#1 Great overview of Zimmerman case FACTS in American Thinker. Liberals, please read
08-31-2013, 11:27 PM
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This article is not written by a rabid, restate Freeper. This is actually quite a good summary of the evidence and the misconceptions.
The Aftermath of the George Zimmerman Case, Part 1: The Trial, the Evidence and the Verdict
August 31, 2013
The Aftermath of the George Zimmerman Case, Part 1: The Trial, the Evidence and the Verdict
By Jonathan Cohen
The aftermath of the verdict in the George Zimmerman case has been as depressing as the actions and atmosphere during the 17 months preceding the trial. The misuse of state power for political purposes and the deliberate misleading of the public by much of the media concerning the facts of the case pre-trial, has been matched in the aftermath by the threats by the US Department of Justice to retry the case in Federal Court and the refusal by many politicians and members of the press to explain the verdict as stemming from the evidence presented at trial. The collection of witness testimony, physical evidence and the forensic evaluation of the gunshot wound that clearly pointed towards Zimmerman's innocence. In coming to grips with the verdict's implications one must begin with an understanding of the actual evidence in the case. This is the first article in a three part series about the case. This article is devoted to a synopsis of the key evidence in the trial, highlighting the misconceptions that have been promulgated frequently in the media's reporting. In the second, the role of the media, the lawyers and the racial divide will be explored. The third article will reflect on how racial history impacts how people viewed the case.
Facts in the case
The map below is a useful aid in understanding the evidence in the case. Zimmerman's truck was located on the map at the cut through crossing Twin Trees and leading to the top of the T which leads to the east section of Retreat View Circle. It is the point from which he started walking along the cut through towards Retreat View. The phone call to the dispatcher begins with Zimmerman in the truck and continues as he follows the path. The distance from the "T" to Brandy Green's Townhouse is about 80 yards. That gives a perspective of the relative distances involved in the movements of Zimmerman and Martin. The X marks where Trayvon Martin was shot.
In understanding the confusion on the part of people discussing the case in the aftermath of the verdict it is important to clear up some misconceptions. These mistakes are the result of pre-trial misstatements of facts in the media and also follow from a failure to correct them in the media commentary that accompanied the reporting on the trial. TM house denotes Brandy Green's townhouse.
1. "The death of Trayvon Martin happened because George Zimmerman disobeyed a policeman's order to stay in his car and not follow Trayvon Martin."
The following facts are clear from the transcript of the call that George Zimmerman made reporting a suspicious person.
George Zimmerman was never told to stay in his car.
George Zimmerman was never told to return to his car.
George Zimmerman was not ordered to not follow Trayvon Martin. He was only told he did not need to do it, a suggestion made to protect the police department from future liability as well as common sense to protect the safety of George Zimmerman.
George Zimmerman answered the dispatcher's suggestion by saying ok and from the recording of the call it is clear that he stopped following him.
George Zimmerman told the dispatcher at 2:35 that "he ran" suggesting that he had lost sight of Martin and at 3:40 he expressed fear about saying his address out loud because he had lost sight of Martin. It would have been impossible for Zimmerman to have followed Martin if he did not know where he was.
2. "Trayvon would not have been killed if Zimmerman had not kept him from returning to the condo where he was staying with his father." (Henceforth we will refer to this place as Brandy Green's townhouse).
This is contradicted by the following
There were about 4 minutes between the point in time that Martin ran towards Brandy Green's townhouse and when he encountered Zimmerman at the intersection point at the top of the T where the fight apparently began. That meant that Martin had four minutes to walk or run about 100 yards to Brandy Green's townhouse, a distance he could have easily covered in less than 20 seconds.
According to the testimony of Rachel Jeantel, Trayvon Martin told her that he had returned to Brandy Green's townhouse and that he had lost sight of Zimmerman.
In further conversation with Martin, Jeantel testified that Martin saw Zimmerman again and confronted him verbally at that point in time which is about 7:15:55. From all witnesses, this encounter took place at the top of the T and not in front of Brandy Green's townhouse which is about 80 yards south of this point. For whatever reason, Martin chose not to go home. That was his decision and had nothing to do with Zimmerman impeding him.
3. "Trayvon Martin was racially profiled by George Zimmerman".
This is contradicted by the phone call to the dispatcher.
The conversation transcript is as follows. The time into the recorded call is the first item in parenthesis and the actual time of day is in the second.
George Zimmerman: We've had some break-ins in my neighborhood and there's a real suspicious guy. It's Retreat View Circle. The best address I can give you is 111 Retreat View Circle. This guy looks like he's up to no good or he's on drugs or something. It's raining and he's just walking around looking about. [00:25] [7:11:59]
911 dispatcher: OK, is he White, Black, or Hispanic?
George Zimmerman: He looks black.
It appears at this point that Zimmerman is unsure that Martin is black. Thirty seconds later after Martin approaches Zimmerman's car and he has a closer look, he tells the dispatcher
George Zimmerman: Yeah, now he's coming toward me. He's got his hands in his waist band.
And he's a black male.[1:03] [7:10:37]
In other words, he now confirms that Martin is black from which it can be inferred that he was initially unsure. Given the darkness and rainy conditions at the time, it is highly unlikely that Zimmerman could have identified Martin as Black when he first became suspicious of him. Furthermore, it is known from earlier recorded calls that Zimmerman, for purpose of identification, did not hesitate to mention the race of people he saw whether they were white or black. The likely reason he didn't initially volunteer the race of Martin was that he simply didn't know.
4. "George Zimmerman confronted Trayvon Martin".
No evidence of this was presented at the trial.
The location of the confrontation was at the intersection point of the T (an east-west cut through between two streets and a path leading south from this path). Zimmerman said he was walking towards his car which means he crossed this point heading west. From Rachel Jeantel's testimony it can be inferred that Trayvon was heading north to the intersection point from Brandy Green's townhouse. The most likely explanation was that they accidentally arrived at this point at about the same time. Given the row of town houses lining the T and the dark and rainy conditions, it is very unlikely that either had been aware of the other's proximity at the time they encountered each other. From the testimony of Rachel Jeantel and the information given by Zimmerman, it is likely that both were surprised by suddenly seeing the other.
From both the testimony of Rachel Jeantel and the information given to police by George Zimmerman, Trayvon initiated the ensuing exchange of words. There are various versions of what precisely was said and it is likely that neither Jeantel nor Zimmerman remembers the exact words, but it is clear that Martin was the first to speak.
5. "It is not clear who was calling for help".
In fact the evidence at the trial was overwhelming that it was Zimmerman calling for help.
The screams for help were heard for over forty seconds on the Jenna Lauer 911 call before the gunshot was heard. Since the call was made in response to the calls for help, there must have been a delay of at least 15-20 seconds before she first heard the screams and the 911 operator answered the phone indicating that the cries for help began almost immediately after Zimmerman encountered Martin.
Jonathan Good, went outside and saw Trayvon Martin on top of Zimmerman raining what appeared to be blows to Zimmerman's head and saw and heard the man on the bottom screaming for help.
Good told Martin to cut it out.
In response to Good's telling Martin to cut it out, Martin continued to rain down blows and Good told them he was going to call the police. The screams for help continued after Good went inside to make his 911 call.
Injuries to the back and side of Zimmerman's head as well as what appeared to be a broken nose in photos taken at the scene, as well as grass stains on the back of Zimmerman's jacket confirm that it was Zimmerman who was getting beaten up.
The only injuries that were found on Martin were the gunshot wound and abrasions to his knuckles.
The forensic examination of the gunshot wound indicates that in all probability Martin was shot while he was leaning over the prone Zimmerman.
The screams for help on the Zimmerman tape sound like they were all made by the same person.
What actually happened
It is impossible to know exactly what happened but there is enough witness testimony, digitally recorded information and forensic evidence to get a good general outline of events. Zimmerman, while driving to get groceries, noticed Martin wandering around in the rain and became suspicious. He pulled into the parking lot at the clubhouse on the north part of Retreat view circle and called the police department's non-emergency number to report a suspicious person. After being prompted for the racial or ethnic identity of the person he said "he looks black", though the hesitancy of his answer indicates that he wasn't sure. When Martin comes closer to his car, he reports to the police dispatcher that the suspicious person is black, reinforcing the likelihood that Zimmerman's suspicions were aroused by Martin's behavior rather than his race. From a comparison of the dispatcher call and Zimmerman's statements to police as well as what can be gleaned from Rachel Jeantel's testimony the following is what occurred. The phone call begins at 7:09:34. Martin passes by Zimmerman's car heading east along Retreat View Circle at 7:10:37. At 7:10:54 he comes back towards Zimmerman's car and from the call you can tell Zimmerman is now afraid.
George Zimmerman: Uh, huh. Something's wrong with him. Yep, he's coming to check me out. He's got something in his hands. I don't know what his deal is. [01:20][7:10:54]
The dispatcher replies with the following instructions:
911 dispatcher: Let me know if he does anything, OK?
George Zimmerman: OK.
911 dispatcher: We've got him on the wire. Just let me know if this guy does anything else.
George Zimmerman: OK.
This makes two times the dispatcher has asked for information that requires Zimmerman to observe Martin. Martin heads east again on Retreat view Circle, turning south onto Twin Trees. Zimmerman temporarily loses sight of Martin and pulls out of the clubhouse, turns east on Retreat View Circle and then south on Twin Trees and regains sight of Martin. At 7:11:42 Zimmerman reports Martin running away. Specifically, the transcript of the call reads
"George Zimmerman: He's running. [2:08] [7:11:42]
911 dispatcher: He's running? Which way is he running?
George Zimmerman: Down toward the other entrance of the neighborhood. [2:14] [7:11:48]
911 dispatcher: OK, which entrance is that he's headed towards?
George Zimmerman: The back entrance. [Zimmerman mutters Fucking Punks at [2:22] [7:11:56]
911 dispatcher: Are you following him? [2:24] [7:11:58]
George Zimmerman: Yeah. [2:25] [7:11:59]
911 dispatcher: OK. We don't need you to do that. [2:26] [7:12:00]
George Zimmerman: OK. [2:28] [7:12:02]
There is a sound of either labored breathing or wind rushing from about 7:11:52 until 7:12:02 which seems to mark the point at which Zimmerman gets out of his car and starts following Martin. This time interval of about ten seconds is the only point at which there is concrete evidence that Zimmerman is actually following Martin on foot and it is important to note that he embarks on the pursuit after the dispatcher asks Zimmerman "which way is he running?" This is the third request from the dispatcher indicating he wants Zimmerman to continue to observe Martin's actions and movements. Given the conversation with the dispatcher, it would seem that Martin's running away heightened Zimmerman's belief that Martin was a burglar. On the other hand, when Zimmerman started following him in his car, Martin probably thought that Zimmerman was acting suspiciously.
08-31-2013, 11:28 PM
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Insight into why Trayvon starts running away can be inferred from the testimony of Rachel Jeantel who is on the phone with Martin at this time. In her testimony at the trial she says that in response to Martin reporting he is being followed (in a car) by a "creepy assed cracker," she tells Martin that the guy following him is a rapist and tells him to run home. In her interview with Piers Morgan, she makes it very clear that she was warning Martin that the man he saw following him was probably a gay predator and that he needed to run home. Martin said he would walk quickly and, according to Jeantel's testimony, reported that he had reached Brandy Green's townhouse. He also says he is no longer being followed.
After Zimmerman says "ok" in response to the suggestion that he need not follow Martin, the discussion with the dispatcher continues:
911 dispatcher: Alright, sir, what is your name? [2:34] [7:12:08]
George Zimmerman: George. He ran.
It is reasonable to assume the statement "He ran" means that Zimmerman has lost sight of Martin. The conversation continues for another minute in which they discuss where he should meet with the police. At about 3:40 the following dialogue takes place.
911 dispatcher: OK, what's your apartment number?
George Zimmerman: It's a home. It's 1950 - oh, crap, I don't want to give it out - I don't know where this kid is [inaudible] [3:40] [7:13:14]
This part of the call confirms that Zimmerman no longer has sight of Trayvon. It also confirms that Zimmerman could no longer be following Martin because he doesn't know where he is; moreover, it also suggests that he is sufficiently afraid of Martin that he would be unlikely to confront him.
At this point a review of the map of Retreat View Circle is important. There is an east-west pathway (a cut through) between the streets Twin Trees and Retreat View Circle. About halfway along this path there is a pathway going south from the cut through that leads to the back of the Brandy Green's townhouse, the two paths in essence forming a T. The distance from where Martin is staying to the intersection point of the paths is about 80 yards. The north side of the cut through is lined with the backs of town houses as are both sides of the north-south path that leads to where Martin is staying, a fact that makes it difficult for a person walking along the top of the T to see someone on the stem of the T unless he is at the intersection point.
Zimmerman at this point has left his car and is walking towards Retreat View Circle to find a street address. As he walks back from Retreat Circle he crosses the intersection of the two paths and encounters Trayvon Martin who has left the back of Brandy Green's town house and has headed back to the intersection point of the T. It can be inferred from Rachel Jeantel's cell phone records that at approximately 7:15:50 Martin reports once again seeing Zimmerman. He initiates a verbal exchange with Zimmerman which becomes physical combat almost immediately. Who starts the fight is unknown. The only evidence for how it started is provided by Zimmerman who claims that he was sucker punched in the nose by Martin and stunned by the blow. The photographs of Zimmerman taken a few minutes after the confrontation confirm that his nose was smashed, knocked out of alignment and bleeding.
Since Martin died, how he ended up at the intersection of the paths remains a matter of speculation. But it appears that by an unfortunate twist of fate, the two arrived at the intersection at the same time and this sudden encounter led Martin to initiate an attack on Zimmerman. The testimony of Rachel Jeantel suggests that Martin may have been fearful that Zimmerman was going to sexually assault him. In her interview with Piers Morgan she seemed to be alluding to what is essentially "stranger danger", the term used by parents in warning their children to beware of people following them in automobiles.
Since Zimmerman is the only one who knows how the fight actually began, we cannot confirm Zimmerman's version of how it started. What we do know is that Martin quickly gained the upper hand and Zimmerman immediately began calling out for help. Several witnesses who heard the screams described them as someone screaming in fear for his life. Clearly, we know that it was Zimmerman calling for help since Jonathan Good went outside and saw Trayvon Martin on top straddling Zimmerman and raining blows towards Zimmerman's head. It would make no sense for the person who was delivering the beating to be crying out for help as if his life depended on it. So Martin from the beginning knew that Zimmerman wanted no part of the fight and that he was thoroughly beaten. Most telling is that when Jonathan Good yelled at him to cut it out, he ignored it and continued to beat Zimmerman who he held in a defenseless position. Of all the decisions that were made that night, the one that sealed his death was Martin's ignoring Good's demand to stop. At that point Zimmerman knew that nobody was going to help him and that Martin was not going to stop.
At the trial, the photos of the injuries to Zimmerman's head contrasted with the autopsy of Martin whose only observable injuries were the gunshot wound and some abrasions on one of his knuckles. Wet grass attached to the back of Zimmerman's jacket confirmed the eyewitness testimony of Jonathan Good that Zimmerman was the one lying on the ground. The testimony of forensics expert Vincent Di Maio, perhaps the world's leading expert on gunshot wounds, made it clear that the only reasonable explanation of the forensics around the gunshot wound was that Martin was leaning over a prone Zimmerman at the time Martin was shot.
While we can never be sure precisely what happened, the evidence suggests that Martin attacked Zimmerman by landing a blow to Zimmerman's nose, immediately gained the upper hand in the fight, and never received any blows in response until the gunshot wound that ended his life. Zimmerman clearly shot Martin in self-defense. The only question that was genuinely at issue in the trial was whether Zimmerman's fears at the time reasonably justified using a gun to defend himself.
Zimmerman did not testify at the trial but his narrative of events was presented in the form of police videos introduced by the prosecution. The police investigators testified that they felt Zimmerman was telling the truth and that the minor inconsistencies in his interviews were viewed as normal for witnesses trying to recall exact details of a past event. While the jury could have arrived at a not guilty verdict without Zimmerman's version of events, there was a good deal of evidence to support his credibility. From the beginning, Zimmerman waived his Miranda rights and voluntarily gave numerous statements to police without the protection of legal counsel. A voice stress test administered by the Sanford police showed that his answers to the questions,
"Did you confront the guy you shot? (No.)"
"Were you afraid for your life when you shot the guy? (Yes)",
were both consistent with his telling the truth. Zimmerman's account of the events was given before the police had collected evidence from potential witnesses and was not contradicted in any credible way by any of the subsequent witnesses. Perhaps most convincing of his credibility was his response of "Thank God" to the suggestion by Detective Serino that there was a video of the confrontation.
This was a tragic event. It is unlikely that Martin thought that Zimmerman was a neighborhood watch guy or some kind of security person. It is more likely that he suspected Zimmerman was a potential threat. Rachel Jeantel testified at the trial that Trayvon asked Zimmerman "what are you following me for?" and that Zimmerman responded "what are you doing around here?" I think this is unlikely because if this were the actual conversation, Trayvon would probably have said he was staying with his dad at Brandy Green's townhouse and that would have been the end of it. Far more likely is that Trayvon did not know what Zimmerman was up to and launched a pre-emptive attack. It is easy to fault both parties for irrational behavior but what makes this such a tragic event is that the actions of both were not irrational. After all, there had been numerous burglaries at Retreat Circle and Trayvon's movements legitimately aroused suspicions; and Martin had reason to be wary of Zimmerman since he had been following him in a car and Trayvon had no idea why. And the mutual suspicions of both Zimmerman and Martin were, if anything, enhanced by both Zimmerman's call to the dispatcher and Martin's phone conversation with Rachel Jeantel.
It is instructive to consider alternative scenarios in which events could have unfolded differently. Had Zimmerman not had a gun and had Trayvon continued to beat him, the police might have arrived soon enough to prevent Trayvon from inflicting great bodily harm to Zimmerman. Martin then would have been charged with aggravated assault. Martin's defense attorney would of course have argued that Martin acted in self-defense and assuming that Zimmerman's injuries did not get much worse, Martin would have been able to plea bargain to a lesser offense and gotten off with a couple of years of probation. On the other hand had Martin continued to pound Zimmerman, one of the blows to Zimmerman's head might have killed him in which case Martin would have been charged with second degree murder.
If the police had arrived on the scene a minute earlier and witnessed Martin on top of Zimmerman raining down blows and heard Zimmerman's cries for help, he certainly would have demanded that Martin stop. If he acceded to the demand, the police would have arrested him for assault. If he ignored the policeman's command he might have been shot.
With any of these alternative scenarios, it is clear that it would have been Martin facing criminal charges and the national press would never have covered the story.
09-01-2013, 01:41 PM
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Now for the second half:
September 1, 2013
The Aftermath of the George Zimmerman Case, Part 2: The role of the media, the lawyers and the racial divide
By Jonathan Cohen
The media story
From the beginning, the national media was informed of the case primarily from the vantage point of Martin's family and their supporters. Trayvon's parents were terribly upset that Zimmerman was not detained and charged after having originally been taken into custody for questioning. They were unhappy over the refusal to immediately charge Zimmerman with killing their son. They never accepted that self-defense was justified since their son was unarmed and Zimmerman was carrying a gun. This is something they have held onto from the night he was shot, through the trial, and probably will for the rest of their lives. Having sat through the trial they must at some level know that Trayvon was shot after their son administered a severe beating to Zimmerman. Or perhaps they truly believe it was their son screaming for help but it is hard to see how an objective observer could rationally believe the cries for help were not coming from Zimmerman given the evidence presented at the trial. (A comprehensive review of the trial and the role of the Martin family can be found here).
The media story was that the racist police had refused to charge Zimmerman because of a phony self-defense story made up by Zimmerman. They posted pictures of Martin as a 12 year old in comparison to the more menacing picture of Zimmerman taken several years before the incident. When the tape of Zimmerman's call was made public, NBC edited it to say he had voluntarily identified that Trayvon was black when he had only said "he looks black" in response to a direct question. Then they claimed he had said "f-ing coons" which is now generally believed to be "f-ing punks".
The media started claiming that the reason Martin was killed was because Zimmerman disobeyed a direct order to stay in his car and not follow Martin. This claim is conclusively contradicted by the recorded phone call between Zimmerman and the police dispatcher. Moreover, the anti-Zimmerman narrative that the police tried to discourage Zimmerman's actions that night is contradicted by the fact that the dispatcher asked Zimmerman three times to provide information that he could not supply without observing Martin. And nothing in the call suggests the dispatcher thought that Zimmerman's suspicions were unfounded. The recorded call has been on the internet for almost a year and a half and a written transcript has also been on the internet for the same amount of time. The entirety of the call was played repeatedly at the trial. Yet most people you talk to will tell you that Zimmerman bears some responsibility for what happened because he disobeyed the police order to stay in his car and not follow and confront Martin. So successful was the media in propagating this lie that in the aftermath of the verdict, one hears this repeated not only by all of Trayvon Martin's supporters, but also such supporters of the verdict as national commentators Bill O'Reilly and Michael Medved.
The story offered by most of the media is that Trayvon Martin was simply walking home with his iced tea and skittles and that Zimmerman confronted him and in the confrontation that followed shot him. The innocent child committed no crime and was the victim of a racially motivated murder. This view completely ignores the evidence presented at trial; the evidence that he chose not to return to Brandy Green's townhouse and instead initiated an unprovoked assault that resulted in his being shot by the victim of his attack.
The coverage of the trial was varied in its adherence to the truth. At the far end of bad journalism was Sonny Hostin on CNN who supported the most outrageous distortions introduced by the prosecution and ignored the vast amount of evidence supporting the claim of self-defense. Even after the verdict had been reached, she went on television the next day calling for the federal government to intervene regardless of the constitution's prohibition against double jeopardy.
In the aftermath of the verdict, major media outlets continued to repeat some of the misconceptions. In a Chicago Tribune editorial that advised the public to accept the verdict, they nonetheless repeated the lie that Zimmerman was told to stay in his car. This lie was repeated in the nightline story on Robin Roberts' interview with juror B29. Furthermore, the edited version of the interview that appeared on Nightline made the statement by B29 that "George Zimmerman got away with murder" seem a lot more definitive than the full interview in which the juror seems more speculative. What is most troublesome about the Roberts' interview is that the juror is never asked if she thought that Zimmerman acted in self-defense, the only question at issue in the trial. Either Roberts never asked the question or she did and ABC edited out the answer. Either way, it is journalistic malfeasance.
The media also promoted the unfortunate misconception that Florida's Stand Your Ground Law was involved in the verdict. Many who felt Zimmerman was guilty of something blame the acquittal on Stand Your Ground, a law that permits the use deadly of force in self-defense even when there is an option of retreat. Whatever the merits of Stand Your Grand Laws, they don't apply in this case. Zimmerman did not have the option to retreat since Martin had him pinned on his back. The question about the law that actually arose in this case was whether a person armed with a gun could use deadly force to defend himself against someone who was unarmed. The law clearly says that you can if you are reasonably in fear for your life or of great bodily harm. What people are questioning is the law of self-defense itself and not Stand Your Ground. It would have been helpful if the media had been clear about that.
It is not surprising that so much of the public got the story wrong. The media had been repeating the same lies about the case for 17 months so why change just because there was incontrovertible evidence that they were lies.
The lawyers: Atticus Finch vs. Mike Nifong
The case provided a stark contrast between the two legal teams. Defense attorneys spend much of their time getting plea deals for reduced sentences for clients who have committed some pretty awful crimes. Given the dubious character of many of their clients, defense lawyers generally demand money up front before they will step into a court room. Yet in this case, attorneys Mark O'Mara and Donald West spent a year and a half on a case without any guarantee that the defendant would be able to pay them. Why did they agree to take the case? Defending clients who are often guilty of awful offenses exposes defense attorneys a close-up view of some of the nastiest side humanity, but most have not become so cynical from dealing with unpleasant clients and ruthless prosecutors that they don't harbor some of the idealism that led them to become defense attorneys in the first place. Watching the trial it was hard not to compare Mark O'Mara to Atticus Finch, the heroic lawyer battling the prejudices of the segregationist south in Harper Lee's novel "To Kill a Mockingbird". There are some things worth more than money and fame and for a lot of defense lawyers the top of the list is saving the life of an innocent defendant from an unscrupulous prosecution that is motivated by the public's desire for blood.
On the other hand, a prosecutor's worst nightmare is to be remembered for enthusiastically going forward with a transparently dishonest, politically motivated prosecution to appease a public lynch mob bent on revenge rather than justice. Virtually every prosecution witness, under cross-examination, either backed up the defense's case or at least was consistent with it. By the end of the trial it was clear that the charge of second degree murder was essentially a frame up and the lesser charge of manslaughter could not even come close to a preponderance of evidence, (better than a fifty-fifty chance of being true), and many would conclude Zimmerman was innocent beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecution knew, from Jonathan Good's testimony, that the cries for help were Zimmerman's. Yet they still tried to present witnesses to counter Good's testimony so as to make it seem like his testimony was just one of many, some of whom thought it was Zimmerman's and some of whom thought it was Martin's. That is not an incompetent prosecution; it is a dishonest politically motivated one.
From the first day of testimony onwards, it was clear that the prosecution's narrative of the case was contradicted by everyone of its witnesses except for Sybrina Fulton who claimed the cries for help on the Jenna Lauer 911 call were those of her son. And her testimony was countered by the failure of both Tracy Martin's and Trayvon's brother's inability to identify the voice when it was first played for them. After talking for weeks with the Martin family lawyers, the father and brother changed their minds and testified that they were now sure the voice was Trayvon's: but they were countered by a parade of Zimmerman's friends and relations who testified to their certainty that the cries were from George Zimmerman so it was likely that the jurors ignored the voice identification of those listening to the Lauer tape as wishful thinking or outright lies. It is almost impossible to identify screaming voices especially after factoring in that the sounds were recorded at the police station from a phone call of cries that were audible through walls and windows of Jenna Lauer's townhouse.
In point of fact, there was only one witness that mattered on the screams and that was Jonathan Good who was standing fifteen feet away and saw that the person crying out for help was Zimmerman. The second piece of evidence that cinched it were the injuries sustained by Zimmerman and the fact that Martin was clearly the one administering the beating.
A commenter on Ann Althouse's blog related a story that sheds light on the identification of screams. She wrote that the only time in her life that she heard screams like the ones on the Lauer 911 call was when her young son had broken his arm while playing outside her house. She ran out to attend to her son and so did every mother on the block who was equally sure it was her own child.
Watching the state present its case for second degree murder, it was difficult not to see the shadow of Mike Nifong, the disgraced and disbarred prosecutor from the Duke Lacrosse case, looming over the prosecutors.
09-01-2013, 01:42 PM
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The racial divide
The general acceptance of the verdict by a majority of whites contrasted with the near unanimous disappointment by blacks as evidenced by media commentary and public opinion polls. In an echo of the reaction to the OJ Simpson trial, the Zimmerman verdict reaction highlighted a continuing division of racial perceptions. President Obama addressed this divide in a news briefing several days after the verdict. Invoking his own experience to add weight to his comments, he offered context to the reactions of blacks. Updating his pre-trial statement (" if I had a son he would look like Trayvon"), he stated that Trayvon could have been a 35 years earlier version of himself. He continued by placing the reaction of black people to the verdict in the context of his own experience of being followed in department stores, hearing car door locked when he approached parked cars, and watching women clutch their pocket books when he entered an elevator. As a gesture of forgiveness for whites, he admitted that there indeed has been progress as he notes that his daughters interact easily with their fellow students at Sidwell Friends.
Clearly there is a divide in how whites and blacks view this case. But there was a trial and there was a great deal of evidence so what happened in Sanford is not merely a matter of perspective. This isn't a case of achieving peace through agreeing to disagree. The evidence in the case clearly points to Zimmerman's innocence and certainly does not point to racial animus as a reason for the shooting of Martin.
In light of his briefing, one wants to ask President Obama why didn't he try to explain the verdict to the nation. If he wanted to bridge differences and clear up misunderstandings, wouldn't it have made more sense to allow the evidence of the case help to inform the public of why the jury decided as they did. As a constitutional law professor, shouldn't he have advised the public of importance of such constitutional protections as the right to trial by a jury of one's peers, that a defendant has the right to not incriminate himself, that citizens are protected against double jeopardy, that a unanimous vote is required for a guilty verdict and that a guilty verdict requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
But the president chose to address the public concerns about the verdict in the context of past racial indignities rather than in the context of the facts of the case. He was rationalizing black's reaction to the verdict and showing his racial loyalty by fulfilling his duty to his most loyal supporters by explaining their reactions to white America. He did a good job of doing this but was it helpful? Perhaps he should have taken a more honest approach and discussed the evidence in the case. Perhaps honesty about the facts would have been more helpful in terms of racial attitudes than telling white people what black people wanted them to hear.
While I may disagree with President Obama's approach to discussing the case, I think his remarks were intended to tone down the racial tension the case had stirred up. The same cannot be said for attorney general Eric Holder who has made it clear from the start of his tenure that he doesn't think the law should be applied in a racially neutral manner. In testifying before Congress about the expansion of federal hate crime laws, Holder made it very clear that he divided society into protected and unprotected classes. Hate crime laws are ways to greatly expand the punishments for ordinary crimes so that what might result in a sentence of a couple years can be lengthened to more than ten. This means that an assault by a white on a black could result in a punishment five times as severe as an assault by a black on a white. If that doesn't violate the Fourteenth Amendment, nothing does.
In Holder's response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, he assured a black sorority and the NAACP that he was very disturbed by the verdict and assured them that the Justice Department is looking into filing federal charges. In pursuit of such indictments, he authorized the establishment of a tip line to get any information that might indicate evidence of racial animus on the part of George Zimmerman. It would be difficult to overestimate the absurdity of staging a hate crime show trial of George Zimmerman. In the first place, given George Zimmerman's personal history, he is one of the least likely to harbor racial animus. More to the point, how do you fit Zimmerman into an unprotected class.? Though characterized as a "white" Hispanic, he clearly isn't even white. He is a mixed race Hispanic.
Does the attorney general have any sense of what the trial would look like? It would be the show trial of the century as federal prosecutors in front of a national television audience would attempt to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman's mixed race heritage of white, Indian and African ancestors is insufficient in the latter two racial categories, to make him eligible to be prosecuted for a hate crime. In essence Holder is proposing to set aside the constitutional protection against double jeopardy based on Zimmerman's not having enough ancestors of color to send him to jail for the rest of his life for a crime for which a jury has already found him not guilty. These kind of legal considerations were last heard in deciding on how much Jewish blood one needed to warrant transportation to Auschwitz.
For members of minority groups, when their racial or ethnic identity is somehow involved in issues, there is a personal stake in the outcome. They often fear that all members of their group will somehow be judged according to the outcome. In the Simpson case, blacks worried that whites' old prejudices were stirred up by the case and would be confirmed if Simpson was found guilty. This type of reaction is shared by other minority groups. For example, when Julian and Ethel Rosenberg were charged with giving the plans for the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union, many Jews wanted to believe in the Rosenberg's innocence. They feared that if the Rosenbergs were guilty, it would contribute to a prejudice that all Jews were disloyal. Some of the same type of anxieties explain the black reaction to the Simpson verdict and doubtless underlie some of the reaction of black people to the Zimmerman verdict.
With a few notable exceptions, blacks were upset by the verdict. The commentary of black attorneys, academics and pundits appearing as analysts in the media coverage of the trial was generally pro prosecution. They would sometimes acknowledge a bad day for the prosecution or an effective cross-examination by the defense, but they would never offer the possibility that the strength of the defense case was their client's innocence. The nightly commentary from Sonny Hostin on CNN never once, so far as I can remember, considered the possibility that a guilty verdict could send an innocent man to jail for the rest of his life. She had a hard time acknowledging that Zimmerman might be acquitted. If she harbored any doubts about his guilt, she never let on. To be fair, she wasn't alone. Few, if any, commentators, white or black, professed their belief in Zimmerman's innocence. More troubling was that in spite of the prosecution's failure to produce any credible evidence contradicting Zimmerman's claim to self-defense, many still held out hope for a guilty verdict.
One notable exception came from basketball commentator Charles Barkley. In an interview with CNBC following the verdict Barkley said that he had watched the trial very carefully and concluded that the evidence made it clear that Zimmerman acted in self-defense and that the verdict was correct. He thought that "Martin had flipped a switch and started beating the hell out of Zimmerman", an opinion that is strongly suggested by the evidence. For those who follow Barkley's basketball analysis, this should come as no surprise because his commentary on sports is among the most objective. He tells his audience what he thinks is happening and is likely to happen and not what he wants to happen. While he has teams and players that he roots for, he doesn't let that interfere with his evaluation of them as basketball teams and players. Unfortunately, most commentators chose not to follow Barkley's approach of relying on the evidence.
The racialization of the case was always misplaced. The judge, the prosecution, the defense attorneys, the jurors and, during the trial, even the lawyers for the Martin family, all said that the trial was not about race. But this didn't convince the media. From the beginning, the media coverage promoted a narrative of racial motivation in the shooting; Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African American child, was hunted down and murdered by an armed white racist adult while returning home with a can of iced tea and a bag of Skittles. The implication being that Zimmerman who was white shot Martin because he was black. This narrative did not square with the evidence. The Justice Departments interviewed at least 30 of Zimmerman's acquaintances in the hope of finding evidence of racial bias but nothing in Zimmerman's past suggested racism of any kind. In fact, it was well known that he had gone to great efforts to champion the rights of a black homeless man who had been beaten up by the son of a white Sanford police officer. He had help to mentor two black kids whose father was in prison. And he was of mixed race heritage including a great grandfather who was black. This information was readily available to anyone who seriously considered the case.
09-01-2013, 01:42 PM
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Unfortunately, disregarding the lack of any evidence that Zimmerman was a racist, The New Republic published an article by a black Stanford Law Professor, Richard Thompson Ford, asserting a racial motive for Zimmerman's actions. To support this assertion, the article made the outrageous claim that Zimmerman had called the police to report a suspicious black seven year old. If the writer had troubled himself to look at the readily available evidence of the call, he would have discovered that Zimmerman had called out of concern for the safety of a small African American child who he had seen walking alone on a dangerous busy street. The original article contained the sentence
"Zimmerman was an edgy basket case with a gun who had called 911 46 times in 15 months, once to report the suspicious activities of a seven year old black boy."
A corrected article remains on TNR's website with the following mea culpa from the editor:
"This article has been corrected. Zimmerman called various law enforcement officials 46 times, not just 911, as originally stated. He made the calls over an eight-year period, not over the course of 15 months, as originally stated. The original sentence also cited a call Zimmerman made about a seven-year-old boy; the clause has been removed as it implied that Zimmerman was reporting suspicious activity. It appears that Zimmerman made the call out of concern. We regret the errors."
The corrected article still refers to Zimmerman as "an edgy basket case with a gun" but as can be inferred from the above cited correction, any evidence for a racial component to Zimmerman's actions has been removed from the article. What remains of the article are claims of racial injustices in the criminal justice system but with the incorrect sentence removed, the author presents no evidence tying such injustices to either the trial or to George Zimmerman. Ironically, the defendant and his lawyers would find more agreement with the corrected article than the prosecutors. (A complete log and analysis of Zimmerman's calls can be found here.)
Another black law professor, Patricia Williams from Columbia University, has written a post-verdict commentary for The Nation magazine entitled The Monsterization of Trayvon Martin suggesting that the defense got Zimmerman acquitted by demonizing Martin. This claim is absurd. The evidence of fighting, firearms and drug use found in 900 pages of photographs, text messages, tweets and emails obtained from Martin's cell phone was ruled inadmissible by the judge because there wasn't time to verify the authenticity of the information. While the public has seen some of this material, none of it was shown to the jury so it could not have influenced their verdict. The excluded evidence included text messages about Trayvon's fighting that would have supported the defendant's case so the defense lawyers would have liked to introduce it. However, there is no evidence that "monsterizing" Trayvon was ever part of the defense strategy. In fact, after the autopsy report of THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) in Martin's blood was ruled admissible by the judge, the defense declined to use it. There was nothing about Martin's character introduced by the defense in the trial except for evidence that he was beating the hell out of Zimmerman at the time he was shot.
Ms. Williams' portrays the prosecution witness Rachel Jeantel as a victim of the proceedings, ignoring the fact that her admitted lying and evolving memory of her phone calls with Trayvon called into question the veracity of her testimony. It was difficult for the jury to give credence to her latest version of the final moments of her phone call when her story had been changing depending on the venue in which she recounted it. From the defense point of view, Jeantel's appearance and demeanor were irrelevant. Her testimony was useful because it helped establish the defense's timeline of the events. She proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Martin had chosen not to return home but instead returned to the top of the T where he once again encountered George Zimmerman.
While Williams' commentary on the trial is largely irrelevant to the actual court proceedings, it reveals her real concerns. She is most disturbed by the revelations from Trayvon's cell phone that showed him as something of a drug consuming, gangsta wannabe who practiced martial arts and enjoyed fighting. These pieces of evidence were how Trayvon portrayed himself and were not the invention of the defense lawyers. Though this evidence went unseen by the jury, some of it was reported by the media and reproduced on blogs supportive of Zimmerman. Such information tends to bring forth comments revealing negative stereotyping of young black men. It is easy to see how blacks might feel that a guilty verdict could counteract such stereotypes. But you can't blame this on the defense. They were never admitted into evidence at the trial.
Oprah Winfrey has now weighed in about the case, comparing the shooting of Trayvon Martin to the murder of Emmet Till. This comment from one of the wealthiest people in the world, who also happens to be one of the most popular entertainers in the United States, is completely out of touch with reality. Zimmerman was clearly acting in self-defense and Till was brutally murdered by the husband of a woman who claimed the 14 year old Till had flirted with her.
What is perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the Zimmerman case is the need on the part of so many to insist that a narrative of racism take precedence over a determination of facts based on an evaluation of evidence presented within the framework of American laws. Why the desire of so many for the triumph of illusion over reality? The third article in this series will reflect on some racial history and explore how that history impacts how people viewed the case.
09-02-2013, 03:40 PM
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The third article in the series.
September 2, 2013
The Aftermath of the George Zimmerman Case, Part 3: The Weight of History
By Jonathan Cohen
See also: The Aftermath of the George Zimmerman Case, Part 1: The Trial, the Evidence and the Verdict and
The Aftermath of the George Zimmerman Case, Part 2: The role of the media, the lawyers and the racial divide
Sixty years ago the black sociologist E. Franklin Frazier wrote a book "Black Bourgeoisie" in which he was very critical of the black press for greatly exaggerating the accomplishments of the black middle class. In many ways it was a cruel book because so much of the reality he exposed was a reality imposed on blacks by centuries of pervasive prejudice and discrimination. But his unsparing honesty was driven by the belief that self-deception is self-destructive and hindered blacks' progress in accumulating wealth and in confronting the wider society with their very legitimate grievances. He was particularly critical of the black press of whom he said
"The Negro press is not only one of the most successful business enterprises owned and controlled by Negroes; it is the chief medium of communication which creates and perpetuates the world of make believe for the black bourgeoisie. Although the Negro press declares itself to be the spokesman for the Negro group as a whole, it represents essentially the interests and outlook of the black bourgeoisie. Its demand for equality for the Negro in American life is concerned primarily with opportunities which will benefit the black bourgeoisie economically and enhance the social status of the Negro. The Negro press reveals the inferiority complex of the black bourgeoisie and provides a documentation of the attempts of this class to seek compensations for its hurt self-esteem and exclusion from American life. Its exaggerations concerning the economic well-being and cultural achievements of Negroes, its emphasis upon Negro "Society", all tend to create a world of make-believe into which the black bourgeoisie can escape from its inferiority and inconsequence in American society".
Frazier, a black sociologist at Howard University and the first black president of the American Sociological Society published the first edition of his book in France in 1957 and it was later translated into English and a second edition was published in 1962. Much of the book is dated as the size and importance of the black middle-class has dramatically increased over the past 50 years. Blacks have become an integral part of all areas of American life up to and including the presidency of the United States. Yet the perception of exclusion remains. Forty years after the publication of "Black Bourgeoisie," Ellis Cose published "The Rage of a Privileged Class" that was a look at the black middle-class. In it he details the frustrations of black professionals who in spite of their greatly improved status in American society still felt marginalized.
In spite of the passage of the civil rights laws of the 1960's and progress made by blacks over the last 50 years, events such as the Zimmerman trial reveal to what extent we are still two separate societies. The explanation that would be given by most black commentators is the persistence of racism. The basis of disparate impact law is the notion that if imbalances exist in the numbers of minorities in an occupation, the starting assumption is that the reason is racial prejudice. By analogy, if a white Hispanic shoots an unarmed black teenager, the reason is racial animus and the burden of proof is on the white to prove otherwise beyond a reasonable doubt.
But maybe this picture is wrong. Perhaps the sources of higher crime rates for blacks, greater percentage of out of wedlock births, numbers incarcerated, lower graduation rates at all levels, poorer scores on standardized measures of academic achievement are not the result of institutional racism. What if whites have little ability to affect these problems, particularly if blacks claim a monopoly on the allocation of funds to solve them? For example, if blacks insist on black teachers in black schools, there is not a whole lot whites can do about improving educational outcomes.
Eric Holder says he wants an honest discussion about race. Really? Carefully orchestrated discussions that are called "difficult dialogues" are little more than lecturing people on scripts that make sure that minorities will not hear anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. But taking him at his word, it might be helpful to look back at some history.
09-02-2013, 03:42 PM
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A good place to start is the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, a watershed moment for the civil rights movement and indeed for the whole 350 year struggle for equal rights for blacks in America. Equality before the law with equal access to all the privileges of the society from being able to vote to an end to discrimination in employment, education and housing were finally established as matters of law. Though it took a few months to pass the 1965 voting rights act, and there were still some acts of resistance, the handwriting for Jim Crow was on the wall for everyone to see.
The events of that day were summed up by Martin Luther King whose words "How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice" captured the optimism of the day. But as it brought one era to an end, an entirely new set of challenges opened up. There was another speech that day by Whitney Young who said that with the barriers to participation and jobs being removed, he hoped that blacks would take part in the training programs offered by groups such as the Urban League to be able to take advantage of the opportunities that were finally being offered to them.
There were always two problems facing black people. There were the societal barriers of prejudice and discrimination. But there was also the lack of training and education needed to take advantage of opportunities when they would finally become available. Certainly, the terrible history of discrimination was the major cause of the educational gap between blacks and whites. But assessing blame could not rectify the problem. This was a terribly difficult problem that was in many ways more challenging than dismantling segregation. But there was much good will at the time and a realization on the part of many whites that they had a responsibility to help alleviate the gap.
The year 1965 was also a year of departure for the civil rights organizations. Having accomplished its greatest goal, the dismantling of legal segregation, it was faced with the task of how to move forward to advance race relations and help advance the situation of black people in America. What is not usually acknowledged or remembered, let alone understood, is what happened next. Black separatism suddenly became respectable. Freed from the pressures of pleasing whites to simply survive, black identity movements began to thrive. Blacks stopped wearing their hair to look as much like white people as possible as Afros replaced straightened hair. And politically, blacks decided they had to define their own organizations starting with the civil rights organizations that had always been coalitions with sympathetic whites.
The first organization to purge whites was the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In December, 1965, in a narrow vote, they decided to become a group for blacks only. SNCC, the student organization that had supplied so many of the people whose courage made the civil rights movement possible and whose creed was described by the small buttons that featured simply a black and white hand, had in the space of a year become a segregated organization. Malcolm X, who had been previously quite unpopular among blacks while they needed white support to end segregation, suddenly became something of a hero and role model. While blacks had always admired his willingness to show his anger towards whites when others had withheld it for fear of retaliation, they did not buy the vision of a completely separate world. Now black identity was front and center, particularly for young blacks.
Colleges and universities that had recruited few black students suddenly began serious efforts to recruit and train them. Admissions offices suddenly looked to programs like Upward Bound that gave summer training to black high school students as a feeder for increasing black enrollments. By the late sixties and early seventies, the black population at many universities had become a significant presence. The more political of these students were focused on questions of identity rather than traditional civil rights. Their organizations were for blacks only and though they worked sometimes with white groups they stressed the importance of self-definition and this meant not including whites. Many black students self-segregated themselves quite self-consciously.
This was not difficult to understand. For many of the newly arrived black students, this was their first experience living in a mostly white environment. They brought the insecurities imposed on them by hundreds of years of second class citizenship. They often arrived from schools with weaker educational requirements and poorer academic training. Between their own often inadequate preparation and their anxieties about being accepted by the majority of students, they naturally found comfort in socializing with other black students.
For white activists whose lives had been deeply affected by involvement in the civil rights movement, this rejection was responded to in several ways. For those whose involvement was in community oriented projects, such as volunteering to tutor black students from economically impoverished backgrounds, they honored the admonition of black students to work in their own community and the tutoring projects were abandoned. While this may have been a loss for those students who benefited from the tutoring, it set a tone for how whites were supposed to respond to their own concerns for black poverty. In particular, it meant ceasing to do the one thing where they really had something to offer.
For some of the more radical whites, it meant giving political and moral support to the most militant black political groups and encouraging the most militant political actions. It meant unconditional support for all sets of demands made by black student organizations that were engaged in sit-ins. It meant rallies and other support for the Black Panther Party. In particular it meant spending considerable efforts to support efforts to free Huey Newton who was in jail for shooting two policemen; supporting a group of Panthers who were on trial for murdering an alleged informer in New Haven; supporting a group of Panthers in New York who were charged with plans to blow up monuments in New York. In many cases the charges were real. In the case of Huey Newton, they helped him get released from prison to go out and commit more murders as well as many other crimes.
But the biggest single thing that characterized the white response to identity politics was the absolute deference to black leadership in all matters involving race. While many black people involved in community based activities did not want to see the disappearance of whites, they were outshouted by the voices of identity politics and an important source of help for poor families was eliminated. This meant that a personal connection with the lives and the reality of those blacks who were most in need of support was severed and henceforth, politically conscious whites would filter their understanding of black problems through the lens of those black leaders who had their own agendas and ambitions.
The traditional integration-oriented civil rights organizations, primarily the NAACP, focused their efforts on school integration. This turned out to be a disaster as it amounted to forced busing of black kids into white schools and white kids into black neighborhoods. The result was that whites in the major cities of the north and Midwest either abandoned the cities or abandoned the public school system, leaving the public schools almost entirely black or in some cases Hispanic.
09-02-2013, 03:43 PM
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On the college and university level, the various black student organizations manifested their politics in a wave of sit-in demonstrations that were characterized by occupying university offices and refusing to leave until a set of non-negotiable demands were met. The occupations created a dilemma for school administrators and faculty who had become very invested in increasing the number of black students on campus. Their hope was that the students, many engaged in a white institution for the first time, would in time get over their insecurities, emulate the better prepared white peers, and by the end of four or if necessary five years, walk out of college with a degree and an education that made them able to compete on an equal basis with those same white peers. The white administrators were definitely not inclined to create a physical confrontation that could lead to violence, arrests and possibly the sabotaging of their efforts to increase black enrollments. For schools that were located near ghetto areas, there was also a fear of damaging community relations thereby creating a hostile environment for its students and faculty. As a result they mostly caved in to student demands. Aside from the demand for amnesty, the most common demand was for the creation of some kind of black studies program. This was something the administrators could accede to and it gave them a face saving way to back down in the face of student intimidation. They could claim that the schools were agreeing to the student's demands because they were historically justified, while in reality, they had caved in simply out of fear. Cowardice was covered up by saying it was all social justice.
The new departments created by the sit-ins were given considerable leeway to create their own scholarship and programs. From an academic perspective they were very different from traditional departments. Their mission was not simply to teach black history. They were there to make blacks feel better about themselves. There was always a therapeutic component to these original departments, an example that its many imitators would follow in the ensuing years. Women's studies, Latino studies, and queer studies, created to satisfy a demand for social justice, had political agendas that were central to their being from the beginning. This meant ignoring any voice that questioned the assumption that persecution at the hands of the majority was central to the group's identity. Majority favoritism, manifested in the form of white supremacy, patriarchal hierarchy or homophobia, was responsible for any failures that existed within these groups. If blacks committed crimes at a higher rate than whites it was because of racism that left them no alternative. If the percentage of out of wedlock births was increasing, it was because black men could not get jobs to support a family. If women didn't go into science, it was because male patriarchy discouraged them and told them only men could understand mathematics. Though there may be great value in the study of race, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation, the identity group programs are filtered through an ideology of racial, gender, and class based oppression.
Since racism and sexism were assumed to be the cause of any deficiency in skills, only whites confronting their prejudices and unconscious biases could overcome the deficiencies. Responsibility for improving the educational performance of black youth fell on whites. This never made sense. Anyone involved in teaching knows that it is impossible to teach people who are not invested in the learning process. The deficiencies in English and math skills of black high school graduates were real. For purposes of closing the educational gap between whites and blacks, there was little whites could do unless the students were sufficiently motivated to do the extra work to overcome their lack of academic preparation.
From the perspective of colleges, the ability to educate black students in numbers anything like their proportion in the general population could only be done if their K-12 education was improved. But there were few things colleges and universities could do about that. And complicating matters was the push to have primarily black teachers in schools that had predominantly black student bodies. Teaching jobs were a ticket to the middle class, so to many blacks it didn't make sense to have white teachers in their schools, even if some of the white teachers could be very effective at preparing the black students for college. The argument was made that only black teachers could understand and reach the black kids. This was a self-serving argument made by those that viewed teaching as an economic opportunity for the black community and for whom the educational considerations were secondary.
What evolved as the strategy for black advancement was the collection of measures that are generally gathered under the heading of affirmative action; Initially an extension of the civil rights movement, focused on integrating residential housing, places of employment and education at all levels, it evolved into a series of goals and quotas that were enforced by a combination of legal arguments, consent decrees, set asides, compliance officers and no shortage of rationalizations.
The civil rights movement was an inter-racial movement that was the culmination of hundreds of years of struggle to eliminate laws and practices that reduced black people in America to second class citizens. Its goals were always framed in terms of the country living up to its belief that all people are created equal. It was natural that in the wake of the passage of the civil rights law of 1964 and the voting rights act of 1965 that groups interested in helping blacks would continue to frame their struggle in terms of integrating society. Through education and training combined with continued anti-discrimination efforts aimed at ending de facto barriers to black progress, the economic condition and social status of blacks would be brought more in line with that of whites. Central to these efforts was the belief in color-blindness as the key to improving the lives of blacks. This view ran counter to the growing trend towards identity as the center of black activism. To be certain there was something paternalistic and more than a bit condescending in the belief that the secret to black success was to be found in the imitation of white people. When the movement towards black identity combined with the resistance of many whites to residential and educational integration, the ideal of a color-blind society lost its appeal for those seeking to improve the lives of blacks.
With the change of focus, goals and quotas replaced equal opportunity as the key to improving the economic well-being of blacks. It was reasoned that given the centuries of disadvantage for blacks, it was unfair to expect them to turn around and compete on an equal basis with whites just because there were now laws barring discrimination. It was necessary to take affirmative action to help blacks succeed in the areas of education and employment. This began with concerted efforts to recruit black college students and for employers to make efforts to hire at least some black workers. These efforts produced a good deal of success and enabled many blacks to succeed in careers that they would never have been able to do without the larger society consciously making it a priority to recruit them. In fact the black middle-class has grown tremendously in both numbers and accomplishment in the past fifty years, in no small measure due to the active efforts to expand it.
In spite of the improvements, the educational gap in the average educational achievement of blacks and whites, as measured by a vast array of testing instruments, has not significantly narrowed. Student achievement as measured by SAT scores as well as a variety of standardized tests of reading and math skills show a persistent performance gap between black and white students. These differences also show up in occupational testing such as that used by police and fire departments to determine promotions. As a result, many of the court cases concerning affirmative action have been fought over whether the disparate racial impact produced by the use of such tests constitutes illegal discrimination. The main contentious element of affirmative action has been the insistence on replacing standardized testing procedures applied in a color-blind manner to both blacks and whites by a system of racial goals and quotas. And where racial goals and quotas are applied to hiring decisions, the same is demanded of procedures in the workplace that determine salary and promotion decisions.
Setting goals and quotas for hiring based on race separates pools of job applicants into two groups; one white and the other black. The same split occurs when such goals are used in college admissions. While test results were in many cases abandoned for comparing white and black applicants, they continued to be used in distinguishing between applicants within their racial groups. But it is inescapable that the gap in the average educational achievement of blacks and whites has not been closed. So In essence, affirmative action became the demand that black applicants for jobs or admission to colleges and graduate schools be judged by standards that were both different and lower than the standards applied to the whites with whom they were competing. This was not an unintended consequence of affirmative action, it was the central purpose. As payback for past injustices, which were indeed quite horrible, they were to be given admission to colleges where they were on average at a competitive disadvantage with their white peers. Likewise in the workforce, they were hired in positions for which their paper qualifications were lower than those of the whites with whom they worked. There is certainly some poetic justice in such policies but they do not change the underlying fact of a large gap in educational achievement between whites and blacks. (For an eloquent explanation of how affirmative action is a Faustian bargain for blacks see chapter 7 of Shelby Steele's book "The Content of Our Character.")
Certainly affirmative action produced some very good results. It greatly increased the size of the black middle-class and opened up vast opportunities that had been denied to them. But much of this could have been accomplished without affirmative action, simply by increased efforts at recruitment and strict enforcement of laws against discrimination. And when the academic profile of entering black students at universities lagged behind their white peers, it contributed to their isolation.
While black students in majority white colleges are today less isolated than their predecessors, the schools often promote the importance of racial, ethnic or gender identity. The isolation of black students is facilitated by faculty who offer programs in which students study their identity and student affairs personnel who offer extra-curricular activities and services around the topic of identity. Almost universally, such activities promote grievance as central to identity. The faculty and staff who sustain these activities have an obvious interest in their perpetuation that is independent of what is either true or in the long term interest of students. If, say, black students comfortably engage with the other students socially and more importantly as study partners, then there would be no need for such special personnel.
The result of this process of affirmative action is a great increase in the size and status of the black middle-class but in many cases without a strong sense of belonging. And how could it be otherwise? If the path to a law firm or the staff of a hospital for blacks is fundamentally different from what it is for whites, it is much more difficult for blacks to lose their sense of isolation. In a society where whites have traditionally been the leaders in law, medicine and academics, it is not surprising that the frustrations that Ellis Cose found among black professionals would persist. If less achievement is expected of blacks to attain the same goals as whites, it will always leave them with a sense of unease about their own abilities and their acceptance by others.
Continued insecurity among blacks about their full acceptance in American society explains much of what underlies their reaction to the Zimmerman verdict. The evidence from the trial definitely pointed to acquittal on the basis of self-defense. It was a tragedy but it wasn't murder. It was a bizarre set of circumstances that led to an unfortunate confrontation. But Trayvon Martin was clearly beating the hell out of George Zimmerman, had gotten him into a defenseless position, and continued to pummel him in spite of a minute of desperate cries for help. Seeing no escape, nobody coming to help him, and in imminent danger of severe injury, he took the only defense remaining to him and shot Trayvon Martin. It was about as clear a case of self-defense as one could imagine. The fact that so few black commentators and pundits could admit that Zimmerman had a plausible case of self-defense is troubling. Polling results showed a significant difference in how blacks and whites felt about the Zimmerman trial and its verdict but that doesn't mean their views are simply differences of opinion. Compelling evidence was presented at the trial and by any objective standard the case for acquittal was far stronger than the case for conviction. The refusal to see that seems to be a form of self-deception, a troubling one that suggests we haven't gotten completely past the world of make believe that Franklin Frazier described in his book.
09-02-2013, 03:43 PM
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To be fair, there were many white commentators, academics and pundits eager to condemn the verdict as well. Many of these appear regularly on the major networks as well as CNN and MSNBC. They follow a pattern that is familiar to anyone who is honest about discussions of race in contemporary higher education; the deference white faculty and administrators pay to their black colleagues in discussions concerning matters of race. Even when whites disagree, they are unusually apologetic in doing so. This pattern was overwhelming in the coverage of the Trayvon Martin shooting and especially so during the trial. The white commentators were unwilling to say that the verdict was correct because Zimmerman was innocent. They talked about the difficulty of showing proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and though some would bring up the issue of the Stand Your Ground Law, they were unable to say that Zimmerman had a right to defend himself.
On the Fox News weekly program on media bias, panelists were asked their reaction to Oprah's quote comparing Trayvon Martin to Emmett Till. Judith Miller responded that she liked that Oprah spoke from the heart how she as a black person felt about the verdict and was especially pleased that Oprah added that we should all look at how far we have come since that time. With all due respect, this is an absurd reaction. Oprah's statement "for me, Trayvon Martin, Emmett Till, same thing" makes no sense. Whatever emotional comfort Oprah took from the comparison, it is so far from reality that she needs to be publicly corrected. It is a measure of how deeply whites are committed to showing deference to blacks on matters of race that a reporter as courageous as Judith Miller couldn't simply say that the comparison was crazy. What was even more revealing was Miller's fawning over Oprah's acknowledgement that indeed life for blacks has improved in sixty years, with its implication of partial absolution for whites. Rituals of white contrition and black forgiveness poison race relations rather than improve them. It is contributing to the world of make believe that Frazier described sixty years ago only with the new twist that white journalists and scholars have joined in the charade.
Charles Blow, the New York Times opinion page columnist, has been featured by CNN for his commentary on the Zimmerman verdict. Blow is an intelligent black man who speaks with an air of great authority, but what he says is wrong. He is telling audiences that he doesn't know what to tell his sons to avoid being the target of violent racist white vigilantes. He wonders how fast they should walk to avoid becoming a victim. The answer is easy. He needs to tell his son that to avoid getting hurt, he should refrain from assaulting someone just because he thinks they are looking at him funny or he thinks they might make a pass at him. Furthermore, it might not be a good idea to sit on top of someone, pounding his head into the cement and repeatedly punching him in the face even though the terrified screams of the person being beaten indicate that he is in fear for his life. And he should not ignore the warning from a third party witness to stop the beating or he will call the police.
Blow should tell his son that he should follow this advice because it is how civilized people behave. But if that doesn't convince him, he should tell him that he shouldn't beat the hell out of someone who is screaming for help because his victim might have a gun. And furthermore, after being informed that the police are going to be called, he should stop the beating because he can be prosecuted for assault and conceivably be shot by the police if he is seen sitting on top of someone raining down blows martial arts style.
Until the white commentators are able to respond to Charles Blow in this frank manner, race relations will continue to be strained. Eric Holder is right that we could benefit from an honest discussion about race. However, the honest response to Charles Blow that is outlined above is probably not the honest discussion he is thinking about.
The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy but the media account of the shooting and its aftermath was largely a fairy tale. George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense. There never was a legitimate reason to have a trial. The Sanford Police investigating the case would have at most recommended charging Zimmerman with manslaughter but even for that they knew they needed more evidence. The local district attorney refused to bring charges to a grand jury because he felt he didn't have enough evidence to obtain a conviction.
Instead of accepting the judgment of those most familiar with the evidence, the state of Florida appointed a special prosecutor, Angela Corey, who chose to charge Zimmerman with second degree murder, a charge that was so unfounded that she couldn't risk presenting the evidence to a grand jury. The prosecution was a response to a mob that was inflamed by a dishonest story concocted by the national media, a mob that included the New Black Panther Party with its $10,000 reward for the arrest of George Zimmerman, demonstrations in Sanford Florida demanding Zimmerman be charged with murder, the intrusion of the US Department of Justice with support for the demonstrations and an extensive effort to find evidence to brand Zimmerman as a bigot, and encouraged by the efforts of the attorney general and the statement of the President of the United States who proclaimed "If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon."
As a result, the lead detective who actually wanted to bring a charge of manslaughter to a grand jury was demoted because he wasn't gung-ho enough for prosecution. The chief of police was fired because he didn't think the evidence presented to him warranted charging Zimmerman with a crime. The local district attorney was removed from the case and replaced by a team from a different county because he reported honestly that he didn't have enough evidence to obtain a conviction. To insure their safety, the jurors had to be sequestered and their names and faces hidden to protect them from the wrath of a vengeful public that had been whipped into a frenzy by a dishonest media, political demagogues, and both the attorney general and the president of the United States.
In the end the American system of trial by jury worked because the jurors carefully considered the evidence, applied the law correctly and rendered the only just verdict possible. And the tragedy of Trayvon Martin's death was not turned into a travesty by sending an innocent man to jail for the rest of his life.
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