As jury selection in the trial for George Zimmerman begins today in Sanford, Florida, many in the African-American community still question whether justice can and will be served in the racially-charged case. But that fear isn’t one that’s shared by Trayvon Martin’s parents, according to their attorney Benjamin Crump.
“They have faith the justice system will prevail and it will be fair and transparent,’’ said Benjamin Crump, the family’s attorney. “They’ve waited for justice for their son and they feel sure it will come. They have tremendous faith that is very strong.’’
Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder in the death of 17-year-old Martin, an unarmed African-American high school student who was walking home at night last February.
The story is well-known by now. Zimmerman, a watchman for the housing development where Martin’s father lived, was sitting in his car in the gated community when he became suspicious of the teenager. Zimmerman called the police’s non-emergency line to report his concerns.
What happened next is what’s in question. Zimmerman insists that Martin attacked him and in act of self-defense he shot the teenager. Martin died at the scene from a gunshot to the heart.
Six jurors will now have to decide if Zimmerman’s self-defense account stands up or if the 29-year-old man racially profiled Martin and was, in fact, an out of control vigilante who provoked a fight with a young black man armed only with a cell phone, a bag of Skittles, and a bottle of tea. Jury selection could take weeks.
“People, the pundits and the experts are trying to make this case appear more difficult than it is,’’ said Crump. “They’re saying it’s still unclear what happened that night. The family believes it’s quite clear what happened that night. Only one person was following the other person that night. Only one person had a gun and only one person died that night. What’s unclear about that?”
Apparently it was also unclear to the Sanford Police Department in the hours and days that followed Martin’s death. Zimmerman wasn’t charged until six weeks after the incident and then, some say only because of the intense public outcry from around the country. More than 2 million people signed the Change.org petition that demanded Zimmerman be arrested. The fact that an unarmed African-American teenager could be shot to death and no one charged sparked a national debate that saw thousands attend demonstrations and rallies held in Martin’s name. Sanford’s police chief was eventually fired and a special prosecutor was brought in to investigate.
“There is no question in my mind that if the situation was reverse and a black man followed a young, unarmed white teenager with a gun and that teenager ended up dead, that black man would have been arrested and charged on the spot,’’ said Crump. “That’s the double standard we have in this case and so many other cases that involved brown and black faces.’’
Many legal experts suggest that because there were no eye-witnesses, there is no clear proof of just who attacked and confronted who that night. A phone call to the police by a neighbor to report the fight revealed screams for help. But audio experts remain split on whether the voice belonged to Martin or Zimmerman.
“That seems pretty clear as well,’’ said Crump. “Why would the man with the gun scream for help? Even when Zimmerman heard the tapes at the police station that night, he said that voice didn’t really sound like him. Who knows the sound of his own voice better than he does?”
Also expected to testify during the trial is the 16-year-old girl who Martin was speaking to on his cell phone just before the altercation began. In statements to police she described the teenager as sounding scared and that Martin described the man following him as “creepy and crazy.” She stated that she believed she heard the words “get off, get off,” before the call ended.
Still, doubt may prevail among jurors if that night’s incidents remain unclear. The defense plans to argue that Martin attacked Zimmerman as the watchman returned to his car after locating the name of the street he was on. Many legal experts argue that Zimmerman’s case of self-defense is strong, due in part to his consistent accounts to police that he felt his life was threatened by an angry teenager.
To drive that point home, Zimmerman’s defense team filed several motions with the court last week that would allow evidence in suggesting Martin was a troubled young man: suspension for fights in high school, marijuana use, and a fascination with guns. The defense hoped to prove that Martin’s drug use made him paranoid and aggressive, leading him to attack Zimmerman that night. Judge Debra S. Nelson denied each motion and barred all evidence from court concerning Martin’s drug use and history of fights. Martin had no criminal record.
“Trayvon’s parents were prepared for the smear campaign against their son,’’ said Crump. “We discussed that early on with them so they’d be ready for attacks on Trayvon’s character. This is what happens in cases like this, there is an attempt to blame the victim. Trayvon’ s parents are prepared as much as they can be for those type of realities in this trial.’’
Still, the last 16 months have taken a heavy toll on the Martin family. Family members worry about Sybrina Fulton, Martin’s mother, as she suffered major weight loss over the last few months and continues to battle depression. Crump admits the obvious hardship on the family but insists that neither, depression or the intense media glare, are enough to prevent Fulton from appearing in court each day. More than 230 media outlets from around the world requested credentials to cover the trial.