The idea that you're not going to have race enter into this has got to be the single most naive thing I have heard about this case, because, number one, race determines everything in the criminal justice system. There isn't any case that goes through the criminal justice system that's not determined by race. -Mark GeragosWhen you are in law school, you are fed the propaganda about "the majesty of the law." Many folks, both during the Trayvon Martin trial, and after the verdict, were very big on the majesty of the law and the jury system.
I was long ago disabused of the notion of the "majesty of the law and the legal system." Experience will teach you this. Ask any African American. This is not to say that we don't need a functioning justice and legal system. But I would hope that recognizing reality would be important to making it better.
One criminal defense attorney who defended the Trayvon Martin verdict was pretty good about acknowledging the role of race in the Trayvon Martin case—Mark Geragos:
Did the George Zimmerman trial involve racist attitudes? Of course it did. Did the predominantly white jury reach the right verdict? Of course it did. Is the criminal justice system a racist institution? Of course it is. Do young black males disproportionately suffer the brunt of this criminal justice system? Of course they do. Did the media and politicians inflame the situation for their own purposes? Of course they did. Is this a conundrum easily resolved or reconciled? Of course it’s not.You may not agree with everything Geragos writes here (for me the "of course they did" for the jury verdict overstates the case, though I would have voted the same way. In addition, Geragos does not address one of the most important ways race permeated the Trayvon Martin criminal enforcement process—the unacceptable work performed by the Sanford police, one of the most important reasons Zimmerman was acquitted), but unlike too many criminal defense attorneys commenting on the case, Geragos accepts the paramount importance of race. And while dancing around the issue a bit, Geragos does write this:
Go into any criminal courtroom in America in any metropolitan city and see the customers the prosecution is serving up. They are predominately “children” of color. Politicians and prosecutors use race as a strategy as part of their everyday currency. Is it any surprise that the public follows along? [...] Think George Zimmerman seeing a young black male with a hoodie who must be a punk who gets away with it. Think five or six white women who must have been wondering to themselves who was the prosecution and who was the defense.Thank Mark Geragos for at least acknowledging that George Zimmerman did what to me seems obvious—he profiled Trayvon Martin at least partly based on his race. Thank Mark Geragos for acknowledging what to me seems obvious—Juror B37 and her fellow jurors took race into account in determining the outcome of this case. (He should also acknowledge, as I said, that the Sanford police also took race into account in the way they handled the investigation.)
More on the other side.
The famous image of Lady Justice shows us a blindfolded figure. In my view, too many have acted as if they were blind—to the centrality of race in our criminal justice system (and about more than that too of course). Including Juror B37:
COOPER: Do you feel that George Zimmerman racially profiled Trayvon Martin? Do you think race played a role in his decision, his view of Trayvon Martin as suspicious?
JUROR: I don't think he did. I think just circumstances caused George to think that he might be a robber, or trying to do something bad in the neighborhood because of all that had gone on previously. There were unbelievable, a number of robberies in the neighborhood.
COOPER: So you don't believe race played a role in this case?
JUROR: I don't think it did. I think if there was another person, Spanish, white, Asian, if they came in the same situation where Trayvon was, I think George would have reacted the exact same way.
COOPER: Why do you think George Zimmerman found Trayvon Martin suspicious then?
JUROR: Because he was cutting through the back, it was raining. He said he was looking in houses as he was walking down the road. Kind of just not having a purpose to where he was going. He was stopping and starting. But I mean, that's George's rendition of it, but I think the situation where Trayvon got into him being late at night [A little after 7 pm!], dark at night, raining, and anybody would think anybody walking down the road stopping and turning and looking, if that's exactly what happened, is suspicious. And George said that he didn't recognize who he was.
COOPER: Well, was that a common belief on the jury that race was not -- that race did not play a role in this?
JUROR: I think all of us thought that race did not play a role. [Emphasis supplied.]
Now I'm supposed to take the reasoning to verdict of this woman seriously? I'm supposed to pretend I respect her thought process? Well I don't and I won't. I happen to think that, given the incompetence displayed by the Sanford police and the prosecutors in the case that the jury reached the correct verdict. But this statement, coupled with other actions of the jury (no followup questions on manslaughter after invited to submit a specific question by the judge? Come back an hour later with a not guilty verdict? Please do not talk to me about how careful that jury was. Please do not tell me how well that jury understood the law) leads me to believe that this jury did not reach the correct verdict solely because that is where the evidence and the law took them (and it rarely is the reason why any jury finds as it does.) I think race mattered.
As Mark Geragos said—"There isn't any case that goes through the criminal justice system that's not determined by race." Sometimes the criminal justice system renders the correct verdict. It may have done so in the Zimmerman case. But even when it does, justice is rarely served.
The evidence is clear that before running into George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin had nothing nefarious in mind.
I think George Zimmerman's behavior is at least partially explained by the fact Trayvon Martin was black and because Zimmerman was carrying a gun.
I think Zimmerman's behavior, given the evidence available at trial, may not have been criminally culpable under existing law, but it was reckless and wrong.
Zimmerman was acquitted.
Trayvon Martin is dead.
If Trayvon Martin had the gun, and had done what Zimmerman had done, I think he would have been immediately arrested and then would have been convicted.
If you are of a mind to, you can dream up reasons why this would be so, if you did not want to deal with the common sense answer - which is because Trayvon Martin is black.
The reality is if it was Trayvon Martin with the gun, who had done the the stalking and the killing, we never would have heard of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. It would have been another police blotter item that never gets noticed. And Trayvon Martin would have been in jail.
Mark Geragos said:
The perception is that [Zimmerman] was not black, and that's why he did not get] arrested. I frankly think [...] the fact is you have to look at who the victim was, because that also is the other determinant. If you had a pretty white female as a victim that George Zimmerman had shot, that case, he would have been filed on and they probably would have sought the death penalty.
The "majesty of the law" was on display in the Trayvon Martin case as it really is.
Which is to say it does not exist.
Because it does not.