The trial of George Zimmerman over the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was actually two trials in one.
There was the trial that took place inside a courtroom in Sanford, Florida, which ended on July 13, when a jury acquitted Zimmerman on charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter. The six jurors apparently concluded that the prosecution had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the then-28-year-old Zimmerman hadn’t killed Martin in self-defense on the rainy night of February 26, 2012, in a deadly scuffle on the grounds of a townhouse complex where Zimmerman and Martin’s father’s girlfriend were renters and Zimmerman was the neighborhood watch captain. And then there was the other trial, which took place in newspapers, on television networks, and in fiery pronunciamentos from reporters, pundits, editorialists, bloggers, tweeters, celebrities, self-appointed black spokesmen, guilt-soaked white liberals, disgruntled members of the prosecution team, and even the Obama administration, from Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department to the president himself.
That latter trial began well before Zimmerman turned himself in to the police on April 11, 2012, and will seemingly continue without recess either until the zombie apocalypse, or until Zimmerman is “taken out by a nutball vigilante like him,” as a friend of a Facebook friend phrased it a couple of hours after the acquittal. The issues in that second trial—the shadow trial, as it were—are completely different from those raised in the courtroom itself: racism, gun control, more racism, white supremacy, white privilege, Florida’s “stand your ground” law of self-defense—oh, and still more racism.
The facts presented in the two trials were, and are, completely different as well. The late New York senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously declared, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” Not so. The Zimmerman shadow trial in the media has featured its very own facts, which bear little resemblance to those entered into evidence in the Sanford courtroom.
The factual disparities extended all the way down to the micro level. An article for the online magazine Salon, filed by Paul Campos, a University of Colorado-Boulder law professor, within hours of Zimmerman’s acquittal, described the “scary” (Campos’s word) Zimmerman as “a 230-pound 30-year-old”—a description that added a full 45 pounds to the 185 pounds listed on the police report compiled on the night of the shooting, plus two extra years to his age. (Zimmerman did gain considerable weight while awaiting trial.) Martin, by contrast, got 10 pounds subtracted from his actual weight (150 in Campos-world versus 160 in the real world). Campos never did get around to stating their respective heights: Martin was 6′0″, Zimmerman 5′8″. Campos repeatedly referred to Martin as a “boy” and a “kid,” which was technically true because he was a year shy of legal adulthood. This jibed with a general tendency on the part of the media to call Martin a “child,” as in this CNN commentary on July 10 by Roxanne Jones: “[W]hen an unarmed child is confronted and gunned down in the street by a grown man who’s trained to kill, that’s murder.” Media photos of Martin almost invariably showed a cherubic photo that had been snapped years before—in contrast to the photos from Martin’s cell phone released by Zimmerman’s lawyers in which a muscular Martin sported a gold teeth-grill, tattoos, and a faint mustache.
That was the small stuff. Here is a list of some of the more significant discrepancies between the facts of the Zimmerman case as they emerged in the Bizarro World of outside-the-courtroom commentary and the facts that the jury actually heard:
Zimmerman “stalked” Martin. This was a favorite media meme, typified in a CNN column by Miller Francis: “Was . . . Martin justified in . . . defending himself when this stranger, an apparent stalker, approached him in a threatening manner?” The trial evidence showed merely that Zimmerman briefly ran after Martin while making a 911 call to the police about a suspicious person he saw wandering between some houses in the complex, which had been hit by a wave of burglaries, at least two involving young black men. According to statements Zimmerman made to the police after the shooting, Martin then approached him as he was returning to his car. It should be noted that Zimmerman was legally carrying, under a concealed-weapon permit, the gun with which he shot Martin; a neighbor interviewed by Reuters in 2012 said he had bought it to fight off a periodically loose pit bull that was terrorizing his wife.