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Vol. 77/No. 29      AUGUST 12, 2013

Vigilante acquitted in
Trayvon Martin killing
(front page)
A six-person jury in Florida found George Zimmerman not guilty July 13 on second-degree murder and manslaughter charges for killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., in February 2012. Millions of workers have reacted with anger to Zimmerman walking free, feeling he belongs behind bars and concerned the case will encourage violence by other anti-working-class vigilantes.

It was only because of the widespread protests and condemnation that Zimmerman was brought to trial for his fatal shooting of the Black teenager. After asking the self-appointed “neighborhood watch” captain a few questions, cops had just let him walk.

But after six weeks of demonstrations, Gov. Rick Scott appointed a special prosecutor who filed second-degree murder charges. After the jury heard the closing statements, Judge Debra Nelson instructed them to also consider manslaughter.

The second-degree murder charge required the jury to find Zimmerman guilty only if convinced that he exhibited “depraved indifference” and was of “depraved mind without regard for human life.” At the start of the jury deliberations Judge Nelson said that even to find Zimmerman guilty of manslaughter would require proof he intended to kill Martin.

Zimmerman’s attorneys did not argue the case based on Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. But the judge instructed the jury that if Zimmerman “was not engaged in an unlawful activity,” he “had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm.”

Like millions of others, some of the jurors have come forward to say they were uncomfortable with Zimmerman getting off scot-free.

“That’s where I felt confused,” Juror B29, identified only as Maddy, said on the ABC’s “Good Morning America” show July 25. “But as the law was read to me, if you have no proof that he killed him intentionally, you can’t say he’s guilty.” Maddy is a nurses aide of Puerto Rican descent. “George Zimmerman got away with murder,” she said.

Zimmerman’s vigilante attack

Zimmerman called 911 after seeing Martin walking through the gated Retreat at Twin Lakes complex in Sanford, where he was staying with his father. “We’ve had some break-ins in my neighborhood,” Zimmerman told the dispatcher, “and there’s a real suspicious guy.” He then followed Martin in his truck.

Noticing a stranger following him, Martin picked up his pace to get home. “These assholes. They always get away,” Zimmerman complained to the dispatcher. Disregarding the dispatcher’s instruction not to pursue Martin, Zimmerman got out of his vehicle and moved, noticeably out of breath on the phone, well into the apartment complex.

According to Zimmerman’s story, Martin suddenly appeared and said, “You got a problem?” and then punched him. He said Martin got on top of him and began banging Zimmerman’s head on the concrete sidewalk.

Claiming that he feared for his life, Zimmerman said he drew his gun and fired, hitting Martin right in the heart.

Zimmerman told police investigators his pistol was in a holster concealed behind his right hip. He said Martin was straddling him with his knees near Zimmerman’s armpits. Zimmerman has never explained how under those conditions he reached his gun, removed it from the holster, loaded a bullet into the chamber, and fired.

The most plausible scenario is that Zimmerman — on a self-assigned vigilante mission to dispense “justice” on a teenager he considered “suspicious” — had drawn and readied his weapon before the physical confrontation ensued.

Zimmerman’s lawyers sought to introduce evidence that showed Martin was in many ways a typical teenage male, to smear his character and paint him as the aggressor. At the urging of the prosecution, the judge suppressed it. This included text messages Martin had sent to friends about fights he got into, a school suspension and marijuana use.

Calls for federal civil rights charges

After the acquittal the NAACP, National Organization for Women and many others called on the U.S. government to bring federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman, arguing the killing was motivated by racial hatred, despite the lack of concrete evidence to that effect. Liberal media often described Zimmerman, who is half Peruvian, as a “white Hispanic” in promoting that view.

“Racial profiling is a menace,” NOW stated. “We will not let the unsubstantiated — and racist — fears of some run roughshod over the rights and lives of people of color. Now activists have added their voices to the groundswell demanding that the Department of Justice investigate George Zimmerman for violating the civil rights of Trayvon Martin.”

Rumors that Attorney General Eric Holder was considering civil rights charges were floated to the press immediately after the verdict in an effort to placate anger. But President Barack Obama made a statement July 19 strongly indicating that was not going to happen.

The president spoke abstractly about problems of racial prejudice, and made critical comments about Stand Your Ground laws, while defending the trial and verdict as a case closed. But he avoided entirely the real heart of the issue — Zimmerman the vigilante taking justice into his own hands, protected by the laws, courts and cops.

And he added other irrelevant and dubious points that further clouded the issue. “African-American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system” and “disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence,” he said, adding that “Trayvon Martin was probably statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by someone else.”

The six-person all-women jury was comprised of one Puerto Rican and five Caucasians. Many working people were uncomfortable that no African-Americans were represented.

“After seeing the quality of the evidence presented by the state, the diversity of the jury really didn’t matter in the end,” Larry Handfield, a prominent African-American Miami criminal defense lawyer, said, commenting on the trial in the July 13 issue of the Journal Times. “But it would have helped the community in giving more credibility to the decision to acquit Zimmerman.”

But the fact that there was insufficient evidence to convict Zimmerman of either charge brought against him under the laws as written has not placated widespread indignation that the vigilante killer got off scot-free.

“It’s not only Black people who are disappointed,” Caroline Wade, who works at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, told the Militant. “If you see someone and stalk them, you are looking for trouble. After this verdict, it doesn’t matter what color you are, you can’t walk the street without the risk of being violated.”

Dean Hazlewood in Miami contributed to this article.
Related articles:
Vigilantism: enemy of working class
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