The Trial of George Zimmerman; the Persecution of Trayvon Martin

July 7, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |


Some observations from the first week of George Zimmerman's trial

The trial of George Zimmerman has finished its first week. Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder for killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, a Black youth, in Sanford, Florida, on February 26, 2012.

There have been some clashes in the courtroom between the teams of lawyers; there have been disputes about some of the testimony brought forth by witnesses and drawn forth by the lawyers. But some basic facts and truths about this case are beyond dispute.

Trayvon Martin was walking to his father's townhome carrying a bag of candy and a canned soft drink. George Zimmerman, the volunteer captain of a "neighborhood watch committee," called 911 when he saw Trayvon and told the dispatcher he saw "a real suspicious guy ... This guy looks like he's up to no good, or he's on drugs or something."

The dispatcher told George Zimmerman they didn't need him to pursue the person he saw. But Zimmerman got out of his car, carrying a handgun. He began hunting Trayvon Martin and confronted him. There was a scuffle, then Zimmerman shot Trayvon. And on a rainy night in Sanford, Trayvon Martin died from this gunshot wound.

Police arrived moments later. George Zimmerman was taken into police custody and released five hours later, with no charges filed against him. Trayvon Martin's father, who had put in a missing person report, was notified of his son's death the next morning.

Huge outpourings of protest across the entire country forced the authorities to finally charge George Zimmerman.

But Zimmerman's lawyers are fighting to turn his trial into a persecution of Trayvon Martin. As if it wasn't enough that Trayvon was murdered once by a racist vigilante—now this capitalist system, through its legal structure and its mass media, is working overtime to lie about him, to portray him as a violent thug and well on his way to being a criminal, and to slander, ridicule, and abuse in front of millions of people a friend, Rachel Jeantel, who stands by him. The contempt and fear of Black people expressed in the courtroom, however politely Zimmerman's attorneys may try to express it, is echoing throughout society, and social media in particular, as undiluted racist hate.

Somehow a youth on the way back from buying treats for a young friend, a youth who according to the Sanford Police Department "had no criminal record whatsoever," and was "engaged in no criminal activity at the time of the encounter" is being portrayed as the "aggressor." Rachel Jeantel, the one person who really knew Trayvon who has testified so far in this trial, has been treated with contempt, hostility, and ridicule by Zimmerman's lawyers, and all but called a liar.

Intense Social Conflicts

Intense social conflicts are shaping the legal arena in which this case is being tried. One big problem for the rulers of this society is maintaining legitimacy for their legal system—maintaining the perception in people's minds that justice can be achieved despite everything people know about this case: the fact that Trayvon Martin was unarmed; the fact that George Zimmerman was not charged with anything until weeks after he murdered Trayvon; the fact that Trayvon's body was tested for drugs but Zimmerman never was.

Let's step back: The rulers of this country pronounce the U.S. to be the greatest democracy in the world, but the fact is that this country—and the so-called freedom and democracy that is heralded—is a country where the oppression of Black people and other oppressed nationalities is horrific—as it has been from its very beginnings. As Bob Avakian says: "There would be no United States as we now know it today without slavery. That is a simple and basic truth." (BAsics 1:1)

And from its very beginnings, the oppressed living in this country have revolted, exposed the crimes committed by those who rule this society, and shaken it to its core. These have been eruptions calling into question for millions the very legitimacy of this system. Look at the trial in this context. The murder of Trayvon Martin and the trial of George Zimmerman are a "minefield" for those who would argue that this is the best of all possible systems—and that American democracy is the model for people the world over. If through this trial, the real workings of the INjustice that exists in this country, and more, the fact that this system depends on and thrives on the oppression of Black people (as well as others), comes into stark relief for hundreds of thousands and even millions in this country and around the world, this will serve to pose the question to all of the illegitimacy of this system.

And more, not only should the people be exposing the real workings of this system, but it is a time to step up and take up the struggle to put an end to this horrific oppression as a part of bringing into being a whole different world.

Opening Statements and the First Week of Testimony

Opening statements by the prosecution and by Zimmerman's defense laid out the basic strategy and approach to the trial of both sides—what they are setting out to prove. To convict Zimmerman of second-degree murder, the state must establish that when he shot Trayvon Martin he displayed a "depraved mind regardless of human life ..."

The prosecutor's opening remarks were startling and shocking to many people. Standing in front of the jury, he shouted out a portion of Zimmerman's 911 call: "Fucking punks! These assholes! They always get away!" The prosecutor continued, describing how Zimmerman profiled and stalked Trayvon, shot him once in the heart at close range, and then "spun a web of lies" to justify this murder. He said, "George Zimmerman didn't shoot Trayvon Martin because he had to, he shot him for the worst of all reasons: because he wanted to."

All of this—Zimmerman's state of mind, the fact that he pursued Trayvon, that he lied in his statements to police, and that at no point was he in danger—are crucial to establishing Zimmerman's guilt of second-degree murder.

Zimmerman's attorneys painted a different picture. One of them, Don West, said in the opening remarks that "the evidence will show that this is a sad case, that there are no monsters. George Zimmerman is not guilty of murder. He shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense after being viciously attacked." So in one sentence West basically claimed that "the blame is equal," there are "no monsters"; in the next he paints Trayvon as a thug who initiated a fight, saying he "viciously attacked" Zimmerman.

A basic fact that is not disputed in this case is that Zimmerman was carrying a 9-mm Keltec handgun, a "gun designed to kill people at short range," as the Orlando Sentinel described it. He loaded it with hollow-point bullets—ammunition made to inflict maximum damage on human beings. Trayvon Martin had no weapon.

But Zimmerman's lawyer had the audacity to say this in his opening: "Trayvon Martin armed himself with the concrete sidewalk and used it to smash George Zimmerman's head ... That is a deadly weapon."

There is no question about who got out of his car and followed Trayvon Martin or who had a weapon or that George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin. The circumstances around Trayvon's murder aren't "murky," or "difficult to discern." "Both sides" are not at fault.

Spewing a Torrent of Racism

West spewed forth a torrent of ugly, blatantly racist and hateful abuse on Rachel Jeantel, a friend of Trayvon's from Miami. Rachel was on the stand for hours over two days. West browbeat and insulted her, and tried time after time to trick her into changing her story. As journalist Callie Beusman asked, "Why is Rachel Jeantel being treated like she's the one on trial?"

Rachel Jeantel had been on the phone with Trayvon as he walked home from the store. He told her he was being stalked by a "creepy-ass cracker." Rachel told the court that Trayvon "said the man kept watching him. He kept complaining that he was just watching him."

West jumped all over Trayvon's use of the word "cracker" in his conversation with Rachel. A big part of Zimmerman's defense is their claim that Zimmerman thought Trayvon was "real suspicious" and followed him, not because Trayvon was Black. West crowed to Rachel, "So, it was racial, but it was racial because Trayvon Martin put race in this."

Think about the actual circumstances and the life experience of youth like Trayvon Martin and Rachel Jeantel. Trayvon was growing up as part of a "generation of suspects"—people whose skin color alone brings them to the attention of prowling police, and whose images play out every night on crime reports in news broadcasts across the country. Trayvon Martin was and Rachel Jeantel is part of a generation of Black and Latino youth who are being imprisoned at the highest rate in history. And he was in Sanford, Florida, the Deep South, the lynching belt. He saw a white man was following him as he walked home. Trayvon and Rachel didn't need a "chip on their shoulder" to think that his being stalked was a "racial thing."

West's attack on Rachel Jeantel and her testimony triggered an avalanche of hateful, racist, woman-hating commentary on social media, and among many news reporters. This feeds right into the ugly and widespread contempt in U.S. society for Black people and their culture, in particular the masses of basic Black people. Endless sick jokes about Rachel's size, her hair, her voice, her demeanor, her clothes exploded on Twitter and elsewhere. Just one example—Rachel was ridiculed as being "stupid" because she couldn't read a note written in cursive handwriting. The people who attacked her revealed their own ignorance on many levels—for one thing, she is a young woman who speaks Haitian Creole, Spanish, and English.

But the proceedings in the courtroom directed by Zimmerman's attorneys play into the climate of venomous, violent hatred of Black people that needs to be powerfully countered, not just in the courtroom but throughout society.

West accused Rachel of making up her testimony, and accused Trayvon of lying. When Rachel said that Trayvon had been hit by Zimmerman, West responded furiously, "You don't know that, do you? ... You don't know that Trayvon didn't at that moment take his fists and drive them into George Zimmerman's face." Remember that Trayvon and Rachel were having a phone conversation (documented by phone company records) and West is saying that somehow at the same time Trayvon was beating on Zimmerman.

When Rachel said Trayvon told her he was almost home, West pounced on her: "Of course, you don't know if he was telling you the truth or not." And when Rachel asked why Trayvon would lie about that, West snarled, "Maybe if he decided to assault George Zimmerman, he didn't want you to know about it."

And despite it all, Rachel Jeantel never wavered in her testimony. Through hour after hour of abusive torment and goading from Don West, she explained to the court how Trayvon told her of the man who kept following him. She told the court she heard Trayvon say to Zimmerman, "'Why are you following me for?' And then I heard a hard-breathing man come say, 'What you doing around here?'...And then I was calling, 'Trayvon, Trayvon.' And then I started to hear a little bit of Trayvon saying, 'Get off, get off.'" Rachel was on the phone with Trayvon until his ear buds fell off, the phone went dead, and she couldn't hear what was happening to him. "You got to understand," she told West. "I'm the last person who spoke to him alive."

Other witnesses called by the state during the first week were residents of the townhomes, each of whom saw part of what happened that night. One spoke of hearing a high-pitched voice yelling for help. Another said she saw the person who was on top of the struggle in the courtyard of the townhomes get up after a shot was fired. And one woman said the voice crying for help was clearly a boy's voice, and added that it was a "softer" voice crying for help. And one man described the scuffle.

Millions Are Watching

One thing that did happen in the middle of this week is that the trial of George Zimmerman snapped into sharp focus for millions of people. And what they saw, whether they realize it or not, was the system at work. This system at work means the criminalization of millions of youths like Trayvon Martin. It means that almost 7 million adults are under "correctional supervision" in the U.S.—the highest rate in the world. It means no future for the youth. It means that killers—whether racist vigilantes like George Zimmerman or police forces across the country—can gun down Black and Latino youth at will.

As Carl Dix wrote recently in Revolution, "So we cannot let the system 'work' the way it always has, and the way it is working now. If Zimmerman walks, it would amount to a great injustice in its own right, and a declaration of open season on Black youth. We cannot let this go down in silence, which means people need to continue and step up political protest demanding justice—right now, not after the system 'works' again the way it always does."

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