Skip to main content

Zimmerman trial: It's about race

By Roxanne Jones, Special to CNN
July 10, 2013 -- Updated 1040 GMT (1840 HKT)
George Zimmerman is congratulated by members of his defense team, Don West and Lorna Truett, after the not guilty verdict is read on Saturday, July 13, in Sanford, Florida. A jury of six women found him not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/13/justice/gallery/zimmerman-trial-reaction/index.html' target='_blank'>View photos of the public reaction to the verdict.</a> George Zimmerman is congratulated by members of his defense team, Don West and Lorna Truett, after the not guilty verdict is read on Saturday, July 13, in Sanford, Florida. A jury of six women found him not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. View photos of the public reaction to the verdict.
HIDE CAPTION
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Roxanne Jones: We have all been duped in the Trayvon Martin case
  • Jones: This case was never "open and shut" as the Martin family attorney said earlier
  • She says race still matters deeply in our courtrooms, just as it does in our nation
  • Jones: In Zimmerman trial, the prosecution appears to be lying low and taking punches

Editor's note: Roxanne Jones is a founding editor of ESPN The Magazine and former vice president at ESPN. She is the CEO of The Push Marketing Group. Jones is an award-winning editor, reporter, writer and producer who has also worked at the New York Daily News and The Philadelphia Inquirer across news and sports. She is co-author of "Say It Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete" (Random House).

(CNN) -- We have all been duped in the Trayvon Martin case. Bamboozled.

This case was never "open and shut" as Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump insisted in a news conference at the start of the trial. I doubted it was that easy from Day One.

Said Crump then: "The jury will have to hear all of the evidence. We think this is a simple case. No. 1: Zimmerman was a grown man with a gun. No. 2: Trayvon was a child with no blood on his hands. Literally."

Roxanne Jones
Roxanne Jones

When I heard Crump's words, I was immediately suspicious. Could it really be that simple? Or was the attorney just trying to placate a grieving family and spin an angle for the media? Did Crump really believe that "Justice for All" had finally arrived in our nation? And that the damning stereotypes associated with race and class would have no room in a Florida courtroom where George Zimmerman is being charged with second-degree murder in the death of Martin?

Get the latest updates at HLNTV.com's live blog

I'm no cynic but I am a realist. A realist who's covered enough criminal trials to know for certain that the trial that plays out in the public over pep rally vigils and celebrity protests is never the trial that unfolds in the courtroom. I understand that race still matters deeply in our courtrooms, just as it does in our nation. And there's no getting away from that fact.

As the trial of Zimmerman continues, nothing is as simple as it seems.

"This case is a perfect storm," says Xavier Donaldson, a defense attorney and former prosecutor in New York. "You have to look at the nature of the case and the racial, political and social economics of the defendant and accused. You have a young black kid, walking with a sweatshirt on and some guy, who wants to be a cop, assumes he's a criminal and shoots him dead." Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder.

Trayvon Martin Shooting: Fast Facts

Preparing for Zimmerman verdict
Lesser charge for Zimmerman?
Who's screaming on the 911 call?
Jackson: Father 'helped the prosecution'

"Zimmerman had an image in his community as a good guy, who wanted to protect people. So he -- and not Martin, the victim -- has gotten the benefit of presumption of innocence. Normally, in murder cases that doesn't happen. People generally believe that if you've been arrested and charged that you must have done something wrong, but those lines are blurred here," says Donaldson.

It seems Zimmerman, in part because he belonged to his neighborhood watch group, has been granted the status of a police officer. He even has police officers testifying in his favor that Trayvon's father, Tracy Martin, told them that the voice screaming for help on the 911 call was "not his son" when he heard the tape for the first time. The father strongly denies he said those words to the police.

Normally, the prosecutor in a high-profile murder case puts forth evidence to prove the defendant's guilt and aggressively goes after any notion that suggests that the victim is at fault. The prosecution's goal is to do anything it can to convince a jury that the killer is a menace that needs to be taken off the street. That's how the battle is won in the courtroom.

But in the trial of Zimmerman, the prosecution -- Richard Mantei -- appears to be lying low and taking too many punches. Could it be that Mantei himself buys into the theory that Zimmerman is some misunderstood do-gooder in the community? It's just puzzling.

Words matter, as we have seen over the course of the trial. So when Mantei told the court before resting his case: "There are two people involved here. One of them is dead, and one of them is a liar," I was shocked.

This is a murder case. One person is dead, and the other person is a murderer. Those words more accurately describe the facts presented in the case. There is no question that Zimmerman killed Martin, so there's no reason to tiptoe around the words.

And that's exactly what is so troubling for myself and many others, especially in the black community. It has been all too easy an idea for people to entertain that Martin did something to cause his own murder. History tells us that in our nation's courtrooms and even outside of those walls, my son, your son, our sons still don't have the presumption of innocence, even when they are the victims of a murder.

"I would have told Martin's parents, 'prepare for hell,' " says Donaldson. "It will not be easy. They will present evidence that will make your son look like the worst criminal. The defenses' goal is to turn your son into the criminal here and make him guilty of the crime."

No one knows yet how this trial will end. Donaldson feels it's too close to call until rebuttals are made and the case wraps up. "It could go either way," Donaldson says.

But I do know one thing: We should not have to wear a Trayvon T-shirt to an awards show or attend a pep rally 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.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roxanne Jones.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 0127 GMT (0927 HKT)
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT