Race to judgment

They had Zimmerman convicted before trial; it doesn't work that way

Months before the first testimony in the case, the usual cast of race hustlers tried to make the Trayvon Martin killing into some kind of barometer of race relations in America.

The media were giddy to promote that divisive narrative, and likely will continue to do so when the verdict comes in. NBC even edited tape of a phone call to make the shooter, George Zimmerman, appear racist: It aired audio of Zimmerman offering an emergency dispatcher information about Martin’s race, seemingly out of thin air. But the network purposely left out the fact that the dispatcher had asked Zimmerman about the young man’s race.

The hustlers’ folly, of course, is profound and quite dangerous.

First off, a confrontation between two ill-fated individuals says nothing about the country as a whole or about the state of race relations.

This was a titanic collision – the result of a catastrophic chain of fateful events. Zimmerman appears to have been an overzealous wanna-be cop who ignored instructions from authorities to stay on the sidelines; Martin, frankly, appears not to be the Boy Scout the hustlers tried to paint him.

Secondly, while there’s a long dark shadow of haunting civil wrongs done to innocent blacks in American history, this case is not so cut and dried. There is great contention over how the confrontation between Zimmerman and Martin proceeded.

The jury will be hard-pressed to ignore Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense. And remember: Our system requires a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

This case had reasonable doubt written all over it from the start. Many observers believe the prosecutors have overpromised the Martin family and its supporters by overcharging Zimmerman with second-degree murder; it will be most difficult to prove. You have to wonder if the national-level attention and intense protests forced the prosecutors’ hand to cover their backsides.

And with the testimony of supposed star witness Rachel Jeantel, the prosecution now appears to have under-delivered as well as overpromised. She has been a disaster on the witness stand: having to admit lying; muddling the time-line; admitting that Martin, himself, had used a racial slur about Zimmerman in his last phone call with her; and exhibiting an inappropriate, even offensive attitude in court that can’t have endeared her to the jury or enhanced her credibility.

“That is not the attitude you want from your star witness when it’s critical that the jury believe her,” one television legal analyst said, noting even the Martin family seemed exasperated with Jeantel.

Analysts “generally found Jeantel devastating – to the state,” the Orlando Sentinel wrote. One of them described the key witness as “unraveling. She’s got no credibility.”

“It was a classic meltdown,” another analyst summed up. “I haven’t seen such a meltdown in about 35 years. You may see the first unraveling of the state’s case. It better get better from here. If it doesn’t, they have real problems.”

And so might the nation – if the race hustlers have succeeded in convincing many folks that an acquittal in this case is an injustice and a cause for unrest. They had Zimmerman convicted before his arrest. But that’s not how our system works. That’s not how justice works.

The hustlers called for “Justice for Trayvon.” The goal ought to be justice, period.

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Rick McKee Editorial Cartoon