumption that profiling will exclude them from suspicion. For anyone who’s known what it means to “fit the description,” the calculation is not nearly so simple.

There’s bad mathematics at the heart of this—a conflation of correlations and causations, gut instincts codified as public policy. To the extent that race factors into this equation, it’s in the way we selectively absolve, the way that no sum of actions by certain people quite reaches the bar of suspicion, the way that it becomes deceptively easy to surrender the civil liberties of others.

None of this could come up in closing arguments, yet it also seems certain that without understanding this idea we’ll reënact this drama at some future date under slightly different circumstances, but with a common pool of suspicions still present beneath the surface.

Throughout the sixteen-month-long saga that has led to a jury in Sanford, Florida deliberating the fate of George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, repeatedly said that this case was not about race. That’s partly true. But it’s also true that we live in an era where we understand security as the yield of broadening suspicions, and that at our safest, almost all of us are Trayvon Martin to someone else.

By: Jelani Cobb, The New Yorker, July 12, 2013

July 13, 2013 Posted by | Zimmerman Trial | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What Does Justice For Trayvon Look Like?”: A Guilty Verdict Is Only A Consolation

The murder trial of George Zimmerman for the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin is nearing its end, with the defense expected to rest its case today. It’s time to prepare for what happens if Zimmerman is acquitted.

I believe strongly in his guilt, but I’ve also watched the trial closely, and between the second-degree murder charge, where the prosecution must prove ill will or malice, and Zimmerman’s crafty defense, it is entirely plausible that he’ll walk. The special prosecutor assigned to this case, Angela Corey, originally charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder denying that it was because of “public pressure,” but because of “special evidence” that supported the charge. Legal analyst Dan Abrams, writing for ABC News, said:

I certainly sympathize with the anger and frustration of the Martin family and doubt that a jury will accept the entirety of George Zimmerman’s account as credible. But based on the legal standard and evidence presented by prosecutors it is difficult to see how jurors find proof beyond a reasonable doubt that it wasn’t self defense. Prosecutors are at a distinct legal disadvantage. They have the burden to prove that Zimmerman did not “reasonably believe” that the gunshot was “necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm” to himself. That is no easy feat based on the evidence presented in their case. Almost every prosecution witness was called to discredit the only eyewitness who unquestionably saw everything that occurred that night, George Zimmerman.

It’s heartbreaking to think that Zimmerman killed Trayvon and may never face punishment, but it’s possible. And for those of us deeply affected by Trayvon’s death, we have to think carefully about what comes next.

Because even a guilty verdict is only a consolation. It would send a one-time message that a black child’s life had value, but it would hardly shift the tide from the constant dehumanization. We would still be up against the same system—not only our criminal justice system but a larger cultural sytem—in which it was prudent to test Trayvon for drugs but not Zimmerman, that would ask a grieving mother if her son did anything to cause his own death, and that didn’t see fit to make an arrest for nearly a month and a half.

This requires us to wrestle with this question: What does justice for Trayvon look like?

Because if you’re like me, you don’t see prison as the answer. The prospect of Zimmerman sitting behind bars for twenty-five years doesn’t invoke a sense of justice. That just means they’ll be another person languishing in our broken prison system. Our carceral state doesn’t work, and relying on it to bring justice for any of us is a fool’s errand. We need a new outlook.

Justice needs to be more proactive. It should consist of an entire society doing everything it can to ensure that what happened to Trayvon never happens again. This includes a commitment to seeing the humanity in black men and boys, and letting go of the entrenched idea of their inherent criminality. It means divesting from the racist ideology that would have us believe black men are preternaturally violent creatures seeking to wreak havoc on America. Justice is black boys not having to grow up with that hanging over their heads. Justice is support for their potential. Real justice is this country truly believing that the killing of black boys is a tragedy.

When Trayvon’s father was on the witness stand, it was clear, more than a year later, he was still trying to process his son’s death. Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda was asking him about the 911 call where you can hear the gunshot that killed Trayvon. He started his question: “You realized that that was the shot…” and before he could finish, Tracy Martin chimed in, “That killed my son, yes.”

Justice is making sure no parent ever has to say those words again.

 

By: Mychal Denzel Smith, The Nation, July 10, 2013

July 11, 2013 Posted by | Zimmerman Trial | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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