In Search of … Justice

Approximately 3.5 seconds after the Zimmerman verdict was announced, everyone started weighing in. Monday morning quarterbacking. Yacking in general. Certainly no surprise: this was expected. Even at 10 o’clock at night, the media took a quick double shot of 5 Hour Energy and went about analyzing the outcome and the proceedings leading up to it in a manner that would please their particular target audiences. There was even a room set up specifically for any or all of the jurors to speak with the press, if they so chose. Unfortunately for the ratings-seeking media, no one wished to speak. They wished to maintain their privacy. The Court had ruled their identities would remain guarded. That ring of the circus remained dark, but not for long.

Less than 48 hours later, Juror B37 pops up for an exclusive interview on a popular news show. Forty-eight hours. After spending 2 weeks in sequestration, one would think the jurors would want to spend some time with their families. Get a little rest. De-escalate. Do a little laundry. But not Ms. B37. Not only did she arrange to appear on the news show, she engaged a literary agent.  Talk about not letting any grass grow under your feet. Ultimately, Ms. B37 rethought her position and decided against writing a book, and/or the literary agent  withdrew the offer.

Ms. B37, while eager to tell her story, is still not ready to reveal her identity. Safety concerns. And so she sat in shadow, and wove a most fascinating tale of what happened behind the scenes of what may well  be the trial of this decade. During her 15 minutes of fame, Ms. B37 gave us a lot to think about.

Ms. B37 is married to an attorney. Anyone who has spent any time around trial attorneys or even watched CourtTV knows the only person an attorney wants on a jury less than an attorney is the family member of an attorney. They usually know just enough to disrupt the process, and perhaps not in your favor. As curious as the highly homogeneous jury was, this was even more puzzling.  I would love to hear how both sides came to approve her being seated.

Ms. B37 seemed a bit confused. While she said, during jury selection, that she was unfamiliar with the case, during the interview she pointed out that Martin was allegedly looking in windows. This was never introduced in court, nor do I recall Zimmerman ever mentioning this in any of the 6 statements he gave. On the tape of his call to the non-emergency dispatch, he only said Martin was “Walking around, looking about.”  Did she perhaps do a little research after finding out the case for which she was being considered? Or did she have more prior knowledge than she originally indicated?

During deliberations, the jury sent out a question asking for clarification on manslaughter. The Court sent back a response, crafted jointly by the prosecution and defense that said, basically, “If you have a specific question, ask it. Otherwise, carry on.” I heard the judge read the jury instructions. At warp speed. There was not much there in the way of an explanation of manslaughter, and with an amateur attorney in the deliberation room, I can see why there may have been confusion. Could not Judge Nelson have brought them back out and re-read that section of the instructions that addressed manslaughter to them again, more slowly?

Ms. B37 talked about the defense’s animation as though it were evidence, which is was not. While it was made clear during a session outside of the jury’s presence that it could be presented, but not used as evidence, it is not unreasonable for jurors not thoroughly familiar with the legal process (or privy to that discussion) to be unable to make that distinction. 

Juror B37 also provided some insight into the thought processes behind the verdict. While she stated that Zimmerman should never have gotten out of his vehicle, she attributed his dismounting to “egging on” by the dispatcher, while overlooking that the dispatcher said, after Zimmerman admitted that he was following Martin,  “We don’t need for you to do that.”  She went on to say that “Zimmerman went too far.” Finally, when asked if she felt sorry for Martin, she could only bring herself to say “I feel sorry for both of them.” Somehow, she just couldn’t quite get to seeing the dead guy (child!) as a little more unfortunate. Even when she attempted to sound tearful and forlorn, she forgot that she probably needed to wipe at her eyes to make it more believable.

What Ms. B37  exposed about our justice system is even more telling , damning, and tragic. Ms. B37 said some of the jurors really wanted to convict Zimmerman of something, but they just couldn’t find anything. While I would submit to you that they probably could have found something had they been predisposed to looking, I have to admit that they received no help from the Great State of Florida. Even before we came to the Evelyn Woods’ Speed-reading of the  jury instructions, we had to endure two weeks of the most flaccid prosecution known to modern jurisprudence. Just as in the Casey Anthony trial, it appeared that the prosecution team did not get the memo that it’s the State’s responsibility to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, and the defense’s role to introduce reasonable doubt. While the defense offered a definitive description of the events of that rainy February night, the State only provided a vague series of If-Then-Elses.

Our judicial system is not perfect. Countless studies have proven that it is skewed to the detriment of minorities and the poor. But the driving force behind our system is that the accused is innocent until proven guilty. In order for the system to work, there must be both a competent prosecution and an aggressive defense, neither of which we saw in this case. The process should be overseen by a strong and competent judge, who knows the law and applies it evenly. Throughout the trial, Judge Nelson seemed much more concerned with avoiding a future appeal than in presiding over a functional process. As a result, we have ended up with yet another instance of a child’s life being taken without anyone being held accountable.

Regardless of what side you come down on in this particular case, I believe we can all agree that (1) no parent should ever have to bury their child and (2) any parent who does deserves to have the case against the responsible party be adjudicated properly. Justice may be blind, but it appears that – in Florida – she is deaf, dumb, sick, lame and lazy,  too.


Liberty and Justice for All

To the Parents of Trayvon Martin:

I am so sorry.  So very sorry.

As a mother, I am tempted to say something insensitive like I feel your pain.  Perhaps even I can imagine how you must feel.  But, both are lies.  I can not feel your pain, nor can I even begin to fathom how badly this must hurt.  My brain can not wrap around the excruciating, soul-wrenching pain you must be in.  So, I am left with…I’m sorry.

I, like millions of others, am sorry that you will never again hug or kiss your boy.  We are saddened that his life ended in such a senseless, tragic, and  preventable way.  It breaks our hearts that it took nothing more than traversing the street – in a hooded shirt – for Trayvon to become a “suspicious” person.  To be thought of as “up to no good”.  To be stalked, and murdered.

Those millions and I are further sorry that our justice system failed you. We were shocked that your son had barely been retrieved from the ground before his killer was home.  Home.  We were upset that it took national flash mobs to ensure an investigation.   We were angry that his character was attacked and his named maligned.  We were livid at the notion that somehow Trayvon has less of a right to be on that street than his attacker.  We were determined to stand with you, and all who loved your son, while the wheels of justice turned.

We were stunned and outraged that, after all was said and done, George Zimmerman was convicted of nothing.

While we may not know how you feel, we did feel.  We do feel.

We feel that it is shameful, in America, that the way your son was dressed garnered suspicion and began this entire train wreck of events.   We know that the pervasive racism in this country continues to give credence to ridiculous stereotypes like the one your son came face to face with.  And that is wrong.

We feel that it is completely and totally unacceptable that our children are being stalked and killed due to someone else’s irrational fears.  We know that, in this country, the acts of rogue vigilantes should be discouraged.

We feel that if Stand Your Ground is a right of some, it is a right for all – Trayvon included.  He had just as much right to be where he was that night as his shooter did.

We try to imagine the confusion and fear your son must have felt that night.  We teach our children wonderful lessons about America.  We continually remind them that they can be anything they so desire, if they try hard enough.  We recount the horror stories of the past in order for them to appreciate the freedom and equality they enjoy now.  We tell them that their clothes, their hair styles, their shoes don’t matter.  Because what matters is on the inside.

I am certain Trayvon learned differently that night.  I am sure he didn’t have the foggiest idea why he was being pursued.  How could he?  His pursuer only knew he “looked off”.  He learned what hundreds of thousands of young, black males already know.  He learned that, for some, fitting a profile is deadly.  He learned that stereotypes can get you killed.  He learned that, sometimes, adults are wrong.  Sometimes, you don’t have to look for trouble, because trouble looks for you.

And that is the hardest thing to admit.  We were wrong.  We failed him.

Regardless of how hard we wish it, we will never be able to change the horrible events of that sad night.  But there are things that we can do.  We can’t give you back the child of your heart.  But we can work so that his dying was not in vain.  We can’t give you justice for his death.  But we can fight to change laws, removing them if necessary.  We can’t get rid of every irrational person.  But we can fight for a society that does not condone irrational actions.  We can’t heal you.  But we can stand with you.

We can stand with you in our communities and states.  We can stand with you in our jails and courthouses.  We can stand with you in the voting booths.

Our sympathy is a start, but we can do more.  We will do more.

Because liberty and justice for all is more than a slogan.

Our hearts, heavy and broken, are with you.