Thursday, July 11, 2013

Timing Is Everything

As we near a verdict in the George Zimmerman trial and the news networks move into hyper-coverage, it's a good time to consider how different this entire storyline would have been if Zimmerman had been arrested on the night of the shooting.  I've mentioned here before that my wife and I were staying with my parents in the Orlando area at the time of the Trayvon Martin shooting--and while we didn't see the local news every night--I can't recall ANY coverage of the incident for the nine days we were down there.

It wasn't until Black leaders and community members started holding press conferences and protests over the non-arrest of Zimmerman--followed by the social media "hoody" campaign--that the story gained any traction.  The non-arrest of George Zimmerman provided the perfect storyline for the 24-hour news channels.  For MSNBC and CNN, there was the implication of racism--not only for the shooter, but for the Sanford Police and the Broward County District Attorney as well, who of course was "refusing to prosecute a white man who shot an unarmed Black teenager!"  Meanwhile, Fox News had the gun rights angle of "a man fed up with crime in his neighborhood, charged with murder for merely protecting himself from a pot-smoking thug!"

Would there have been any national coverage at all if George Zimmerman had been taken to jail on the night of the shooting--and then charged in the usual day or two with second degree homicide or manslaughter?  You would have had no press conferences, no protests, no Twitter pictures of celebrities wearing hoodies and ballcaps.  You would have just had two or three Orlando TV stations at the hearings--and maybe an occasional Fox News story about the gun rights thing.

Instead, we have been subjected to the latest "litmus test on race relations in America".  And analysis of the testimony has been restricted to this very narrow--and legally insignificant factor.  George Zimmerman isn't being tried for racism--yet the nightly discussions of the trial have focused on "Why hasn't the prosecution made race more of a factor in the case?" and "Was the State's star witness 'too black' for the all-white jury?" and "Did Trayvon Martin's comments about the 'creepy cracker following him' do irreparable harm to the prosecution's case?"

The George Zimmerman trial is about one thing: what constitutes self-defense under Florida's "Stand Your Ground Law"?  The "legal experts" covering this case should be parsing that statute trying to explain to us if those who use lethal force are still allowed to do so after basically goading their victims into a confrontation--not breaking down the poor grammar used by "star witnesses".  And that might be the conversation we would be having today, if the incident hadn't been allowed to simmer for weeks and to turn into something that it really isn't.

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