The date is July 13, 2013. A jury panel of six women enters a courtroom. George Zimmerman is declared innocent of all charges levelled against him. He is cleared of second degree murder charges. He is cleared of what could be a lesser charge of manslaughter. A 17-year-old young man lost his life. His name was Trayvon Martin. But tragic turns of events do not always involve premeditated intent to do harm. The women of the jury affirmed that self-defence and the right to preserve blood and lineage is the right of the individual.
“The American justice system works.” Zimmerman can resume his life and his name is cleared. As Americans, this is the narrative to which we hold. The truth is quite a bit uglier regarding this particular case. Before we proceed, please note that this is an opinion piece that is coloured by my life history and the lens of my own perception.
Lady Justice first acquired her blindfold in the 15th century. The addition of a blindfold was meant to symbolise the objectivity of the court in considering the cases on their docket. Across the world, sculptures of Lady Justice are depicted in various styles, eyes wide open or sans blindfold. Atop the Old Bailey Courthouse in London, Lady Justice is not blindfolded. The artistic expression reflects earlier beliefs that the maidenly form sufficiently conveys impartiality. Perhaps today, we should add a good set of ear plugs for all of the statues.
My own interest in the Zimmerman trial was fairly muted. A regional crime scene that was no-billed by a grand jury held little fascination for me. But Lady Justice changed form. She became serpentine. This transformation was due to the diligent work of ethically incompetent journalists and activists. Unfortunately, the serpentine nature of this trial was also orchestrated from the highest echelons of national power.
A tragedy unfolded right before our eyes. What ensued between the time of the arrest of Zimmerman and continues even as I write should be considered a miscarriage of due process. True justice walks quietly. The cacophony surrounding this particular trial has been sensory assaultive. Pass the ear plugs.
When the media began to take an acute interest in the death of Trayvon Martin, informational integrity was lost. Mounting evidence cast Martin’s prior history of actions in an unfavourable light. Mainstream media muted these facts and villified Zimmerman. The media was also extremely two-faced with their script. Wishing to be cast as impartial, they declared the case was not about race. Then they quickly labelled Zimmerman as a ‘white Hispanic’ and led the public by the nose to consider racial profiling and targeting. The media coverage of this trial was a biased farce.
President Barack Obama was obviously stunned by the verdict. Not guilty! The outcome was unanticipated. He advised Americans to accept the verdict. But then, there was the need to scrape the manure off his own boot. The man who had directed the Justice Department to pursue this case with extreme diligence had resurrected an old national wound. But the disposition of this case had far greater implications than his earlier involvement in the case of Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. The POTUS had waded into this regional fray by stating that the Cambridge police acted “stupidly” in arresting this black American.
Not to be trumped by a jury of logical women, the president set out in subtle manner to humiliate them in public manner. On a broader scale, he sought to humiliate white American citizens. He did this by licking his own wound of black manhood in a ‘white’ America.
Here is the deal. Our life perspective is not truth. It is just our truth. Were President Obama to be seated in my living room today I would respectfully share with him the story of the Swofford family. We are the proud godparents of the child of our Nigerian friends. We tried to adopt a child of the same mixed race heritage as the POTUS. We invested time and effort into assisting a homeless black male. He used the guest shower. I washed his clothing. My husband assisted him with filling out job applications and shuttled him to interviews. After he found employment, the hunt was on for an apartment. Over a matter of months, this man went from sheltering in an abandoned home to moving into a modest apartment. Stories such as our own are also part of the experience of what it means to be ‘white-Americans’. My husband and I do not espouse hyphenated-American stereotypes. It is ethically distasteful.
But what can be said when a jury delivers a verdict of not guilty yet Zimmerman is not free in the truest sense of the word? The Justice Department is pondering bringing civil rights violation charges against Zimmerman. If this happens, it will be by the direction of the president. What does ‘not guilty’ really mean if a person’s character has been slandered by the press; if his college grades have been mocked; if this man has been cast in the role of a vigilante? What does not guilty really mean when the media continues to identify George Zimmerman as “the shooter” of Trayvon Martin?
Where does justice reside? Does it reside behind the presidential seal? Or does it reside within the folds of the garment of a judge who presides over a case? Does justice reside within the hearts of men when they view the evidence, hear eyewitness accounts and contemplate the final arguments of the lead prosecutor and defence attorney? Where, exactly, does justice reside?
I do not know where justice resides. But I know that justice walks quietly and with measured steps. True justice is not coquettish nor can it be seduced by the press. Justice does not reside within the bosom of fools. The endless noise surrounding the trial of George Zimmerman is little better than a media fandango.
The writer is a freelance journalist and author of the novel Arsenal. She can be reached at email@example.com