Saletan says that he “was going to write that Zimmerman pursued Martin against police instructions and illustrated the perils of racial profiling.” But, after watching all seven hours of closing arguments in the Zimmerman trial, he thinks better of it:
It turned out I had been wrong about many things. The initial portrait of Zimmerman as a racist wasn’t just exaggerated. It was completely unsubstantiated. It’s a case study in how the same kind of bias that causes racism can cause unwarranted allegations of racism. Some of the people Zimmerman had reported as suspicious were black men, so he was a racist. Members of his family seemed racist, so he was a racist. Everybody knew he was a racist, so his recorded words were misheard as racial slurs, proving again that he was a racist.
The 911 dispatcher who spoke to Zimmerman on the fatal night didn’t tell him to stay in his car.
Zimmerman said he was following a suspicious person, and the dispatcher told him, “We don’t need you do to that.” Chief prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda conceded in his closing argument that these words were ambiguous. De la Rionda also acknowledged, based on witness and forensic evidence that both men “were scraping and rolling and fighting out there.” He pointed out that the wounds, blood evidence, and DNA didn’t match Zimmerman’s story of being thoroughly restrained and pummeled throughout the fight. But the evidence didn’t fit the portrait of Martin as a sweet-tempered child, either. And the notion that Zimmerman hunted down Martin to accost him made no sense. Zimmerman knew the police were on the way. They arrived only a minute or so after the gunshot. The fight happened in a public area surrounded by townhouses at close range. It was hardly the place or time to start shooting.
That doesn’t make Zimmerman a hero. It just makes him a reckless fool instead of a murderer.
I have to say that whether Martin was a “sweet-tempered child” is irrelevant. And inferring that Martin initiated the scuffle because the cops were on their way seems a stretch. The cops were on their way before Zimmerman collided with Martin. I am not second-guessing the jury given the limited evidence available to prove something beyond reasonable doubt. But, unlike Will, I’m not going to infer that Zimmerman had no ill-intent or wasn’t racial profiling in his head.
(Photo: George Zimmerman stands as the jury arrives to deliver the verdict, on the 25th day of his trial at the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center July 13, 2013 in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman was found not guilty of second-degree murder in the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin. By Joe Burbank-Pool/Getty Images)