Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Aftermath of George Zimmerman Trial Dying Down July 31



As the Coverage Winds Down: Where Do We Go From Here?

As with any news story, eventually the hype winds down and other newer topics take precedence. We seem to be hitting that point with the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman story. Between the royal baby, Edward Snowden’s father speaking out and now the Bradley Manning verdict and sentencing hearing, the news outlets have switched their attention and George Zimmerman now resides in the bottom crawler if he appears at all. 

So what does this mean for the larger issues this trial and story brought into the national spotlight especially with regard to race relations and gun control? Will these topics cease to be discussed? Luckily there are other ways to get the public to address important issues, especially broad, polarizing topics such as race and gun control. One of the main components of social change and discussion is the entertainment industry. Most people think television and movies are created to gain a profit and provide entertaining fanfare to distract ordinary citizens from their lives for a couple of hours. But just as news programs can broadcast entertaining features to try to boost ratings, so can entertainment outlets produce products that try to invoke social change. 

Making movies that discuss race and require viewing audiences to think about their own prejudices are not new in Hollywood. Just recently Fruitvale Station opened nationwide. This movie tells the true story of a young black man who was unjustly killed by a white policeman. This film took top prize at Sundance and is bound to get some recognition when award season starts early next year. The release of this film corresponded with the verdict of the George Zimmerman trial when race was already a hot topic in the media. This movie, however, helped fuel the discussion by providing an emotional connection to race issues and not just talking heads discussing the events of a court proceeding. Also since this movie is receiving such critical acclaim, six months from now during the Golden Globes and Academy Awards season when the George Zimmerman verdict seems like ages ago, discussion of this movie and the possible nominations it might receive will once again bring race relations back into public debate. 
This is not the first time that a movie helped fuel the discussion on race. In 1989 Spike Lee’s movie Do the Right Thing told the story of different races living in the same Brooklyn neighborhood and how they interacted with another. In 2004, Crash was released and told the tale of different intertwining characters of different races and their viewpoints on racism and race relations. This movie would go on and win the Academy Award for Best Picture.


Movies about gun violence and gun control are not as prevalent (not surprising since a whole genre of action movies relies upon them) but can still be seen. In 2003 Runaway Jury came out and told the thrilling tale of a jury consultant, Rankin Finch, trying to pick the right jury so his gun manufacturing client will win their case, while a member of the jury, Nick Easter wins the trust of the rest of the jurors enabling him to manipulate their decisions. Easter then tries to sell the jury’s verdict to Finch. Interestingly, this movie was based off a book by John Grissom; however, in the book Finch was employed by a tobacco company not a firearms manufacturer. Perhaps the decision to change the sinister company that tries to fix a trial from a tobacco company to a gun manufacturer was a result of the Columbine shooting happening less than five years earlier.


There are also documentaries that bring gun issues to the forefront of discussion. The most notable and high profile was the Michael Moore film, Bowling for Columbine, which attacks different pro-gun laws. This film also won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. 

So needless to say even if George Zimmerman and Travyon Martin do not receive the news coverage they did during the height of the trial, there are still other outlets that will make sure the larger issues this trial brought into the discussion remain there. 

This is not to say that Zimmerman and Martin are permanently out of the news. Other events might bring them back into the news story at least for the day. For example, New York mayoral candidate, Bill Thompson recently gave a speech comparing New York’s Stop and Frisk law to George Zimmerman’s murder trial. He said, "Here in New York City, we have institutionalized Mr. Zimmerman's suspicion with a policy that all but requires our police officers to treat young black and Latino men with suspicion, to stop them and to frisk them because of the color of their skin.” Thompson was able to use the tragedy that happened in Florida to address a local issue very much a topic of debate and concern for New York City residents. Also with Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother, actively taking a stand to get Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law repealed, her efforts will definitely keep her son’s memory and tragic end alive in the media.

So just because whole news programs are no longer devoted to the George Zimmerman trial and Trayvon Martin’s murder does not mean that the large issues brought into the public debate are forgotten. There are still other ways to jump start a discussion on race and gun control. These are important issues that affect millions of Americans, and they will never be completely out of the public’s mind.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Aftermath of George Zimmerman Trial: July 29



And the Drama Continues

Even though the George Zimmerman verdict hype seems to be dying down thanks to Anthony Weiner and the birth of Prince George, some new developments have still kept this story in the news. The first came at the end of last week, when another juror decided to break her silence and talk to ABC about serving on the jury in the George Zimmerman trial. Juror B29 did show her face but only allowed herself to be called Maddy out of fear for her safety. Maddy spoke to Robin Roberts and basically expressed comments that I think a lot of watchers of this trial were thinking. She said that she felt “George Zimmerman got away with murder.” Maddy also remarked that in her heart she knew George Zimmerman was guilty, but she could not convict him because the evidence did not support her gut instinct. She eventually relied on the letter of the law when she made her decision to find Zimmerman not guilty stating that there was just not enough evidence to prove that Zimmerman committed second degree murder or even manslaughter.

This is a shocking admission from a juror. The only other juror making public statements was juror B37 (who remained anonymous). She said she believed that Zimmerman’s actions were correct through and through and she had no doubts that Zimmerman was innocent. Maddy’s opinion offers a totally different reading of the case and once again brings the prosecution’s efforts under scrutiny. Here is a juror who did not need to be convinced of Zimmerman’s guilt but just needed the evidence to justify her “guilty” vote, and the prosecution could not deliver it. As more and more details about the trial come out, I am even more convinced that the prosecution threw the case away. Is there any way the State Attorney can be investigated for intentionally losing a case? In fact since the State Attorney is a political position voted on by Florida citizens, if the majority of these citizens were pro Zimmerman it seems like the State Attorney solidified her re-election by presenting a weak case. If anyone should be blamed for the Zimmerman acquittal it should be the prosecution not the jurors. 

Though Juror B29’s admission of wanting to convict George Zimmerman might have added to the drama of the verdict (and helped Good Morning America once again beat NBC’s Today Show), it really just added entertainment to the trial aftermath and did not really address any of the national issues this verdict now brings to light. Fortunately, Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, is not letting her son die in vain and is trying to enact some change in local Florida laws to prevent other deaths like her son’s. Fulton made an appearance at the National Bar Association convention being held in Miami this year. She made a plea to the lawyers of the nation to fight back against “Stand Your Ground” laws claiming that this law helped Zimmerman get away with murder. In fact the National Bar Association supports Fulton’s fight against “Stand Your Ground” and has asked Florida’s governor and legislature to repeal the law. Right now the legislature has refused this request claiming that since the law was instated in 2005, the violent crime rate has declined; however, the legislature fails to point out that since the law the number of justifiable homicides has risen. 

I will say I am impressed with Sybrina Fulton. This has to be a very difficult time for her, especially since her son’s killer is free. But instead of bitching about how the trial was unfair and that her son did not receive justice, she is trying to enact some positive change for all Florida citizens by working towards getting this law repealed. It seems like her crusade is even taking precedence over the civil suit against Zimmerman (nothing has been reported yet of Trayvon’s family filing suit but you know one is coming). She seems dedicated to her cause and wants to make sure another person’s child does not suffer the same fate as Trayvon.

To also help convince Florida lawmakers to repeal the “Stand Your Ground” law, other activists, most notably Stevie Wonder are requesting a boycott of Florida.  This would mean not traveling there for vacation, not buying Florida products, basically refusing to buy or do anything that would support the Florida economy. This boycott would be similar to the boycott against Arizona when it passed anti-immigration legislation. Though this sounds like a good idea in theory to force Florida lawmakers to take another look at “Stand Your Ground,” boycotting Florida is not an easy answer to success. An article posted on CNN.com lays out the challenges a boycott faces. First of all, Florida is not the only state with “Stand Your Ground” laws. In fact 20 states have this law on the books which signifies that a significant number of Americans support this law. Also people are not going to immediately cancel their Disney World trips or their visit to their relatives just because someone is asking them to boycott the state. If the boycott does become successful and Florida does suffer an economic loss, this boycott could end up hurting the African American population of the state more than it is trying to help them by repealing the “Stand Your Ground” law. Florida’s tourism is one of the leading employers for the state and employs many African American people. Even Sybrina Fulton thinks boycotting Florida might not be the right step to solicit change in the legislature.

Well just as with every news story, the George Zimmerman trial is losing steam, but thanks to Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, she is trying to keep the bigger issues alive and present in the public’s mind. Keep following this blog for further updates regarding the aftermath of the trial. Until next time….

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Zimmerman Helps a Family from a Car Crash



Human Interest Story or PR Move?

Another development in the George Zimmerman verdict aftermath came out yesterday. According to news sources, George Zimmerman came to the rescue of a family who was involved in a car crash. The family’s vehicle overturned and suddenly Zimmerman appeared and helped the family out of the car. He waited around to give the police his statement and then left. The police said that Zimmerman was not a witness to the accident but just a Good Samaritan who stopped and helped a family in need.

This story brings up several interesting issues, none of which really deal with the sequence of events. The first thing that struck my attention about this story was that when I researched it, one of the first sources I saw reporting on the story was TMZ. TMZ is not so much a news source but a celebrity gossip column which is why I found this story in that publication amazing. Zimmerman has now reached the level of celebrity that is usually reserved for Hollywood movie stars such as Brad Pitt or George Clooney. It seems like America has now reached a new low with its “celebrity” obsessions. America has been fascinated with Hollywood actors for the longest time treating them like royalty. In semi recent developments, we have now been fascinated with those who have seemingly no skills and only are known because their parents have money. Now we seem to treat acquitted suspects like celebrities and even cover them on a tabloid program. 

Another issue involving the Zimmerman car crash case involves the timing of the story. This event happened shortly after the not guilty verdict. According to sources, Zimmerman has been in hiding, because he has been receiving death threats. Now not long after that controversial verdict, Zimmerman is back in the news, this time not as a suspect but as a hero. This has led some to believe that possibly the event was staged or that Zimmerma hired a PR team. I tried to do some investigating to see if I could get both sides of the stories or see if any reputable news sources uncovered if this was in fact a staged event or at least a PR ploy. I couldn’t find anything definitive on either side of the argument. I did, however, find a transcript of a Rush Limbaugh rant saying that he knew the “liberals” would try to come out and say that this was a conspiracy or a ploy to make Zimmerman look good. 

This part of the story brings two issues to mind for me: First, I do not know why this story is such a big deal (I mean I do but I don’t think it should be). I believe Zimmerman was wrong to shoot and kill Trayvon. I believe that he made some bad decisions and that some prejudices (even if they were subconscious) helped motivate his actions that night. I think he should be punished for his poor judgment, because an innocent boy is dead. But I do not think Zimmerman is an inherently evil man. We all make decisions that go against our better judgment, but unfortunately for Zimmerman his choices were worse than the ones most people make and someone ended up dead. That being said I don’t know why it is such a big deal he helped a family. His whole defense was being an avid neighborhood watch participant and wanted to protect his neighbors so of course it would be in his character to help someone involved in a car accident. That being said, just because he helped someone doesn’t mean I will forget his poor judgment that night and completely wipe his slate clean.

The second thing that came to mind after reading the Limbaugh article was, “How did this story become a liberal vs. conservative case?” Can this case really be politicized? I mean of course it can and it has but is it really a liberal issue to want to see a person punished who acted in poor judgment which led to a young man losing his life? Actually what I find interesting, if the roles were reversed and an African American man who was in the neighborhood watch, stalked a young white teenager because he thought he looked suspicious, and then the young teenager ended up dead would the conservatives still say the verdict was just and the liberals still be outraged? Or would the roles be reversed and the liberals say the verdict was just and the conservatives thinking the justice system did not live up to its job? Or would the race reversal actually unite the two sides and either have them agreeing that the verdict was wrong or the justice system worked the way it should? It is crazy how much race changes things in this country. We like to think that things are getting better with regard to race relations and in some ways they have, but still in other ways we still have some of the same ideas and viewpoints that have plagued this nation for many years. 

These are just some of the thoughts I had concerning this little news story. I guess the news sources are running out of things to cover with the case if they are now covering car accidents. It will be interesting to see how long this story stays front and center in the news. Maybe the royal baby will knock it out of the news cycle for good.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Aftermath of Zimmerman Trial, July 22, 2013



Obama Speaks Out in Response to Zimmerman Verdict

Well it has finally happened. The day we all have been waiting for. The Duchess of Cambridge went into labor and the next heir to the throne will be born. Oh wait a second, we are in America not England. This story does not affect us at all. You would not be able to deduce that from the amount of coverage the story is receiving on the news channels. Well since the cable news stations won’t be covering the outcome of the Zimmerman trial today, it gives us time to look back at some developments that happened over the weekend.

The big story happened this past Friday, July 19, 2013. President Obama hijacked a regularly scheduled press briefing and used the time to give his thoughts on the Zimmerman verdict and race relations in this country. His appearance shocked everyone, even the reporters, who could be heard saying, “Whoa,” when he entered the briefing room. It was an impromptu meeting that allowed Obama to say his thoughts without making such a big deal (as opposed to preempting primetime programming for a special press conference). President Obama said several things during his talk with the press that I want to touch on and I think are relevant. The first major thing that really struck those reporting on this address was Obama stating, “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.” This statement, I feel, was the most compelling because it really put everything in perspective. We see Obama as an accomplished man. He is well educated, became a U.S. Senator and then went on to achieve the highest office in the country some say the world. We never stop to think about what he was like as a teenager growing up. He probably was a lot like Trayvon. In fact I think a lot of teenage boys no matter what their skin color were a lot like Trayvon. Thinking back on my own teenage experience, I definitely went through phases. I dressed a certain way because that was how my friends dressed and I wanted to fit in. Really examining how I was when I was teenager, I realize that people who knew me then who don’t know me now would never recognize me. I feel like that is the same message that Obama was trying to articulate when he compared himself to Trayvon. A lot has been made about Trayvon’s attire that night, wearing a hoodie, so he looked “dangerous.” You cannot deduce how a person will turn out in life by the way they dress as a teenager. I think the comparison Obama made did a good job giving the public a concrete example of how you never can know who a person is or what they will become by just looking at their clothes. 

Another important thing, Obama did was reference his own struggles growing up as an African American man. An article in The Washington Post after the press conference talked about Obama’s upbringing and also made note that Obama rarely talked specifically about race relations during his presidency. I understand that. Even though Obama made history by becoming the first African American president, he wants to be known for other things than just his skin color. He wants to enact other changes in the country besides just race relations. However, with a high profile story like this one, not saying anything about it would be like ignoring the elephant in the room. The way he addressed the topic was well thought out. He did not condemn anyone in the trial. He praised how professional and by the book it proceeded. He also brought personal experiences of growing up as a minority illustrating that even he was not raised above the stereotypes and biases that exist in the country. He also offered the African American perspective on certain racial issues, saying that the community is not na├»ve to the statistics about the African American race and violence but those numbers should not be the defining criteria for the entire community.

Finally, Obama laid out some of the things he would like to address in the aftermath of this trial. He remarked that law enforcement is controlled at the state and local levels of government, but he would like to work in conjunction with state governors to develop training programs to stop the racial profiling done by law enforcement. He also brought up the “Stand Your Ground” law and tried to appeal to America that a law that has that much ambiguous interpretation (he made a case that if Trayvon was of age and armed, under the law he could have stood his ground) needs to perhaps be revisited. He also called for all Americans to do a little introspection and examine what prejudices and biases they hold and try to overcome them. 

Once again, I think Obama did a good job covering these different topic areas. It did not come across that he was politicizing the Zimmerman trial. He also seemed well aware of his power being that he runs the federal government and cannot make states change their laws or law enforcement policies. Also I think Obama coming out and talking to America about this issue was a sign to those participating in vigils and protests that he heard their pleas, is aware of the situation, and will do what is in his power to help enact change so Trayvon did not die in vain. 

What happened on Friday was an unexpected occurrence that I think a lot of Americans needed to hear. I will be back Wednesday with another post. Hopefully the topic of conversation on the news will go back to American issues (or at least World issues that carry a little more importance) so I will have something fresh to talk about. Till then…

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Aftermath of Zimmerman Trial



Fallout from George Zimmerman Not Guilty Verdict

Even though the trial has ended, the news media cannot stop talking about the George Zimmerman trial. Though in the first couple of posts I exhibited disdain for the media circus surrounding the trial, I am actually delighted the news is still covering the case, because now they have gotten to what this trial really symbolized: race relations and gun control. The big topic after the “Not Guilty” verdict surrounded Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. According to the Washington Post, the “Stand Your Ground” law allows a person to “prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.” It basically means that a person is allowed to use deadly force (even if they could run away), even outside of their home, if they believe someone is trying to kill them or seriously harm them. Though Zimmerman’s defense did not argue his innocence based on this law, it is easy to make the connection between Martin’s murder and this piece of legislation. Bill Baxley, the Florida state representative who co-sponsored this law, defended “Stand Your Ground” on CNN this morning saying that this law should stay on the books because the Zimmerman trial was not about this law. 

I personally do not know how anyone can say there is no connection between Zimmerman’s trial and this law. Even though the defense did not bring it up in the courtroom, it is clear that if Zimmerman wanted to, he could have used this law as his defense. Zimmerman pursued a man who was not trying to invade his home or anyone else’s and killed him in “self-defense” after instigating the confrontation. Actually in thinking about it, it seems that because of “Stand Your Ground,” Zimmerman should have definitely been guilty. According to this law, a person has a right to stand their ground and not run away if they feel threatened even outside their home. Under this law, it seems like Martin would have had the right to confront Zimmerman if he felt threatened that Zimmerman was following him. It also appears that he would he been justified to be on top of Zimmerman and knock him against the concrete if he in fact implemented “Stand Your Ground.”
At least the Attorney General, Eric Holder, understands the excessive amount of violence this law could cause especially now that Zimmerman got acquitted of the charges. Even though Governor Scott of Florida convened a special session and deemed the “Stand Your Ground” law to be a just and good law, maybe the attorney general will do a better job of alerting the public to the idea that this law could cause more harm than good.

The other big development in the aftermath of the George Zimmerman trial involved one of the jurors. Anderson Cooper was able to secure an exclusive interview with one of the jurors (looks like Jeff Zucker will be able to get the ratings he could never obtain as head of NBC). During this interview, the juror, who did remain anonymous by sitting in the dark, spoke about some mundane things that happened during her time as a juror such as her relationship with the other jurors and how there was almost a hung jury because one of the jurors wanted to leave for personal reasons. The juror did make one interesting comment regarding the case. She told Cooper that she 100% believes that she and the other jurors made the right decision and that Zimmerman was not guilty. When Cooper tried to get her to elaborate, the juror further explained that though she did not think Zimmerman was right in his actions leading up to him killing Martin, she does believe that he was justified in pulling the trigger once the confrontation occurred. 

Ok I need to take a step back from this for a moment. I agree that based on the lame ass case the prosecution put on, I do not fault any of the jurors for acquitting Zimmerman; however, if the anonymous juror’s true reasoning for acquitting Zimmerman was her explanation above, then I am flabbergasted. That reason makes no sense to me (and I think to any sane person that reasoning would seem counterintuitive as well). If that is her reasoning, how is that different from a stalker/victim relationship. Let me explain....under this juror’s explanation, a stalker would be able to follow another individual. If that person felt threatened and decided to confront the stalker (which is legal under “Stand Your Ground”), the stalker would then be justified to kill the person he stalked because he felt in danger by the confrontation. I feel like I have fallen down the rabbit hole.

At least the other jurors seemed to have better reasons to acquit Zimmerman. After this interview, four out of the five other jurors released a statement saying that the juror on Anderson Cooper 360 did not speak for the group.

It has been five days since the verdict and already so much has happen. It will be interesting to see where this goes next. Until next time…