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Anatomy of an acquittal? The George Zimmerman trial

By Charlene Muhammad -National Correspondent- | Last updated: Jun 19, 2013 - 7:18:56 AM

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(FinalCall.com) - With opening statements in the trial of George Zimmerman expected soon, attorneys for both sides continued their search for impartial jurors at Final Call presstime.  Activists, psychologists, and members of the Black Press spoke to The Final Call about people’s concerns the neighborhood watch volunteer may be acquitted.

Mr. Zimmerman faces 2nd degree murder charges for shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012 in Sanford, Florida.   

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Some people feel Mr. Zimmerman could escape conviction because of law enforcement’s and the criminal justice system’s lackadaisical approach immediately following the shooting.  Others feel the historical pattern of racism towards young, Black males in America will play out in this trial the way it’s being shown in the mainstream media. 

Others are taking a wait-and-see approach but, whatever the reasons; the potential for an acquittal is very real, according to those case observers interviewed by The Final Call.

“Florida has had some high profile cases before, involving the deaths of particularly young, Black males and frankly, I think most of us are very skeptical about whether justice can be consistently served in the State of Florida,” stated Charles W. Cherry, II., a former prosecutor and publisher of The Florida Courier.

Most of the people they’ve spoken to believe Mr. Zimmerman is guilty, but guilty of what, Mr. Cherry asked rhetorically.  He cited as one issue whether the prosecution can actually convict the 29-year-old of 2nd degree murder. It’s the most severe penalty he could face, Mr. Cherry explained.

People, especially Floridians, are keeping a close watch on the trial.  Much of their skepticism stems in part from the case of Martin Anderson, according to Mr. Cherry.

The 14-year-old was beaten, kneed, and dragged by guards at the Bay County boot camp in Panama City just hours after he’d arrived on Jan. 5, 2006.  A chief medical examiner ruled the teen died of natural causes, not related to the beating.

According to Mr. Cherry, boot camps were shut down as a consequence and the Anderson family reached a settlement in a civil lawsuit, and there was a criminal trial.  “And all of the folks who basically killed the boy were acquitted.   So, it happened before in Florida and people would not be surprised if something like that happens again,” he said.

Another important factor in people’s concerns surrounding acquittal is the governor had to appoint a special prosecutor to the case.  Sanford Police let Mr. Zimmerman walk free after he admitted to shooting Trayvon Martin. The local prosecutor decided there wasn’t enough evidence to make an arrest and charge him with 2nd degree murder.

“Had it not been for the fact that Black Floridians and the Black Press and social networks, etc., just kept a focus on this from a news perspective, then Zimmerman wouldn’t be in the courthouse right now,” Mr. Cherry noted.

He credits the Black-owned media keeping in touch with family attorneys and helping to gain traction when it was being ignored in the mainstream media.  Then, the issue broke nationally, he noted.

And there’s a difference between a Black-owned media outlet and a Black-targeted outlet, according to Mr. Cherry.  “This story, in conjunction with other stories we’ve told over the years we’ve had particularly Black-owned newspapers, prior to the digital revolution, which occurred about 10 years ago, all you had was Black newspapers that could get the word out to our community,” he told The Final Call.

“Today, you’ve got the internet, smart phones, and digital media but this story and the fact that Black newspapers and Black media folks would not let it rest, to me, lets everyone on this planet know there’s still a necessity for Black-owned media outlets that are independent voices that are close to the communities that they cover, that understand what’s important and what’s not, even when these other Black-formatted media and the so-called mainstream media don’t understand and ignore,” he continued.

The corporate-owned media is heavily involved in the case of Trayvon Martin, according to Dr. Ava Muhammad, also a former prosecutor.  But, the problem is it has been and still is heavily working with Mr. Zimmerman’s defense team to create an image of a victim that will ultimately justify the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the minds of White America and a significant percentage of Black Americans as well, she said.

Cable news networks and other mainstream outlets aired and posted on their websites images of Trayvon Martin smoking marijuana and with a gun.  Judge Debra Nelson has ruled Mr. Zimmerman’s defense team cannot use the images in court.  

Footage from various focus groups and even conversations from Black people opposed to the Trayvon Martin case being classified as a Civil Rights action, objections to the idea that Mr. Zimmerman is guilty based on the known facts, and people buying the notion that it’s a self-defense issue are disturbing, Dr. Muhammad, National Spokesperson for Minister Louis Farrakhan and Student Minister of the Nation of Islam argued.

“Because so much White corporate support behind the scenes for Zimmerman have poured forth, the money and the resources are there to seize control of defining this case. And that’s why he waived Stand Your Ground,” she continued.

Stand Your Ground is a law in Florida that permits a person to use deadly force if they believe their life is threatened, even when retreat is possible.

Blacks find the law so politically incorrect, waiving it deprived the prosecution of the advantage of Black’s dislike for that law, she said.

“What they’ve decided to come with is Trayvon attacked Zimmerman, pushed him down on the ground, hit his head on the ground.  It was Zimmerman crying for help and out of desperation and fear, he pulled his gun out and shot him.  That’s their case,” Dr. Muhammad said.

And, they have a good chance of winning because the prosecutors have to prove murder in the 2nd degree.

While other facts remain to come out, Dr. Muhammad declared, “With what has happened so far, Black people need to prepare themselves for an acquittal on this charge.”

Why? She cites the defense tactics in the press regarding Travyon Martin’s images and insinuations on the media talk show circuit that the teen had a propensity for violence. 

Meanwhile, Mr. Zimmerman’s image is being rehabilitated, according to Dr. Muhammad. His attorneys have hired the most expensive jury consultant who’s known for getting acquittals where defendants are just obviously guilty, she said.

“So, he’s there in court with Zimmerman.  They’re re-imaging Zimmerman as this quiet, low-key type of individual, and they’re going to block the admission of a lot of evidence that would show you how violent Zimmerman is but you have the money and the resources on the defense side to shape and mold a narrative,” she said.

Dr.  Muhammad said she finds most outrageous the FBI’s claim that it cannot determine who was crying out for help on the 911 tape. 

Although Judge Nelson has ruled the tape would be admitted into evidence for trial, the issue has already been tossed into dispute in the court of public opinion.

“They determine voice identification with a couple of words!  With all this technology, are you serious?” Dr. Muhammad rhetorically asked.

While she believes an acquittal is on the horizon, she also noted a jury could decide to try to seek a balance and come back with involuntary manslaughter.  The jury’s message in that case would be, Mr. Zimmerman injured Trayvon Martin, but it’s not self-defense because he started it, she explained.

That’s where the irreconcilable difference between Blacks and Whites enter because Blacks perceived aggression occurred when Mr. Zimmerman left his car, she explained.  But, his defense team and the media are succeeding in turning the case into something else, she continued.

“‘Trayvon attacked George Zimmerman when he approached him.’  And that’s where the defense wants the case to start.  They want your mind to wander no further than when these two males confronted each other and they want you to think Trayvon swung first and whatever George Zimmerman did after that he did in self-defense and that is wrong,” she argued.

Blacks should already have a community response in  place—that doesn’t require marching—in the event the case ends in acquittal or otherwise, said Dr. Sharon Dennard, a licensed clinical psychologist and an activist based in Florida. 

“Don’t get me wrong.  Marching had its place and it played its trump card with Martin.  But, now, again, no one’s responding to anything except power and power for these people is money.  You’re not going to be able to challenge them unless you have a pool of resources....something that they want or something that can modify their position on it,” she told The Final Call.

But, any tendency for Blacks to focus on the acquittal aspect of any trial directly ties to race relations and the historical record of America as it pertains to the victim being Black and the perpetrator being White, she said.

The Black community and its problems could garner discussion for days on end, she said, because the problems are so insidious. 

“It’s almost like we have a(n) intravenous drip, a constant dose that when you think about extricating yourself from the things that bind, there’s a constant drip that says, ‘Oh no.  You can’t go that way and it reels you back in and you stay stuck,” Dr. Dennard said.

She participated in several Justice for Trayvon rallies with her son, to call for an open investigation into what actually happened.

“We do what we generally do in our community.  We rally behind a particular point in time and then it dies out until something like a trial.  There’ve been many Trayvon Martins ... So the fact that we took to the streets on this particular point when there’ve been other Trayvon Martins, I’m sure maybe had something to do with the timing and the parents standing front and center and not allowing this to die,” she said.

Now that it’s remained alive, the mainstream narrative attempt to poison the jury pool must be countered, because conviction is an uphill battle, even with a diverse pool of jurors, Mr. Cherry said.

“We’ve got a reputation down here that’s well deserved.  Florida is the Sunshine State but it’s still part of the Deep South and it’s got the history of the Deep South,” stated Mr. Cherry.

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