George Zimmerman is Free: DOJ Civil Rights Case is Useless


In a rare move, the Obama administration seems to have taken a politically dangerous stance on a controversial social issue. George Zimmerman is free, but in response to numerous petitions, as well as requests from the NAACP and other civil rights groups, the Department of Justice is looking into the possibility of charging Zimmerman on the grounds of civil rights statutes. Although the case began as a result of racial profiling coupled with lax gun control laws, it is likely that a DoJ civil rights case will be unable to find any compelling evidence to convict Zimmerman if the prosecution couldn't.

Outside of the court, there is a compelling argument to be made that Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, racially profiled Trayvon Martin, a black youth in a gated community, in his groundless assumption that Martin was responsible for the recent spate of break-ins. Disregarding the 911 dispatcher's warning not to pursue Martin, Zimmerman stalked him anyway with his concealed gun.

Although Martin's mother says the voice calling for help in the background of the 911 call is her son's, Zimmerman claims that Martin attacked him and tried to take his gun, leading to the fatal shooting of Martin in self-defense. Zimmerman's presumption that the black 17-year-old was guilty, along with his subsequent stalking of Martin, was unreasonable and raises legitimate questions as to the validity of his testimony. Unlike Zimmerman, however, the court must work off of a presumption of innocence. From a legal standpoint, the prosecution simply did not produce enough compelling, hard evidence to convict him of manslaughter. Nonetheless, we must ask ourselves if the same level of high judicial scrutiny would have been applied to Zimmerman's case if he had been black.

In addition to the tragedy of Martin's death by gun violence, the defense and a significant sector of the U.S. public have tried to demonize Martin, the victim, by casting aspersions on his character. One protester in Detroit held a sign that astutely said: "Only in America does a black boy stand trial for his own murder."

Indeed, one would think that Martin was the one on trial, and not Zimmerman. The defense viciously and disingenuously tried to destroy Martin's name and memory by using racial stereotypes to portray him as a thug. They used a series of text messages to illustrate his fascination with "gangsta" culture (a fascination shared among youth of every race) and guns (a fascination obviously shared by Zimmerman). The defense also tried to portray him as criminal by using the texts to highlight his 10-day suspension from school when administrators found a bag with marijuana residue on his person.

The defense effectively took Zimmerman off trial by putting Martin on trial, painting him as a sketchy black kid prone to violent outbursts. The more vocally-racist segments of the U.S. seized upon this, painting Martin as a criminal while framing Zimmerman as the victim, disgracing the memory of an innocent kid.

Furthermore, many people who believe that Zimmerman was completely justified in all his actions also support the NRA- and ALEC-sponsored "Stand Your Ground" law, which has increased the rate of justifiable homicide in Florida by 300% since 2005. Zimmerman initially intended to use Stand Your Ground as his defense, until his attorney instead opted to pursue a traditional self-defense case (this abrupt change in tactics further casts doubt as to the validity of Zimmerman's testimony).

Since the defense and much of the U.S. public have put Martin on trial, those who support the underlying logic of the Stand Your Ground law — who are often the same people demonizing Martin — must ask themselves a simple question: under the spirit of Stand your Ground, did not Martin have a right to stand his ground? Even if we accept Zimmerman's testimony as true, he was still stalking an innocent teenager with a concealed gun. Thus, from Martin's perspective, the armed Zimmerman was an imminent danger to his person. Without a firearm of his own, he attacked Zimmerman and tried to at the very least disarm him, if not apply deadly force under the rationale of Stand Your Ground.

No matter how you feel about the case, one thing is certain: the death of either Zimmerman or Martin could have easily been avoided in the absence of a firearm. The racial dimension of the case aside, this is ultimately another tragedy caused by gun violence.

Due to the hearsay-heavy nature of the case, it is exceedingly unlikely that the DoJ will be able to gather any new evidence indicting Zimmerman under civil rights legislation. The defense has already proven that Zimmerman can muster strong character witnesses and nastily tarnish the memory of the victim. Furthermore, depending on the charges, putting Zimmerman through another trial could look dangerously like an unconstitutional effort to put him through double jeopardy.

No amount of trials will bring Trayvon Martin back to life. Instead, the Obama administration would be better served by doubling down efforts on gun control and combating the gun lobby's aggressive expansion of firearms laws.