Opinion

Nicholas Wapshott

Zimmerman: A trial that was all about race

By Nicholas Wapshott
July 14, 2013

Will George Zimmerman’s trial for the killing of Trayvon Martin and the all-too predictable acquittal change anything?

Will it prevent racial profiling in the future? No. Will it keep guns out of the hands of reckless and feckless flakes? No. Will it ensure that from now on gun licenses are administered more closely? No. Above all, will it prevent such needless killings from happening again? Certainly not.

It would have been encouraging to imagine that the loss of Martin’s young life would change something, but it won’t. That is the real calamity of this familiar American tragedy.

Both the prosecution and defense have insisted that the case had nothing to do with race — but that is a legal fiction that is hard to credit. Race is such a toxic issue that both sides risked everything if they introduced the topic and let themselves open to the accusation of playing the race card. Race is, however, the key to understanding why this killing has received such widespread attention not only here but across the world.

The United States itself has been on trial. It is a shame the nation has been represented by such a wretched example.

The shooting to death of Martin may likely have gone without notice outside of Sanford, Florida, had race not been the key ingredient. As it was, a powerful national campaign of indignation pressured the Sanford police and Florida legal authorities to eventually take a second look and treat the killing as murder rather than another routine summary execution allowed under the state’s pernicious stand-your-ground law.

Until the authorities reconsidered, Zimmerman had been questioned by police and allowed to return home without charge. On being obliged to weigh the full circumstances of the case, police changed their tune, charged Zimmerman, and deemed him so likely a flight risk he was placed under $1 million bail. Those interested in justice for all may well ask how many other similar tragedies go unnoticed and how many killers are released without due investigation.

Once again, race in America informs a needless personal and national catastrophe that draws attention to the quotidian inequities that undermine true democracy.

It might have been expected that President Barack Obama’s election might in itself ease this perennial curse, but it is plainly going to take many more years and perhaps many more similar deaths before the truth that all men are created equal is accepted by all Americans to be self-evident. Polls show that rather than make our country more tolerant, the president’s skin color has led to an increase in racism.

There is little grounds for optimism, either, that the passage of time will gradually  make America more tolerant. The younger people are, the more it is imagined they will have progressive attitudes on race and other social issues. But Zimmerman was himself of mixed race, with a father of German descent and his mother a Peruvian. He was raised as a Roman Catholic and is aged just 29. To be young and Christian today is plainly no protection against hatred contaminating the mind.

Young Martin’s death should cause us to stop and consider the broader principles of policing and justice. The reckless pursuit of an unarmed black boy in a hoodie by a vigilante inspired by suspicions based on race shows how dangerously unjust it is to use racial profiling as a means to detain suspected criminals.

At a federal level, racial profiling is forbidden, even by the TSA, whose principal purpose is to protect us from terrorism and who might claim with justification that perpetrators of domestic terrorist acts have been, almost without exception, young adult Muslim men. Yet in cities like New York, which likes to boast it is a melting pot that welcomes everyone whatever they look like, racial profiling is a daily occurrence defended with vigor by the mayor and the chief of police.

Why do such otherwise wise leaders imagine that when it is the police who jump to conclusions based on race it is any different to the travesty of justice that took place in Sanford, Florida? “Because it works,” they suggest. “Because we find criminals that way. Because it saves lives.” Are they really saying that African-Americans are more likely to commit crimes than others? If so, let them explain exactly why they believe that is the case. And let them provide the facts that lead them to such a sorry conclusion.

As we have seen from the furor surrounding the profiling of political groups by the Internal Revenue Service, short cuts based on generalizations about sections of the population prompt widespread fear and suspicion of the authorities and do an injustice to those innocently going about their business. If the IRS used the excuses “Because it works,” and “Because we find criminals that way,” they would be rightly ridiculed.

The Martin killing also raises profound questions about gun laws. Zimmerman applied to become a police officer, a childhood ambition, but he was turned down — ostensibly on the grounds his credit record was inadequate. Perhaps they perceived a driven character intent on less than an even-handed application of the law.

Rejected and dejected, Zimmerman persisted in his fantasy of becoming a heroic crime-buster and enrolled as an eager student of criminal justice at Seminole State College, cramming on the intricacies of Florida’s now notorious stand-your-ground law, a fact he flatly denied to police. He then volunteered to patrol his neighborhood for likely thieves and muggers. It is a pity he chose not to explain his motivations in open court.

To further his failed ambition to be a superhero, he obtained a concealed weapons license that allowed him to carry the pistol loaded with hollowed-point bullets designed to cause maximum injury with which he shot Martin at point-blank range through the heart.

Perhaps, when someone whose personal history reveals a vigilante mentality and an obsession with the violent pursuit of criminals is freely granted such a license, supporters of the National Rifle Association have a point: background checks have little effect on gun violence when they are so easy to obtain. The alternative would be for background checks to be thorough and effective, which is easier said than achieved.

On the night he shot Martin dead, Zimmerman ignored the terms of his concealed gun license, which restricts the handling of a gun within a short radius of a home or car, and repeatedly ignored the instructions of the police despatcher to stop following the young man he suspected of being up to no good. Again, conditions of a concealed gun license, however restrictive, mean little if they can be so flagrantly flouted without penalty.

It is deeply depressing to conclude that this dark night in the wicked story of race in America will amount to nothing. Yet there may be a lasting tribute to Martin in that his death may make such thoughtless killings less likely in the future. Fantasists with hate in their hearts and guns hidden in their belts may think twice before they set off to make a name for themselves. Zimmerman’s name will be remembered, all right, but not in the way he had hoped.

And the name Trayvon Martin will resonate through the years as another wasted young life on the long road to liberty and justice for all.

Nicholas Wapshott is the author of Keynes Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics. Read extracts here.

 

PHOTO (Top): Signs in front of Seminole County Court, the site of George Zimmerman’s second-degree murder trial in Sanford, Florida, July 13, 2013. REUTERS/Joe Skippe

Comments
27 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

“The shooting to death of Martin may likely have gone without notice outside of Sanford, Florida, had race not been the key ingredient.”

That should be MIGHT likely have gone without notice, not may likely have gone without notice. The subjunctive mood is not sufficiently appreciated in modern writing.

Posted by JRTerrance | Report as abusive
 

That this apparently blind, deaf and ignorant journalist wannabe has a forum is a stretch of Fourth amendment rights
in my opinion. His assumptions are beyond the pale and don’t even approach the reasonable man concept.
His failure to accept the verdict and the facts depict his blatant lack of objectivity and further act to divide the country as most of the coverage has.
The right to protect your neighborhood as well as your person from gangster wannabes is traditional and protected.
That Zimmerman was able to, finally, defend himself from an attack from a physically superior force and then face an outwardly negative judge was justice made harder.
To now face a biased justice dept after the FBI cleared previously is the system out of control.

Posted by gitmojo | Report as abusive
 

This is nonsense, Wapshott.

The United States wasn’t on trial. Zimmerman wasn’t charged with the country’s history of mistreatment of minorities. He wasn’t charged with racial profiling or disobeying a 911 operator. He wasn’t charged with “ignoring the terms of his concealed gun license” or having a history of being a vigilante or fantasizing about busting crime. He wasn’t charged with using hollow-point bullets or firing at point blank range or aiming for his assailant’s heart.

George Zimmerman is a citizen who was charged with murder in the second degree.

The national history of race relations in America is irrelevant to the charge. Zimmerman’s fantasies about fighting crime are irrelevant. The kill power of the bullets in his gun is irrelevant. Whether Zimmerman left his car or whether the “stand your ground” law in Florida is sound legislation is beside the point. Similarly, Martin’s gentle nature is irrelevant. His suspensions from school and his youthfulness are irrelevant. His life potential, the simplicity of the purchases he made that night, all are irrelevant to the charge of murder.

Justice requires that the scope of circumstances in the case to be narrowed to the moments Martin and Zimmerman face one another and the gun is fired. Did Martin lay hands on Zimmerman? Did he overpower him and beat his head against the pavement? Did Zimmerman fire in self defense or was it clear beyond reasonable doubt that Zimmerman intended to kill Martin?

It’s a tragedy; I agree. I think of the Martin family with sadness, and your wild-eyed ventilations don’t help.

Posted by billbradbrooke | Report as abusive
 

I’m so pleased to see you’re exerting ethical, objective journalism, and not biased journalism. The jury’s verdict was based off of facts, not emotion. The media made this about race. Zimmerman was projected as white, with the media hardly recognizing his Peruvian side and Latino appearance. This is similar to the fact that Obama is half European American, and half African, but he is recognized as African American rather than mixed raced. The media made this about race and chooses which race they’ll play up in order to cause controversy.

Posted by scottie1 | Report as abusive
 

Wapshott wrote (quote): “…treat the killing as murder rather than another routine summary execution allowed under the state’s pernicious stand-your-ground law.”

I am very much for gun control in this country, but such phrasing fits a mindless hothead and not a serious journalist.
Btw, a professional editor would have never published it.

Phooey Reuters!

Posted by reality-again | Report as abusive
 

Thank you for your well thought-out opinion, Mr. Wapshott. You summarize race relations in the U.S. today very eloquently. Racism is alive, well and thriving in the U.S. and will be for the next several decades at least in my opinion.

Zimmerman is the kind of man who terrifies me – the egotistical nut case with a fantasy and a concealed weapon. Now the Zimmermans of our country have Stand Your Ground to protect them from prosecution.

Posted by JL4 | Report as abusive
 

not guilty is the only legal verdict from the evidence provided in this case – as for the racial issue, testimony given implicates the deceased as the perpetrator of racism not the defendant. justice has been served and continued racial hatred thinly masked as pursuit of justice is self-evident

Posted by justinoinroma | Report as abusive
 

Why do such otherwise wise leaders imagine that when it is the police who jump to conclusions based on race it is any different to the travesty of justice that took place in Sanford, Florida? “Because it works,” they suggest. “Because we find criminals that way. Because it saves lives.” Are they really saying that African-Americans are more likely to commit crimes than others? If so, let them explain exactly why they believe that is the case. And let them provide the facts that lead them to such a sorry conclusion.”

–seriously? These statistics are widely available. Of course they do. My friend lives in a section of Boston where the community newspaper used to public the races of all of the suspects who were either or arrested or reported for crimes. Nearly every one (Like on the order of 28 or 29 out of 30) was Black or Hispanic, esp. for serious crimes like armed robbery. This is one reason why you can’t have a serious discussion about these issues in the US bc., any discussion of deviance is completely off the table. But the reality is that police do not go around trying to oppress minorities, they are trying to lower crime stats which is what their job performance is evaluated on.

Posted by elmirage2 | Report as abusive
 

this article is amazing. I have never seen so much space given to someone who knows so little about the subject matter he is supposed to be covering.

Apparently you know literally *nothing* about how concealed carry permits work in Florida (or anywhere else). You also appear to be frightfully ill informed about ammunition, the use of firearms in personal defense, and most importantly, the basic legal concepts that were in play the night of the shooting.

I find it difficult to believe that you could actually have such a deep misunderstanding of the Castle Doctrine and the often mentioned ‘Stand Your Ground’ law. In fact, I find it so difficult to believe that I suspect you are being willfully deceptive in your writing. Five minutes worth of actual research into the law would highlight the glaring errors that you are presenting as ‘facts’.

I am embarrassed for Reuters, they usually have much higher standards than this. I suppose the editors who approved this trash thought it was meant for a humor column.

Posted by survivalcyclist | Report as abusive
 

It was also about too many civilians carrying guns in public and about crazy self defense laws like Florida has.

Posted by Leftcoastrocky | Report as abusive
 

It is just too bad only one side of the incident was told.

Posted by uc8tcme | Report as abusive
 

Mr. Wapshott, you make the term “Yellow Journalism” look pale indeed. Your bias is nothing less than smothering.

“…a powerful national campaign of indignation pressured the Sanford police and Florida legal authorities to eventually take a second look and treat the killing as murder rather than another routine summary execution allowed under the state’s pernicious stand-your-ground law.”

The law is the law. It is common sense, it is needed, and you should respect it as did the ORIGINAL (and correct) “Sanford police”. Your opinion to the contrary is neither unique nor of consequence.

“The reckless pursuit of an unarmed black boy in a hoodie by a vigilante inspired by suspicions based on race shows how dangerously unjust it is to use racial profiling as a means to detain suspected criminals.”

Please explain by what means ANYONE can determine that a
suspected criminal” is unarmed? If you PRESUME that, you literally BET YOUR LIFE!

Texas is presently considering adoption of legislation that will allow trying a 17 year old as an adult for capital murder because a white “boy” may otherwise escape meaningful “justice” for the premeditated killing of his parents to which he has confessed. If a 17 year old can be guilty of statutory rape, they certainly know “when to hold and when to fold” in a street fight THEY INITIATE!

The concealed weapons license does not make hollow-point bullets illegal. If circumstances are such that you “go for your gun” you had better be willing to used it and to shoot to kill. In such circumstance you WANT to cause maximum injury lest someone on drugs unable to feel pain take your weapon and kill YOU with it!

“The reckless pursuit of an unarmed black boy in a hoodie by a vigilante inspired by suspicions based on race shows how dangerously unjust it is to use racial profiling as a means to detain suspected criminals.” A Neighborhood Watch volunteer out on a rainy night was rightly concerned about a “black boy in a hoodie” when there had been recent criminal activity by non-resident blacks there.

For you to call Mr. Zimmerman a “vigilante” is to presume facts not in evidence and merely shows your personal bias. When 90% of racial crimes are black against whites and only 10% whites against blacks, common sense tells anyone that they are 90% more effective focusing on “black suspected criminals” than “white suspected criminals”.

Are they really saying that African-Americans are more likely to commit crimes than others? YES! Google applicable statistics for yourself, purported journalist! Facts don’t “lead” to “such a sorry conclusion”, they POINT to THE TRUTH. A truth you apparently don’t like and refuse to accept.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive
 

Blacks have much higher crime rates, esp. in categories like armed robbery, murder etc. These stats are widely available. The race of a reported suspect is generally going to reflect the race of the perp. A friend of mine lived in JP Boston and the local JP Gazette used to print the races of suspects and perps in the police log. It was usually on the order of 28 or 29 out of 30 were black or Latino. Eventually, they stopped doing it due to community pressure no doubt. It’s difficult to have reasonable conversations about topics like this when hugely important aspects like deviance are considered “Off the table.”

Posted by elmirage1 | Report as abusive
 

The only racist involved was killed while trying to commit a hate crime. If you think all of those who aren’t black are creepy a$$ crackers (even hispanics) like Trayvon did, you are a racist too.

Posted by TheNewWorld | Report as abusive
 

@JL4

“Thank you for your well thought-out opinion, Mr. Wapshott. You summarize race relations in the U.S. today very eloquently. Racism is alive, well and thriving in the U.S. and will be for the next several decades at least in my opinion.

Zimmerman is the kind of man who terrifies me – the egotistical nut case with a fantasy and a concealed weapon. Now the Zimmermans of our country have Stand Your Ground to protect them from prosecution.”

Interesting, you aren’t scared of the 6 foot 2, 175 young black man calling you a creepy a$$ cracker before jumping you and committing a racially motivated hate crime?

Posted by TheNewWorld | Report as abusive
 

” On being obliged to weigh the full circumstances of the case, police changed their tune,”

no not even close, The city government forced the police to arrest Zimmerman, as was testified.

Wapshott is a idiot, plain and simple yellow dog journalism and he actually expected people to believe his lies.

Posted by VultureTX | Report as abusive
 

@TheNewWorld, I wouldn’t have pursued the young black man in the first place. I wouldn’t have assumed the young black man was a threat because he was black and wearing a hoodie.

But if I had, then I would definitely qualify as a creepy ass cracker.

Posted by JL4 | Report as abusive
 

Was this written by an intern? Or perhaps written on behalf of the elite who are working diligently at promoting race baiting and taking away second amendment rights?
The author clearly hasn’t a clue about this case and his ignorance and arrogance destroys the credibility of Reuters. What a fathead! What an embarrassing article!
Has all media integrity gone with the wind?

Posted by Lisa40 | Report as abusive
 

What a whopper from Wapshott. A soph. political science essay, a grade of A from your teacher. A grade of F from the grown-ups of all colors.

If there are 5 thousand afric.amers. protesting; there are 5 million at home saying, you see kids this kid was heading down a bad road before this tragedy so you learn to respect people of all races and treat Zman like you’d like to be treated.

Posted by mercyme | Report as abusive
 

You ask “are they really saying African Americans are more likely to commit crimes than others?”. Where have you been? Why haven’t you noticed? Just count the African Americans being murdered weekly by African Americans without gun permits in Chigao alone. A dozen or so every week. Of course they are and the data prove it.

Why didnt we hear similar complaints of injustice when OJ was acquitted in the murders of two white people?

Posted by rakeshdry | Report as abusive
 

It is fundamental that if one has the right of self defense as long as people come all different sizes, sex, ages and health that weapons will be used. Also most cannot flee an attacker because unless the attacker is nuts the attacker will be more fit or both.

Which means for a child’s own benefit it must be forcefully made to understand it must keep it’s hand to itself, by teachers and parents. Teachers with the boys will be boys idea create problems.

This is not race, but what to do with the ones who want to use big fists.

Posted by Samrch | Report as abusive
 

Mr. Wapshott, JL4, here’s your “little angel” from another perspective:

http://theconservativetreehouse.com/2012  /03/27/trayvon-martin-was-apparently-a- 17-year-old-undisciplined-punk-thug-drug -dealing-thief-and-wannabe-gangsta/

The menacing “in yo’ face” young man on the right of the “Hollister” photo is the person that surprised George Zimmerman and attacked him. We know why George Zimmerman was there.

Why was Trayvon? This six foot tall unsupervised teen at loose ends did not live in this gated community. His parent who did was not home and was not expecting him.

If Trayvon had no key to the parent’s home when he was killed, he had NO “business there” at that time! It would then be logical to wonder whether Trayvon was using his “parental cover story” that rainy night to case the community for illegal opportunities. It is possible that HE was one of the unapprehended and “unidenitified black males” believed responsible for illegal acts recently observed there by witnesses.

Short of frisking him, how could ANYONE know in advance that Trayvon was not armed? I don’t think young males of ANY race have a right to sulk around a gated community they don’t live in without explicit permission from a resident who should escort them in and out. Otherwise if you’re outside the gate, you STAY outside that gate!

Go strolling where you don’t belong wearing a hoodie “up”, or walk into a bank that way, more than a few are going to be suspicious as to their intent (and some will have a gun). Anyone who acts in a manner that makes others suspicious of their intent has NO RIGHTS other than to move slowly and thoughtfully to preserve their own safety.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive
 

On the night he shot Martin dead, Zimmerman ignored the terms of his concealed gun license, which restricts the handling of a gun within a short radius of a home or car, and repeatedly ignored the instructions of the police despatcher to stop following the young man he suspected of being up to no good. Again, conditions of a concealed gun license, however restrictive, mean little if they can be so flagrantly flouted without penalty.

The above is incorrect if you are going to write assumption garbage like that you should stick to writing about finance which you arnt particularly hot at either.

He walked, your wrong.

Posted by nzl-kz7 | Report as abusive
 

Zimmerman broke no laws in following Martin. If Martin had killed or brain injured Zimmerman, and had waited for the police to arrive it would never have made media attention, but Martin would be in jail. If he had run away and not got caught the whole case would have been just another homicide statistic. It was media sensationalism and greed to have a “story” that made this case what it was, costing Zimmerman a year of his life while a show trial could be conducted. It was a case of self defense pure and simple and no trial was necessary. The fact that Zimmerman was appropriately aquitted and that there have been no riots means that the “race” issue in America is disappearing as people have more access to the facts. It is horrible to watch the news media actively trying to stoke a riot so they can have another story. Perhaps if our media were more responsible our teenagers would be less enraged and less prone to violence.

Posted by zotdoc | Report as abusive
 

The trial was all about race because that is exactly what how the American media wanted it to be perceived. From the very beginning, they incorrectly ran headlines claiming “White Man Kills Black Teen.” Then, upon realizing their error, it became “White Hispanic Kills Black Teen.”

NBC altered Zimmerman’s call to the police running audio making it appear that he said,

“I’m following him now… he looks like he is up to something he is black.”

When in reality, the operator asked Zimmerman the race of Martin and Zimmerman saying “he is black” was only a response to a question– not (as NBC wanted people to believe) the reason Zimmerman thought Trayvon was acting suspicious.

The media stoked racial tensions because doing so makes for a more profitable story.

Posted by gregoir | Report as abusive
 

The last time I checked, in the United States verdicts are to be rendered based on the law & the evidence. Wapshott does nothing to educate his readers on the American criminal justice system at large, nor on the criminal justice system of the State of Florida in particular. No man can be so unreasoning who has been afforded such a platform of attention without having sold out his better self to the power-brokers of the British & American media who continue to divide & conquer on behalf of globalizing plutocrats.

Posted by Doctordialogue | Report as abusive
 

Why should he have to keep running he was minding his business to start with GZ pursued him people always try to take eyes off the point of who started it

Posted by RighteousAngel | Report as abusive
 

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