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Thread: Lisa Read Bloom

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    Default Lisa Read Bloom

    Lisa Bloom: ESE (ESFj) or EIE-Fe?

    I actually had tears in my eyes while reading some of this book. It’s kind of like Dostoevsky, but with 100% real life stories. Yet as a writer and journalist, Dostoevsky also researched and wrote about real-life injustices and terrible things people did to each other and crimes and court cases and the like. Reading Dostoevsky kind of reminds me that I have to become a better and kinder human being while also just forgetting about people who will never really like me or forgive me or accept me (for who I am and/or want to be).



    - from SUSPICION NATION: The INSIDE STORY of the TRAYVON MARTIN INJUSTICE and WHY WE CONTINUE to REPEAT it by Lisa Bloom; pp. 49-72 (The State Misses Its Best Evidence): The incident that culminated in Trayvon’s death on the night of February 26, 2012, divides into two phases. In Phase 1, Trayvon Martin walks back to the home of his father’s fiancée, talking on his cell phone with his friend Rachel Jeantel, who is in Miami, 250 miles away. He is carrying candy for Chad Joseph and an Arizona watermelon drink for himself (often mistakenly referred to as an iced tea because the police logged it incorrectly in their crime scene records).

    At the same time, a few minutes after 7 PM, Zimmerman is driving to Target in his SUV, looks out the window, and sees Trayvon. Immediately, he calls the police, identifying Trayvon as “a real suspicious guy,” ostensibly because Trayvon is walking slowly in the rain. That four-minute phone call records Zimmerman watching, following, and then apparently moving quickly on foot, breathing heavily, to catch Trayvon. “I don’t know what his deal is,” Zimmerman says. “Are you following him?” the police dispatcher asks Zimmerman. He admits he is. “We don’t need you to do that,” he’s told. He continues following Trayvon anyway.

    During Phase 1, the teenager and the twenty-eight-year-old man have not yet met. As each is talking on the phone during this time period, though, we do have a fairly good sense of their mindsets. Zimmerman believes Trayvon is a criminal (“there have been a lot of burglaries in the area . . . these assholes, they always get away”), and Trayvon, after observing Zimmerman following him, is fearful of Zimmerman, whom he calls, among other things, “creepy.” Trayvon is concerned about the older man who is staring at him, following him, watching him. (On their phone call, the two teens warily discuss what might be happening. Jeantel tells Trayvon that she is afraid that the guy might be a rapist, and that he should run. At first Trayvon doesn’t believe that is necessary, as he is almost home, and he thinks he’s lost Zimmerman. When Zimmerman reappears, both sides agree, Trayvon does run.)

    Though Zimmerman’s behavior in Phase 1 is deeply disturbing . . . and relevant to the issue of intent, it is not illegal. It was not illegal for him to look out his car window and jump to insulting conclusions about a stranger. It was not illegal for him to say Trayvon was suspicious when he was just minding his own business because that was Zimmerman’s opinion. As long as he wasn’t lying to police, merely expressing his opinion to them was not illegal. It was not even illegal for Zimmerman to continue following Trayvon after the police dispatcher said, “We don’t need you to do that,” since that was merely a suggestion, which he was free to ignore. Some have suggested that Zimmerman “stalked” Trayvon. In the legal sense of that word, Zimmerman’s behavior—spending a few minutes watching, then following, Trayvon—does not rise to the level of stalking.

    Even racial profiling—making unfair assumptions about another in part on account of race—by a private citizen is not illegal in and of itself. If Trayvon had made it home that night, and only Phase 1 had transpired, no crime would have been committed.

    From the standpoint of the criminal trial, Phase 2, when the two met, interacted, and became physical, was the core of the case. According to one of Zimmerman’s versions of the evening, Trayvon “jumped out of the bushes” and sucker punched him in the face. From the force of the blow, Zimmerman then fell down on his back onto the grass, he says, and Trayvon mounted him, Trayvon’s knees to Zimmerman’s armpits, and then pounded Zimmerman’s head onto the concrete. Criticially—this is the most important part of his self-defense story—Zimmerman claimed that as he was being assaulted in this position, Trayvon saw Zimmerman’s gun and reached for it, saying, “You’re gonna die tonight, motherfucker.” Zimmerman says at that life-or-death moment, he drew his gun first and fired it once at Trayvon’s heart, to save his own life.

    An important legal decision flowed from the defense’s decision to stick with this story. Because Zimmerman claimed he was pinned down, the defense opted not to argue a “Stand Your Ground” defense. Stand Your Ground was a relatively recent Florida law that eliminated the old requirement that a combatant retreat from violence if an escape is possible. Since Zimmerman maintained that Trayvon was restraining him, and retreat was therefore impossible, the defense acknowledged early on that Stand Your Ground was inapplicable to the case. Before trial, the defense explicitly waived Zimmerman’s right to a pretrial Stand Your Ground hearing which, had the defense prevailed there, could have exonerated him entirely without the need for a full-blown trial. They gave up this opportunity for an early win because they knew they didn’t have the facts to support a Stand Your Ground defense. (Yet Stand Your Ground language seeped into the jury instructions and into at least one juror’s decision to acquit . . .)

    We don’t have Trayvon’s account of what happened in Phase 2. His call with Jeantel dropped just as the first words were spoken between Zimmerman and Trayvon (according to Jeantel, Trayvon said, “Why are you following me?” and Zimmerman said, “What are you doing around here?”) Minutes later, the first police officer arrived, and Trayvon was already dead.


    No one witnessed the moment of the shooting. Some neighbors saw or heard some portions of the altercation. One saw two men on their feet, moving across the grass (inconsistent with Zimmerman’s story.) One saw Trayvon on top, Zimmerman on the bottom (consistent with Zimmerman’s story). No one could confirm Zimmerman’s critically important details: (i) that Trayvon was banging Zimmerman’s head on the concrete in the final moments before Zimmerman killed him; (ii) that Trayvon saw and reached for the gun; and (iii) that at that moment, Zimmerman pulled the gun and fired.

    In the courtroom, Phase 2 was key, both from the legal and commonsense angles. It was obvious from the outset that if the jury believed that Zimmerman was down on his back, pinned, his head getting painfully banged on the concrete, his gun visible to Trayvon, and Trayvon reached for the weapon, menacing him, that that situation would be so terrifying that of course he would take out his weapon and shoot to defend himself. Wouldn’t any of us do that? We wouldn’t be required to wait another second. Kill or be killed. If Zimmerman’s story about those final few seconds was true, the case was over, and he would walk. And he should.

    Thus, if they believed in their case, it was absolutely essential that the prosecution focus on and disprove these three allegations. Instead, remarkably, the prosecution essentially conceded Zimmerman’s version of what happened, so that by the end of the trial, the jury saw both sides reenacting the defense scenario.

    Shrewdly driving home to the jury the life-or-death nature of the altercation according to Zimmerman, the defense reenacted the scene in the courtroom, with lanky defense attorney Mark O’Mara (playing the role of Trayvon) straddling a life-sized mannequin (representing Zimmerman) in a vivid, live demonstration. O’Mara, an effective trial showman, grabbed the mannequin’s torso and pounded its head on the floor, BAM BAM BAM, as the jury looked on, transfixed. By the end of the trial, the prosecution had accepted this picture and joined the defense in straddling the mannequin, arguing mainly about the details, reinforcing the terrifying image of a man down, pinned, beaten nearly to death before he managed to unholster his gun and fire it to save his life.

    We know that the jury believed that Trayvon had Zimmerman down, was assaulting him and reaching for his gun, and because they understood the law allowed him to “meet force with force,” they acquitted Zimmerman. This visual demonstration was important to them in reaching that understanding.

    Unfortunately, that conclusion was based on a misapprehension of both the law and the evidence, both of which were poorly presented to them in the courtroom. Because the prosecution did not walk the jury through the three simple, essential elements of the law of self-defense, and because the state failed to give the jury a realistic reenactment that incorporated all the known evidence, they were left with the oversimplified, erroneous impression that Zimmerman simply met force with force once he was down, which was permitted.

    Saving one’s own life is a natural, normal human instinct, and the law, as it should, permits us all to do that, even if it requires taking the life of another. But only when absolutely necessary, under real, honest-to-God life-or-death circumstances. Because under our laws, human life is paramount. In a classic law school example, one may not set up a spring-loaded device to kill a burglar entering one’s empty home. Why not? Because human life has a higher value than property. Human life has a higher value than anything else (or at least, it used to). Thus it is not permissible in an ordinary fistfight, say, to take out a gun and kill the other guy. Two men wrestling on the ground should not result in one of them losing his life. We are not barbarians.

    Legally, in fact, this case was relatively simple. There was no doubt whatsoever that Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon, and that he did so intentionally. He admitted he did that—he took out the gun on purpose, pointed it at Trayvon, and pulled the trigger, intending to shoot him. “I took my gun, aimed it at him, and fired,” Zimmerman told police. There was no accident. Not a case of, “I took the gun out just to scare him and—oops—it went off!” He didn’t unholster the gun to clean it. He didn’t intend to shoot someone else. No, this was always an intentional homicide. (If he killed with hatred, malice, or ill will, then the crime is second-degree murder, the top charge. Was it an intentional killing without those factors? Then the crime is manslaughter.)

    The only real question for the jury in the trial was whether Zimmerman killed in self-defense, as he claimed immediately that night and throughout the trial. If he truly shot Trayvon in self-defense, he must be found not guilty. Because an intentional killing is perfectly legal if all the elements of self-defense are met.

    When may a person kill in self-defense, then?

    Florida law is brief and clear on this point. The entire relevant portion of the law as applied to this case is:


    [A] person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if:

    (1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself.



    Three important concepts jump out of this one sentence. Zimmerman’s shooting of Trayvon was in self-defense if he (i) reasonably believed he had to shoot to prevent (ii) imminent (iii) death or great bodily harm. All three of these factors had to be present. If the prosecution disproved one or more of them, Zimmerman did not act in self-defense. Then we are back to the fact that he intentionally shot Trayvon, and the only options would be manslaughter (intentional killing) or murder (intentional killing with hatred, ill will, or spite).

    First, a quick look at reasonableness—a common phrase that sweeps through so much of American law. We are almost always required to behave rationally, sensibly, fairly. In our civil and criminal courts, the law does not reward extremists, whack jobs, people who fly off the handle. In sexual harassment cases, for example, juries deciding whether workplace misconduct is bad enough to constitute a hostile environment are instructed to evaluate the facts from the objective standpoint of a “reasonable person.” (This used to be the “reasonable man” test, which, especially in sexual harassment law, was a mess. We’ve evolved.) Civil rights law does not serve “as a vehicle for vindicating the petty slights suffered by the hypersensitive.” On the criminal side, a shooter’s fear of his victim must be reasonable. We will not reward someone, smoking gun in hand, who says, “I feared him because he looked at me sideways. Maybe you wouldn’t shoot for that reason, but that just bugs me. It freaks me out.” Nope, not reasonable. (Law students! When in doubt on your law school exams, apply a reasonableness test. Odds are high you’ll be at least partially right.)

    Therefore, Zimmerman could not shoot even if he really and truly feared death if his fear was unreasonable—he misread the situation, he panicked, he lost it. Thus the jury was required to review all the evidence to determine whether Zimmerman’s assessment of the situation was levelheaded or exaggerated.

    Second, imminence. He could shoot if he feared death, but only if that threat was upon him at that very moment. If the concern was that he could be killed some time in the future—in five or ten minutes, say—the element of imminence would not be met. Similarly, if he feared death based on events of minutes earlier, the threat from which had now dissipated, that would not be imminent danger.

    Third, death or great bodily harm. We may kill in self-defense only to save our own lives, or to save ourselves from major, horrible, crippling injury. Zimmerman could not shoot if he feared only bruises, scrapes, or humiliation. Minor injuries are part of the rough and tumble of life we are all expected to endure stoically—reasonably—and are insufficient to justify taking the life of another.

    All these restrictions on self-defense should have been important at the trial, but one barely heard a word about them from the prosecution team, who left the jury with the false impression that if Zimmerman was getting assaulted, he could shoot to kill, or “meet force with force,” as the jury incorrectly understood it.

    With these three elements firmly in mind, let’s examine the evidence. In this and every murder case, we are short one witness. We know that we are only hearing the killer’s side of the story, and the deceased cannot speak, so we must be vigilant in analyzing the shooter’s story. Since most people know that killing in self-defense is not a crime—and Zimmerman, for sure, knew this because his criminal justice professor testified at trial that he’d been taught the law of self-defense and had even received an A in the class—the killer’s account of what happened must be approached skeptically, lined up with any and all available evidence and the self-defense statute, to ascertain whether it holds together or whether the shooter is lying to avoid life in prison. Not all shooters are liars, but they all have a powerful motive to lie: to avoid incarceration.

    Thus all aspects of Zimmerman’s story, like that of anyone who has killed another human being, should have been combed over again and again by law enforcement and the state’s attorneys. His version should not have been taken with a grain of salt. It should have been taken with the entire Pacific Ocean’s supply of salt.


    Consider Zimmerman’s holster. Admitted into evidence, we know to a certainty that it was a matte (i.e. not shiny) black “inside-waistband holster.” Zimmerman’s best friend, Mark Osterman, who persuaded Zimmerman to purchase and carry a hidden weapon, confirmed in his trial testimony that the entire purpose of this type of holster is concealment.* Zimmerman’s choice of gun, a KelTec 9mm PF-9 semiautomatic handgun, is a popular choice for concealed carry. And Zimmerman had obtained a concealed carry permit. So there is little doubt that Zimmerman’s gun and holster were hidden from view, as intended by the manufacturers.


    But wait—if the gun was concealed, how could Trayvon have seen it? Because, remember, the most critical moment in Zimmerman’s narrative was deep into Phase 2, when Trayvon supposedly saw the gun and reached for it, allegedly saying, “You’re gonna die tonight, motherfucker.” If he didn’t see the gun, he didn’t take the actions that flowed from it—the alleged reaching, the alleged threat to kill.


    * George Zimmerman, www.youtube.com/watch?v=7oTaxG51RYc


    There’s no question that Zimmerman wore his gun hidden inside his pants. The first police officer on the scene, Tim Smith, noted in his police report that “Located on the inside of Zimmerman’s waistband, I removed a black KelTec 9mm PF-9 semiauto handgun and holster.” (My emphasis.)


    . . . . The day after the shooting, police walked with Zimmerman through the Retreat at Twin Lakes with a videographer recording Zimmerman’s play-by-play as to what had happened the night before. On that video, Zimmerman demonstrates that the gun was holstered behind him, over his buttocks . . . Thus all but the grip (handle) of the gun would have been covered by the seat of his pants. That grip would have extended diagonally to Zimmerman’s center back . . . While the grip would not be covered by his pants, Zimmerman was also wearing a T-shirt and a jacket during the incident, which would have covered the gun if he was in virtually any position other than standing on his head.


    Not just once, but three times, in three different ways, on that video, plain as day, Zimmerman showed the police that his gun was concealed inside his pants, and on his backside. He patted his rear end to show where his gun was. In demonstrating how Trayvon supposedly reached for the gun, he reaches across his chest toward his backside. Finally, he reached back behind him one more time to reenact pulling the gun and shooting it.


    Zimmerman was not asked to lie supine in his reenactment, a significant lapse in the police investigation. Less than twenty-four hours before, he had killed an unarmed teenager. Did they not want to subject him to the inconvenience of showing exactly how the shooting happened?


    Putting together just these two simple, irrefutable pieces of evidence—that Zimmerman’s gun was holstered inside his pants, and that it was located behind him—proves the falsity of Zimmerman’s story. If Trayvon truly had Zimmerman down on his back, he could not have seen the gun, because Zimmerman would have been lying on top of it. Add in a few other facts agreed to by the neighborhood witnesses: it was a very dark night, and it was raining. Many witnesses talked about how visibility was extremely poor in that area, and that unless one stood directly under a townhouse porch light, there was really no light at all. Add that the altercation ended on the grass, which would also obscure even a sideways glance at an object affixed to someone’s backside as he was lying down on the ground.


    And yet Trayvon, somehow, on that wet, black, low-visibility night, saw through the grassy ground cover, through the bulk of Zimmerman’s body, through Zimmerman’s shirt, and through his jacket to a matte black gun concealed in a matte black holster clipped inside Zimmerman’s waistband.


    Can anyone possibly believe this story?


    And if Zimmerman had been punched in the face and fallen backward, as he claims, he would have landed hard onto his back, on that solid metal object holstered inside his pants—ow, sounds painful, right?—and yet there was no evidence at trial that he had a bruise, an abrasion, a cut, or even redness from the gun pressing into his backside after he supposedly fell on it. Every nick and scrape Zimmerman experienced was carefully catalogued and reviewed at the trial. Nothing on his back.


    Somehow, during the presentation of the evidence at Zimmerman`s trial, the prosecution was unaware of the vitally important fact that Zimmerman`s gun was holstered on his backside. At various points, both the prosecution and the defense attorneys demonstrated the position of the gun by patting the front of their waistbands . . . giving the jury the false impression that that`s where Zimmerman carried his weapon, in that far-more visible location. No one in the courtroom corrected that misperception. The state was in possession of Zimmerman`s videotaped demonstration for over a year, as well as Zimmerman`s gun, holster, and all the information about the dark, rainy night, and the grass, which came from their own witnesses.


    But disturbingly, they failed to put the evidence together, or to use it. With their own neighborhood witnesses, the prosecution could have emphasized how very dark that suburban neighborhood gets at night, connecting it to this issue. They could have asked questions like this:


    PROSECUTION: How dark was it that night?

    RESIDENT: Oh, very dark.

    PROSECUTION: Can you describe it?

    RESIDENT: Once I step off my porch, away from my porch light, I need a flashlight to walk around.

    PROSECUTION: And how about the rain? Did that make it easier or harder to see things?

    RESIDENT (laughing): Well of course, harder. It’s tough to see through the rain, especially at night.

    PROSECUTION (holding up the holster): Would you have been able to see this?

    RESIDENT: On that night? No.

    PROSECUTION (putting the holster inside his pants, behind him, then lying down on the floor): How about like this? Would you have been able to see it?

    RESIDENT: You’ve got to be kidding. No way.

    PROSECUTION: How about the grass? Would it be easy to see a small black item like this with the grass in the area all around me?

    RESIDENT: The grass would make it harder to see, I’d say.


    Oh sure, the defense might start objecting. But the prosecution would have made its point. Lest you think I am being overly dramatic suggesting that the prosecution put the holster in his pants and lie on the courtroom floor (I’d add the gun too, if the court would let me), attorneys for both sides were down on that very floor, or using their own bodies to demonstrate their version of events, at many points throughout the trial. But just as the police never required Zimmerman to put all the parts of his story together and truly reenact it, so too the state’s attorneys never synthesized the evidence before them, never demonstrated to the jury that the most important life-or-death moment of Zimmerman’s story could not be true.

    And if the point could not be made through a lay (nonexpert) witness like a neighbor, it certainly could have been made later on in the trial, on cross-examination of the defense’s expert on fighting, Dennis Root, who was called to say that Zimmerman’s story of the altercation all made sense to him and was consistent with the evidence he’d reviewed.

    With expert witnesses, attorneys are given wider latitude on cross-examination. Expert witnesses are professionals who sign up to testify at trials, and they are paid for their time doing so. Everyone understands that attorneys will challenge their credentials, their methodology, their opinions, and their findings, from every angle possible, aggressively (though respectfully).

    The prosecution missed its opportunity to push back at Root with questions like this:

    PROSECUTOR: Your testimony is that Mr. Zimmerman’s account of his altercation with Trayvon is consistent with normal fighting tactics as you know them?

    ROOT: Based on my experience, yes.

    PROSECUTOR: Would you be willing to step down off the witness stand, Mr. Root?

    ROOT: Certainly. (Stands in the well of the courtroom, before the jury.)

    PROSECUTOR: Here is the gun Mr. Zimmerman used that night. Don’t worry, it’s been secured by the officers and it’s not loaded. Would you hold it please?

    ROOT: Yes. (Holds gun.)

    PROSECUTOR: Here is the holster that Zimmerman was wearing that night. Would you please put the defendant’s gun in the holster?

    (Root does so. Starts to get anxious.)

    PROSECUTOR: Here is the holster that Zimmerman was wearing that night. Would you please put the defendant’s gun in the holster?

    (Root does so. Starts to get anxious.)

    PROSECUTOR: Incidentally, are you familiar with this gun and holster?

    ROOT: Not really. I’m an expert on fighting tactics, not guns and holsters.

    PROSECUTOR: Well, according to the defendant, this was a fight that ended with a shooting. Isn’t that correct?

    ROOT: Yes, it is.

    PROSECUTOR: And you were called upon to analyze the entire incident, weren’t you?

    ROOT: I was.

    PROSECUTOR: But in doing so, you didn’t look at the actual gun and holster, or copies of them?

    ROOT: Just in the photographs.

    PROSECUTOR: Now I am putting on the holster the way Mr. Zimmerman wore it that night. You’ve seen the reenactment video, where the defendant partially reenacted the shooting, haven’t you?

    ROOT: Yes, I watched the video.

    PROSECUTOR: But he didn’t really reenact the final moments just before he killed Trayvon, did he?

    ROOT: Well, he demonstrated as best he could.

    PROSECUTOR: He demonstrated from a standing position, didn’t he?

    ROOT: Yes.

    PROSECUTOR: But in fact, he says he and Trayvon were both on the ground at the time of the shooting, right?

    ROOT: He does say that.

    PROSECUTOR: Any reason why he couldn’t get down on the ground and show the police what he says happened?

    ROOT: Not that I know of.

    PROSECUTOR: On that video, the defendant made it clear that the gun was concealed and holstered behind him, didn’t he?

    ROOT: Uh . . . if you say so.

    PROSECUTOR: You didn’t notice that?

    ROOT: I don’t remember that specifically.

    PROSECUTOR: Oh, well then let’s take a look. (Shows thirty-second clip where Zimmerman indicates three times that the gun was holstered behind him.)

    ROOT: Oh. OK. Yes, I see that.

    (Prosecutor gives jury a meaningful look.)

    PROSECUTOR: So let’s put it all together and do a real reenactment for this jury right now, OK?

    ROOT: If you say so.

    PROSECUTOR: (securing the gun in the holster, putting the holster inside his pants, on his backside, jacket over the gun): I’m the defendant, and my firearm is concealed and secured by the holster, behind me. That’s how Mr. Zimmerman had it, right?

    ROOT: I believe that’s right.

    PROSECUTOR: Well, we all just watched the reenactment video to refresh our recollections. Do you need to see it again, Mr. Root?

    ROOT: No, I don’t need to see it again.

    PROSECUTOR: All righty. Now I’m going to lie down, and you straddle me, the way Mr. Zimmerman says Trayvon Martin did.

    DEFENSE: Objection!

    JUDGE: He’s a fighting expert, and this is his area of testimony and expertise. I’ll allow it.

    PROSECUTOR (now supine): Do you remember how the defendant said Trayvon Martin was straddling him?

    ROOT: Knees to armpits?

    PROSECUTOR: Exactly. Go ahead.


    At this point the jury would be rapt. They’d all be leaning forward in their seats. What an exciting part of the trial was now playing out before them! Two grown men, one on top of the other, recreating the final, dramatic moments of Trayvon Martin’s life. Now that the prosecutor pointed it out, this had not been demonstrated accurately on that Zimmerman police video! Where was the prosecution going with this? The anticipation would be high. This demonstration would not require understanding any confusing legal concepts, nor would it make them sit through hours of boring testimony before the lawyer got to the point, both of which happened far too often at this trial (and happens at most trials). If a picture is worth a thousand words, a live demonstration is worth a million.

    And what would they see? That even in the bright, dry courtroom, Zimmerman’s gun was not visible. Not to the defense expert atop the prosecutor, not to the jurors, not to anyone.

    Bringing in a patch of fake grass the same length as the grass at the crime scene would have been helpful too, to show its obscuring effect. Ever lose an object in grass? On a dark night? Most of us would not even start looking until the next morning. Prosecutors could have even gone so far as to dim or turn off the lights in the courtroom to remind the jurors of the darkness on the night of the shooting.

    The prosecutor could then put it all together, right before the jury’s eyes:

    PROSECUTOR (down on the floor, on his back): Now, you remember how the defendant said that Trayvon Martin saw and reached for the gun?

    ROOT: I do remember that part of his story.

    PROSECUTOR: Can you see the gun right now, Mr. Root?

    ROOT: No, but . . .

    PROSECUTOR: But what? Do I not have the gun and holster on my person the way the defendant indicated? Am I not in the position he said he was in just before he shot Trayvon Martin?

    ROOT: You are. But a fight is dynamic. They were moving around. Maybe Trayvon saw the gun at a different point in the fight.

    PROSECUTOR: You’ve reviewed all of the defendant’s stories as to what happened?

    ROOT: I have.

    PROSECUTOR: And in which one of those stories did he say that Trayvon Martin saw the gun at some other moment that night?

    ROOT: I don’t know.

    PROSECUTOR: Would you like to review your notes?

    ROOT: Yes, I would. (Root returns to the witness stand. Minutes tick by silently as he flips through his pages of notes. The prosecutor knows there is no version of Zimmerman’s story where he says Trayvon saw the gun while the two were upright, or in any other position.)

    Finally . . .

    ROOT: I can’t find that. Perhaps Zimmerman was mistaken when he said that Trayvon saw the gun at that point in the fight.

    PROSECUTOR: Mistaken. Mistaken? Let me give you some other possibilities. The defendant was exaggerating when he said Trayvon saw and reached for the gun just before the defendant shot and killed him?

    ROOT: That is possible.

    PROSECUTOR: The defendant was lying when he said Trayvon saw and reached for the gun just before he shot him?

    ROOT (squirming in his seat): That is possible.


    Had the state attorneys put this all together before the trial, as they should have, they could have called their own fighting expert to make the point clearly for them. They failed to do so. But even if they didn’t figure this out until the trial was already underway, they could have made the point effectively during direct examination of their own lay witnesses, or during cross-examination of the defense expert, Dennis Root. The fact that none of this happened leads inescapably to one conclusion: no one in the state attorneys’ office noticed the best evidence, the “smoking gun” evidence, that was right under their noses.

    If the prosecution had done its job and hit hard on this issue, one wonders what the defense could have come up with in response. Maybe Zimmerman was wrong about Trayvon seeing and reaching for the gun. The fight all happened so quickly, and the two men were moving around a lot. That would have been a devastating admission, because, remember, to prevail on his self-defense theory, Zimmerman was required to show that he was in reasonable fear of imminent great bodily injury or death. Imminent. Meaning, he was about to die, in a matter of moments. He could not legally take out his gun and end the fight by killing Trayvon Martin without immediate impending life-threatening (or at least, great bodily-injury-threatening) harm.

    Maybe Zimmerman was wrong? He cannot be wrong about this and hang on to his credibility, his reasonableness—that all-important self-defense factor. If Zimmerman was wrong, he was lying (and now jurors have no basis to believe he killed in self-defense) or he was exaggerating (which is really just another word for lying, and at best indicates he panicked, which means he was not behaving reasonably, as the law requires.)

    If Trayvon was not about to take Zimmerman’s life, the shooting was not justified. If the shooting was not justified, Zimmerman is guilty of either manslaughter or murder.


    But he was pounding my head on the concrete too! Zimmerman said in several of his statements. Defense attorney O’Mara even hauled in a heavy chunk of concrete in his closing argument (a nice move on his part—the defense understood the power of visual aids) to show the jury that the sidewalk could be a deadly weapon. And indeed it could. If the incident ended on the sidewalk. Which it didn’t. Trayvon’s body was found on wet grass, a substantial distance from any concrete. And Zimmerman said he didn’t move Trayvon’s body—that he merely slid out from under it. Thus we can conclude the altercation ended there, on soft, wet grass. Unless Zimmerman’s neck extended eight or ten feet at a time like a Pez dispenser, his statement that Trayvon was banging his head on the concrete was false. Exaggerated. A lie. (Zimmerman’s attorney conceded in closing argument that given Zimmerman’s minor injuries, his head was probably not banged dozens of times on the concrete, as Zimmerman told police. This was a major concession that the prosecution should have capitalized upon, but they failed to. It was an admission to another exaggeration, another example of panicked overreaction—of Zimmerman not meeting his legal obligation of reasonableness.)


    The physical evidence disproved the core of Zimmerman’s self-defense story. Without Zimmerman’s statements that Trayvon saw and reached for the gun (enhanced by the gangster-movie-sounding threat he attributed to Trayvon while Trayvon was supposedly reaching for Zimmerman’s not-visible gun: “You’re gonna die tonight, motherfucker”) and his allegation that Trayvon was pounding his head on concrete too far away to be reached, Zimmerman had nothing left to meet the legal requirement that he reasonably believed he was in imminent risk of great bodily injury or death.

    All this the prosecution failed to mention in opening statements, or on direct or cross-examination of any witness day after day, week after week, for three weeks, missing one opportunity after another to drive this essential point home to the jury. At the very end of the case, after we’d been hammering this point on television all week, miraculously, in closing argument, prosecutor de la Rionda for the first time mentioned his brand-new observation that Zimmerman holstered his gun behind him. Mentioned, only briefly. He didn’t show the jurors the portion of the video where Zimmerman himself pats his backside to indicate his gun’s placement. He didn’t point out that Zimmerman had failed to truly reenact the final moments of the altercation. Was it because Zimmerman knew he’d be found out if he actually lay down on the ground with his gun behind him? The prosecutor didn’t put the gun and holster on himself, or on the dummy, and lie down to show the invisibility of the pistol in that position. He didn’t connect any of the evidence up with the three important elements of the law of self-defense. He did ask the question, in showing a clip of another video, how Trayvon could have seen the gun. But it wasn’t a question, by the end of trial. The point required an aggressive, declarative statement from the man asking the jury to find Zimmerman guilty of murder, that Zimmerman’s story was now proven to be impossible, a lie, and therefore his self-defense claim was disproved, beyond a reasonable doubt. It required a prosecutor’s fire-in-the-belly belief in his own case. The prosecutor should have explained that Trayvon was killed intentionally, without any legal justification; that Zimmerman came up with a self-defense story, a story that may have been believable at first, but once all the evidence was put together, could now be seen as a fabrication. Self-defense, then, would no longer be a part of this case. It would be out. And without it, what’s left is an intentional shooting without justification—with manslaughter or murder the only remaining options.






    pp. 224-237:

    “Et Tu, America?”

    “In our courts, when it’s a white man’s word against a black man’s, the white man always wins. They’re ugly, but those are the facts of life . . . The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is a courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow, but people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box.”—HARPER LEE, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD


    The second major public sphere in which racial bias runs rampant is the American criminal justice system. Shine a light in any corner of it, from initial arrest to sentencing and parole, and you’ll discover that blacks bear the brunt of our most highly punitive laws, experiencing our criminal justice system markedly differently than whites. African Americans are far more likely to be watched, stopped, charged with petty crimes, convicted, and sentenced to longer terms than members of other races. As crime victims like Trayvon Martin, African Americans are more likely to be seen as aggressors, dangerous, violent, even when they are unarmed or have no criminal record, with only the defendant’s word to support that narrative.

    In polls, overwhelming majorities of blacks believe that African Americans are treated differently by police and the courts. Only half as many whites agree. Unfortunately, the complaints of African Americans are borne out by the research, which reveals that disparity at every turn.

    Consider juries, which should be drawn randomly from the community, and which we’d hope would reflect the diversity of the local population. In reality, that’s rarely the case. In most places in the United States, African Americans in court are highly unlikely to have a jury of their peers. Of the six women who served on the Zimmerman jury, for example, five were white. The sixth, Maddy, identifies as Hispanic. When the jury was empaneled, many commentators felt that the lack of African Americans on the panel in this racially-charged case was unfortunate, but that it “just happened,” the luck of the draw.

    But as it turns out, it’s the norm for minorities, especially African-American men, to be underrepresented on American juries, as a direct result of laws barring them from jury service. Most states prohibit felons from jury duty and even voting—usually for life. Those with a criminal record, even veterans, even those who did their time years ago and have been contributing, taxpaying citizens ever since, cannot serve on juries. More than two million African Americans cannot vote or be jurors because of felon disenfranchisement laws—four times higher than the rest of the population.

    According to one Georgia study, for example, in some counties more than half of African-American men are excluded from jury service because of prior criminal convictions. Nationwide, according to another study, almost one-third of black men are barred from jury duty. In Seminole County, Florida, where the Zimmerman trial took place, jurors are automatically disqualified if they have ever been convicted of a felony, or if they are currently facing prosecution—rules that apply in most of the United States. (Some states have provisions where ex-cons can petition for reinstatement of their jury rights, but who spends time and money for the inconvenience of serving on a jury?)

    The disqualification of these large numbers of black men from juries is particularly disturbing given that so many black men are caught up in the criminal justice system and face trials themselves—yet they are the least likely to get a jury of their peers. In the Zimmerman case, the defense’s theory of self-defense meant that in a very real sense, Trayvon Martin was on trial, accused of being a hair-trigger homicidal assailant. As we’ve seen, while both whites and blacks harbor implicit racial biases, whites are far more likely to judge a young African-American male as aggressive in nonthreatening situations. Thus the absence of African-American jurors in the case, as in many cases, could very well determine the outcome.

    And yet because of our little-known and rarely discussed jury exclusion laws, it was unlikely that Trayvon Martin would get a panel of his peers. And in fact, he did not. (This is a particular problem in Florida, where nearly all cases seat just six jurors. In states with twelve jurors, the odds of at least one or two nonwhite jurors increase.)

    Authority figures in the courtroom too are also less likely to be black. Prosecutors, as we’ve seen, are the most powerful players in the system, yet few are African-American. Nationwide only about 5 percent of state attorneys are black, and many counties in America have no black prosecutors at all. This lack of diversity means that determination as to who was the aggressor, who was the victim, who gets charged and for what crime is missing the voices and experiences of African Americans, who are more likely to see members of their own race as individuals and are less likely to see dark skin as inherently criminal. (While many blacks harbor implicit racial biases, they do so in significantly lower numbers than whites . . . and blacks are far more cognizant of racial biases at play in the criminal justice system.) None of the Zimmerman trial courtroom prosecutors were African-American, for example, and they readily accepted most of the defense version of the altercation, especially the allegation that Trayvon was on top and assaulting Zimmerman. In addition, they seemed entirely unable to communicate with their star witness, Rachel Jeantel, who spoke in an urban dialect. These types of problems are not unusual when many of those swept into the system as defendants, victims, or witnesses are African-American but few of the attorneys are.

    African Americans are underrepresented as judges too, and studies show that especially in cases where race is an issue, black judges rule differently. An African-American judge may have had a different perspective in the Zimmerman trial as to whether lawyers would be permitted to use the words “racial profiling” and whether evidence of the Bertalan burglary was relevant to Trayvon’s inherent suspiciousness. Even the image of a strong, authoritative African-American judge in the case may have undermined some of the blacks-are-criminals messaging at play in the case.

    While those administering justice—judges, lawyers, and jurors—are disproportionately white, those being judged are disproportionately black. This is in part because of where we send police to look for crime—overwhelmingly, it’s inner-city, majority-black neighborhoods—and in part due to the more punitive treatment African Americans receive once they’re swept up into the system.


    From start to finish, it’s a major advantage to show up with white skin in the American criminal justice system. We know that in judgment calls where a suspect may be held or let go, African Americans are more likely to be detained* than whites accused of the same crimes. When discretion may be exercised, such as by prosecutors offering plea bargains, African Americans are offered deals with higher charges and stiffer sentencing. When they are tried and convicted, whites get lighter sentences than blacks for the same crimes. In one study, judges were found to impose as much as eight additional months on black defendants than on whites committing identical offenses. [Hayle Roberts, “Implicit Bias and Social Justice,” Open Society Foundations, December 18, 2011, http://www.opensocietyfoundations.or...social-justice


    * The Sentencing Project, “Reducing Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice System: A Manual for Practitioners and Policymakers,” (Washington, DC, 2008), http://www.sentencingproject.org/doc...ldisparity.pdf


    The War on Drugs has swept up such vast numbers of African Americans into prisons and second-class citizenship thereafter that it’s been aptly called The New Jim Crow by prominent Ohio State law professor Michelle Alexander. In at least fifteen states, blacks are admitted to prison on drug charges twenty to fifty-seven times more than whites, though blacks and whites use at the same rates, and whites are more likely to sell drugs.* To achieve that astonishing disparity, racial biases are at play among thousands of policy makers (who determine that it’s acceptable for policing to be focused intensely in inner-city neighborhoods), police officers (like those found to engage in racial profiling), prosecutors (who routinely exercise their discretion in favor of leniency for white but not black defendants), judges (who impose different sentences on whites and blacks for similar crimes), and juries (who are more likely to see blacks as aggressors and whites as victims).

    Most of these are people with good intentions who would be deeply offended at being called racist. Some have black friends or family members. Some are people of color themselves. All that is interesting but not particularly relevant. Because the system’s outcomes demonstrate irrefutably the widespread acceptance and practice of racial discrimination in the administration of justice. While many in America take it as a given that blacks are more likely to be criminals, the horrific level of criminalization and mass incarceration of African Americans has in fact occurred only recently. African Americans are now incarcerated at more than twenty-six times the level they were in 1983, and Latinos are imprisoned twenty-two times more. (Whites are incarcerated at “only” eight times the level they were in the early ‘80s.)


    * Jamie Fellner, “Race, Drugs, and Law Enforcement in the United States,” Stanford Law and Policy Review 20, no. 2 (2009), http://www.hrw.org/news/2009/06/19/r...-united-states



    The racial discrepancy is stark and especially outrageous for juveniles. For first-time child offenders, African Americans are six times as likely as whites to be sentenced to prison for identical crimes. African-American youth are significantly more likely to be arrested, more likely to be tried in adult court, and more likely to be sent to adult state prison, where they meet other criminals; rarely receive counseling, educational, or vocational training; and then enter the pipeline, primed for a lifetime of nearly impossible burdens once they’re released. Nowhere is this more unjust than in the area of drug prosecutions, as we’ve seen, with its appallingly unequal enforcement against African Americans. It’s even worse for black youth, who are ten times as likely to be prosecuted for drug possession, though they are less likely to use and abuse drugs than white youth, according to a 2011 large-scale Duke University study. [Maia Szalavitz, “Study: Whites More Likely to Abuse Drugs Than Blacks,” Time, November 7, 2011, http://healthland.time.com/2011/11/0...s-than-blacks/

    There is no justification for these numbers. There is no way to sugar-coat what’s happening here: blatant race discrimination against African-American children—in an outfit that has “justice” in its title and stone-engraved words about liberty and equality over many of its entryways, statues of a blindfolded lady justice gracing its hallways.

    Take a close look at any stage of our criminal justice system, and the research documenting racial bias jumps out. Even defense attorneys, who one presumes represent many black defendants, can be ignorant to the extent of the injustice. Right after the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, Zimmerman defense attorney Mark O’Mara threw out a whopper of a reverse-racism claim. He said that his client “never would have been charged with a crime” if he were black.

    In what country is O’Mara living? Certainly not the United States, where clear and persistent discrimination against African Americans in our criminal justice system is ubiquitous and well documented.


    Racial bias extends from jury selection all the way to the end of the line, to life and death decisions in capital cases. It’s long been known that the race of the victim is the most important factor in determining whether or not a convicted American murderer gets the death penalty, a sentence we reserve for a small percentage of killers—the “worst of the worst.” Consistent with our undervaluing of black lives, one who takes the life of a white victim is at least four times more likely* to receive a death sentence than one who takes the life of an African-American victim. In a study from the state of Georgia that was used for the basis of a race discrimination claim that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, a defendant who had killed a white victim there was sixteen times more likely to get the death penalty. [Keith Kamisugi, “Share Your Unconscious Bias Stories With Us,” Equal Justice Society, December 11, 2009, http://www.equaljusticesociety.org/2...ories-with-us/

    From beginning to end, African Americans fare worse in our criminal justice system, as implicit racial biases subject them to more scrutiny, more charges, more incarceration. It’s a Catch-22: caught up in more sweeps, sentenced to longer terms, black behavior is more likely to be criminalized, and then blacks are more likely to be seen as criminals. More police are then sent to inner-city neighborhoods, more blacks are arrested, and the vicious cycle continues.


    * David C. Baldus, Charles Pulaski, and George Woodworth, “Comparative Review of Death Sciences: An Empirical Study of the Georgia Experience,” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 74, no. 3 (Autumn 1983), http://www2.law.columbia.edu/fagan/c...ldus_Study.pdf



    “Whites Commit Crimes but Blacks Are Criminals”


    Underlying much of that subconscious racial bias is the most enduring, corrosive racial stereotype in America: the black-as-criminal mindset. Historian David Levering Lewis summarizes it: “Whites commit crimes but blacks are criminals.” While whites can and do commit a great deal of minor and major crimes, the race as a whole is never tainted by those acts. But when blacks violate the law, all members of the race are considered suspect. I used to anchor a show on Court TV, and when we heard about a new arrest for some horrific crime, my African-American co-host would whisper, “Please don’t let him be black.” It would never enter my mind to wish that a bad guy not be white, because no matter how sick the crime, other members of the white race are not impugned.

    Remember Zimmerman’s false syllogism? A few blacks committed burglary, Trayvon was black, therefore Trayvon was a criminal. Similar logic is used daily in the assumptions police and citizens make about African Americans, especially young males.

    The black-man-as-criminal stereotype runs deep. The archetype is so prevalent that the majority of whites and African Americans agreed with the statement “blacks are aggressive or violent” in a national survey. In support of these findings, other research indicates that the public generally associates violent street crime with African Americans. Other nationwide research has shown that the public perceives that blacks are involved in a greater percentage of violent crime than official statistics indicate they actually are. [Kelly Welch, “Black Criminal Stereotypes and Racial Profiling,” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 23, no. 3 (2007), www.sagepub.com/gabbidonstudy/articles/Welch.pdf

    Notice how the reasoning about race runs right to insulting conclusions (blacks are criminals), but never to positives, which would be equally (il)logical. No one thinks:

    1. Barack Obama is our president, and he’s African-American.

    2. That kid walking down the street is African-American.

    3. He’s probably a future president!


    The standard assumption that criminals are black and blacks are criminals is so prevalent that in one study, 60 percent of viewers who viewed a crime story with no picture of the perpetrator falsely recalled seeing one, and of those, 70 percent believed he was African-American. When we think about crime, we “see black,” even when it’s not present at all.

    Where did this insulting stereotype come from? The black-as-criminal image has been with us at least since the nineteenth century, when explicit racism portrayed African-American slaves’ essential nature as ignorant and savage, in need of the “civilizing” influence of the white man. At that time, little black crime actually occurred, as slaves’ lives were rigorously controlled, and they could be and often were swiftly put to death for perceived offenses against the slave owners, who acted as judge, jury, and executioner. As Chief Justice Roger B. Taney said in the famous 1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford decision about the Founding Fathers’ mindset in drafting the Constitution:


    Blacks had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever profit could be made by it.



    In contrast, white slavers, who should have been the real criminals, imprisoned African Americans on their plantations, forcing them to live short, harsh lives in extreme poverty, working without any compensation, constantly subjecting them to beatings and threats of violence. Female slavers were often raped by white male slave owners. Well into the twentieth century, lynchings of blacks in the southern United States were not only common but were social events where white families would bring the children and a picnic lunch and would take pictures of the hanging to be made into commemorative postcards. On average, an African-American man, woman, or child was hanged, generally by a white mob, once a week, every week, between 1882 and 1930, as police actively participated or stood by and condoned the murders. Lynchings continued until the 1950s, as thousands of black Americans were hanged for offenses like “disputing with a white man.” (A much smaller number of whites were lynched as well, often for taking the side of a black person.)

    Though the United States was founded as a slave nation, with the subjugation of African Americans written into our Constitution, and though our history brims with centuries of repulsive acts of viciousness perpetrated by whites against millions of African Americans, no white-as-criminal trope ever took hold. This can only be attributed to the triumph of propaganda over reality. From the Reconstruction Era onward, academics churned out pseudoscientific papers linking blackness with criminality, “studies” which were then championed by journalists and even reformers as the basis for the view that blacks were innately inferior. Decreased funding to African-American schools and neighborhoods was justified on this ground, as were many forms of discrimination.

    What about more recently? Most of us see our history of slavery, Jim Crow, and lynchings as shameful and repellent, yet we still believe the black-as-criminal attitude is justified based on current crime fears. Is it?

    It depends on what we choose to fear. How about serial killers? What criminal is more terrifying than a madman killing again and again, escaping the law? America’s most notorious serial killers, striking fear as their body counts mount, have almost always turned out to be white, and gruesome beyond imagining. Albert DeSalvo, the Boston Strangler, terrorized his city in the 1960s, sexually assaulting and murdering thirteen women. David Berkowitz, New York City’s “Son of Sam,” killed six and wounded seven in the late 1970s, terrifying the city until his apprehension. Ted Bundy, who called himself “the most coldhearted son of a bitch you’ll ever meet,” confessed to thirty murders in the 1970s. He was on the loose, killing women in Washington, Idaho, Utah, and Colorado for years before he was apprehended. Chicago serial killer, John Wayne Gacy, who dressed as a clown and performed at children’s hospitals, murdered thirty-three teenaged boys and young men in the 1970s, burying twenty-seven in the crawl space under his house. He described his sexual release in committing murder as “the ultimate thrill.” Gary Ridgway, Washington State’s Green River Killer, was convicted of killing forty-eight girls and young women but admitted to ninety murders during the 1980s and 1990s. He returned to the corpses he left along the river to have sexual intercourse with them. Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, killed three and terrorized many others, sending mail bombs with his antitechnology screeds to universities and airports for seventeen years, until 1995. Jeffrey Dahmer, the Milwaukee Cannibal, raped, murdered, and dismembered seventeen men and boys over thirteen years, until 1991. Dennis Rader, known as BTK for his signature “bind, torture, and kill” modus operandi, killed ten in Wichita, Kansas, and was on the loose for decades until his 2005 apprehension.

    Though each of these men was white, striking again and again in towns and cities across the United States, garnering intense media coverage of their crimes and captures, no fear of white men emerged. Their murders were considered individual acts for which they alone were responsible.

    Prominent American organized crime families have long been run by white men like John Gotti, widely reputed to be responsible for at least thirty murders, including executions he ordered of members of his own crime family whom he suspected of being informants. James “Whitey” Bulger killed at least eleven of his organized crime associates and did not face justice until he was eighty-four years old. He was sentenced to life in prison in late 2013. The judge sentencing him pronounced, “The scope, callousness, and depravity of [his] crimes are almost unfathomable.” Yet none of us looks at white men with concern that they are mob bosses.

    Rampage killers are often in the news. Nearly everyone who has murdered a large number of people in one criminal event has been white. American bomber Timothy McVeigh took 168 lives at the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, many of them preschoolers at day care, in the worst incident of domestic terrorism until 9/11. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the Columbine High School killers, shot thirteen of their fellow high school students, then took their own lives in 1999. Adam Lanza killed his mother, then a classroom full of six- and seven-year-olds and six school personnel before killing himself at Newtown Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012. Earlier that year, James Holmes shot twelve movie-goers in Aurora, Colorado. All these men are white, as is the case for virtually all shooters on the long and growing list of mass killings in America. (The major exception is not an African American but Korean student Seung-Hui Cho, who committed the worst mass shooting in our history, killing thirty three people at Virginia Tech University before turning his gun on himself in 2007.) Yet even though these shocking events generate round-the-clock media attention for days or weeks afterward, that level of attention does not scare anyone away from white men.


    Shocking cases of white women killing their own children occur regularly. In 1995, Susan Smith murdered her two sons, then told police an African-American did it. (So prevalent is the black-as-criminal stereotype that racial hoaxes are common and often effective in distracting attention.) Andrea Yates drowned all five of her young children in 2001. In one of the highest profile cases of the last few years, Casey Anthony was tried (and acquitted) for the murder of her daughter Caylee. No one concludes white women are baby killers.


    Every American presidential assassin—the killers of Presidents Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, and John F. Kennedy—has been white, as was the killer of JFK’s assassin, and the murderers of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. Ronald Reagan’s attempted assassin was white, and so were all those who made attempts on the lives of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Gerald Ford (Ford’s two attempted killers diverged not on racial but on gender lines, as both were white women).


    In our nation’s history, so many of the sickest, most appalling crimes have been committed by whites. Yet no matter how sadistic the crime, no matter how young the victims, no matter how much fear is engendered in a community, no matter how much media attention and public discussion the crimes of whites engender, the race itself is never sullied. One does not look at a white man or woman and feel concern that pale skin enhances the likelihood that he or she is an assassin, a bomber, a murderer.

    It is the black-as-criminal stereotype that endures, sometimes buried, sometimes expressed in private to trusted confidants, and other times stated openly by those who do not fear being called racist. President Obama, in his remarks the week after the Zimmerman verdict, noted that African-American men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system, acknowledging the concerns about black criminals. He’d previously discussed his white grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, who had sacrificed for him and helped to raise him, but who had confessed her anxieties about black men who passed her on the street. During the Zimmerman case, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen spoke for many when he openly wrote of his fear of African-American men. Even civil rights leader Jesse Jackson admits, “There is nothing more painful to me . . . than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery, then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved.”




    - pp. 210-223 (Pushed Out and Locked Out): Let’s start with education. For the most part, forget individual responsibility here. A child cannot be blamed for an underfunded or poor-performing school, for barriers that only the most extraordinary children can surmount. Most kids of all races go to their nearest public school, and our shameful choice as a nation to let inner-city kids languish in understaffed, overcrowded classrooms with shorter school years and fewer class and extracurricular offerings limit their opportunities for success.

    Nationwide we’ve slashed and burned school budgets. Majority-African-American schools, already suffering, have been hit the hardest. For example, in the summer of 2013, Philadelphia’s school district, whose students are 85 percent black, laid off a jaw-dropping 3,783 school employees, including assistant principals, guidance counselors, administrative support staff, and nurses. Lacking teachers, Philadelphia schools can no longer afford the luxury of separate first-, second-, and third-grade classes, so students of different ages and abilities are combined* in mixed-grade classrooms. Twenty-four schools were closed entirely, their students packed into the remaining schools. Art, music, and athletic programs were eliminated, as if these were frilly extras children in one of the world’s richest nations should simply live without. [Valerie Strauss, “Philadelphia Passes ‘Doomsday’ School Budget,” Washington Post, June 1, 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/...oomsday-school -budget/

    Shortly thereafter, in October 2013, asthmatic sixth grader Laporshia Massey died after feeling sick in a Philadelphia public school. No school nurse was on duty. No one called 911. One in five children in the school district suffers from asthma, a common inner-city ailment. The City of Brotherly Love, the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the abolitionist movement, had decided that the health of its schoolchildren was no longer worth funding, though school nurses, facing budget cuts months earlier, had warned that deaths of children would likely occur. [Valerie Strauss, “Girl Dies After Getting Sick at School Without Nurse,” Washington Post, October 12, 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/...-after-getting -sick-at-school-without-nurse


    * Kevin McCorry, “Robbing Peter to Pay Paul: ‘Leveling’ Philly Schools in the Time of Budget Crisis,” News Works, October 9, 2013, http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/l...-budget-crisis


    While Philadelphia’s majority black schools may have suffered the most recent round of deep cuts, they are in line with the cuts and underfunding associated with most black schools around the country. Majority black schools are significantly poorer, are less likely to offer* academically challenging classes like calculus or algebra, and are less likely to have gifted-and-talented programs, arts, or even physical education classes. Teachers in those schools are more likely to be inexperienced and working for lower pay than teachers in majority white schools.


    * Marian Wright Edelman, “America’s Public Schools: Still Unequal and Unjust,” Huffington Post, April 6, 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marian...b_1408878.html



    Shouldn’t we spend more per pupil in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods to help poor kids with the tougher challenges they face? When we know that inner-city children are less likely to have had the advantages of preschool, or even decent nutrition, wouldn’t we want to give them more educational support? Yet confoundingly, by any measure, as a nation we spend significantly less on students of color, who are clustered in poor neighborhoods. The disparity* is most pronounced in the comparison between students in schools that are more than 90 percent white versus students in schools that are more than 90 percent black. (Remember, most of our children are once again attending segregated schools.) Disgracefully, we bestow an average of $733 more per year of public money on each white child’s education in those schools than on the black students. [Center for American Progress, “Students of Color Still Receiving Unequal Education,” http://www.americanprogress.org/issu...ual-education/ ] For the average predominately African-American school, this is a loss of about a half million dollars a year, money that could hire a dozen new teachers or nine experienced ones (and thus smaller classes and more personal attention); school counselors to help troubled kids and encourage college enrollment; tutors; or equipment like computers, or even books. Many low-income school districts lack supplies as basic as textbooks. “We mostly don’t get homework in my math class because we don’t have books,” said Silas Moultrie, an eighth grader in San Francisco. [American Civil Liberties Union, “Back to School Without Books: Many CA Students Still Lack Textbooks, ACLU Charges,” September 12, 2000, https://www.aclu.org/racial-justice/...s-aclu-charges ] In poor areas of New York City some schools have next to no textbooks at all, and many teachers lead classes in fields in which they are not certified or proficient. [Yoav Gonen, “Book Rack and Ruin at City Schools,” New York Post, May 14, 2012, http://nypost.com/2012/05/14/book-ra...-city-schools/ ]


    * Ary Spatig-Amerikaner, “Unequal Education: Federal Loophole Enables Lower Spending on Students of Color,” (Washington, DC: Center for American Progress, 2012), http://www.americanprogress.org/wp-c...alEduation.pdf


    These disparities take a direct hit on students of color. We know, for example, that African-American males are far less likely to graduate high school* (only a bare majority, 52 percent, finish) or attend college than boys in other racial groups. A big part of the problem is what one educational reform group, the Schott Foundation, calls a “pushout” and “lockout” crisis. That is, black boys, often struggling in those barebones, underfunded schools, are frequently disciplined for even minor misbehavior with suspensions, which cut down on their learning time and “push” them out of educational opportunities. (When I talk about suspensions in this book, I’m talking about out-of-school suspensions, where kids are banned from school premises. Some schools use the less-punitive form, in-school suspensions, where students remain on campus, supervised by a teacher in another classroom.) [Schott Foundation for Public Education, “The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males,” http://blackboysreport.org/ ] The students who remain behind in school are “locked out” of better educational opportunities available to white kids in school systems that provide smaller classes, adequate materials and facilities, highly-trained teachers, and other resources that are critical to their success. Predominately white schools are also more likely to use corrective measures in response to children’s misbehavior, such as counseling, calling in parents for conferences, and coming up with a step-by-step remedial plan the student signs to teach the student better conduct, all while the child remains in school, attending classes.


    To see how African-American boys are so often pushed out of school, we need look no further than Trayvon Martin. In the public discussion of the case, some raised Trayvon’s three school suspensions in the months prior to his altercation with Zimmerman in an attempt to show that he was the violent, aggressive type who would instigate a fight with a stranger, as Zimmerman described. It’s likely that this is what the juror who believed Trayvon was a “bad kid” was referring to, as the media had extensively reported on his suspensions, though no evidence on this subject came into the trial.

    And indeed Trayvon had been suspended three times in his junior year of high school in the months prior to his death. The reason his father said that he removed Trayvon from his home, friends, and neighborhood in Miami and took him to Sanford, four hours north, was to help Trayvon focus on “priorities” during that third suspension. Because Trayvon was not going to school in Miami on Monday morning he found himself in Sanford on the night of Sunday, February 26, 2012.

    Three suspensions? Those unfamiliar with modern school rules may conclude that Trayvon was delinquent, or at least a troublemaker. But today being kept out of school doesn’t necessarily mean that at all. Because with little fanfare, public schools have ratcheted up suspensions as disciplinary tools for nonviolent offenses, and African-American boys like Trayvon too often bear the brunt of this punishment.


    Once disfavored based on the radical notion that we actually want children to be in school, suspensions have skyrocketed in the last few decades for infractions major and minor. After fighting, the second biggest category warranting suspension is truancy, tardiness, or cutting a class. This has all the logic of punishing a kid for drinking a beer by insisting he guzzle a fifth of bourbon. Other categories warranting suspension in some schools are bringing a cell phone to school or publicly displaying affection, which are both considered subsets of “willful defiance.” Students have been forced to sit home for days on end after criticizing teachers on Facebook.* A six-year-old was suspended for forty-five days for bringing a camping tool to school that contained a fork, spoon, and knife. The situation is absurdly out of hand. [Johanna Miller and others, “Education Interrupted: The Growing Use of Suspensions in New York City’s Public Schools,” (New York: New York Civil Liberties Union, January 2011), http://www.nyclu.org/files/publicati..._noSpreads.pdf ]


    * Sabrina Canfield, “Another School Suspends a Student for Criticizing a Teacher on Facebook,” Courthouse News Service, October 25, 2011, http://www.courthousenews.com/2011/10/25/40892.htm


    Since the early 1970s, the percentage of students suspended from school has doubled. Nationwide, the trend is toward more mandatory suspensions from school, for longer periods of time. This began in 1994 when the federal government began its zero tolerance policy against kids bringing guns to school—a laudable concept, but which spawned a host of other “zero tolerance” laws, getting kids kicked out of school for minor infractions. For example, in New York City in 1998, only seven offences warranted zero tolerance mandatory suspensions. That number quadruples to twenty-eight categories of mandatory suspensions by 2009.

    The punitive treatment is a policy cousin to our country’s choice to imprison five times more Americans today than a generation ago, spawning a culture of mass incarceration that we can no longer afford. Similarly, in our schools, with little fanfare or public discussion, we’ve instituted punitive policies resulting in mass suspensions, particularly for minority kids. And just as authority figures’ implicit racial biases disadvantage blacks in the criminal justice system, African Americans, especially boys, find themselves disproportionately subject to school suspensions for perceived suspicious behavior.

    Two million middle and high school students are forced to stay home each year, missing out on classroom instruction. Given that the purpose of schools is to educate, banning children from schools should be a last resort, reserved for those students who pose a threat to the safety of others. Instead, forcing troubled or angry kids to stay away has caused a host of problems for children and has not improved overall school discipline or performance. (Notably, some cities like Baltimore have gone in the other direction, working to keep at-risk kids engaged in school, with some success.)

    And while suspensions have increased for all racial groups, African-American suspensions have skyrocketed at eleven times the rate of other groups. Black male students were the most likely to be suspended (and disabled black males the most likely of all). A Children’s Defense Fund study of almost three thousand schools from the 1970s showed that black students back then were also more likely to be suspended, but the disproportionality has climbed sharply since. Today African-American students are suspended more than three times as often as their white classmates, twice as often as their Latino classmates, and more than ten times as often as their Asian classmates in middle and high schools nationwide.

    Why has the rate at which black students are suspended shot up so dramatically in a generation? A big part of the problem is that notwithstanding all the talk of “zero tolerance,” most suspensions are discretionary, varying widely from school to school, even within the same school district. The same suspicions and fears that lead to racial profiling on the streets are in play in the schools as well. Civil rights leaders find the statistics “appalling.” Gloria Sweet-Love, who served on a Tennessee school board for two decades and is now the state’s leader for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), explains that white teachers are more likely to deem a black student “threatening” instead of simply disobedient, and therefore more likely to “make an example” of him or her.


    * Brett M. Kelman, “Study: Black Students Suspended More Often Than Others,” USA TODAY, May 12, 2013, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/n...sions/2151423/


    We can see this by analyzing the racial disparity in suspensions in Trayvon’s state, county, and even his school, and by comparing his particular offenses with the punishments he was given. Was Trayvon’s race a factor in his suspensions?

    Florida, Trayvon Martin’s home state, has seen a rash of lawsuits brought by the NAACP and the Southern Poverty Law Center over its racial bias in the doling out of suspensions and other harsh disciplinary actions. In Okaloosa County, for example, 50 percent of school arrests involved African-American students, even though they make up just 12 percent of the school population. African-American students were six times more likely to be arrested at school than white students. In Flagler County, African-American students account for 70 percent of expulsions, even though they represent only 16 percent of the student population. In Miami-Dade County Public Schools, where Trayvon was enrolled, half of all students who received multiple out-of-school suspensions in 2009 were black. At Dr. Michael M. Krop High School, Trayvon’s school, again nearly half of the 105 suspensions in 2009 were given to black students, who made up only 24 percent of the school’s enrollment. Any numbers revealing this level of significant racial disparity should be unsettling, but these are especially so given that we are talking about schoolchildren, and forcing them out of their classrooms.

    With this context, let’s examine Trayvon’s suspensions. Were they justified? Was he appropriately “pushed out”? The three suspensions he’d been given that school year were for tardiness, writing the letters “WTF” on a locker, and possessing a plastic bag with marijuana residue. Each time the decision was made by high school administrators to push Trayvon out of school, though he was planning on taking the SAT and going to college like his older brother Jahvaris. (Trayvon had hoped to pursue a career in aviation.)

    As with any student, each of these suspensions increased his odds of failure, disconnecting him from his teachers, disrupting his classroom attendance and participation. Even a single suspension can double a student’s odds of dropping out, and multiple suspensions make the possibility of graduation even more remote. [Daniel J. Losen and Tia Elena Martinez, “Out of School and Off Track: The Overuse of Suspensions in American Middle and High Schools,” (Los Angeles, CA: UCLA Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the Civil Rights Project, 2013).] Put another way, if we wanted to increase the number of high school dropouts in America, we’d suspend more kids for petty offenses, causing them to fall behind in their classes and disconnect from school until they just decide to give up on it entirely.

    Ironically, Trayvon’s own high school student handbook* preaches this concept, stating that “Miama-Dade County Public Schools believes attendance in school is critical to a student’s success.” Is there anyone who would argue with that? Yet its “You’re on your own, kid” policy toward suspended students is consistent with that of most schools, which burden children with the obligation of making an extra effort to keep up once they’ve been barred from school and fallen behind. Trayvon’s high school student handbook reads:


    Suspensions. The responsibility for securing written assignments missed during the suspension period will be the responsibility of the student. Under no circumstances are teachers required to make special provisions to comply with this procedure.


    The message to kids: Ordered to miss school? Teachers aren’t going to make any particular effort to help you catch up. You figure it out.


    * Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School, “Student Handbook,” (Miami, Florida, 2013), http://kropseniorhigh.org/ourpages/a...ndbook2014.pdf


    A close look at Trayvon’s offenses* and his school’s own policies about the consequences that should flow from them raise serious questions about whether he was treated fairly for his infractions. Trayvon’s school set forth a detailed five-tiered disciplinary policy in an effort to make clear what punishments would be warranted for various types of misbehavior, ranging from petty “Level I” offenses like inappropriate public displays of affection or unauthorized use of electronic devices to hardcore “Level V” offenses like armed robbery or homicide. Trayvon’s first offence, tardiness/truancy, is not listed anywhere on any level. The closest violation, the more serious “cutting classes,” is listed as a Level I offense. According to the school policy, this would not warrant a suspension but instead lesser corrections such as calling parents, a reprimand, a student conference, peer mediation, or revocation of privileges to engage in student social activities. Which makes more sense—let’s take kids who’ve made small mistakes and pull them back into school by helping them modify their behavior, not push them out for it.

    So why was the heavy penalty of suspension imposed upon Trayvon when it wasn’t called for under the school’s own written policy? Was his race a factor in the school’s decision to push him out, as appears to happen frequently in his school, county, and state?

    His second suspension, for writing on a locker, would have fallen under the school’s Level II category for disruptive behavior. One incident of graffiti would have warranted, according to Krop High’s own plan, calling Trayvon’s parents or instituting a “school-based program that focuses on modifying the student’s inappropriate behavior or promotes positive behavior.” Suspension would have been appropriate only for Level II “serious or habitual infractions.” Yet Trayvon’s offense consisted only of writing three letters on a locker one time. Even taking into account his prior “offense” for tardiness, this action could not rise to the level of “serious” or “habitual.”

    So why was he suspended a second time? Why did the school not use the opportunity as a teaching moment, helping him learn the lessons of respect for school property, appropriate language in appropriate contexts, and free speech and its limits, as their own policy required?

    Trayvon’s third offense, possessing an empty baggie with marijuana residue, would have arguably been a Level III offense, possession of a controlled substance. (Is residue a substance?) Under the Krop High rules, the principal would hand down a one- to ten-day suspension. Trayvon got the maximum penalty, a ten-day suspension. And thus his father took him to Sanford.

    Why did he get the maximum? Other factors may have been at play in the decision to punish Trayvon with three suspensions his junior year, but based on publicly available information, he appears to have been trapped in precisely the type of overly punitive “pushout” cycle that leads to a disproportionately high number of students of color being kept from attending school. Writing on lockers, being late for class, or possessing marijuana are behaviors that require adult intervention, but they are also extremely common teenaged offenses that should lead to more engagement with the misbehaving kid, not relegating him to the streets or a home where adult supervision may not be present. No one could have predicted the horrific outcome that befell Trayvon in Sanford, Florida, and his school administrators are in no way responsible for Zimmerman’s shooting of Trayvon. But officials should be accountable for decisions that erect more barriers to success for African-American kids when better options are available.

    Of course all schools need options to deal with unruly kids. Many teachers would prefer to send children to talk over their problems with the school guidance counselor. But in this era of budget cuts, school counselors have been eliminated in many districts. Similarly, fewer teachers are available for after-school detention, to coach teams, or to lead music or drama classes, which motivate students’ good behavior so that they can stay on the team, in the band, or in a school play. Suspended students often wind up alone, walking the streets, bored, or spending time with other kids who are dropouts or who have also been suspended—a recipe for failure. In 2013, the American Pediatrics Association called for pediatricians across the United States to take stronger steps to discourage out-of-school suspensions and expulsions because they are so harmful to children’s chances of success, and with no benefit to the schools. The APA concluded that “research has demonstrated . . . that schools with higher rates of out-of-school suspension and expulsion are not safer for students or faculty.” So concerned was the APA about the impact of mass suspensions on children’s lives that it called upon its member pediatricians to inquire during checkups about whether children are being suspended and to advocate for preventative programs and those that administer consequences for rule-breakers within the schools.


    Suspending schoolchildren, who are then ten times as likely to drop out, has profound short- and long-term consequences for them. High school dropouts are all but unemployable in today’s tough job market, where 60 percent of new jobs now require a college education. They’re last hired, first fired, and will earn $200,000 less over their lifetimes than their peers who finish high school, and one million dollars less than college graduates. The United States high school graduation rate is already miserably low, ranking twenty-second out of twenty-seven developed countries. Almost no high school dropout will ever earn more than $40,000 per year, making supporting a family extremely difficult. [Claudio Sanchez, “A High School Dropout’s Midlife Hardships,” NPR, http://www.npr.org/2011/07/28/138741...life-hardships ] Those who don’t finish high school are more likely to be illiterate, to become teenaged parents, to abuse alcohol and drugs, to wind up in prison, even to commit suicide. So helping kids complete school, rather than pushing them out, ought to be our priority.


    When we choose to spend significantly less of our education dollars on predominantly black schools, we can expect the kids in those overcrowded schools with crumbling plaster, nonfunctioning toilets, poor lighting, inadequate ventilation, and inoperative heating and cooling systems to perform poorly on tests, and they do.* When we cut art and music and drama and sports and all the “extras” that made school fun for many of us, we can expect children attending boring, bare-bones schools to rebel and have more disciplinary problems, and they do. And when we push out and lock out large numbers of African-American boys, in particular, for minor infractions that many successful adults committed when they were kids (cutting class, writing on a locker, smoking marijuana), we should expect hostility toward school in general, falling behind in classes, and ultimately giving up on the enterprise altogether, as so often happens.


    Certainly rules that are not helping out kids to begin with, and which are administered in a racially disparate manner, causing so many African-American kids to be pushed out of their own schools, spiking their dropout rates, must be reformed. When we disadvantage this group of kids at the beginning of their lives, we ensure that their lives will be poorer, sicker, rife with unemployment and struggle. We ensure that those job, income, and wealth numbers for African Americans don’t budge, as they haven’t in the last half century. It’s no secret that education is the key to success in adulthood. Yet we allow rampant inequality in underfunding of inner-city and majority-black schools, together with grossly differential treatment of students of color, and then expect them to compete with kids who had all the advantages of personal attention from experienced teachers, extracurricular activities, tutors, and counselors, and who, at a minimum, were kept in classrooms learning whenever possible.


    A country that allows all this to continue right under our noses, despite report after report about how inner-city schools are little more than dropout factories or prison pipelines, cannot seriously contend that it is an egalitarian nation. A country that shrugs at its segregated schools, knowing that racially ghettoized schools teach little black kids that they are inferior, has lost its right to claim that everyone in America has equality of opportunity. A country that pays substantially more per pupil for white suburban kids than for black inner-city students cannot pretend when it comes to high school graduation, college admissions, and the job market that everyone begins at the same starting line and has an equal shot at success. And if urban kids weren’t failing fast enough, now we’re actively pushing them out of classrooms in record numbers via the new insanity of mass suspensions.


    Racial bias need not be explicit to be shattering and self-perpetuating. No one has to say, “Let’s discriminate against African-American kids today.” No one has to be a Racist with a capital R, donning a white hood, spewing racial epithets or committing hate crimes. The common implicit racial bias that African Americans are less good and less worthy can lead to results that are just as insidious, namely a culture that turns a blind eye to policies that harm children of color and allow them to struggle in inferior schools, subject to harsher discipline, throwing up obstacles to their achievement and success, ensuring that the cycle of poverty continues for the next generation.

    African-American children as young as six get the message loud and clear that they matter less to us. Who among us can tell them that they are wrong?




    - pp. 143-149: The defense . . . grilled Jeantel about her view that the altercation between Zimmerman and Trayvon was “just a fight” and not “deadly serious”—which was her initial opinion after hearing the sounds of wet grass and then her call dropping. But the opinions of fact witnesses are not admissible—especially when she’s speculating what happened after her connection with Trayvon failed. The prosecution failed to object to this, so it came in.


    However, on redirect examination, when they had a chance to question her again, the prosecution could have exploited this topic by allowing her to explain: Trayvon didn’t express anything to her about planning to attack, much less kill, Zimmerman. He wanted to go home and watch the All Star game and get away from Zimmerman. So the sounds she heard at the end of the call with him—words exchanged, Trayvon’s headset getting bumped, the sounds of wet grass—sounded to her like the beginning of a fight, not something deadly. Her testimony on that point was entirely consistent with the state’s position that Trayvon did not intend to assault or kill Zimmerman. Put another way, if Trayvon had told her, “I’m going to kill that guy,” she would have been alarmed when the call dropped. She wasn’t, because it sounded to her like at most, “just a fight.”


    And that should have been the essence of Jeantel’s testimony to the jury: that Trayvon was doing the opposite of what Zimmerman claimed. He wasn’t gunning for a fight. I asked Jeantel what kind of mood Trayvon was in on that phone call. “He was funny,” she told me. “He was cracking me up most of the call.” Trayvon’s sense of humor was one of her favorite things about him—that and his loyalty to his friends. She was doing her hair at home while Trayvon was walking through the Retreat at Twin Lakes, and he was teasing her about her hair obsession: “You’re gonna die with those hot rollers on, Rachel!” She laughed, he laughed. He asked her to check on whether the All Star Game had started yet, and she did. The prosecution was so stuck inthe weeds (He said what? And then you said what?) that they missed the overarching theme Jeantel could have described for the jury: these were two high school kids having a lighthearted, jokey chat, even after Trayvon saw Zimmerman staring at him. Far from lying in wait for him and jumping out of the bushes to sucker punch him (as Zimmerman described in one of his versions of what happened), Trayvon wanted to get away from the “creepy” guy and go back home to catch the game and continue teasing Jeantel.

    Finally, while the prosecution quickly shied away from “creepy-ass cracka” and “nigga,” the defense, naturally, seized on them, getting her to repeat the terms again for the jury to hear. West then asked several times whether Jeantel thought the case was “a racial thing,” with a slight emphasis on the word that implied bringing such a topic into the trial was distasteful.

    “Yes, it is racial,” Jeantel said bravely, staring at the white-majority jury. She knew they wouldn’t understand, but she stuck to it. (As soon as she saw the jury composition, Jeantel told me, “I knew it would be a waste of my time.”) Jeantel was the only voice in that courtroom ever to say that Trayvon was racially profiled, something she understood implicitly, but was not ready to defend in depth. “Why is that?” West wanted to know. She murmured that Trayvon described being stalked, that Zimmerman was watching and following him. “Why is that racial?” West pressed. She didn’t have an answer.

    Ah, if only she’d been prepared, what a powerful moment it could have been in that courtroom:

    WEST: Do you think this trial is a racial thing?

    JEANTEL: I think Zimmerman’s killing of Trayvon is racial, yes.

    WEST: Why is it racial?

    JEANTEL: Because he targeted and followed Trayvon, who was a young black kid, for no good reason. A teenager. Who was just minding his own business, not bothering him or anybody. Who was unarmed, and who has the same right to walk down the street as you and your kids do, Mr. West. This happens to unarmed black men in America every day.

    WEST: That’s what makes it racial? How do you know what was in Zimmerman’s mind?

    JEANTEL: Aren’t you the ones saying there were black burglars in the neighborhood? They got nothing to do with Trayvon. Why do you keep bringing up the black burglars if it’s not racial?

    WEST: Objection, Your Honor, the witness is argumentative.

    JUDGE: You asked the questions, counsel. She’s just answering them.

    WEST: I’ll move on.

    JEANTEL: And I heard that all his police calls about suspicious people were about black men. Is that true? Come on, Mr. West.

    WEST: Let’s move on.


    She had the moxie and the brains to pull this off, if she’d had a chance to practice it beforehand. But without preparation, she didn’t have the backup to defend her position. And without the prosecution’s advocacy that of course this case was about racial profiling, she was hung out to dry alone on the subject. Lacking that support, the defense painted her as improperly playing the race card (as if anything about this trial was a game) instead of a young woman who perceptively understood the obvious, a view shared by millions.









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    Lisa Bloom: ESE (ESFj) or EIE-Fe?

    I actually had tears in my eyes while reading some of this book. It’s kind of like Dostoevsky, but with 100% real life stories. Yet as a writer and journalist, Dostoevsky also researched and wrote about real-life injustices and terrible things people did to each other and crimes and court cases and the like. Reading Dostoevsky kind of reminds me that I have to become a better and kinder human being while also just forgetting about people who will never really like me or forgive me or accept me (for who I am and/or want to be).


    - from SUSPICION NATION: The INSIDE STORY of the TRAYVON MARTIN INJUSTICE and WHY WE CONTINUE to REPEAT it by Lisa Bloom; pp. 49-72 (The State Misses Its Best Evidence): The incident that culminated in Trayvon’s death on the night of February 26, 2012, divides into two phases. In Phase 1, Trayvon Martin walks back to the home of his father’s fiancée, talking on his cell phone with his friend Rachel Jeantel, who is in Miami, 250 miles away. He is carrying candy for Chad Joseph and an Arizona watermelon drink for himself (often mistakenly referred to as an iced tea because the police logged it incorrectly in their crime scene records).

    At the same time, a few minutes after 7 PM, Zimmerman is driving to Target in his SUV, looks out the window, and sees Trayvon. Immediately, he calls the police, identifying Trayvon as “a real suspicious guy,” ostensibly because Trayvon is walking slowly in the rain. That four-minute phone call records Zimmerman watching, following, and then apparently moving quickly on foot, breathing heavily, to catch Trayvon. “I don’t know what his deal is,” Zimmerman says. “Are you following him?” the police dispatcher asks Zimmerman. He admits he is. “We don’t need you to do that,” he’s told. He continues following Trayvon anyway.

    During Phase 1, the teenager and the twenty-eight-year-old man have not yet met. As each is talking on the phone during this time period, though, we do have a fairly good sense of their mindsets. Zimmerman believes Trayvon is a criminal (“there have been a lot of burglaries in the area . . . these assholes, they always get away”), and Trayvon, after observing Zimmerman following him, is fearful of Zimmerman, whom he calls, among other things, “creepy.” Trayvon is concerned about the older man who is staring at him, following him, watching him. (On their phone call, the two teens warily discuss what might be happening. Jeantel tells Trayvon that she is afraid that the guy might be a rapist, and that he should run. At first Trayvon doesn’t believe that is necessary, as he is almost home, and he thinks he’s lost Zimmerman. When Zimmerman reappears, both sides agree, Trayvon does run.)

    Though Zimmerman’s behavior in Phase 1 is deeply disturbing . . . and relevant to the issue of intent, it is not illegal. It was not illegal for him to look out his car window and jump to insulting conclusions about a stranger. It was not illegal for him to say Trayvon was suspicious when he was just minding his own business because that was Zimmerman’s opinion. As long as he wasn’t lying to police, merely expressing his opinion to them was not illegal. It was not even illegal for Zimmerman to continue following Trayvon after the police dispatcher said, “We don’t need you to do that,” since that was merely a suggestion, which he was free to ignore. Some have suggested that Zimmerman “stalked” Trayvon. In the legal sense of that word, Zimmerman’s behavior—spending a few minutes watching, then following, Trayvon—does not rise to the level of stalking.

    Even racial profiling—making unfair assumptions about another in part on account of race—by a private citizen is not illegal in and of itself. If Trayvon had made it home that night, and only Phase 1 had transpired, no crime would have been committed.

    From the standpoint of the criminal trial, Phase 2, when the two met, interacted, and became physical, was the core of the case. According to one of Zimmerman’s versions of the evening, Trayvon “jumped out of the bushes” and sucker punched him in the face. From the force of the blow, Zimmerman then fell down on his back onto the grass, he says, and Trayvon mounted him, Trayvon’s knees to Zimmerman’s armpits, and then pounded Zimmerman’s head onto the concrete. Criticially—this is the most important part of his self-defense story—Zimmerman claimed that as he was being assaulted in this position, Trayvon saw Zimmerman’s gun and reached for it, saying, “You’re gonna die tonight, motherfucker.” Zimmerman says at that life-or-death moment, he drew his gun first and fired it once at Trayvon’s heart, to save his own life.

    An important legal decision flowed from the defense’s decision to stick with this story. Because Zimmerman claimed he was pinned down, the defense opted not to argue a “Stand Your Ground” defense. Stand Your Ground was a relatively recent Florida law that eliminated the old requirement that a combatant retreat from violence if an escape is possible. Since Zimmerman maintained that Trayvon was restraining him, and retreat was therefore impossible, the defense acknowledged early on that Stand Your Ground was inapplicable to the case. Before trial, the defense explicitly waived Zimmerman’s right to a pretrial Stand Your Ground hearing which, had the defense prevailed there, could have exonerated him entirely without the need for a full-blown trial. They gave up this opportunity for an early win because they knew they didn’t have the facts to support a Stand Your Ground defense. (Yet Stand Your Ground language seeped into the jury instructions and into at least one juror’s decision to acquit . . .)

    We don’t have Trayvon’s account of what happened in Phase 2. His call with Jeantel dropped just as the first words were spoken between Zimmerman and Trayvon (according to Jeantel, Trayvon said, “Why are you following me?” and Zimmerman said, “What are you doing around here?”) Minutes later, the first police officer arrived, and Trayvon was already dead.


    No one witnessed the moment of the shooting. Some neighbors saw or heard some portions of the altercation. One saw two men on their feet, moving across the grass (inconsistent with Zimmerman’s story.) One saw Trayvon on top, Zimmerman on the bottom (consistent with Zimmerman’s story). No one could confirm Zimmerman’s critically important details: (i) that Trayvon was banging Zimmerman’s head on the concrete in the final moments before Zimmerman killed him; (ii) that Trayvon saw and reached for the gun; and (iii) that at that moment, Zimmerman pulled the gun and fired.

    In the courtroom, Phase 2 was key, both from the legal and commonsense angles. It was obvious from the outset that if the jury believed that Zimmerman was down on his back, pinned, his head getting painfully banged on the concrete, his gun visible to Trayvon, and Trayvon reached for the weapon, menacing him, that that situation would be so terrifying that of course he would take out his weapon and shoot to defend himself. Wouldn’t any of us do that? We wouldn’t be required to wait another second. Kill or be killed. If Zimmerman’s story about those final few seconds was true, the case was over, and he would walk. And he should.

    Thus, if they believed in their case, it was absolutely essential that the prosecution focus on and disprove these three allegations. Instead, remarkably, the prosecution essentially conceded Zimmerman’s version of what happened, so that by the end of the trial, the jury saw both sides reenacting the defense scenario.

    Shrewdly driving home to the jury the life-or-death nature of the altercation according to Zimmerman, the defense reenacted the scene in the courtroom, with lanky defense attorney Mark O’Mara (playing the role of Trayvon) straddling a life-sized mannequin (representing Zimmerman) in a vivid, live demonstration. O’Mara, an effective trial showman, grabbed the mannequin’s torso and pounded its head on the floor, BAM BAM BAM, as the jury looked on, transfixed. By the end of the trial, the prosecution had accepted this picture and joined the defense in straddling the mannequin, arguing mainly about the details, reinforcing the terrifying image of a man down, pinned, beaten nearly to death before he managed to unholster his gun and fire it to save his life.

    We know that the jury believed that Trayvon had Zimmerman down, was assaulting him and reaching for his gun, and because they understood the law allowed him to “meet force with force,” they acquitted Zimmerman. This visual demonstration was important to them in reaching that understanding.

    Unfortunately, that conclusion was based on a misapprehension of both the law and the evidence, both of which were poorly presented to them in the courtroom. Because the prosecution did not walk the jury through the three simple, essential elements of the law of self-defense, and because the state failed to give the jury a realistic reenactment that incorporated all the known evidence, they were left with the oversimplified, erroneous impression that Zimmerman simply met force with force once he was down, which was permitted.

    Saving one’s own life is a natural, normal human instinct, and the law, as it should, permits us all to do that, even if it requires taking the life of another. But only when absolutely necessary, under real, honest-to-God life-or-death circumstances. Because under our laws, human life is paramount. In a classic law school example, one may not set up a spring-loaded device to kill a burglar entering one’s empty home. Why not? Because human life has a higher value than property. Human life has a higher value than anything else (or at least, it used to). Thus it is not permissible in an ordinary fistfight, say, to take out a gun and kill the other guy. Two men wrestling on the ground should not result in one of them losing his life. We are not barbarians.

    Legally, in fact, this case was relatively simple. There was no doubt whatsoever that Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon, and that he did so intentionally. He admitted he did that—he took out the gun on purpose, pointed it at Trayvon, and pulled the trigger, intending to shoot him. “I took my gun, aimed it at him, and fired,” Zimmerman told police. There was no accident. Not a case of, “I took the gun out just to scare him and—oops—it went off!” He didn’t unholster the gun to clean it. He didn’t intend to shoot someone else. No, this was always an intentional homicide. (If he killed with hatred, malice, or ill will, then the crime is second-degree murder, the top charge. Was it an intentional killing without those factors? Then the crime is manslaughter.)

    The only real question for the jury in the trial was whether Zimmerman killed in self-defense, as he claimed immediately that night and throughout the trial. If he truly shot Trayvon in self-defense, he must be found not guilty. Because an intentional killing is perfectly legal if all the elements of self-defense are met.

    When may a person kill in self-defense, then?

    Florida law is brief and clear on this point. The entire relevant portion of the law as applied to this case is:


    [A] person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if:

    (1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself.



    Three important concepts jump out of this one sentence. Zimmerman’s shooting of Trayvon was in self-defense if he (i) reasonably believed he had to shoot to prevent (ii) imminent (iii) death or great bodily harm. All three of these factors had to be present. If the prosecution disproved one or more of them, Zimmerman did not act in self-defense. Then we are back to the fact that he intentionally shot Trayvon, and the only options would be manslaughter (intentional killing) or murder (intentional killing with hatred, ill will, or spite).

    First, a quick look at reasonableness—a common phrase that sweeps through so much of American law. We are almost always required to behave rationally, sensibly, fairly. In our civil and criminal courts, the law does not reward extremists, whack jobs, people who fly off the handle. In sexual harassment cases, for example, juries deciding whether workplace misconduct is bad enough to constitute a hostile environment are instructed to evaluate the facts from the objective standpoint of a “reasonable person.” (This used to be the “reasonable man” test, which, especially in sexual harassment law, was a mess. We’ve evolved.) Civil rights law does not serve “as a vehicle for vindicating the petty slights suffered by the hypersensitive.” On the criminal side, a shooter’s fear of his victim must be reasonable. We will not reward someone, smoking gun in hand, who says, “I feared him because he looked at me sideways. Maybe you wouldn’t shoot for that reason, but that just bugs me. It freaks me out.” Nope, not reasonable. (Law students! When in doubt on your law school exams, apply a reasonableness test. Odds are high you’ll be at least partially right.)

    Therefore, Zimmerman could not shoot even if he really and truly feared death if his fear was unreasonable—he misread the situation, he panicked, he lost it. Thus the jury was required to review all the evidence to determine whether Zimmerman’s assessment of the situation was levelheaded or exaggerated.

    Second, imminence. He could shoot if he feared death, but only if that threat was upon him at that very moment. If the concern was that he could be killed some time in the future—in five or ten minutes, say—the element of imminence would not be met. Similarly, if he feared death based on events of minutes earlier, the threat from which had now dissipated, that would not be imminent danger.

    Third, death or great bodily harm. We may kill in self-defense only to save our own lives, or to save ourselves from major, horrible, crippling injury. Zimmerman could not shoot if he feared only bruises, scrapes, or humiliation. Minor injuries are part of the rough and tumble of life we are all expected to endure stoically—reasonably—and are insufficient to justify taking the life of another.

    All these restrictions on self-defense should have been important at the trial, but one barely heard a word about them from the prosecution team, who left the jury with the false impression that if Zimmerman was getting assaulted, he could shoot to kill, or “meet force with force,” as the jury incorrectly understood it.

    With these three elements firmly in mind, let’s examine the evidence. In this and every murder case, we are short one witness. We know that we are only hearing the killer’s side of the story, and the deceased cannot speak, so we must be vigilant in analyzing the shooter’s story. Since most people know that killing in self-defense is not a crime—and Zimmerman, for sure, knew this because his criminal justice professor testified at trial that he’d been taught the law of self-defense and had even received an A in the class—the killer’s account of what happened must be approached skeptically, lined up with any and all available evidence and the self-defense statute, to ascertain whether it holds together or whether the shooter is lying to avoid life in prison. Not all shooters are liars, but they all have a powerful motive to lie: to avoid incarceration.

    Thus all aspects of Zimmerman’s story, like that of anyone who has killed another human being, should have been combed over again and again by law enforcement and the state’s attorneys. His version should not have been taken with a grain of salt. It should have been taken with the entire Pacific Ocean’s supply of salt.


    Consider Zimmerman’s holster. Admitted into evidence, we know to a certainty that it was a matte (i.e. not shiny) black “inside-waistband holster.” Zimmerman’s best friend, Mark Osterman, who persuaded Zimmerman to purchase and carry a hidden weapon, confirmed in his trial testimony that the entire purpose of this type of holster is concealment.* Zimmerman’s choice of gun, a KelTec 9mm PF-9 semiautomatic handgun, is a popular choice for concealed carry. And Zimmerman had obtained a concealed carry permit. So there is little doubt that Zimmerman’s gun and holster were hidden from view, as intended by the manufacturers.


    But wait—if the gun was concealed, how could Trayvon have seen it? Because, remember, the most critical moment in Zimmerman’s narrative was deep into Phase 2, when Trayvon supposedly saw the gun and reached for it, allegedly saying, “You’re gonna die tonight, motherfucker.” If he didn’t see the gun, he didn’t take the actions that flowed from it—the alleged reaching, the alleged threat to kill.


    * George Zimmerman, www.youtube.com/watch?v=7oTaxG51RYc


    There’s no question that Zimmerman wore his gun hidden inside his pants. The first police officer on the scene, Tim Smith, noted in his police report that “Located on the inside of Zimmerman’s waistband, I removed a black KelTec 9mm PF-9 semiauto handgun and holster.” (My emphasis.)


    . . . . The day after the shooting, police walked with Zimmerman through the Retreat at Twin Lakes with a videographer recording Zimmerman’s play-by-play as to what had happened the night before. On that video, Zimmerman demonstrates that the gun was holstered behind him, over his buttocks . . . Thus all but the grip (handle) of the gun would have been covered by the seat of his pants. That grip would have extended diagonally to Zimmerman’s center back . . . While the grip would not be covered by his pants, Zimmerman was also wearing a T-shirt and a jacket during the incident, which would have covered the gun if he was in virtually any position other than standing on his head.


    Not just once, but three times, in three different ways, on that video, plain as day, Zimmerman showed the police that his gun was concealed inside his pants, and on his backside. He patted his rear end to show where his gun was. In demonstrating how Trayvon supposedly reached for the gun, he reaches across his chest toward his backside. Finally, he reached back behind him one more time to reenact pulling the gun and shooting it.


    Zimmerman was not asked to lie supine in his reenactment, a significant lapse in the police investigation. Less than twenty-four hours before, he had killed an unarmed teenager. Did they not want to subject him to the inconvenience of showing exactly how the shooting happened?


    Putting together just these two simple, irrefutable pieces of evidence—that Zimmerman’s gun was holstered inside his pants, and that it was located behind him—proves the falsity of Zimmerman’s story. If Trayvon truly had Zimmerman down on his back, he could not have seen the gun, because Zimmerman would have been lying on top of it. Add in a few other facts agreed to by the neighborhood witnesses: it was a very dark night, and it was raining. Many witnesses talked about how visibility was extremely poor in that area, and that unless one stood directly under a townhouse porch light, there was really no light at all. Add that the altercation ended on the grass, which would also obscure even a sideways glance at an object affixed to someone’s backside as he was lying down on the ground.


    And yet Trayvon, somehow, on that wet, black, low-visibility night, saw through the grassy ground cover, through the bulk of Zimmerman’s body, through Zimmerman’s shirt, and through his jacket to a matte black gun concealed in a matte black holster clipped inside Zimmerman’s waistband.


    Can anyone possibly believe this story?


    And if Zimmerman had been punched in the face and fallen backward, as he claims, he would have landed hard onto his back, on that solid metal object holstered inside his pants—ow, sounds painful, right?—and yet there was no evidence at trial that he had a bruise, an abrasion, a cut, or even redness from the gun pressing into his backside after he supposedly fell on it. Every nick and scrape Zimmerman experienced was carefully catalogued and reviewed at the trial. Nothing on his back.


    Somehow, during the presentation of the evidence at Zimmerman`s trial, the prosecution was unaware of the vitally important fact that Zimmerman`s gun was holstered on his backside. At various points, both the prosecution and the defense attorneys demonstrated the position of the gun by patting the front of their waistbands . . . giving the jury the false impression that that`s where Zimmerman carried his weapon, in that far-more visible location. No one in the courtroom corrected that misperception. The state was in possession of Zimmerman`s videotaped demonstration for over a year, as well as Zimmerman`s gun, holster, and all the information about the dark, rainy night, and the grass, which came from their own witnesses.


    But disturbingly, they failed to put the evidence together, or to use it. With their own neighborhood witnesses, the prosecution could have emphasized how very dark that suburban neighborhood gets at night, connecting it to this issue. They could have asked questions like this:


    PROSECUTION: How dark was it that night?

    RESIDENT: Oh, very dark.

    PROSECUTION: Can you describe it?

    RESIDENT: Once I step off my porch, away from my porch light, I need a flashlight to walk around.

    PROSECUTION: And how about the rain? Did that make it easier or harder to see things?

    RESIDENT (laughing): Well of course, harder. It’s tough to see through the rain, especially at night.

    PROSECUTION (holding up the holster): Would you have been able to see this?

    RESIDENT: On that night? No.

    PROSECUTION (putting the holster inside his pants, behind him, then lying down on the floor): How about like this? Would you have been able to see it?

    RESIDENT: You’ve got to be kidding. No way.

    PROSECUTION: How about the grass? Would it be easy to see a small black item like this with the grass in the area all around me?

    RESIDENT: The grass would make it harder to see, I’d say.


    Oh sure, the defense might start objecting. But the prosecution would have made its point. Lest you think I am being overly dramatic suggesting that the prosecution put the holster in his pants and lie on the courtroom floor (I’d add the gun too, if the court would let me), attorneys for both sides were down on that very floor, or using their own bodies to demonstrate their version of events, at many points throughout the trial. But just as the police never required Zimmerman to put all the parts of his story together and truly reenact it, so too the state’s attorneys never synthesized the evidence before them, never demonstrated to the jury that the most important life-or-death moment of Zimmerman’s story could not be true.

    And if the point could not be made through a lay (nonexpert) witness like a neighbor, it certainly could have been made later on in the trial, on cross-examination of the defense’s expert on fighting, Dennis Root, who was called to say that Zimmerman’s story of the altercation all made sense to him and was consistent with the evidence he’d reviewed.

    With expert witnesses, attorneys are given wider latitude on cross-examination. Expert witnesses are professionals who sign up to testify at trials, and they are paid for their time doing so. Everyone understands that attorneys will challenge their credentials, their methodology, their opinions, and their findings, from every angle possible, aggressively (though respectfully).

    The prosecution missed its opportunity to push back at Root with questions like this:

    PROSECUTOR: Your testimony is that Mr. Zimmerman’s account of his altercation with Trayvon is consistent with normal fighting tactics as you know them?

    ROOT: Based on my experience, yes.

    PROSECUTOR: Would you be willing to step down off the witness stand, Mr. Root?

    ROOT: Certainly. (Stands in the well of the courtroom, before the jury.)

    PROSECUTOR: Here is the gun Mr. Zimmerman used that night. Don’t worry, it’s been secured by the officers and it’s not loaded. Would you hold it please?

    ROOT: Yes. (Holds gun.)

    PROSECUTOR: Here is the holster that Zimmerman was wearing that night. Would you please put the defendant’s gun in the holster?

    (Root does so. Starts to get anxious.)

    PROSECUTOR: Here is the holster that Zimmerman was wearing that night. Would you please put the defendant’s gun in the holster?

    (Root does so. Starts to get anxious.)

    PROSECUTOR: Incidentally, are you familiar with this gun and holster?

    ROOT: Not really. I’m an expert on fighting tactics, not guns and holsters.

    PROSECUTOR: Well, according to the defendant, this was a fight that ended with a shooting. Isn’t that correct?

    ROOT: Yes, it is.

    PROSECUTOR: And you were called upon to analyze the entire incident, weren’t you?

    ROOT: I was.

    PROSECUTOR: But in doing so, you didn’t look at the actual gun and holster, or copies of them?

    ROOT: Just in the photographs.

    PROSECUTOR: Now I am putting on the holster the way Mr. Zimmerman wore it that night. You’ve seen the reenactment video, where the defendant partially reenacted the shooting, haven’t you?

    ROOT: Yes, I watched the video.

    PROSECUTOR: But he didn’t really reenact the final moments just before he killed Trayvon, did he?

    ROOT: Well, he demonstrated as best he could.

    PROSECUTOR: He demonstrated from a standing position, didn’t he?

    ROOT: Yes.

    PROSECUTOR: But in fact, he says he and Trayvon were both on the ground at the time of the shooting, right?

    ROOT: He does say that.

    PROSECUTOR: Any reason why he couldn’t get down on the ground and show the police what he says happened?

    ROOT: Not that I know of.

    PROSECUTOR: On that video, the defendant made it clear that the gun was concealed and holstered behind him, didn’t he?

    ROOT: Uh . . . if you say so.

    PROSECUTOR: You didn’t notice that?

    ROOT: I don’t remember that specifically.

    PROSECUTOR: Oh, well then let’s take a look. (Shows thirty-second clip where Zimmerman indicates three times that the gun was holstered behind him.)

    ROOT: Oh. OK. Yes, I see that.

    (Prosecutor gives jury a meaningful look.)

    PROSECUTOR: So let’s put it all together and do a real reenactment for this jury right now, OK?

    ROOT: If you say so.

    PROSECUTOR: (securing the gun in the holster, putting the holster inside his pants, on his backside, jacket over the gun): I’m the defendant, and my firearm is concealed and secured by the holster, behind me. That’s how Mr. Zimmerman had it, right?

    ROOT: I believe that’s right.

    PROSECUTOR: Well, we all just watched the reenactment video to refresh our recollections. Do you need to see it again, Mr. Root?

    ROOT: No, I don’t need to see it again.

    PROSECUTOR: All righty. Now I’m going to lie down, and you straddle me, the way Mr. Zimmerman says Trayvon Martin did.

    DEFENSE: Objection!

    JUDGE: He’s a fighting expert, and this is his area of testimony and expertise. I’ll allow it.

    PROSECUTOR (now supine): Do you remember how the defendant said Trayvon Martin was straddling him?

    ROOT: Knees to armpits?

    PROSECUTOR: Exactly. Go ahead.


    At this point the jury would be rapt. They’d all be leaning forward in their seats. What an exciting part of the trial was now playing out before them! Two grown men, one on top of the other, recreating the final, dramatic moments of Trayvon Martin’s life. Now that the prosecutor pointed it out, this had not been demonstrated accurately on that Zimmerman police video! Where was the prosecution going with this? The anticipation would be high. This demonstration would not require understanding any confusing legal concepts, nor would it make them sit through hours of boring testimony before the lawyer got to the point, both of which happened far too often at this trial (and happens at most trials). If a picture is worth a thousand words, a live demonstration is worth a million.

    And what would they see? That even in the bright, dry courtroom, Zimmerman’s gun was not visible. Not to the defense expert atop the prosecutor, not to the jurors, not to anyone.

    Bringing in a patch of fake grass the same length as the grass at the crime scene would have been helpful too, to show its obscuring effect. Ever lose an object in grass? On a dark night? Most of us would not even start looking until the next morning. Prosecutors could have even gone so far as to dim or turn off the lights in the courtroom to remind the jurors of the darkness on the night of the shooting.

    The prosecutor could then put it all together, right before the jury’s eyes:

    PROSECUTOR (down on the floor, on his back): Now, you remember how the defendant said that Trayvon Martin saw and reached for the gun?

    ROOT: I do remember that part of his story.

    PROSECUTOR: Can you see the gun right now, Mr. Root?

    ROOT: No, but . . .

    PROSECUTOR: But what? Do I not have the gun and holster on my person the way the defendant indicated? Am I not in the position he said he was in just before he shot Trayvon Martin?

    ROOT: You are. But a fight is dynamic. They were moving around. Maybe Trayvon saw the gun at a different point in the fight.

    PROSECUTOR: You’ve reviewed all of the defendant’s stories as to what happened?

    ROOT: I have.

    PROSECUTOR: And in which one of those stories did he say that Trayvon Martin saw the gun at some other moment that night?

    ROOT: I don’t know.

    PROSECUTOR: Would you like to review your notes?

    ROOT: Yes, I would. (Root returns to the witness stand. Minutes tick by silently as he flips through his pages of notes. The prosecutor knows there is no version of Zimmerman’s story where he says Trayvon saw the gun while the two were upright, or in any other position.)

    Finally . . .

    ROOT: I can’t find that. Perhaps Zimmerman was mistaken when he said that Trayvon saw the gun at that point in the fight.

    PROSECUTOR: Mistaken. Mistaken? Let me give you some other possibilities. The defendant was exaggerating when he said Trayvon saw and reached for the gun just before the defendant shot and killed him?

    ROOT: That is possible.

    PROSECUTOR: The defendant was lying when he said Trayvon saw and reached for the gun just before he shot him?

    ROOT (squirming in his seat): That is possible.


    Had the state attorneys put this all together before the trial, as they should have, they could have called their own fighting expert to make the point clearly for them. They failed to do so. But even if they didn’t figure this out until the trial was already underway, they could have made the point effectively during direct examination of their own lay witnesses, or during cross-examination of the defense expert, Dennis Root. The fact that none of this happened leads inescapably to one conclusion: no one in the state attorneys’ office noticed the best evidence, the “smoking gun” evidence, that was right under their noses.

    If the prosecution had done its job and hit hard on this issue, one wonders what the defense could have come up with in response. Maybe Zimmerman was wrong about Trayvon seeing and reaching for the gun. The fight all happened so quickly, and the two men were moving around a lot. That would have been a devastating admission, because, remember, to prevail on his self-defense theory, Zimmerman was required to show that he was in reasonable fear of imminent great bodily injury or death. Imminent. Meaning, he was about to die, in a matter of moments. He could not legally take out his gun and end the fight by killing Trayvon Martin without immediate impending life-threatening (or at least, great bodily-injury-threatening) harm.

    Maybe Zimmerman was wrong? He cannot be wrong about this and hang on to his credibility, his reasonableness—that all-important self-defense factor. If Zimmerman was wrong, he was lying (and now jurors have no basis to believe he killed in self-defense) or he was exaggerating (which is really just another word for lying, and at best indicates he panicked, which means he was not behaving reasonably, as the law requires.)

    If Trayvon was not about to take Zimmerman’s life, the shooting was not justified. If the shooting was not justified, Zimmerman is guilty of either manslaughter or murder.


    But he was pounding my head on the concrete too! Zimmerman said in several of his statements. Defense attorney O’Mara even hauled in a heavy chunk of concrete in his closing argument (a nice move on his part—the defense understood the power of visual aids) to show the jury that the sidewalk could be a deadly weapon. And indeed it could. If the incident ended on the sidewalk. Which it didn’t. Trayvon’s body was found on wet grass, a substantial distance from any concrete. And Zimmerman said he didn’t move Trayvon’s body—that he merely slid out from under it. Thus we can conclude the altercation ended there, on soft, wet grass. Unless Zimmerman’s neck extended eight or ten feet at a time like a Pez dispenser, his statement that Trayvon was banging his head on the concrete was false. Exaggerated. A lie. (Zimmerman’s attorney conceded in closing argument that given Zimmerman’s minor injuries, his head was probably not banged dozens of times on the concrete, as Zimmerman told police. This was a major concession that the prosecution should have capitalized upon, but they failed to. It was an admission to another exaggeration, another example of panicked overreaction—of Zimmerman not meeting his legal obligation of reasonableness.)


    The physical evidence disproved the core of Zimmerman’s self-defense story. Without Zimmerman’s statements that Trayvon saw and reached for the gun (enhanced by the gangster-movie-sounding threat he attributed to Trayvon while Trayvon was supposedly reaching for Zimmerman’s not-visible gun: “You’re gonna die tonight, motherfucker”) and his allegation that Trayvon was pounding his head on concrete too far away to be reached, Zimmerman had nothing left to meet the legal requirement that he reasonably believed he was in imminent risk of great bodily injury or death.

    All this the prosecution failed to mention in opening statements, or on direct or cross-examination of any witness day after day, week after week, for three weeks, missing one opportunity after another to drive this essential point home to the jury. At the very end of the case, after we’d been hammering this point on television all week, miraculously, in closing argument, prosecutor de la Rionda for the first time mentioned his brand-new observation that Zimmerman holstered his gun behind him. Mentioned, only briefly. He didn’t show the jurors the portion of the video where Zimmerman himself pats his backside to indicate his gun’s placement. He didn’t point out that Zimmerman had failed to truly reenact the final moments of the altercation. Was it because Zimmerman knew he’d be found out if he actually lay down on the ground with his gun behind him? The prosecutor didn’t put the gun and holster on himself, or on the dummy, and lie down to show the invisibility of the pistol in that position. He didn’t connect any of the evidence up with the three important elements of the law of self-defense. He did ask the question, in showing a clip of another video, how Trayvon could have seen the gun. But it wasn’t a question, by the end of trial. The point required an aggressive, declarative statement from the man asking the jury to find Zimmerman guilty of murder, that Zimmerman’s story was now proven to be impossible, a lie, and therefore his self-defense claim was disproved, beyond a reasonable doubt. It required a prosecutor’s fire-in-the-belly belief in his own case. The prosecutor should have explained that Trayvon was killed intentionally, without any legal justification; that Zimmerman came up with a self-defense story, a story that may have been believable at first, but once all the evidence was put together, could now be seen as a fabrication. Self-defense, then, would no longer be a part of this case. It would be out. And without it, what’s left is an intentional shooting without justification—with manslaughter or murder the only remaining options.






    pp. 224-237:

    “Et Tu, America?”

    “In our courts, when it’s a white man’s word against a black man’s, the white man always wins. They’re ugly, but those are the facts of life . . . The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is a courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow, but people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box.”—HARPER LEE, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD


    The second major public sphere in which racial bias runs rampant is the American criminal justice system. Shine a light in any corner of it, from initial arrest to sentencing and parole, and you’ll discover that blacks bear the brunt of our most highly punitive laws, experiencing our criminal justice system markedly differently than whites. African Americans are far more likely to be watched, stopped, charged with petty crimes, convicted, and sentenced to longer terms than members of other races. As crime victims like Trayvon Martin, African Americans are more likely to be seen as aggressors, dangerous, violent, even when they are unarmed or have no criminal record, with only the defendant’s word to support that narrative.

    In polls, overwhelming majorities of blacks believe that African Americans are treated differently by police and the courts. Only half as many whites agree. Unfortunately, the complaints of African Americans are borne out by the research, which reveals that disparity at every turn.

    Consider juries, which should be drawn randomly from the community, and which we’d hope would reflect the diversity of the local population. In reality, that’s rarely the case. In most places in the United States, African Americans in court are highly unlikely to have a jury of their peers. Of the six women who served on the Zimmerman jury, for example, five were white. The sixth, Maddy, identifies as Hispanic. When the jury was empaneled, many commentators felt that the lack of African Americans on the panel in this racially-charged case was unfortunate, but that it “just happened,” the luck of the draw.

    But as it turns out, it’s the norm for minorities, especially African-American men, to be underrepresented on American juries, as a direct result of laws barring them from jury service. Most states prohibit felons from jury duty and even voting—usually for life. Those with a criminal record, even veterans, even those who did their time years ago and have been contributing, taxpaying citizens ever since, cannot serve on juries. More than two million African Americans cannot vote or be jurors because of felon disenfranchisement laws—four times higher than the rest of the population.

    According to one Georgia study, for example, in some counties more than half of African-American men are excluded from jury service because of prior criminal convictions. Nationwide, according to another study, almost one-third of black men are barred from jury duty. In Seminole County, Florida, where the Zimmerman trial took place, jurors are automatically disqualified if they have ever been convicted of a felony, or if they are currently facing prosecution—rules that apply in most of the United States. (Some states have provisions where ex-cons can petition for reinstatement of their jury rights, but who spends time and money for the inconvenience of serving on a jury?)

    The disqualification of these large numbers of black men from juries is particularly disturbing given that so many black men are caught up in the criminal justice system and face trials themselves—yet they are the least likely to get a jury of their peers. In the Zimmerman case, the defense’s theory of self-defense meant that in a very real sense, Trayvon Martin was on trial, accused of being a hair-trigger homicidal assailant. As we’ve seen, while both whites and blacks harbor implicit racial biases, whites are far more likely to judge a young African-American male as aggressive in nonthreatening situations. Thus the absence of African-American jurors in the case, as in many cases, could very well determine the outcome.

    And yet because of our little-known and rarely discussed jury exclusion laws, it was unlikely that Trayvon Martin would get a panel of his peers. And in fact, he did not. (This is a particular problem in Florida, where nearly all cases seat just six jurors. In states with twelve jurors, the odds of at least one or two nonwhite jurors increase.)

    Authority figures in the courtroom too are also less likely to be black. Prosecutors, as we’ve seen, are the most powerful players in the system, yet few are African-American. Nationwide only about 5 percent of state attorneys are black, and many counties in America have no black prosecutors at all. This lack of diversity means that determination as to who was the aggressor, who was the victim, who gets charged and for what crime is missing the voices and experiences of African Americans, who are more likely to see members of their own race as individuals and are less likely to see dark skin as inherently criminal. (While many blacks harbor implicit racial biases, they do so in significantly lower numbers than whites . . . and blacks are far more cognizant of racial biases at play in the criminal justice system.) None of the Zimmerman trial courtroom prosecutors were African-American, for example, and they readily accepted most of the defense version of the altercation, especially the allegation that Trayvon was on top and assaulting Zimmerman. In addition, they seemed entirely unable to communicate with their star witness, Rachel Jeantel, who spoke in an urban dialect. These types of problems are not unusual when many of those swept into the system as defendants, victims, or witnesses are African-American but few of the attorneys are.

    African Americans are underrepresented as judges too, and studies show that especially in cases where race is an issue, black judges rule differently. An African-American judge may have had a different perspective in the Zimmerman trial as to whether lawyers would be permitted to use the words “racial profiling” and whether evidence of the Bertalan burglary was relevant to Trayvon’s inherent suspiciousness. Even the image of a strong, authoritative African-American judge in the case may have undermined some of the blacks-are-criminals messaging at play in the case.

    While those administering justice—judges, lawyers, and jurors—are disproportionately white, those being judged are disproportionately black. This is in part because of where we send police to look for crime—overwhelmingly, it’s inner-city, majority-black neighborhoods—and in part due to the more punitive treatment African Americans receive once they’re swept up into the system.


    From start to finish, it’s a major advantage to show up with white skin in the American criminal justice system. We know that in judgment calls where a suspect may be held or let go, African Americans are more likely to be detained* than whites accused of the same crimes. When discretion may be exercised, such as by prosecutors offering plea bargains, African Americans are offered deals with higher charges and stiffer sentencing. When they are tried and convicted, whites get lighter sentences than blacks for the same crimes. In one study, judges were found to impose as much as eight additional months on black defendants than on whites committing identical offenses. [Hayle Roberts, “Implicit Bias and Social Justice,” Open Society Foundations, December 18, 2011, http://www.opensocietyfoundations.or...social-justice


    * The Sentencing Project, “Reducing Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice System: A Manual for Practitioners and Policymakers,” (Washington, DC, 2008), http://www.sentencingproject.org/doc...ldisparity.pdf


    The War on Drugs has swept up such vast numbers of African Americans into prisons and second-class citizenship thereafter that it’s been aptly called The New Jim Crow by prominent Ohio State law professor Michelle Alexander. In at least fifteen states, blacks are admitted to prison on drug charges twenty to fifty-seven times more than whites, though blacks and whites use at the same rates, and whites are more likely to sell drugs.* To achieve that astonishing disparity, racial biases are at play among thousands of policy makers (who determine that it’s acceptable for policing to be focused intensely in inner-city neighborhoods), police officers (like those found to engage in racial profiling), prosecutors (who routinely exercise their discretion in favor of leniency for white but not black defendants), judges (who impose different sentences on whites and blacks for similar crimes), and juries (who are more likely to see blacks as aggressors and whites as victims).

    Most of these are people with good intentions who would be deeply offended at being called racist. Some have black friends or family members. Some are people of color themselves. All that is interesting but not particularly relevant. Because the system’s outcomes demonstrate irrefutably the widespread acceptance and practice of racial discrimination in the administration of justice. While many in America take it as a given that blacks are more likely to be criminals, the horrific level of criminalization and mass incarceration of African Americans has in fact occurred only recently. African Americans are now incarcerated at more than twenty-six times the level they were in 1983, and Latinos are imprisoned twenty-two times more. (Whites are incarcerated at “only” eight times the level they were in the early ‘80s.)


    * Jamie Fellner, “Race, Drugs, and Law Enforcement in the United States,” Stanford Law and Policy Review 20, no. 2 (2009), http://www.hrw.org/news/2009/06/19/r...-united-states



    The racial discrepancy is stark and especially outrageous for juveniles. For first-time child offenders, African Americans are six times as likely as whites to be sentenced to prison for identical crimes. African-American youth are significantly more likely to be arrested, more likely to be tried in adult court, and more likely to be sent to adult state prison, where they meet other criminals; rarely receive counseling, educational, or vocational training; and then enter the pipeline, primed for a lifetime of nearly impossible burdens once they’re released. Nowhere is this more unjust than in the area of drug prosecutions, as we’ve seen, with its appallingly unequal enforcement against African Americans. It’s even worse for black youth, who are ten times as likely to be prosecuted for drug possession, though they are less likely to use and abuse drugs than white youth, according to a 2011 large-scale Duke University study. [Maia Szalavitz, “Study: Whites More Likely to Abuse Drugs Than Blacks,” Time, November 7, 2011, http://healthland.time.com/2011/11/0...s-than-blacks/

    There is no justification for these numbers. There is no way to sugar-coat what’s happening here: blatant race discrimination against African-American children—in an outfit that has “justice” in its title and stone-engraved words about liberty and equality over many of its entryways, statues of a blindfolded lady justice gracing its hallways.

    Take a close look at any stage of our criminal justice system, and the research documenting racial bias jumps out. Even defense attorneys, who one presumes represent many black defendants, can be ignorant to the extent of the injustice. Right after the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, Zimmerman defense attorney Mark O’Mara threw out a whopper of a reverse-racism claim. He said that his client “never would have been charged with a crime” if he were black.

    In what country is O’Mara living? Certainly not the United States, where clear and persistent discrimination against African Americans in our criminal justice system is ubiquitous and well documented.


    Racial bias extends from jury selection all the way to the end of the line, to life and death decisions in capital cases. It’s long been known that the race of the victim is the most important factor in determining whether or not a convicted American murderer gets the death penalty, a sentence we reserve for a small percentage of killers—the “worst of the worst.” Consistent with our undervaluing of black lives, one who takes the life of a white victim is at least four times more likely* to receive a death sentence than one who takes the life of an African-American victim. In a study from the state of Georgia that was used for the basis of a race discrimination claim that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, a defendant who had killed a white victim there was sixteen times more likely to get the death penalty. [Keith Kamisugi, “Share Your Unconscious Bias Stories With Us,” Equal Justice Society, December 11, 2009, http://www.equaljusticesociety.org/2...ories-with-us/

    From beginning to end, African Americans fare worse in our criminal justice system, as implicit racial biases subject them to more scrutiny, more charges, more incarceration. It’s a Catch-22: caught up in more sweeps, sentenced to longer terms, black behavior is more likely to be criminalized, and then blacks are more likely to be seen as criminals. More police are then sent to inner-city neighborhoods, more blacks are arrested, and the vicious cycle continues.


    * David C. Baldus, Charles Pulaski, and George Woodworth, “Comparative Review of Death Sciences: An Empirical Study of the Georgia Experience,” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 74, no. 3 (Autumn 1983), http://www2.law.columbia.edu/fagan/c...ldus_Study.pdf



    “Whites Commit Crimes but Blacks Are Criminals”


    Underlying much of that subconscious racial bias is the most enduring, corrosive racial stereotype in America: the black-as-criminal mindset. Historian David Levering Lewis summarizes it: “Whites commit crimes but blacks are criminals.” While whites can and do commit a great deal of minor and major crimes, the race as a whole is never tainted by those acts. But when blacks violate the law, all members of the race are considered suspect. I used to anchor a show on Court TV, and when we heard about a new arrest for some horrific crime, my African-American co-host would whisper, “Please don’t let him be black.” It would never enter my mind to wish that a bad guy not be white, because no matter how sick the crime, other members of the white race are not impugned.

    Remember Zimmerman’s false syllogism? A few blacks committed burglary, Trayvon was black, therefore Trayvon was a criminal. Similar logic is used daily in the assumptions police and citizens make about African Americans, especially young males.

    The black-man-as-criminal stereotype runs deep. The archetype is so prevalent that the majority of whites and African Americans agreed with the statement “blacks are aggressive or violent” in a national survey. In support of these findings, other research indicates that the public generally associates violent street crime with African Americans. Other nationwide research has shown that the public perceives that blacks are involved in a greater percentage of violent crime than official statistics indicate they actually are. [Kelly Welch, “Black Criminal Stereotypes and Racial Profiling,” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 23, no. 3 (2007), www.sagepub.com/gabbidonstudy/articles/Welch.pdf

    Notice how the reasoning about race runs right to insulting conclusions (blacks are criminals), but never to positives, which would be equally (il)logical. No one thinks:

    1. Barack Obama is our president, and he’s African-American.

    2. That kid walking down the street is African-American.

    3. He’s probably a future president!


    The standard assumption that criminals are black and blacks are criminals is so prevalent that in one study, 60 percent of viewers who viewed a crime story with no picture of the perpetrator falsely recalled seeing one, and of those, 70 percent believed he was African-American. When we think about crime, we “see black,” even when it’s not present at all.

    Where did this insulting stereotype come from? The black-as-criminal image has been with us at least since the nineteenth century, when explicit racism portrayed African-American slaves’ essential nature as ignorant and savage, in need of the “civilizing” influence of the white man. At that time, little black crime actually occurred, as slaves’ lives were rigorously controlled, and they could be and often were swiftly put to death for perceived offenses against the slave owners, who acted as judge, jury, and executioner. As Chief Justice Roger B. Taney said in the famous 1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford decision about the Founding Fathers’ mindset in drafting the Constitution:


    Blacks had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever profit could be made by it.



    In contrast, white slavers, who should have been the real criminals, imprisoned African Americans on their plantations, forcing them to live short, harsh lives in extreme poverty, working without any compensation, constantly subjecting them to beatings and threats of violence. Female slavers were often raped by white male slave owners. Well into the twentieth century, lynchings of blacks in the southern United States were not only common but were social events where white families would bring the children and a picnic lunch and would take pictures of the hanging to be made into commemorative postcards. On average, an African-American man, woman, or child was hanged, generally by a white mob, once a week, every week, between 1882 and 1930, as police actively participated or stood by and condoned the murders. Lynchings continued until the 1950s, as thousands of black Americans were hanged for offenses like “disputing with a white man.” (A much smaller number of whites were lynched as well, often for taking the side of a black person.)

    Though the United States was founded as a slave nation, with the subjugation of African Americans written into our Constitution, and though our history brims with centuries of repulsive acts of viciousness perpetrated by whites against millions of African Americans, no white-as-criminal trope ever took hold. This can only be attributed to the triumph of propaganda over reality. From the Reconstruction Era onward, academics churned out pseudoscientific papers linking blackness with criminality, “studies” which were then championed by journalists and even reformers as the basis for the view that blacks were innately inferior. Decreased funding to African-American schools and neighborhoods was justified on this ground, as were many forms of discrimination.

    What about more recently? Most of us see our history of slavery, Jim Crow, and lynchings as shameful and repellent, yet we still believe the black-as-criminal attitude is justified based on current crime fears. Is it?

    It depends on what we choose to fear. How about serial killers? What criminal is more terrifying than a madman killing again and again, escaping the law? America’s most notorious serial killers, striking fear as their body counts mount, have almost always turned out to be white, and gruesome beyond imagining. Albert DeSalvo, the Boston Strangler, terrorized his city in the 1960s, sexually assaulting and murdering thirteen women. David Berkowitz, New York City’s “Son of Sam,” killed six and wounded seven in the late 1970s, terrifying the city until his apprehension. Ted Bundy, who called himself “the most coldhearted son of a bitch you’ll ever meet,” confessed to thirty murders in the 1970s. He was on the loose, killing women in Washington, Idaho, Utah, and Colorado for years before he was apprehended. Chicago serial killer, John Wayne Gacy, who dressed as a clown and performed at children’s hospitals, murdered thirty-three teenaged boys and young men in the 1970s, burying twenty-seven in the crawl space under his house. He described his sexual release in committing murder as “the ultimate thrill.” Gary Ridgway, Washington State’s Green River Killer, was convicted of killing forty-eight girls and young women but admitted to ninety murders during the 1980s and 1990s. He returned to the corpses he left along the river to have sexual intercourse with them. Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, killed three and terrorized many others, sending mail bombs with his antitechnology screeds to universities and airports for seventeen years, until 1995. Jeffrey Dahmer, the Milwaukee Cannibal, raped, murdered, and dismembered seventeen men and boys over thirteen years, until 1991. Dennis Rader, known as BTK for his signature “bind, torture, and kill” modus operandi, killed ten in Wichita, Kansas, and was on the loose for decades until his 2005 apprehension.

    Though each of these men was white, striking again and again in towns and cities across the United States, garnering intense media coverage of their crimes and captures, no fear of white men emerged. Their murders were considered individual acts for which they alone were responsible.

    Prominent American organized crime families have long been run by white men like John Gotti, widely reputed to be responsible for at least thirty murders, including executions he ordered of members of his own crime family whom he suspected of being informants. James “Whitey” Bulger killed at least eleven of his organized crime associates and did not face justice until he was eighty-four years old. He was sentenced to life in prison in late 2013. The judge sentencing him pronounced, “The scope, callousness, and depravity of [his] crimes are almost unfathomable.” Yet none of us looks at white men with concern that they are mob bosses.

    Rampage killers are often in the news. Nearly everyone who has murdered a large number of people in one criminal event has been white. American bomber Timothy McVeigh took 168 lives at the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, many of them preschoolers at day care, in the worst incident of domestic terrorism until 9/11. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the Columbine High School killers, shot thirteen of their fellow high school students, then took their own lives in 1999. Adam Lanza killed his mother, then a classroom full of six- and seven-year-olds and six school personnel before killing himself at Newtown Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012. Earlier that year, James Holmes shot twelve movie-goers in Aurora, Colorado. All these men are white, as is the case for virtually all shooters on the long and growing list of mass killings in America. (The major exception is not an African American but Korean student Seung-Hui Cho, who committed the worst mass shooting in our history, killing thirty three people at Virginia Tech University before turning his gun on himself in 2007.) Yet even though these shocking events generate round-the-clock media attention for days or weeks afterward, that level of attention does not scare anyone away from white men.


    Shocking cases of white women killing their own children occur regularly. In 1995, Susan Smith murdered her two sons, then told police an African-American did it. (So prevalent is the black-as-criminal stereotype that racial hoaxes are common and often effective in distracting attention.) Andrea Yates drowned all five of her young children in 2001. In one of the highest profile cases of the last few years, Casey Anthony was tried (and acquitted) for the murder of her daughter Caylee. No one concludes white women are baby killers.


    Every American presidential assassin—the killers of Presidents Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, and John F. Kennedy—has been white, as was the killer of JFK’s assassin, and the murderers of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. Ronald Reagan’s attempted assassin was white, and so were all those who made attempts on the lives of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Gerald Ford (Ford’s two attempted killers diverged not on racial but on gender lines, as both were white women).


    In our nation’s history, so many of the sickest, most appalling crimes have been committed by whites. Yet no matter how sadistic the crime, no matter how young the victims, no matter how much fear is engendered in a community, no matter how much media attention and public discussion the crimes of whites engender, the race itself is never sullied. One does not look at a white man or woman and feel concern that pale skin enhances the likelihood that he or she is an assassin, a bomber, a murderer.

    It is the black-as-criminal stereotype that endures, sometimes buried, sometimes expressed in private to trusted confidants, and other times stated openly by those who do not fear being called racist. President Obama, in his remarks the week after the Zimmerman verdict, noted that African-American men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system, acknowledging the concerns about black criminals. He’d previously discussed his white grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, who had sacrificed for him and helped to raise him, but who had confessed her anxieties about black men who passed her on the street. During the Zimmerman case, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen spoke for many when he openly wrote of his fear of African-American men. Even civil rights leader Jesse Jackson admits, “There is nothing more painful to me . . . than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery, then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved.”




    - pp. 210-223 (Pushed Out and Locked Out): Let’s start with education. For the most part, forget individual responsibility here. A child cannot be blamed for an underfunded or poor-performing school, for barriers that only the most extraordinary children can surmount. Most kids of all races go to their nearest public school, and our shameful choice as a nation to let inner-city kids languish in understaffed, overcrowded classrooms with shorter school years and fewer class and extracurricular offerings limit their opportunities for success.

    Nationwide we’ve slashed and burned school budgets. Majority-African-American schools, already suffering, have been hit the hardest. For example, in the summer of 2013, Philadelphia’s school district, whose students are 85 percent black, laid off a jaw-dropping 3,783 school employees, including assistant principals, guidance counselors, administrative support staff, and nurses. Lacking teachers, Philadelphia schools can no longer afford the luxury of separate first-, second-, and third-grade classes, so students of different ages and abilities are combined* in mixed-grade classrooms. Twenty-four schools were closed entirely, their students packed into the remaining schools. Art, music, and athletic programs were eliminated, as if these were frilly extras children in one of the world’s richest nations should simply live without. [Valerie Strauss, “Philadelphia Passes ‘Doomsday’ School Budget,” Washington Post, June 1, 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/...oomsday-school -budget/

    Shortly thereafter, in October 2013, asthmatic sixth grader Laporshia Massey died after feeling sick in a Philadelphia public school. No school nurse was on duty. No one called 911. One in five children in the school district suffers from asthma, a common inner-city ailment. The City of Brotherly Love, the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the abolitionist movement, had decided that the health of its schoolchildren was no longer worth funding, though school nurses, facing budget cuts months earlier, had warned that deaths of children would likely occur. [Valerie Strauss, “Girl Dies After Getting Sick at School Without Nurse,” Washington Post, October 12, 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/...-after-getting -sick-at-school-without-nurse


    * Kevin McCorry, “Robbing Peter to Pay Paul: ‘Leveling’ Philly Schools in the Time of Budget Crisis,” News Works, October 9, 2013, http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/l...-budget-crisis


    While Philadelphia’s majority black schools may have suffered the most recent round of deep cuts, they are in line with the cuts and underfunding associated with most black schools around the country. Majority black schools are significantly poorer, are less likely to offer* academically challenging classes like calculus or algebra, and are less likely to have gifted-and-talented programs, arts, or even physical education classes. Teachers in those schools are more likely to be inexperienced and working for lower pay than teachers in majority white schools.


    * Marian Wright Edelman, “America’s Public Schools: Still Unequal and Unjust,” Huffington Post, April 6, 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marian...b_1408878.html



    Shouldn’t we spend more per pupil in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods to help poor kids with the tougher challenges they face? When we know that inner-city children are less likely to have had the advantages of preschool, or even decent nutrition, wouldn’t we want to give them more educational support? Yet confoundingly, by any measure, as a nation we spend significantly less on students of color, who are clustered in poor neighborhoods. The disparity* is most pronounced in the comparison between students in schools that are more than 90 percent white versus students in schools that are more than 90 percent black. (Remember, most of our children are once again attending segregated schools.) Disgracefully, we bestow an average of $733 more per year of public money on each white child’s education in those schools than on the black students. [Center for American Progress, “Students of Color Still Receiving Unequal Education,” http://www.americanprogress.org/issu...ual-education/ ] For the average predominately African-American school, this is a loss of about a half million dollars a year, money that could hire a dozen new teachers or nine experienced ones (and thus smaller classes and more personal attention); school counselors to help troubled kids and encourage college enrollment; tutors; or equipment like computers, or even books. Many low-income school districts lack supplies as basic as textbooks. “We mostly don’t get homework in my math class because we don’t have books,” said Silas Moultrie, an eighth grader in San Francisco. [American Civil Liberties Union, “Back to School Without Books: Many CA Students Still Lack Textbooks, ACLU Charges,” September 12, 2000, https://www.aclu.org/racial-justice/...s-aclu-charges ] In poor areas of New York City some schools have next to no textbooks at all, and many teachers lead classes in fields in which they are not certified or proficient. [Yoav Gonen, “Book Rack and Ruin at City Schools,” New York Post, May 14, 2012, http://nypost.com/2012/05/14/book-ra...-city-schools/ ]


    * Ary Spatig-Amerikaner, “Unequal Education: Federal Loophole Enables Lower Spending on Students of Color,” (Washington, DC: Center for American Progress, 2012), http://www.americanprogress.org/wp-c...alEduation.pdf


    These disparities take a direct hit on students of color. We know, for example, that African-American males are far less likely to graduate high school* (only a bare majority, 52 percent, finish) or attend college than boys in other racial groups. A big part of the problem is what one educational reform group, the Schott Foundation, calls a “pushout” and “lockout” crisis. That is, black boys, often struggling in those barebones, underfunded schools, are frequently disciplined for even minor misbehavior with suspensions, which cut down on their learning time and “push” them out of educational opportunities. (When I talk about suspensions in this book, I’m talking about out-of-school suspensions, where kids are banned from school premises. Some schools use the less-punitive form, in-school suspensions, where students remain on campus, supervised by a teacher in another classroom.) [Schott Foundation for Public Education, “The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males,” http://blackboysreport.org/ ] The students who remain behind in school are “locked out” of better educational opportunities available to white kids in school systems that provide smaller classes, adequate materials and facilities, highly-trained teachers, and other resources that are critical to their success. Predominately white schools are also more likely to use corrective measures in response to children’s misbehavior, such as counseling, calling in parents for conferences, and coming up with a step-by-step remedial plan the student signs to teach the student better conduct, all while the child remains in school, attending classes.


    To see how African-American boys are so often pushed out of school, we need look no further than Trayvon Martin. In the public discussion of the case, some raised Trayvon’s three school suspensions in the months prior to his altercation with Zimmerman in an attempt to show that he was the violent, aggressive type who would instigate a fight with a stranger, as Zimmerman described. It’s likely that this is what the juror who believed Trayvon was a “bad kid” was referring to, as the media had extensively reported on his suspensions, though no evidence on this subject came into the trial.

    And indeed Trayvon had been suspended three times in his junior year of high school in the months prior to his death. The reason his father said that he removed Trayvon from his home, friends, and neighborhood in Miami and took him to Sanford, four hours north, was to help Trayvon focus on “priorities” during that third suspension. Because Trayvon was not going to school in Miami on Monday morning he found himself in Sanford on the night of Sunday, February 26, 2012.

    Three suspensions? Those unfamiliar with modern school rules may conclude that Trayvon was delinquent, or at least a troublemaker. But today being kept out of school doesn’t necessarily mean that at all. Because with little fanfare, public schools have ratcheted up suspensions as disciplinary tools for nonviolent offenses, and African-American boys like Trayvon too often bear the brunt of this punishment.


    Once disfavored based on the radical notion that we actually want children to be in school, suspensions have skyrocketed in the last few decades for infractions major and minor. After fighting, the second biggest category warranting suspension is truancy, tardiness, or cutting a class. This has all the logic of punishing a kid for drinking a beer by insisting he guzzle a fifth of bourbon. Other categories warranting suspension in some schools are bringing a cell phone to school or publicly displaying affection, which are both considered subsets of “willful defiance.” Students have been forced to sit home for days on end after criticizing teachers on Facebook.* A six-year-old was suspended for forty-five days for bringing a camping tool to school that contained a fork, spoon, and knife. The situation is absurdly out of hand. [Johanna Miller and others, “Education Interrupted: The Growing Use of Suspensions in New York City’s Public Schools,” (New York: New York Civil Liberties Union, January 2011), http://www.nyclu.org/files/publicati..._noSpreads.pdf


    * Sabrina Canfield, “Another School Suspends a Student for Criticizing a Teacher on Facebook,” Courthouse News Service, October 25, 2011, http://www.courthousenews.com/2011/10/25/40892.htm


    Since the early 1970s, the percentage of students suspended from school has doubled. Nationwide, the trend is toward more mandatory suspensions from school, for longer periods of time. This began in 1994 when the federal government began its zero tolerance policy against kids bringing guns to school—a laudable concept, but which spawned a host of other “zero tolerance” laws, getting kids kicked out of school for minor infractions. For example, in New York City in 1998, only seven offences warranted zero tolerance mandatory suspensions. That number quadruples to twenty-eight categories of mandatory suspensions by 2009.

    The punitive treatment is a policy cousin to our country’s choice to imprison five times more Americans today than a generation ago, spawning a culture of mass incarceration that we can no longer afford. Similarly, in our schools, with little fanfare or public discussion, we’ve instituted punitive policies resulting in mass suspensions, particularly for minority kids. And just as authority figures’ implicit racial biases disadvantage blacks in the criminal justice system, African Americans, especially boys, find themselves disproportionately subject to school suspensions for perceived suspicious behavior.

    Two million middle and high school students are forced to stay home each year, missing out on classroom instruction. Given that the purpose of schools is to educate, banning children from schools should be a last resort, reserved for those students who pose a threat to the safety of others. Instead, forcing troubled or angry kids to stay away has caused a host of problems for children and has not improved overall school discipline or performance. (Notably, some cities like Baltimore have gone in the other direction, working to keep at-risk kids engaged in school, with some success.)

    And while suspensions have increased for all racial groups, African-American suspensions have skyrocketed at eleven times the rate of other groups. Black male students were the most likely to be suspended (and disabled black males the most likely of all). A Children’s Defense Fund study of almost three thousand schools from the 1970s showed that black students back then were also more likely to be suspended, but the disproportionality has climbed sharply since. Today African-American students are suspended more than three times as often as their white classmates, twice as often as their Latino classmates, and more than ten times as often as their Asian classmates in middle and high schools nationwide.

    Why has the rate at which black students are suspended shot up so dramatically in a generation? A big part of the problem is that notwithstanding all the talk of “zero tolerance,” most suspensions are discretionary, varying widely from school to school, even within the same school district. The same suspicions and fears that lead to racial profiling on the streets are in play in the schools as well. Civil rights leaders find the statistics “appalling.” Gloria Sweet-Love, who served on a Tennessee school board for two decades and is now the state’s leader for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), explains that white teachers are more likely to deem a black student “threatening” instead of simply disobedient, and therefore more likely to “make an example” of him or her.


    * Brett M. Kelman, “Study: Black Students Suspended More Often Than Others,” USA TODAY, May 12, 2013, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/n...sions/2151423/


    We can see this by analyzing the racial disparity in suspensions in Trayvon’s state, county, and even his school, and by comparing his particular offenses with the punishments he was given. Was Trayvon’s race a factor in his suspensions?

    Florida, Trayvon Martin’s home state, has seen a rash of lawsuits brought by the NAACP and the Southern Poverty Law Center over its racial bias in the doling out of suspensions and other harsh disciplinary actions. In Okaloosa County, for example, 50 percent of school arrests involved African-American students, even though they make up just 12 percent of the school population. African-American students were six times more likely to be arrested at school than white students. In Flagler County, African-American students account for 70 percent of expulsions, even though they represent only 16 percent of the student population. In Miami-Dade County Public Schools, where Trayvon was enrolled, half of all students who received multiple out-of-school suspensions in 2009 were black. At Dr. Michael M. Krop High School, Trayvon’s school, again nearly half of the 105 suspensions in 2009 were given to black students, who made up only 24 percent of the school’s enrollment. Any numbers revealing this level of significant racial disparity should be unsettling, but these are especially so given that we are talking about schoolchildren, and forcing them out of their classrooms.

    With this context, let’s examine Trayvon’s suspensions. Were they justified? Was he appropriately “pushed out”? The three suspensions he’d been given that school year were for tardiness, writing the letters “WTF” on a locker, and possessing a plastic bag with marijuana residue. Each time the decision was made by high school administrators to push Trayvon out of school, though he was planning on taking the SAT and going to college like his older brother Jahvaris. (Trayvon had hoped to pursue a career in aviation.)

    As with any student, each of these suspensions increased his odds of failure, disconnecting him from his teachers, disrupting his classroom attendance and participation. Even a single suspension can double a student’s odds of dropping out, and multiple suspensions make the possibility of graduation even more remote. [Daniel J. Losen and Tia Elena Martinez, “Out of School and Off Track: The Overuse of Suspensions in American Middle and High Schools,” (Los Angeles, CA: UCLA Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the Civil Rights Project, 2013).] Put another way, if we wanted to increase the number of high school dropouts in America, we’d suspend more kids for petty offenses, causing them to fall behind in their classes and disconnect from school until they just decide to give up on it entirely.

    Ironically, Trayvon’s own high school student handbook* preaches this concept, stating that “Miama-Dade County Public Schools believes attendance in school is critical to a student’s success.” Is there anyone who would argue with that? Yet its “You’re on your own, kid” policy toward suspended students is consistent with that of most schools, which burden children with the obligation of making an extra effort to keep up once they’ve been barred from school and fallen behind. Trayvon’s high school student handbook reads:


    Suspensions. The responsibility for securing written assignments missed during the suspension period will be the responsibility of the student. Under no circumstances are teachers required to make special provisions to comply with this procedure.


    The message to kids: Ordered to miss school? Teachers aren’t going to make any particular effort to help you catch up. You figure it out.


    * Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School, “Student Handbook,” (Miami, Florida, 2013), http://kropseniorhigh.org/ourpages/a...ndbook2014.pdf


    A close look at Trayvon’s offenses* and his school’s own policies about the consequences that should flow from them raise serious questions about whether he was treated fairly for his infractions. Trayvon’s school set forth a detailed five-tiered disciplinary policy in an effort to make clear what punishments would be warranted for various types of misbehavior, ranging from petty “Level I” offenses like inappropriate public displays of affection or unauthorized use of electronic devices to hardcore “Level V” offenses like armed robbery or homicide. Trayvon’s first offence, tardiness/truancy, is not listed anywhere on any level. The closest violation, the more serious “cutting classes,” is listed as a Level I offense. According to the school policy, this would not warrant a suspension but instead lesser corrections such as calling parents, a reprimand, a student conference, peer mediation, or revocation of privileges to engage in student social activities. Which makes more sense—let’s take kids who’ve made small mistakes and pull them back into school by helping them modify their behavior, not push them out for it.

    So why was the heavy penalty of suspension imposed upon Trayvon when it wasn’t called for under the school’s own written policy? Was his race a factor in the school’s decision to push him out, as appears to happen frequently in his school, county, and state?

    His second suspension, for writing on a locker, would have fallen under the school’s Level II category for disruptive behavior. One incident of graffiti would have warranted, according to Krop High’s own plan, calling Trayvon’s parents or instituting a “school-based program that focuses on modifying the student’s inappropriate behavior or promotes positive behavior.” Suspension would have been appropriate only for Level II “serious or habitual infractions.” Yet Trayvon’s offense consisted only of writing three letters on a locker one time. Even taking into account his prior “offense” for tardiness, this action could not rise to the level of “serious” or “habitual.”

    So why was he suspended a second time? Why did the school not use the opportunity as a teaching moment, helping him learn the lessons of respect for school property, appropriate language in appropriate contexts, and free speech and its limits, as their own policy required?

    Trayvon’s third offense, possessing an empty baggie with marijuana residue, would have arguably been a Level III offense, possession of a controlled substance. (Is residue a substance?) Under the Krop High rules, the principal would hand down a one- to ten-day suspension. Trayvon got the maximum penalty, a ten-day suspension. And thus his father took him to Sanford.

    Why did he get the maximum? Other factors may have been at play in the decision to punish Trayvon with three suspensions his junior year, but based on publicly available information, he appears to have been trapped in precisely the type of overly punitive “pushout” cycle that leads to a disproportionately high number of students of color being kept from attending school. Writing on lockers, being late for class, or possessing marijuana are behaviors that require adult intervention, but they are also extremely common teenaged offenses that should lead to more engagement with the misbehaving kid, not relegating him to the streets or a home where adult supervision may not be present. No one could have predicted the horrific outcome that befell Trayvon in Sanford, Florida, and his school administrators are in no way responsible for Zimmerman’s shooting of Trayvon. But officials should be accountable for decisions that erect more barriers to success for African-American kids when better options are available.

    Of course all schools need options to deal with unruly kids. Many teachers would prefer to send children to talk over their problems with the school guidance counselor. But in this era of budget cuts, school counselors have been eliminated in many districts. Similarly, fewer teachers are available for after-school detention, to coach teams, or to lead music or drama classes, which motivate students’ good behavior so that they can stay on the team, in the band, or in a school play. Suspended students often wind up alone, walking the streets, bored, or spending time with other kids who are dropouts or who have also been suspended—a recipe for failure. In 2013, the American Pediatrics Association called for pediatricians across the United States to take stronger steps to discourage out-of-school suspensions and expulsions because they are so harmful to children’s chances of success, and with no benefit to the schools. The APA concluded that “research has demonstrated . . . that schools with higher rates of out-of-school suspension and expulsion are not safer for students or faculty.” So concerned was the APA about the impact of mass suspensions on children’s lives that it called upon its member pediatricians to inquire during checkups about whether children are being suspended and to advocate for preventative programs and those that administer consequences for rule-breakers within the schools.


    Suspending schoolchildren, who are then ten times as likely to drop out, has profound short- and long-term consequences for them. High school dropouts are all but unemployable in today’s tough job market, where 60 percent of new jobs now require a college education. They’re last hired, first fired, and will earn $200,000 less over their lifetimes than their peers who finish high school, and one million dollars less than college graduates. The United States high school graduation rate is already miserably low, ranking twenty-second out of twenty-seven developed countries. Almost no high school dropout will ever earn more than $40,000 per year, making supporting a family extremely difficult. [Claudio Sanchez, “A High School Dropout’s Midlife Hardships,” NPR, http://www.npr.org/2011/07/28/138741...life-hardships ] Those who don’t finish high school are more likely to be illiterate, to become teenaged parents, to abuse alcohol and drugs, to wind up in prison, even to commit suicide. So helping kids complete school, rather than pushing them out, ought to be our priority.


    When we choose to spend significantly less of our education dollars on predominantly black schools, we can expect the kids in those overcrowded schools with crumbling plaster, nonfunctioning toilets, poor lighting, inadequate ventilation, and inoperative heating and cooling systems to perform poorly on tests, and they do.* When we cut art and music and drama and sports and all the “extras” that made school fun for many of us, we can expect children attending boring, bare-bones schools to rebel and have more disciplinary problems, and they do. And when we push out and lock out large numbers of African-American boys, in particular, for minor infractions that many successful adults committed when they were kids (cutting class, writing on a locker, smoking marijuana), we should expect hostility toward school in general, falling behind in classes, and ultimately giving up on the enterprise altogether, as so often happens.


    Certainly rules that are not helping out kids to begin with, and which are administered in a racially disparate manner, causing so many African-American kids to be pushed out of their own schools, spiking their dropout rates, must be reformed. When we disadvantage this group of kids at the beginning of their lives, we ensure that their lives will be poorer, sicker, rife with unemployment and struggle. We ensure that those job, income, and wealth numbers for African Americans don’t budge, as they haven’t in the last half century. It’s no secret that education is the key to success in adulthood. Yet we allow rampant inequality in underfunding of inner-city and majority-black schools, together with grossly differential treatment of students of color, and then expect them to compete with kids who had all the advantages of personal attention from experienced teachers, extracurricular activities, tutors, and counselors, and who, at a minimum, were kept in classrooms learning whenever possible.


    A country that allows all this to continue right under our noses, despite report after report about how inner-city schools are little more than dropout factories or prison pipelines, cannot seriously contend that it is an egalitarian nation. A country that shrugs at its segregated schools, knowing that racially ghettoized schools teach little black kids that they are inferior, has lost its right to claim that everyone in America has equality of opportunity. A country that pays substantially more per pupil for white suburban kids than for black inner-city students cannot pretend when it comes to high school graduation, college admissions, and the job market that everyone begins at the same starting line and has an equal shot at success. And if urban kids weren’t failing fast enough, now we’re actively pushing them out of classrooms in record numbers via the new insanity of mass suspensions.


    Racial bias need not be explicit to be shattering and self-perpetuating. No one has to say, “Let’s discriminate against African-American kids today.” No one has to be a Racist with a capital R, donning a white hood, spewing racial epithets or committing hate crimes. The common implicit racial bias that African Americans are less good and less worthy can lead to results that are just as insidious, namely a culture that turns a blind eye to policies that harm children of color and allow them to struggle in inferior schools, subject to harsher discipline, throwing up obstacles to their achievement and success, ensuring that the cycle of poverty continues for the next generation.

    African-American children as young as six get the message loud and clear that they matter less to us. Who among us can tell them that they are wrong?




    - pp. 143-149: The defense . . . grilled Jeantel about her view that the altercation between Zimmerman and Trayvon was “just a fight” and not “deadly serious”—which was her initial opinion after hearing the sounds of wet grass and then her call dropping. But the opinions of fact witnesses are not admissible—especially when she’s speculating what happened after her connection with Trayvon failed. The prosecution failed to object to this, so it came in.


    However, on redirect examination, when they had a chance to question her again, the prosecution could have exploited this topic by allowing her to explain: Trayvon didn’t express anything to her about planning to attack, much less kill, Zimmerman. He wanted to go home and watch the All Star game and get away from Zimmerman. So the sounds she heard at the end of the call with him—words exchanged, Trayvon’s headset getting bumped, the sounds of wet grass—sounded to her like the beginning of a fight, not something deadly. Her testimony on that point was entirely consistent with the state’s position that Trayvon did not intend to assault or kill Zimmerman. Put another way, if Trayvon had told her, “I’m going to kill that guy,” she would have been alarmed when the call dropped. She wasn’t, because it sounded to her like at most, “just a fight.”


    And that should have been the essence of Jeantel’s testimony to the jury: that Trayvon was doing the opposite of what Zimmerman claimed. He wasn’t gunning for a fight. I asked Jeantel what kind of mood Trayvon was in on that phone call. “He was funny,” she told me. “He was cracking me up most of the call.” Trayvon’s sense of humor was one of her favorite things about him—that and his loyalty to his friends. She was doing her hair at home while Trayvon was walking through the Retreat at Twin Lakes, and he was teasing her about her hair obsession: “You’re gonna die with those hot rollers on, Rachel!” She laughed, he laughed. He asked her to check on whether the All Star Game had started yet, and she did. The prosecution was so stuck inthe weeds (He said what? And then you said what?) that they missed the overarching theme Jeantel could have described for the jury: these were two high school kids having a lighthearted, jokey chat, even after Trayvon saw Zimmerman staring at him. Far from lying in wait for him and jumping out of the bushes to sucker punch him (as Zimmerman described in one of his versions of what happened), Trayvon wanted to get away from the “creepy” guy and go back home to catch the game and continue teasing Jeantel.

    Finally, while the prosecution quickly shied away from “creepy-ass cracka” and “nigga,” the defense, naturally, seized on them, getting her to repeat the terms again for the jury to hear. West then asked several times whether Jeantel thought the case was “a racial thing,” with a slight emphasis on the word that implied bringing such a topic into the trial was distasteful.

    “Yes, it is racial,” Jeantel said bravely, staring at the white-majority jury. She knew they wouldn’t understand, but she stuck to it. (As soon as she saw the jury composition, Jeantel told me, “I knew it would be a waste of my time.”) Jeantel was the only voice in that courtroom ever to say that Trayvon was racially profiled, something she understood implicitly, but was not ready to defend in depth. “Why is that?” West wanted to know. She murmured that Trayvon described being stalked, that Zimmerman was watching and following him. “Why is that racial?” West pressed. She didn’t have an answer.

    Ah, if only she’d been prepared, what a powerful moment it could have been in that courtroom:

    WEST: Do you think this trial is a racial thing?

    JEANTEL: I think Zimmerman’s killing of Trayvon is racial, yes.

    WEST: Why is it racial?

    JEANTEL: Because he targeted and followed Trayvon, who was a young black kid, for no good reason. A teenager. Who was just minding his own business, not bothering him or anybody. Who was unarmed, and who has the same right to walk down the street as you and your kids do, Mr. West. This happens to unarmed black men in America every day.

    WEST: That’s what makes it racial? How do you know what was in Zimmerman’s mind?

    JEANTEL: Aren’t you the ones saying there were black burglars in the neighborhood? They got nothing to do with Trayvon. Why do you keep bringing up the black burglars if it’s not racial?

    WEST: Objection, Your Honor, the witness is argumentative.

    JUDGE: You asked the questions, counsel. She’s just answering them.

    WEST: I’ll move on.

    JEANTEL: And I heard that all his police calls about suspicious people were about black men. Is that true? Come on, Mr. West.

    WEST: Let’s move on.


    She had the moxie and the brains to pull this off, if she’d had a chance to practice it beforehand. But without preparation, she didn’t have the backup to defend her position. And without the prosecution’s advocacy that of course this case was about racial profiling, she was hung out to dry alone on the subject. Lacking that support, the defense painted her as improperly playing the race card (as if anything about this trial was a game) instead of a young woman who perceptively understood the obvious, a view shared by millions.
    Last edited by HERO; 09-20-2014 at 01:23 PM.

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