Sixteen months ago Trayvon Martin, a 17-year old black male in Florida was shot and killed by George Zimmerman while returning from a local store. After almost a year and a half of speculating the various issues surrounding the shooting—from racial profiling to racially driven and controversial Stand-Your-Ground laws- jurors will now need to use the facts of the case along with the persuasiveness of witnesses and legal teams to finally place a lid on this drama, providing closure that everyone closely associated with this unfortunate event needs.
The opening statements both sides made today made their strategies clear. The state attempted to play off the emotions of the jurors, many of whom are women and have children. The defense will focus on how the bare facts of the case planted Zimmerman against Martin, where they argue Zimmerman had reasonable justification to use lethal force to escape from the assault the defense team argues that Zimmerman was subject to at the hands of the 17-year old.
This is the fascinating part about what takes place about incident. Unlike popular opinion, what motivates Zimmerman’s actions are reasonable. There lies enough ambiguity in the events that it is difficult to judge how each escalation in the drama should be interpreted. Here are few questions the jurors may ask and things both legal teams will try to make clear.
Is George Zimmerman racist?
Like any individual who observes an unfamiliar individual in their community, they are reasonably suspicious. Most of us, however, are not empowered in any legal or community capacity to do much about those unfamiliar faces. We usually deal with our weariness by just hoping for the best. Zimmerman was empowered to do something about those who risk danger in his community. That much will be considered understandable for the jurors in this trial. The 911 call- introduced early today— is critical to the prosecution because it is the only piece of evidence that questions the character of Zimmerman and for some observers, serves as sufficient proof to prove his guilt. While that may not do so in court, his call to the police does give license to the idea that he may have some predisposed and unwarranted suspicions of black boys or young men in general.
If we believe he is racist, is that sufficient enough to make him guilty of the charges? How much weight do we place it on the confrontation and death of Trayvon Martin?
The prosecution also attempted to use additional 911 calls to police that Zimmerman made previously to hint to jurors an habitual prejudice and apprehension toward black males.
Establishing that Zimmerman has some prejudice against black men as it relates to crime is not a clincher for the trial, but it is useful. The prosecution will have to make clear to the jurors that Zimmerman’s decision to confront Trayvon Martin is, beyond reasonable doubt, motivated by Zimmerman unfairly criminalizing the departed youth. This is why the 911 call is essential for the prosecution. Zimmerman’s lamentation of “these fucking assholes” who “always get away” as heard in his call to police will be dissected and heard multiple times throughout the trial.
How much do we attribute prejudice to his decision to use fatal force in the moment of the physical altercation between him and Martin?
Now the difficult part for the prosecution is that even if they are successful in portraying George Zimmerman as racist in the eyes of the jurors; that alone will not make him guilty. Despite all of the implications of racial profiling, the defendant is not on trial for that. He is largely on trial for the confrontation and his use of what the defense will argue is warranted fatal force while in physical combat. The more successful the prosecution is in making the case about more than that, the more likely they are to get a desirable verdict.
Jurors will need to assess who is the aggressor and whether it was reasonable and necessary for Zimmerman to use lethal force. His prejudice and bias will ruin any chance he has in portraying himself as a victim (or hero). If the prosecution is successful in proving that his mindset at the time of the incident is influenced by prejudice and feed into his overanxious attempt in dealing with this young black boy, the Zimmerman’s freedom is likely to be indefinitely suspended.
I’m not a lawyer. But the facts of the case and how they are interpreted define most, if not every criminal case. And as the facts and evidence of the case are readily available, how they all come together in the context of legal and rhetorical strategy will be very interesting.