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Florida activists speak about the George Zimmerman trial; blast defense’s racist strategy

Demand justice for Trayvon Martin
By staff |
July 10, 2013
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Sanford, FL - As the trial of George Zimmerman reaches its twelfth day, activists and organizers around Florida question whether the murderer of Trayvon Martin will face justice for killing the 17 year-old African-American student in cold blood.

On February 26, 2012, Zimmerman shot Martin after stalking him through his Sanford neighborhood. Sanford police did not arrest Zimmerman initially, which sparked a wave of nationwide protests by African-Americans and other oppressed nationalities demanding his arrest. Caving to popular pressure, police arrested Zimmerman in mid-April and charged him with second-degree murder. The trial began on June 30, with a mostly white jury hearing the case.

“I feel as though this trial represents a test in the battle against white supremacy in a very real and material way,” said Tallahassee Dream Defenders organizer Michael Sampson. “If Zimmerman is able to walk, then we see that national oppression, racism and the all out assault on Black and Brown people is alive and well. Compounded with constant cases of police brutality around the country, as well the gutting of civil rights by the recent Supreme Court decision on the Voting Rights Act, this case is part of the larger system of oppression that gets uglier every day. It requires the power of collective organizing and determination to really win emancipation and freedom for people of color in this country.”

Other activists across Florida also feel that the Zimmerman trial represents the greater struggle against racism and national oppression. Josh McConnell, President of Dream Defenders at University of Central Florida, said, “In a society where Zimmerman is acquitted, and Marissa Alexander is convicted for defending herself against an abusive spouse, I believe such a verdict would make apparent just how racialized the dichotomy between justice and injustice is.” McConnell referred to the unjust conviction and incarceration of Marissa Alexander, an African-American woman in Jacksonville, who received 20 years in prison for merely firing a warning shot in the air to ward off her abusive husband. In Florida, many activists have contrasted Zimmerman and Alexander’s treatment in the criminal justice system, with a white man who killed a Black teenager receiving far lighter treatment than a Black woman who discharged her firearm in self-defense.

Zimmerman’s defense team, headed by attorney Don West, resorted to blatant character assassination of Martin. West repeatedly attempted to enter a toxicology report on Martin’s blood after the shooting into evidence, which showed incredibly low levels of THC, the active agent in marijuana. On July 8, Judge Debra Nelson ruled that the mostly white jury could see the defense’s toxicology report, which was a reversal from several previous decisions that deemed it inadmissible. The defense hopes to prejudice the jury against Martin, the victim of a racist shooting, to justify Zimmerman’s crimes.

Biko Misabiko, an activist in Jacksonville Florida, spoke to Fight Back! about the defense’s racist strategy, saying, “When they brought up the point about Trayvon being under the influence, that got me guessing. Zimmerman’s defense is trying to make the argument because he [Trayvon] is black, they’re saying he was under the influence of marijuana, and that he’s violent. Everyone knows what Zimmerman did was wrong. So for the defense to bring out all this crap, it’s the most ridiculous part of the case.” Misabiko continued, “I just want justice. If Zimmerman gets off, that’s not justice. I don’t know what it is.”

Other activists around the state of Florida share a similar disdain for how the trial is going so far. “From what I've seen so far, I am disgusted at which the defense for Zimmerman, with help of the corporate media, implicitly alluded to Trayvon's aggressiveness and thus victim blaming [by] portraying the 17 year old boy as a hardened criminal,” said Kimberly Miller, a Ft. Lauderdale activist. “Throughout the case, the defense has attempted to appeal to the racist impulses of the public and the predominantly white jurors to depict Trayvon as inherently problematic.”

Activists are hopeful that the trial will draw people into action against racism and national oppression in the US, regardless of the verdict. “It could be a spark for a new movement,” said Misabiko. “If you don’t change the system, I don’t know what will happen. This isn’t the first case. It’s been going on like this for a long time.”