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A Bend Toward Justice in the Trayvon Martin Story

Today has been a watershed day for those of us who have been following the Trayvon Martin case. I will admit that I am generally pleased with today’s events. George Zimmerman has been arrested and charged with 2nd degree murder in the killing of Trayvon Martin. There has been a lot of reaction to the many press conferences and statements that have been made and I wanted to take this opportunity to respond to it all.

Second degree murder might be a stretch, but there are a couple of things to consider. First, the special prosecutor, Angela Corey, knows more about the facts of this case than anyone other than George Zimmerman himself. As that evidence becomes available to us at trial (or possibly before the official trial begins), we might begin to see exactly why a 2nd degree murder charge was warranted.

Also, there are other reasons to shoot for the moon here. Just because a 2nd degree murder charge is on the list does not mean that the prosecution has lost the option to argue manslaughter or any other lesser included offense. It is generally better to go after the biggest offense. It also helps in potentially making a plea deal. 

One of the things that irked me from what I heard of the special prosecutor’s press conference is her willingness to protect the original investigation. According to Corey, the investigation was continuing before all of the media attention. I think that is technically correct, but not actually correct. As I have said before, it did not bother me that Zimmerman was not arrested that night. Investigations take time. However, it seems to me that in the 3 weeks between Trayvon’s death and the media firestorm, not much was being done. If the police had Trayvon’s cell phone, how did they not talk to his girlfriend, who was the last person Trayvon talked to before he died and who’s conversation ended a minute before the estimated time of death? I believe that the case was “open” but not “ongoing.” Meaning that they had not officially closed the books on the case, but no one was really working on it.

I really like Zimmerman’s new attorney. He was measured, candid, and still advocated for his client. That’s what good defense attorneys are supposed to do.

I want to make a very quick statement about the racism conversation that has surrounded this case. Everyone admits that the most important issue is that a young man is needlessly dead. But I think it is hard to ignore how racial profiling is a part of this case. It is important to note that you don’t have to be a racist to do racist things. That is the very insidious nature of stereotypes and white privilege is that these thoughts and ideas work below the conscious level, unless people are willing to examine themselves and root these negative thoughts out of their thought processes. It’s very simple—if we say that a white man committed a crime, we don’t automatically become suspicious of white men in the area. Yet a very different standard is applied to people of color. Furthermore, the responses in defense of Zimmerman have often been racist in themselves. There is a very dangerous mode of thought that is going on in the discussion of race in this country. For some of those who want to act as if racism is a thing of the past, overcoming racism means you didn’t face racism. Thinking that acknowledging that racism still exists and effects peoples’ lives is racist itself is wrong and dangerous to providing justice for all.

Finally, as a lawyer, I believe in our justice system. I also realize that it is not a perfect system, but it is a system that is fair, when working properly. I want justice, not only for Trayvon Martin, but for Zimmerman as well. He deserves the presumption of innocence and he deserves his day in court, and I for one am glad that he will get it. Justice has been slow in this case, but it has arrived. I think all the reporters and commentators and activists have done a wonderful job of placing pressure so that the process for justice could begin.  The job for all of us now is to let the system and its participants to do their work.  

—Jason Hines is an attorney and doctoral student in Church-State Studies at the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Harvard Law School, he blogs about religious liberty, local Adventist church life, and other topics at Hine Sight where this was originally posted. 

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