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Amy Cohen: Justice system ignored context of Zimmerman case

To the editor:

I have been following the Trayvon Martin case reasonably closely and have some thoughts on the justice system.

Our justice system is myopic in the sense that it does not seem to be interested in the context in which crime is committed, but just the legality of what was done. In this case the major context was racial profiling. That is what drove this crime from the outset; that’s what drew George Zimmerman to follow someone who had done nothing; that’s what caused George Zimmerman to disobey a police directive to remain in his car.

The pivotal elements of the trial concerned who was on top and who was calling for help and did George Zimmerman feel his life was in danger. The answers to those questions determined the verdict. The verdict was very unsatisfactory to many because there was no context.

The fact that racial profiling is a fact which informs how black people feel about this case and the fact that many whites do not seem to understand its historical roots in the vigilantism and hangings and racial hate crimes right to the present day is the real problem. Many blacks see this verdict as ‘open season’ on young black males.

Let’s hope that this case can be used as a jumping off point for dialogue and understanding so we can move forward and cut into the parallel universes of the races.

Amy Cohen


Legacy Comments12

Teresa the problem with your arguement is that even if you are being followed you don't have the right to come up to someone and assult them. Why didn't Trayvon call the police if he felt threatened?

Maybe he was a fiscal conservative who knew that police salaries are paid out of taxes, and wanted no part of it. Hey, I just came up with an absurd theory that "needs to be considered" as much as Gary's! I feel awful being sarcastic about something so tragic, but this seems to be the only way to address people that are so determined to make a mockery out of rational argument.

If you go to wikipedia - which I believe you've all heard of and look up gay panic defense this is what comes up. These are all very famous cases that we all know and talk about on a regular basis (glen aroyo, matthew sheppard, scott amedure). But now, look at the last paragraph from wikipedia: United States[edit]In 1987, Joseph Mitchell Parsons, who called himself the "Rainbow Warrior,"[16] claimed that he killed Richard Lynn Ernest to defend against a homosexual advance, but was unable to present any evidence at trial to support this claim.[17] The victim's family and friends stated in court that Ernest was not gay or bisexual.[18] Prosecution witnesses testified of Parsons' homosexual activity in jail.[19] A forensic psychiatrist from the University of Utah stated that the descriptions of Parsons' sexual history indicated that he "may have been the one initiating the contact and became angry when [Ernest] turned him down."[20] Parsons was executed by lethal injection at Utah State Prison in October 1999.[16] In 1995, one of the highest-profile cases to make use of the gay panic defense was the Michigan trial of Jonathan Schmitz, who killed his friend Scott Amedure after learning, during a taping of The Jenny Jones Show, that Amedure was sexually attracted to him. Schmitz confessed to committing the crime but claimed that Amedure's homosexual overtures angered and humiliated him. Legally, this defense had a very weak standing for him, since in cases of legal provocation providing for diminished capacity, it is required to have an immediate response. Since he had not acted until three days after the incident, legally, he failed to show any panic-based violent psychosis. He was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 25 to 50 years in prison. In the 1998 murder of university student Matthew Shepard, the defendants claimed in court that the young man's homosexual proposition enraged them to the point of murder. However, Judge Barton Voigt barred this strategy, saying that it was "in effect, either a temporary insanity defense or a diminished capacity defense, such as irresistible impulse, which are not allowed in Wyoming, because they do not fit within the statutory insanity defense construct." After their conviction, Shepard's attackers recanted their story in a 20/20 interview with Elizabeth Vargas, saying that the murder was a robbery attempt gone awry under the influence of drugs. This claim was denied by the defendants' girlfriends. A transgender variation of the gay panic defense was also used in 2004–2005 in California by the three defendants in the Gwen Araujo homicide case, who claimed that they were enraged by the discovery that Araujo, a transgender teenager with whom they had engaged in sex, had male genitalia. The first trial resulted in a jury deadlock; in the second, defendants Mike Magidson and Jose Merél were convicted of second-degree murder, while the jury again deadlocked in the case of Jason Cazares. Cazares later entered a plea of no contest to charges of voluntary manslaughter. In 2010, Vincent James McGee was charged with capital murder for stabbing and killing white supremacist Richard Barrett in Mississippi.[21] McGee claimed that Barrett had dropped his pants and asked McGee to perform a sexual act on him, sending McGee into a panic.[22] McGee pleaded guilty to manslaughter, arson, and burglary on July 28, 2011. He was sentenced to 20 years on the manslaughter charge, 20 years on the arson charge and 25 years on the burglary charge; 65 years in total. In 2013, Rachel Jeantel told Piers Morgan on CNN that Trayvon Martin believed George Zimmerman may have been a gay rapist, and that Trayvon had beaten Zimmerman due to gay panic. [23]

Yes, I am familiar with wikipedia. It is a web forum where anybody can post anything and where lazy people get quick "facts." Gary, you have a pretty predictable pattern of making absurd comments to incite angry responses, and then just posting non-sequitors from the internet when a critical mass of people comment on how foolish your assertions are. You are probably not going away. But I'm done feeding the trolls. And I apologize to Gazette readers for doing so. I won't respond to Gary anymore unless he decides to say nasty things about me personally again. I suggest that the rest of those who post on the gazette in good faith do the same.

Folks, this guy pops up all over these discussion threads no matter what the subject, and as I have mentioned before, he will always have the last word. Your only chance of putting an end to these balmy rants is to ignore them.

I don't know. Maybe you should ask him. Oh, that's right, you can't because he is dead. I didn't realize we live in a country where the dead go on trial, and the public prosecute.

Not to improperly imply motives to a dead person but now they are saying Travon may have been afraid Zimmerman was a gay rapist. This may actually be a case of gay panic defense. Did Travon punch Zimmerman and break his nose because he thought Zimmerman was a gay man preying on young boys? Thats what Rachel Jeantel said on Piers Morgan's show. She told Travon to run becasue she thought he was maybe a gay rapist which Travon replied to that no he's not like that (I guess thats profiling? - he doesn't look gay?) Please read the link below - its getting alot of buzz in the gay community but not alot in the mainstream media. It just adds another spin to this complicated issue. Either way the president was wrong to add fuel to the fire yesterday with his incendiary comments. Is the left waking up to what he is all about? Instead of seeing us as different races - his goal should be to unite at this time of racial crisis. We are all one race - the human race. That should have been his message - instead we got the opposite. We got the political side geared toward energizing his base. http://www.queerty.com/star-witness-says-trayvon-martin-feared-his-attacker-might-be-a-rapist-20130716/

"Not to improperly imply motives to a dead person..." - Gary2066 Well you did. That is disrespectful to the deceased and his family. And who are "they"? Mass media? The ones who are trying to get ratings by digging up dirt to create speculation and continue to point fingers in order to try and justify the murder of a minor who cannot defend himself?

Teresa - I'm just sayng its one posibility that needs to be considered. According to Rachel Jeantel who was the last person other than George talking to Trayvon those last few minutes - she was the one who brought up the gay rape issue in her interview on CNN. Its possible that Trayvon confronted George and broke his nose in response to a 'biased' fear of being raped by a gay man which is called the gay panic defense and was previously used to get out of being found guilty of murdering gay people historically. This theory has to be considered among all the other theories about what happened to precipitate the confrontation between them. The confrontation could have been an act of gay bias profiling on the part of Trayvon and Rachel. Thats according to Rachel's own statements. Although she also said Trayvon said back 'he's not like that' (which is another form of profiling I suppose - what does a gay rapist look like?). But its at that point when Trayvon starts running. Perhaps in those last 4 minutes he changed his mind about Georges intention and decided to confront him - we don't know do we? Here is the exact quote from CNN where Rachel talks about Trayvon not wanting to go home, also, because he feared George was going to rape Trayvon's younger brother who was at home: MORGAN: You felt that there was no doubt in your mind from what Trayvon was telling you on the phone about the creepy ass cracka and so on, that he absolutely believed that George Zimmerman, this man, you didn't know who he was at the time, but this man, was pursuing him? JEANTEL: Yes. MORGAN: And he was freaked out by it? JEANTEL: Yes. Definitely after I say may be a rapist, for every boy, for every man, every -- who's not that kind of way, seeing a grown man following them, would they be creep out? She continued: "And people need to understand, he didn't want that creepy ass cracker going to his father or girlfriend's house to go get -- mind you, his little brother was there. You know -- now, mind you, I told you -- I told Trayvon it might have been a rapist."

I will never understand why people like you keep trying to justify the murder of this 17 year old boy. My guess is that you don't really believe he needed to be killed based on Zimmerman's account of what happened, so you feel the need to try and make up stories in your head about what kind of a person Trayvon was. To me- this conversation that took place between Trayvon and his friend only prove that Zimmerman was following him around in a way that made him feel stalked, and unsafe. Also, it does not "prove" that Trayvon was biased by any means, because it was his friend that made the suggestion. ----- Even if Trayvon Martin was biased, homophobic, racist etc. I don't care. It does not justify his murder. It does not need to be considered. Again, you are disrespectful to the deceased and his family.

The prosecution in this case made a very weak effort to prove racial profiling on the part of George Zimmerman. However, that was not due to a lack of trying but instead because there simply was no evidence that Zimmerman engaged in such behavior. In fact, the only real racially hostile evidence to be produced during the trial came from Martin's side when Rachel Jeantel testified that Trayvon told her some "creepy-ass cracker" was following him. Sounds like Miss Cohen wants to see an innocent Hispanic man to go to jail just because she feels that racial profiling exists in this world.

If Miss Cohen has, as she says, been following the Zimmerman case "reasonably closely" then surely she knows that he did not know the teen's race when he began tailing Martin. When Zimmerman called 911, his description of Martin did not mention race; when the 911 operator asked Zimmerman about race, his answer was equivocal. However appalling one might find the verdict, it's still not OK to ignore the facts. Miss Cohen also opines: "Our justice system is myopic in the sense that it does not seem to be interested in the context in which crime is committed, but just the legality of what was done." Our justice system is not only myopic--it's blind. Or at least it is supposed to be. Further, the entire Zimmerman trial was about "context." There is no question that Zimmerman shot and killed Martin. The jury found Zimmerman "not guilty" because it found he had reasonable fear for his own life. That is the context.

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