Being right is racist.
By LISA BLOOM
Driving to Target on his Sunday grocery run on Feb. 26, 2012, George Zimmerman looked out the window of his S.U.V. and saw a stranger who he instantly concluded was “a real suspicious guy.”
“Punks,” he said, adding an expletive. “They always get away.” There were unsolved burglaries in his community, and as he said in a call he made to the police, “this guy looks like he’s up to no good.” Mr. Zimmerman’s recorded profanity-laden police call became a focal point at his murder trial, but not because of its obvious significance: that Mr. Zimmerman jumped to insulting conclusions about Trayvon Martin primarily on account of Mr. Martin’s race.
What began as a local crime story gained national attention after African-American journalists and civil rights leaders immediately grasped the racial implications of the confrontation between Mr. Zimmerman and Mr. Martin, and ended with Mr. Martin’s death. Mr. Zimmerman’s acquittal on Saturday sparked nationwide civil demonstrations against racial profiling and hate crimes. But in the courtroom, race was a topic carefully controlled by the judge and handled awkwardly by the prosecution team.
In an odd ruling, Judge Debra Nelson decided that the word “profiling” — but not the phrase “racial profiling” — could be used in opening statements. But what other kind of profiling could possibly have been involved here? Could jurors — and the public — seriously imagine that Mr. Zimmerman considered Mr. Martin a criminal solely because he was walking slowly in the rain as he chatted on the phone? Lawyers were free to use the profanity involved in the case over and over again, but initially the “r” word was off limits.
Shortly thereafter, it seemed the prosecution was building its case, at least partly, around Mr. Zimmerman’s obvious racial profiling, which was the run-up for the altercation and shooting that followed. The state fought hard outside the jury’s presence to enter into evidence police calls Mr. Zimmerman had made in the months before the shooting; 100 percent of the calls about suspicious persons involved African-Americans.
Think about that for awhile.
Though the judge ultimately granted the state’s request and admitted tapes of these calls into evidence, the prosecution did not use the evidence and remained strangely silent on Mr. Zimmerman’s pattern of racial profiling during its two closing arguments. ...
To those who followed the trial closely, as I did, it seemed a decision was made midstream to abandon the strategy that included calling attention to Mr. Zimmerman’s pattern. Prosecutors apparently trusted jurors to dispassionately evaluate photos of a dead teenager’s remains and of the bullet hole through his heart as well as photos of blood dripping from George Zimmerman’s head. But the state was too squeamish to put the touchy issue of race squarely before the six-woman jury. ...
The most discordant note in the entire three-week trial came in the prosecution’s rebuttal closing argument, its last chance to drive its points home with the jury. John Guy, a prosecutor in the case, insisted forcefully that the case was not about race; relying on a strategy reminiscent of John Grisham’s book “A Time to Kill,” Mr. Guy asked the jury to consider a role reversal: would Martin be convicted if he had followed and then shot George Zimmerman? After this obvious, if implicit, reference to race, Mr. Guy finished up by reminding the jury that the case was not about race.
Mr. Martin’s family, too, wavered on the subject. Mr. Guy’s remarks mirrored those made by Benjamin Crump, the Martin family lawyer, who said in September that the case “shouldn’t be about race,” though if the roles of the two young men were reversed, an arrest would have occurred quickly. (Mr. Crump had concluded with “that’s why race is involved in this case.”)
And after Mr. Martin’s friend Rachel Jeantel testified to the only racial epithet uttered in the courtroom — Mr. Martin’s characterization of Mr. Zimmerman as a “creepy-ass cracker” — another family attorney stood alongside Mr. Martin’s parents at a news conference and said, “To this family, race is not a part of this process. Anybody who tries to inject race into it is wrong.”
I like that part about Trayvon Martin's expression of racial and sexual orientation animus being "the only racial epithet uttered in the courtroom." Obviously, the prosecution was remiss in not simply making up some some racial epithets and wrongly attributing them to the defendant.
Lisa Bloom is a lawyer, author and NBC News legal analyst.
Unlike the wimpy prosecutors, you won't catch NBC News failing to edit the tape to make Zimmerman look racist.