July 2, 2013
“It’s not about racial profiling,” said lawyer Daryl Parks about the murder trial of George Zimmerman. “We never claimed this was about race.”
What makes these statements “head-scratching,” as New York’s Daily News describes them, is that Parks represents the family of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, whom Zimmerman fatally shot in February 2012. Zimmerman is pleading self-defense. The media narrative was that Martin was a victim of racial profiling–that Zimmerman, who is white and Hispanic, wrongfully saw the unarmed Martin as a threat because Martin was black.
“The whole point of the Trayvon Martin case,” according to Slate’s Justin Peters, was supposed to be to serve as “a referendum on how comfort and privilege deal with the unfamiliar.” By “comfort and privilege,” Peters means white people; by “the unfamiliar,” he means blacks. Martin’s killing even provoked an unusual appeal to racial solidarity from Barack Obama: “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” the president said a few weeks after the shooting.
But last week the prosecutor’s star witness, Rachel Jeantel, turned the racial narrative on its head. She was on the phone with Martin in the moments before the deadly confrontation, and she testified that Martin described Zimmerman as a “creepy-ass cracker,” that last word being an antiwhite slur. So that it seems Martin racially profiled Zimmerman. That does not exclude the possibility that the profiling was mutual, but it certainly complicates matters for the “referendum” crowd.
But that’s okay. The goal behind racializing the Zimmerman case — which, actually, involves no actual white people — was to incite racial outrage and gin up black turnout for the 2012 election. Mission accomplished!
But whatever George Zimmerman’s culpability in Martin’s shooting, he is not to blame for the social order of pre-civil-rights America. He has every right to mount a vigorous defense, and the judge and jury have a duty, as in any criminal trial, to give the defendant the benefit of any reasonable doubt.
The rightful term to describe a criminal trial that serves as a “referendum” is “show trial.”