Skip to main content

Zimmerman trial: It's about race

By Roxanne Jones, Special to CNN
updated 6:40 AM EDT, Wed July 10, 2013
George Zimmerman is congratulated by members of his defense team, Don West and Lorna Truett, after the not guilty verdict is read on Saturday, July 13, in Sanford, Florida. A jury of six women found him not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/13/justice/gallery/zimmerman-trial-reaction/index.html' target='_blank'>View photos of the public reaction to the verdict.</a> George Zimmerman is congratulated by members of his defense team, Don West and Lorna Truett, after the not guilty verdict is read on Saturday, July 13, in Sanford, Florida. A jury of six women found him not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. View photos of the public reaction to the verdict.
HIDE CAPTION
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Roxanne Jones: We have all been duped in the Trayvon Martin case
  • Jones: This case was never "open and shut" as the Martin family attorney said earlier
  • She says race still matters deeply in our courtrooms, just as it does in our nation
  • Jones: In Zimmerman trial, the prosecution appears to be lying low and taking punches

Editor's note: Roxanne Jones is a founding editor of ESPN The Magazine and former vice president at ESPN. She is the CEO of The Push Marketing Group. Jones is an award-winning editor, reporter, writer and producer who has also worked at the New York Daily News and The Philadelphia Inquirer across news and sports. She is co-author of "Say It Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete" (Random House).

(CNN) -- We have all been duped in the Trayvon Martin case. Bamboozled.

This case was never "open and shut" as Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump insisted in a news conference at the start of the trial. I doubted it was that easy from Day One.

Said Crump then: "The jury will have to hear all of the evidence. We think this is a simple case. No. 1: Zimmerman was a grown man with a gun. No. 2: Trayvon was a child with no blood on his hands. Literally."

Roxanne Jones
Roxanne Jones

When I heard Crump's words, I was immediately suspicious. Could it really be that simple? Or was the attorney just trying to placate a grieving family and spin an angle for the media? Did Crump really believe that "Justice for All" had finally arrived in our nation? And that the damning stereotypes associated with race and class would have no room in a Florida courtroom where George Zimmerman is being charged with second-degree murder in the death of Martin?

Get the latest updates at HLNTV.com's live blog

I'm no cynic but I am a realist. A realist who's covered enough criminal trials to know for certain that the trial that plays out in the public over pep rally vigils and celebrity protests is never the trial that unfolds in the courtroom. I understand that race still matters deeply in our courtrooms, just as it does in our nation. And there's no getting away from that fact.

As the trial of Zimmerman continues, nothing is as simple as it seems.

"This case is a perfect storm," says Xavier Donaldson, a defense attorney and former prosecutor in New York. "You have to look at the nature of the case and the racial, political and social economics of the defendant and accused. You have a young black kid, walking with a sweatshirt on and some guy, who wants to be a cop, assumes he's a criminal and shoots him dead." Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder.

Trayvon Martin Shooting: Fast Facts

Preparing for Zimmerman verdict
Lesser charge for Zimmerman?
Who's screaming on the 911 call?
Jackson: Father 'helped the prosecution'

"Zimmerman had an image in his community as a good guy, who wanted to protect people. So he -- and not Martin, the victim -- has gotten the benefit of presumption of innocence. Normally, in murder cases that doesn't happen. People generally believe that if you've been arrested and charged that you must have done something wrong, but those lines are blurred here," says Donaldson.

It seems Zimmerman, in part because he belonged to his neighborhood watch group, has been granted the status of a police officer. He even has police officers testifying in his favor that Trayvon's father, Tracy Martin, told them that the voice screaming for help on the 911 call was "not his son" when he heard the tape for the first time. The father strongly denies he said those words to the police.

Normally, the prosecutor in a high-profile murder case puts forth evidence to prove the defendant's guilt and aggressively goes after any notion that suggests that the victim is at fault. The prosecution's goal is to do anything it can to convince a jury that the killer is a menace that needs to be taken off the street. That's how the battle is won in the courtroom.

But in the trial of Zimmerman, the prosecution -- Richard Mantei -- appears to be lying low and taking too many punches. Could it be that Mantei himself buys into the theory that Zimmerman is some misunderstood do-gooder in the community? It's just puzzling.

Words matter, as we have seen over the course of the trial. So when Mantei told the court before resting his case: "There are two people involved here. One of them is dead, and one of them is a liar," I was shocked.

This is a murder case. One person is dead, and the other person is a murderer. Those words more accurately describe the facts presented in the case. There is no question that Zimmerman killed Martin, so there's no reason to tiptoe around the words.

And that's exactly what is so troubling for myself and many others, especially in the black community. It has been all too easy an idea for people to entertain that Martin did something to cause his own murder. History tells us that in our nation's courtrooms and even outside of those walls, my son, your son, our sons still don't have the presumption of innocence, even when they are the victims of a murder.

"I would have told Martin's parents, 'prepare for hell,' " says Donaldson. "It will not be easy. They will present evidence that will make your son look like the worst criminal. The defenses' goal is to turn your son into the criminal here and make him guilty of the crime."

No one knows yet how this trial will end. Donaldson feels it's too close to call until rebuttals are made and the case wraps up. "It could go either way," Donaldson says.

But I do know one thing: We should not have to wear a Trayvon T-shirt to an awards show or attend a pep rally to remind America that when an unarmed child is confronted and gunned down in the street by a grown man who's trained to kill, that's murder. End of story.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roxanne Jones.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
updated 3:38 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 04: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walks the sidelines prior to the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on September 4, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Martha Pease says the NFL commissioner shouldn't be judge and jury on player wrongdoing.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
It's time for a much needed public reckoning over U.S. use of torture, argues Donald P. Gregg.
updated 8:25 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Peter Bergen says UK officials know the identity of the man who killed U.S. journalists and a British aid worker.
updated 7:28 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Joe Torre and Esta Soler say much has been achieved since a landmark anti-violence law was passed.
updated 4:55 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
updated 8:41 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Jane Stoever: Society must grapple with a culture in which 1 in 3 teen girls and women suffer partner violence.
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
updated 6:11 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Bill Clinton's speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president in 1992 went through 22 drafts. But he always insisted on including a call to service.
updated 6:18 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Joe Amon asks: What turns a few cases of disease into thousands?
updated 1:21 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
updated 6:31 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Analysts weigh in on the president's plans for addressing the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
updated 9:27 AM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT