George Zimmerman is the only living person in the world who knows all the circumstances surrounding his killing of Trayvon Martin. The only other person who knew, Trayvon, is dead.
The rest of us string together bits and pieces about the case and draw conclusions based largely on our world view. One side sees Zimmerman as a murderer acting on racial motivations. The other side believes Zimmerman was properly defending himself against an assault by Trayvon.
Only one thing is certain: Zimmerman will not be convicted by a jury of his peers on the charge of second-degree murder.
The cleverest defense lawyers in the world – Clarence Darrow, William Kunstler, and Johnnie Cochran – are all deceased. But it won’t take the best and the brightest to get Zimmerman acquitted. Even an asleep-at-the-wheel, incompetent public defender could achieve that. It just takes one juror unwilling to convict, even if 11 vote guilty based on the evidence.
The irrefutable facts are few: Trayvon was walking back to his father’s home in a gated community at 7:30 p.m., carrying candy and a soft drink. Trayvon was unarmed; Zimmerman had a gun. He called 911, saying Trayvon looked suspicious. He described Trayvon’s appearance as black. The emergency dispatcher instructed Zimmerman not to pursue Trayvon, but Zimmerman pursued anyway. Trayvon was talking to his girlfriend on a cellphone. The girlfriend said Trayvon told her a man was following him; she heard screams she believed to be Trayvon’s voice. A struggle ensued. An unidentified eyewitness saw a scuffle but was unable to identify the aggressor. Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon. He was questioned by police the same night but was not charged.
Even before prosecutors charged George Zimmerman, his father, Robert, already poured strychnine in the potential jury pool by accusing President Barack Obama and civil rights organizations of spewing hatred: “I never foresaw so much hate coming from the president, the congressional Black Caucus, the NAACP,” the elder Zimmerman told a local Fox affiliate in Florida.
What were Obama’s hateful remarks? “If I had a son he’d look like Trayvon.” What’s hateful about that?
Obama offered personal and national condolences to Trayvon’s family at the same time Fox was finding ways to assassinate Trayvon’s memory. The president urged law enforcement to investigate the killing but did not draw any conclusions or say anything to further inflame the already overheated rhetoric. While others debate racial anxieties, the wisdom of “stand your ground laws” and gun control, Obama properly became the mourner in chief, the same way he did after the Tucson tragedy last year, the way Reagan did after the Challenger disaster, the way Clinton did after the Oklahoma City bombing, and Bush did after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Robert Zimmerman, a retired judge, knows what sways juries. He used that knowledge to plant the Obama-hating seed in every potential juror. Fox did not ask him tough questions because Zimmerman cleverly played straight into Fox’s anti-Obama crusade. You only need one out of 12 jurors to thwart a conviction.
In excusing jurors, prosecutors will try to weed out overt racists and others deemed hostile to their case. But they won’t be able to thin every Obama hater from the herd.
Fox host Sean Hannity has inserted himself – and the Fox propaganda machine – into the story. The same day prosecutors charged George Zimmerman, Hannity’s show was riddled with comments to make viewers doubt the shooter’s guilt. Hannity presented as fact Zimmerman’s assertions (though family members) that Trayvon broke Zimmerman’s nose and smashed his head and that Trayvon had confronted Zimmerman as he was backing off from a possible confrontation with the youth.
Hannity’s guest Michelle Malkin said the Obama administration was exploiting the shooting for political gains and that Attorney General Eric Holder has “perverted the rule of law.” These remarks serve double duty in the propaganda war, sowing seeds of doubt about Zimmerman’s guilt in the minds of potential jurors at the same time making Obama look bad. Another Hannity guest (a tea party “leader”) said Obama’s strategy is “getting people to hate each other.”
Is it any surprise that Robert Zimmerman appeared on Fox to smear Obama or that George Zimmerman himself called only Hannity to talk? Hannity refuses to disclose the contents of their conversation.
On the same day Zimmerman was charged, Hannity asked his viewers whether Zimmerman should have been charged with second-degree murder: 22% said yes, 68% said no, and 11% were undecided. Hannity’s right-wing audience is obviously way out of step with most Americans. A recent Gallup poll found 36% believe Zimmerman is guilty of a crime, 7% believe he is not guilty and 52% are undecided. Among blacks, 72% think Zimmerman is guilty, while 33% of whites believe he is guilty.
How many members of the potential jury pool have heard Robert Zimmerman? How many have watched Hannity’s coverage? That is significant because fewer than one-quarter of Hannity’s viewers would be willing to consider convicting Zimmerman, and it’s hard to keep all of them out of the jury pool.
John Wright is the author of “The Obama Haters: Behind the Right-Wing Campaign of Lies, Innuendo & Racism” and co-author of “Life Without Oil: Why We Must Shift to a New Energy Future.”