Race and the George Zimmerman Case

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In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel posted September 29, 2012, Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump describes race as the “elephant in the room” in the George Zimmerman case.

The term “elephant in the room” typically describes something that people won’t talk about -- despite how obvious and apparent it is. This term is misapplied in this case. Mr. Crump has led a chorus of voices in drawing attention to the race factor in the George Zimmerman case, including comments from the President of the United States. While it can be safely argued that it is largely the question of civil rights issues that has made the George Zimmerman case a national -- and international -- story, there is nothing to support the contention of racism in the Zimmerman case.

The real “elephant in the room,” however, is that race should not be a factor in the George Zimmerman case, and should never have been made one.

Here are Benjamin Crump’s full remarks:

"It shouldn’t be about race. But race is the elephant in the room. Nobody believes that if you make Trayvon Martin white [and the Neighborhood Watch volunteer black], there’s no way he would not be arrested, and that’s the unfortunate and tragic truth of the matter. There is a double standard. That’s why race is involved in this case.”

Let’s forget for a moment that George Zimmerman is Hispanic, not white. What Mr. Crump is saying is that race is an issue in the George Zimmerman case because, he insists, that if a black man shot a white person in a similar situation, the black man would have been immediately arrested. This is not an indictment of George Zimmerman; this is fundamentally an accusation that the Sanford Police Department acted in a racist way, and that perhaps the criminal justice system at large is biased against black men.

The truth is that there is credible evidence that black men are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, and that is evidence of an underlying problem. Mark O’Mara and Don West have each spent a career in criminal defense fighting against racial bias in the justice system that affected many of their clients. This is something that needs to be discussed as a nation, and if this case has brought that conversation to the forefront, then now is the time to have that conversation.

Mr. Crump is right in talking about the George Zimmerman case when he says: “It shouldn’t be about race.” But by projecting race onto the George Zimmerman case, Mr. Crump is pinning a supposed civil rights victory on a Zimmerman conviction. The problem is that by associating a Zimmerman conviction with a civil rights victory, Mr. Crump has framed a scenario where a Zimmerman victory in a Self-Defense Immunity Hearing or a Zimmerman acquittal will represent a civil rights defeat. That is inappropriate and dangerous to us as a nation.

The Zimmerman defense team is not arguing against civil rights. We are defending a man who claims he shot and killed an attacker in necessary self-defense. If Mr. Crump believes that the Sanford Police Department acted with bias during their investigation, then he should demand a comprehensive conclusion from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), which conducted an exhaustive investigation into the matter of whether SPD conducted a proper investigation. If Mr. Crump believes that George Zimmerman’s actions were racially motivated, he should demand a comprehensive conclusion from the FBI, which conducted an exhaustive investigation on whether there is evidence that George acted with a racial bias. In that request, we join him.

However, if the FDLE conclusions point to an adequate, non-racially biased investigation from the Sanford Police Department, and if the FBI investigation concludes that George Zimmerman did not violate Trayvon Martin’s civil rights by acting in a racially biased way, then Mr. Crump should acknowledge that the George Zimmerman case is not about race, and he should focus his efforts on a case where a black man has been wrongfully arrested for murder in a clear case of self-defense, and he should champion that cause. To that, we would lend our support and our efforts.

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