The Zimmerman Trial and Race

Margaret Carlson and Ramesh Ponnuru have a short online chat that is transcribed at Bloomberg that mostly covers Liz Cheney’s announcement that she’s challenging incumbent Republican Senator Mike Enzi in a primary, but it also briefly touches on the Zimmerman case. Here’s Carlson:

Reverse the parties in the trial: Martin is following Zimmerman. Zimmerman reacts and knocks Martin to the ground. Martin fears for his life and shoots Zimmerman. Does Martin get off? Not on your life.

I feel like I’ve heard this a lot the past couple of days. If Martin were white and Zimmerman were black, there’s no way Zimmerman would have been found “not guilty,” but I don’t understand where this belief is coming from.

Now, that’s not to say that race didn’t play a major role in this case. Would Zimmerman have called the police and followed Martin if he were white? Unclear, but race almost certainly played a role in Zimmerman’s decision-making that night. From listening to Juror B37’s interview with Anderson Cooper, it’s clear that she found the defendant’s witnesses much more credible, partially because she could more easily relate to them. Juror B37 and Rachel Jeantel, the prosecution’s star witness, come from different backgrounds and different cultures. That played a part in who Juror B37 found credible and impacted the verdict.

But that doesn’t change the (lack of ) evidence in the case:

  • Police advised Zimmerman not to follow Martin, but did not tell Zimmerman to stay in his car. The dispatcher testified that he can’t give direct orders for liability reasons.
  • An eye-witness said that Martin was on top of Zimmerman punching him.
  • Zimmerman had a broken nose, bloody face and other minor injuries when police arrived.
  • It’s unclear who the voice screaming in the 911 phone call is. Zimmerman’s family says its Zimmerman. Martin’s family says its Martin. Independent analysts aren’t sure.

The evidence is enough to foster reasonable doubt that Zimmerman acted in self-defense. If Martin were white and Zimmerman black, I don’t see how a jury could have found him guilty with that evidence. There just isn’t nearly enough evidence there to convict. Maybe a jury that decided based on racial stereotypes would not believe a word of Zimmerman’s story, but even so, an appeals court would almost certainly have overturned it.

Once again, this isn’t to say that race didn’t play a role in the trial. It isn’t to say that laws that allow such a tragedy to happen and a killer to walk to free are acceptable.

It isn’t to say anything more about the case than that the evidence was murky and no sane jury could have found Zimmerman guilty, no matter if he was white, black or purple.



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