- Faith & Family
George Zimmerman was arrested last Wednesday and charged with second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, a Black unarmed youth. The arrest came after numerous local and nationwide protests calling for justice. It was almost seven weeks before Zimmerman, who has always admitted to the shooting but says it was in self-defense, was charged. But what can we expect now that special prosecutor Angela Corey has filed charges? Two of Miami’s leading Black attorneys, H.T. Smith and Larry Handfield, spoke with The Miami Times and shared their expert opinions.
“Across America Blacks and whites, conservatives and progressives, were all outraged as well they should, with the amount of time it took before Zimmerman was arrested and charged,” Smith said. “Even when the police shoot someone, the first thing officials do is take away their gun. Zimmerman was not only not arrested but he was allowed to go home with his gun. Whether he shot in self-defense or based on the Stand Your Ground law, this should have long been litigated in a court of law.”
“But for successful grassroots motivation bringing pressure and awareness to an injustice, you can rest assured there never would have been an arrest,” Handfield remarked. “It is an embarrassment and an indictment of the criminal justice system that took so long before an arrest was made. The system did the right thing because it was forced to.”
A clear example of racial profiling
Both attorneys say Zimmerman’s remarks on the 911 tape indicate that he went after Martin and believe that it was a case of racial profiling. Handfield adds that the case was bungled from the beginning.
“Unfortunately, people respond based on their perceptions and when these are based on color or other biases and prejudices, it causes them to act in certain ways,” Handfield said. “A homicide squad should have been called the night of the shooting. But since that was not the case, a lot of forensic evidence and opportunities to interview witnesses right after the incident were lost. The Sanford police clearly decided to believe the shooter’s version of what happened. It’s doubtful they ever considered whether Trayvon could have been an innocent victim.”
Are all Black youth that wear hoodies criminals in uniform? Smith says many seem to think just that.
“Zimmerman could not articulate one fact that led him to believe that Trayvon Martin looked suspicious,” Smith said. “He didn’t say someone was peeping into windows or was carrying tools commonly associated with a criminal — unless an iced tea and a bag of Skittles qualify. The only thing he saw was a young Black man in a hoodie. He ignored the dispatcher’s request for him not to follow Trayvon. When you pursue someone and have a loaded gun in your possession, chances are you intend to use it. He sure did.”
Innocent or guilty, there will be no real winner
Smith, Miami-Dade County’s first Black assistant public defender, first president of the Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. Bar Association and an attorney for over 34 years, says justice should be blind and it should be solemn. Therefore, “we have absolutely no reason to celebrate.”
“Even if Zimmerman is convicted, Trayvon will still be dead and his family will still have holes in their hearts. The best thing we can do is keep the media spotlight on this case so that nothing is swept under the rug. There are still some Sanford police who believe Zimmerman was within his rights and should have never been arrested. Some of them are witnesses. They must be encouraged, if not forced, to tell the whole truth.”
Handfield, a former federal prosecutor and nationally-recognized trial attorney, says he is encouraged by the number of young adults who have participated in protests across the country.
“As sad as it was for this young man to lose his life, I think youth are seeing that they can bring about change for good,” he said. “In all of our history and throughout the civil rights movement, the actions and sacrifices of youth have been pivotal to success. The wheel that makes the most noise always gets the most attention.”
Smith adds that he hopes this tragedy will lead to substantive conversations between Blacks and whites.
“We have a Black president today and we have made great strides in America but we still cannot claim to be a perfect union,” Smith said. “Blacks and whites experience life very differently and for the most part we only know about the other through stereotype — not experience.”
Stand Your Ground: “A criminal relief act”
Smith notes that the law that Zimmerman hopes to use for his defense is “one of the best laws ever passed for criminals.”
“We already have laws that allow us to defend ourselves in our homes or in our cars, but when you walk out into the streets and are armed, is that because you are afraid for your life or because you plan to use that gun?” he asked. “Drug dealers, pimps, robbers and wanna-be cops like Zimmerman carry guns in the streets. They like to pretend that they’re characters in a movie. So, the law as it now stands is a good law but for bad people.”
Handfield takes a different perspective.
“No matter what your color, any law, if you misapply it, can have unjust results,” he said. My problem is not so much with the law but how it was used and misapplied based on biases and prejudice.”
By D. Kevin McNeir