From South African Paper, Politics Web.

ames Myburgh
14 August 2013

James Myburgh on what the Trayvon Martin case says about the US media and judicial systems


Last month's not guilty verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman on second degree murder and manslaughter charges for the killing of the black 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, in Sanford, Florida, on February 26 last year, has provoked a flurry of discussion in the US mainstream media on the issues of racial profiling and Stand Your Ground laws (which remove the duty to retreat in self-defence cases.) President Barack Obama even weighed in again on the case stating that Martin "could have been me 35 years ago" while calling for the problem of racial profiling of black Americans in the US to be recognised and addressed and Stand Your Ground Laws re-examined.

Somewhat awkwardly, however, neither were ultimately key issues in the case. Zimmerman's defence rested on a pure self-defence claim (he was not in a position to retreat when he shot Martin), while the prosecution, much as they would have liked to, could produce no evidence of racial profiling or bias on Zimmerman's part.

The question this raises is why the US political and media elites are so determined to link the Zimmerman acquittal to these racially-infused issues, though they turned out to be effectively irrelevant to the case? One possible answer is, perhaps, that it is a way of avoiding through misdirection having to face up to certain hard questions the trial raised about their own conduct.

Following the verdict Zimmerman's two lawyers - Don West and Mark O'Mara - held a press conference. West commented that the verdict prevented the tragedy of Trayvon Martin's death from becoming a travesty of justice. O'Mara was asked by a reporter whether his client had ever cried or shown emotion. He noted in reply that Zimmerman had been turned into the "most hated man in America" (as some had called him) for having defended his own life. He had also been a great believer in a justice system that he had always wanted to be part of, either as a cop or a prosecutor. O'Mara continued:

"Two systems went against George Zimmerman that he can't understand: You guys, the media. He was like a patient in an operating table where mad-scientists were committing experiments on him and he had no anaesthesia. He didn't know why he was turned into this monster but quite honestly, you guys had a lot to do with it. You just did because you took a story that was fed to you, and you ran with it, and you ran right over him. And that was horrid to him.

Then he comes into a system that he trusts. Let's not forget, six voluntary statements, voluntary surrender, and he believes in the system that he really wanted to be part of... right? And then he gets prosecutors that charge him with a crime they could never ever prove. They didn't lose evidence along the way... right? So, I don't think anyone would argue with me in this room that they had evidence of second degree murder. This, in your heart kind of stuff [prosecutors asked the jury to ‘look into their hearts' rather than at the evidence when deciding the verdict during closing arguments], is not what we're supposed to do and not what they are supposed to do. So those two systems failed him."

This challenge, though reported on, has provoked very little serious introspection by the mainstream media in the US. This is a pity, for if O'Mara is right about how those two systems failed Zimmerman, they will sooner or later fail others - with possibly more deadly results.

This article then will trace the evolution of the controversy over the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and the way information was presented (or "fed") to the press, and measure it against what we now know. It will then go on to discuss what this case says about the "two systems" that sought to have George Zimmerman arrested, tried and sent to jail for life....

Long article. Worth the read.