“Justice for Trayvon” is the rallying cry for those demanding George Zimmerman’s immediate arrest in the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Yet forgotten in the rush to punish Zimmerman are the components of true justice: a presumption of innocence, dispassionate evaluation of the evidence, due process, and color-blindness. Justice means justice for all, and that means both Martin and Zimmerman.
New evidence continues to complicate a case that the media initially portrayed as clear-cut, turning many Americans against Zimmerman. Let’s survey the snags, not to discredit Martin’s account but to illustrate just how little we know with certainty about his death.
Did Zimmerman racially profile Martin in judging him “suspicious”? Here the distinction between racial profiling and holistic profiling is relevant. Zimmerman’s friend Frank Taaffe said young black males had committed a string of recent robberies in the diverse neighborhood. If Martin fit the profile of these specific suspects, was unfamiliar in the neighborhood, and was acting strangely in Zimmerman’s mind by walking behind houses, Zimmerman’s judgment was appropriate. It remains uncertain whether Zimmerman, mentor to two black children, uttered a racial slur in his 911 call.
Although Zimmerman made a poor judgment in following Martin, it isn’t clear that he wanted a confrontation. Zimmerman’s father said his son was only trying to follow Martin until he could locate an address to give police.
Who started the confrontation is also unclear. Martin’s family says Zimmerman caught up with, confronted, and attacked Martin. Zimmerman’s family says that after Zimmerman lost sight of Martin and turned back towards his vehicle, Martin confronted and attacked Zimmerman, breaking his nose and repeatedly smashing his head into the concrete. They say that Zimmerman only drew his weapon and shot Martin after Martin saw Zimmerman’s gun in his waistband and verbally threatened Zimmerman’s life.
Many claim police video of Zimmerman that night reveals no clear injuries. Zimmerman, however, had already received first aid and the police report shows that he was bleeding from the nose and the back of his head when police arrived. The medical records are not yet released.
There are three eyewitnesses in the case; two corroborate Zimmerman’s account. One says he saw Zimmerman, below Martin, crying for help while Martin beat him. Austin Brown, a black teenager, says he saw Zimmerman on the ground “moaning and crying for help.” Brown’s mother has since said police pressured him into giving more information than he remembered, but he repeated the claim afterwards. She may simply be concerned that her son will suffer backlash like Joe Oliver, a black supporter of Zimmerman, who says he has a “target on my back.” A third eyewitness says it was too dark to tell who was who.
Media coverage has favored Martin through selective images, descriptions, and context. Many simply reported that Zimmerman “confronted” and “gunned down” an unarmed teenager. For weeks, old photos of a much younger, smiling Martin were shown beside a mug shot of a much heavier, stony-faced Zimmerman. Few reported that Martin was several inches taller than Zimmerman. Zimmerman’s reported weight is outdated; he actually only weighs 170 pounds to Martin’s 160, according to Oliver. Zimmerman was labeled “white Hispanic,” a term helpful to the racial profiling narrative. Few corrected early reports that vastly overstated the frequency of Zimmerman’s 911 calls.
Zimmerman’s criminal history was reported quickly, but we only recently learned that Martin was repeatedly suspended from school, including for graffiti; was found with 12 pieces of women’s jewelry and a screwdriver in his backpack, a possible burglary tool; or that he might have punched a bus driver. The Martin family’s attorney said Trayvon’s past was “irrelevant,” yet has highlighted Zimmerman’s criminal history.
This is a very murky case and we still don’t know all the facts. More will be released to the upcoming grand jury. If the protests spurred a better investigation, great. Now we need to be patient and let the judicial system work.
Unfortunately, a rush to judgment continues. The media convicted Zimmerman long ago. Some even refuse to report his account. Much of the public is calling for violating due process by arresting Zimmerman before an indictment. Zimmerman, reportedly distraught, remains in hiding after he received death threats and the New Black Panther Party put a $10,000 bounty on him in return for a citizen’s arrest.
The national discussion on racial profiling sparked by Martin’s death is understandable: Racial profiling remains an issue in America. But that by itself doesn’t mean it occurred in this particular incident. The Sanford police department has poor relations with local blacks, but Jesse Jackson’s comment that Martin’s death proves that “blacks are under attack” was irresponsible. And it certainly doesn’t justify presuming guilty, without clear evidence, a man who claims he acted in self-defense simply because the person he shot happened to be black.
Both families involved in the tragedy are responding gracefully by calling for a full hearing of the facts. Zimmerman’s father said, “It's just amazing that some people are so hateful, and the people who are being hateful are the ones who know nothing about what happened.” Martin’s father said, "We're not asking for an eye for an eye, we're asking for justice, justice, justice."
Zimmerman may be guilty or he may not. Either way, he too deserves justice.
Wyatt N. Troia ’14, a Crimson editorial writer, is an economics concentrator in Winthrop House.