Of Criminals and Crackers
When people think of Florida, they think of oranges and pink flamingos, palm trees and beaches, the blue-green ocean. They think of Disney and margaritas. ... But it has a feral heart, a teeming center that would rage out of control if not for the concrete and rebar that keeps it caged.
-Lisa Unger, from Black Out
As I watched the trial of George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida, and absorbed the verdict of six White or Hispanic women jurors, my involvements with race in Florida as a kid all rushed front and center in my mind. The trial was an amazing racial lightning rod saturated with the unpleasant legacy of race in America, especially in the South. It seems appropriate that it unfolded in Florida, which has become the nation’s most bizarre and confused state.
Given this, it’s easy to understand why Seminole County Circuit Judge Debra Nelson sternly kept race out of the trial. In the end, while it may have tempered sensationalism in her court, the decision feels like an example of the problem itself and very much a real shortcoming of the trial. The way things work, thanks to the double jeopardy issue, the State cannot appeal the verdict. Had it gone the other way, appeal geniuses like Alan Dershowitz had already begun working the angles for a lengthy appeal process, like he was ready to do for O.J. Simpson and did for Claus Von Bulow.
As it stands, the only appeal process George Zimmerman has to face is possible threats to his life. His security concerns are no doubt serious; one might say, while he may have “walked,” it might be prudent if he walked fast under an assumed name to a secret location.
The most amazing thing about the trial was that the dead victim seemed to be the one on trial. I was often confused which legal team was the “prosecutor” and which one was the “defense.” It felt to me that the defense attorneys, especially Don West, were acting like prosecutors, while the prosecutors were acting like defense lawyers. As it turned out, the real prosecutors were acting pretty ineffectually in that role. You had to wonder whether this might be because it's anathema to prosecutors to seriously question the actions or motives of a police officer or -- in this case, a “wanna-be cop."
In an interesting footnote to the case, George’s father, Robert Zimmerman, a full-time magistrate from 2000-2006 in Virginia, wrote an e-book entitled Florida v Zimmerman: Uncovering the Malicious Prosecution of My Son George in which he calls the Congressional Black Caucus a “pathetic, self-serving group of racists… advancing their purely racist agenda." He also writes that the NAACP "simply promotes racism and hatred for their own, primarily finical [sic], interests."