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HARPER: As case collapses, media play race card against Zimmerman
Despite a prosecution case in tatters against George Zimmerman, the Florida neighborhood watch volunteer accused of killing Trayvon Martin, a black 17-year-old, the media have not been shy about playing the race card throughout the trial.
“We have all been duped in the Trayvon Martin case,” Ms. Jones wrote this week. “We should not have to wear a Trayvon T-shirt to remind America that when an unarmed child is confronted and gunned down in the street by a grown man who’s trained to kill, that’s murder. End of story.”
The “unarmed child,” according to eyewitness testimony, was pummeling Mr. Zimmerman in what mixed martial arts fighters describe as “ground and pound,” a tactic where the aggressor straddles his opponent and strikes with fists and forearms. The individual on the bottom has little ability to defend himself. I hold two black belts in the martial arts; being on the bottom in a ground-and-pound attack is a dangerous place. That’s where Mr. Zimmerman ended up before he shot Trayvon.
The “grown man” allegedly trained to kill served as a member of a neighborhood watch group in Sanford, Fla. Mr. Zimmerman had received a certificate for weapons training and had a permit to carry a gun. He had engaged ineffectively, according to testimony from his instructor, in martial-arts training.
Second-degree murder requires prosecutors to prove Mr. Zimmerman acted with a depraved mind without regard for human life. The prosecutors have failed to do that. That’s the end of the story.
So far, the prosecutors have only Trayvon’s mother, who has consistently stated the cry for help caught on a 911 call recording came from her son. His mother couldn’t testify about any of her son’s positive traits. Otherwise, the defense could have introduced facts about the victim’s character — evidence excluded by the trial judge — about his drug use, school suspensions and other damaging information. The defense has numerous people who identified the voice as Mr. Zimmerman.
Dr. Vincent DiMaio, one of the most respected forensics experts in the country, testified this week that virtually every aspect of Mr. Zimmerman’s statements to police, including how Trayvon attacked him, proved consistent with the physical evidence.
But CNN, which has seen its dismal ratings climb during extensive coverage of the trial, didn’t stop there.
Race “has been hanging there and it’s been there since the beginning,” F. Michael Higginbotham, a law professor at the University of Baltimore, told interviewer Piers Morgan.
Ms. Jones and Mr. Higginbotham have decided to ignore the fact that Mr. Zimmerman has a mother from Peru, which makes him ethnically Hispanic, and reportedly had a black grandmother and great-grandfather.
CNN and others in the media who have made this trial about race should be ashamed. The trial is to determine whether Mr. Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon in a depraved manner, in which case he should be found guilty. Alternatively, the jury should find Mr. Zimmerman not guilty if he acted to save his own life in self-defense.
At least Mr. Higginbotham urged people to accept whatever the jury determines. “[T]he most important thing is that justice be done. And so Americans of all the colors must respect the decision that the jurors come to.”
That’s the best advice I have heard from those who still think race is part of the case of Florida vs. George Zimmerman.
• Christopher Harper is a professor at Temple University. He worked for more than 20 years at the Associated Press, Newsweek, ABC News and “20/20.” He can be contacted at email@example.com. Twitter: @charper51.
About the Author
Christopher Harper is a professor of journalism at Temple University. He worked for The Associated Press, Newsweek, ABC News and “20/20” for more than 20 years. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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