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Media uses evidence to demonize Trayvon Martin

Published May 24, 2012 9:43 PM

Before the second-degree murder trial of George Zimmerman has even been set, a trial of public opinion is ongoing for Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old, unarmed African American fatally shot by Zimmerman on Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla. There is now a growing chorus of mainstream media asking the question if Zimmerman should even be brought to trial due to evidence released on May 17. The New York Times of May 16 published a major exposé of “missteps” by the Sanford police department, claiming that this may make it even harder to convict Zimmerman.

March 21, Union Square, New York City.
WW photo: Monica Moorehead

Zimmerman, a self-proclaimed neighborhood watchman living in a gated community, followed Martin after he left a convenience store and was heading back to the home of his father, whom he was visiting. In recorded 911 tapes, Zimmerman stated that Martin looked “suspicious” because he was Black and wearing a hoodie. A friend of Martin’s told the police that he had told her during a phone call that he was being watched by a stranger, just minutes before he was killed.

The police did not initially charge Zimmerman with Martin’s shooting, saying that the Stand Your Ground law was applicable to the case. SYG is a state law passed in 2005 that allows someone to claim self-defense if they feel threatened by others. Zimmerman told the police that Martin posed a threat to him, when in reality it was just the opposite. In fact, even the police stated that Martin would still be alive today if Zimmerman had taken their advice during the 911 call and not gone after him.

Due to the national outcry in the form of rallies and marches in large and small U.S. cities demanding the arrest of Zimmerman, a special prosecutor, Angela B. Corey, was assigned to the Martin case. On April 11, more than a month after the shooting, Corey and the Sanford police were forced by mass pressure to arrest Zimmerman. After less than two weeks in jail, he was released April 23 on a $150,000 bond. He had to put up only $15,000 bail and has not been seen in public since he was released and provided with a police escort.

An overview of evidence

On May 17, special prosecutor Corey released to the public 183 pages of documents on the Martin case. The pre-trial documents include eyewitness statements, medical reports, various investigation reports, photos and much more.

One of the documents that is receiving a great deal of attention is part of the autopsy report saying that Martin had low-level traces of marijuana in his blood and urine. While some legal experts say this evidence would not benefit either the defense or the prosecution during trial, the media are making it a major focus. This is meant to demonize Martin in the eyes of the public, along with Martin’s alleged association with a local fight club.

The media are also showing photos of Zimmerman’s alleged injuries, supposedly sustained in a struggle with Martin, to once again build a negative image of Martin being the aggressor and Zimmerman a helpless victim. Zimmerman was tested for taking a drug for insomnia and anxiety.

On the other hand, a witness who knows Zimmerman firsthand told the police, “I don’t at all know who this kid [Trayvon Martin] was or anything else. But I know George, and I know that he does not like Black people. He would start something. He’s very confrontational. It’s in his blood. We’ll just say that.” (www.huffingtonpost.com, May 17) Zimmerman has a known history of making previous 911 calls about young Black men. A former co-worker of Zimmerman’s, who is of Middle Eastern descent, told the police that Zimmerman bullied him due to his nationality, along with other co-workers.

Contrast the soft glove treatment Zimmerman received to that of Marissa Alexander. An African-American mother of young children, living in Jacksonville, Fla., Alexander was recently sentenced to 20 years in prison for defending herself under the same SYG law. It took a jury only 12 minutes to convict her for firing a warning shot in the air to repel an abusive spouse who had a known history of repeatedly physically and mentally abusing her.

Corey stated that the conviction of Alexander was justified because she shot the gun out of “anger” and not “fear.” Her lawyers are appealing her sentence and there are numerous petitions demanding her freedom.

The fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin is not just about the senseless loss of life of one young person. Trayvon Martin has evolved into a major symbol of a racist war against Black and Brown youth throughout the U.S. Wearing a hoodie at a rally or demonstration has, in turn, evolved into a conscious, political act of defiance against racist vigilantism, police brutality or mass incarceration.

If the charges are dropped against Zimmerman, or if he is not convicted, it will send another chilling message to all youth of color that their lives are not valued under a capitalist system that relies on an ideology of white supremacy to keep the 1% in power over the 99%. Demanding the legal conviction of Zimmerman, while very important, is not enough. The courts cannot be trusted to care about justice for people of color like Trayvon Martin and Marissa Alexander. The courts must feel the righteous, organized anger of the masses in the streets with demands like “No justice, no peace!”