by Jeffrey Evan Gold, Esq. *
I covered the George Zimmerman trial from Sanford, Florida this month for various TV networks.
The civil rights movement in America has been a truly heroic force for “justice for all” in America. Both that movement and perhaps the culmination of its hard work, namely President Obama, are facing a true test now. The protests around the country today decry George Zimmerman as civil rights villain and call for his head on a stake, despite a jury verdict that under the applicable law was clear to any lawyer who attended the trial.
The hearts of the protesters are pure as they know that innocent black men are profiled every day as criminals. They protest this and a law in FL which allows death over requiring a safe retreat. But they do it using Zimmerman as their foil and symbol of racism.
They call for civil rights charges which simply do not exist here. The FBI has already investigated it, and the DOJ knows it. If charges are now brought, it will only because a hooded mob forced them.
Our President can quell the furor if he chooses. His post-verdict statements have been political, straddling the line, not fueling but not exactly quenching the fires. As an African-American, Mr. Obama surely feels the deep suspicions of blacks about this case in his heart. As a former law professor, however, he also knows that the verdict rendered was required by the law in FL and many other states which, unlike New Jersey, imposes no duty to retreat first.
Across our country, protesters are calling for “justice”. But justice cannot be had by calling for the head of George Zimmerman. It can only be had by a call to repeal laws which value honor over life. The duty to retreat is the issue here, not Zimmerman.
The State’s own witnesses revealed that the only racial epitaph in this case was spoken by Trayvon Martin who called Zimmerman a “creepy ass cracka” before he attacked Zimmerman “MMA” style. If Trayvon had not been killed, he would have been charged with assault.
The real issue is lack of the duty to retreat. Had Florida still imposed a duty to retreat, George Zimmerman would have had to crawl away beaten and bloody unless and until it was clear he could not escape with his life.
Trayvon Martin was not the like Rodney King case where we saw the assault of a black man by four white cops on video, where the trial was moved out of black central LA to white Simi Valley. There the acquittals were true shocks which lead to the LA Riots.
The test of American justice will be whether the Obama administration yields to the pressures by protests to allow a man Zimmerman be the scapegoat for the larger issues. Racial injustice still exists, and the duty to retreat might have saved Trayvon’s life (and if it didn’t Zimmerman would be convicted.) These are important issues. But in America, prosecution should not be persecution. If civil rights charges are brought on the evidence that now exists, that concept will be turned on its head.
*[The author has been a criminal defense attorney for over 30 years, is a former assistant Burlington County prosecutor and has been an on air network TV legal analyst for 14 years. In the last two years, he has also been covering “media trials” from the trial venue for various TV networks, Jerry Sandusky in Pennsylvania, Drew Peterson in Illinois, Jodi Arias in Arizona, and, this month, the George Zimmerman trial in Sanford, Florida.]