Prosecuting Hate Crimes
(This article quotes George Zimmerman’s profanity that he stated in his call to police on the evening of February 26, 2012.)
“Crimes motivated by hatred, whether directed at the victim because of that person’s actual or perceived race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation, can have a disproportionate impact on communities and pose unique challenges for investigators and prosecutors. Understanding those challenges is critical to effectively preventing and prosecuting hate crimes.” From: Unique Approaches for a Unique Type of Crime: Prosecuting Hate Crimes, Benjamin B. Wagner, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California
One night in June of this year, I was up late and decided to see if there were any good movies on television. There weren’t, so I went to On Demand for premium channels and found a movie titled “Blind Faith” on Showtime. Turns out that there are several movies with that title, but the one I watched stars Charles S. Dutton, Courtney B. Vance, and Lonette McKee. The plot advertised for the movie does not give it due justice. Some might mistake the word “faith” for “religion.” This movie is not about religion. It’s a film about prejudices – prejudices between Irish and Italians, Blacks and Whites, straights and homosexuals, artists and traditional careers. And, it all plays out in circumstances surrounding a death penalty murder trial.
Courtney B. Vance plays the character of an attorney, and the movie begins with him waiting on the verdict in a murder trial, in present day. He then takes us back to 1957 and forward again. The message that biased juries convict innocent Black defendants, and acquit guilty White defendants, caught my attention. The movie ended with people marching while chanting “No justice. No peace.” I could have sworn that it was released in 2012. I did not know it was released in 1998. Here we are in 2013, and the struggles for equality brought out in “Blind Faith” are still with us.
I saw this movie right around the time when jury selection began in the George Zimmerman case. It was prophetic. Two days after the verdict, Juror B37 confirmed that the George Zimmerman jury was biased and conniving.
Then I read U.S. Attorney Wagner’s article where he wrote about the greater impact of hate crimes. U.S. Attorney Wagner wrote:
“Because they are motivated by bias, hate crimes are often intended to, and do, send a broader message of violent intolerance toward a broad class of persons. Like terrorist incidents, the “message” aspect of the offender’s motive can be profoundly threatening to people far removed from the actual scene of the crime. The fact that the victims of such crimes are selected based on characteristics such as their race or religion can cause all those in the community who share that characteristic to experience similar feelings of vulnerability and secondary victimization. In its impact on the community, the fear of becoming a victim of violence can be nearly as debilitating as suffering through an actual crime. The message of intolerance that is communicated through a hate crime can have broadly disruptive social effects as well, and can lead to greater distrust of law enforcement or friction between racial or religious communities.”
Since the Zimmerman verdict, numerous teens and their parents fear that their children will be profiled, followed, and killed. As long as the killer claims self-defense, they are set free. It doesn’t matter if the killer is Black, Brown, Yellow or White as long as the victim is painted as a person unworthy of life. Biased juries are human beings judging whether the killer did their community a favor by ridding it of someone who would become a criminal in the future just because of the color of their skin, or religion, or sexual orientation.
U.S. Attorney Wagner is correct also when saying that hate crimes lead to greater distrust of law enforcement. Law enforcement has not disappointed us. Since the Zimmerman verdict, newspapers have reported numerous cases of police officers killing or using excessive force on unarmed people.
THIS NEXT STATEMENT IS IMPORTANT
In his article, U.S. Attorney Wagner wrote:
“Studies have also shown that most hate crimes are carried out by persons who do not know their victim, and that the victims are selected based on how they are perceived rather than something they said or did. The arbitrary manner in which victims are targeted in hate crimes can be profoundly unsettling, because victims can do nothing to change their appearance or how their characteristics are perceived by others.”
Wagner goes on to say; “Because establishing motive is a key aspect to proving the crime, investigations often must range far beyond the criminal act itself to locate evidence relevant to the defendant’s state of mind before and during the crime.”
The U.S. Department of Justice has appealed to the public for help investigating whether a federal criminal case might be brought against George Zimmerman for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. They have setup a public email address to take tips on its civil rights investigation. Sanford.firstname.lastname@example.org.
The DOJ is not seeking information on where the State prosecution went wrong but rather, information “…relevant to the defendant’s state of mind before and during the crime.”
Let’s start discussion to share what we believe the DOJ should know about George Zimmerman’s state of mind before and during the crime. Let’s begin with George Zimmerman’s non emergency (NEN) call.
According to his statements to law enforcement, we hear George Zimmerman explain that his reason for perceiving Trayvon Martin as suspicious was based on Trayvon walking, how he walked, and the weather. Perceiving one individual as “suspicious,” George Zimmerman referred to Trayvon in the plural as “assholes.” Zimmerman would justify his description by saying he was referring to the guys in the neighborhood committing crime. We subsequently learned via Frank Taaffe that only Black male teens were alleged to being seen stealing property. Therefore, when Zimmerman said “assholes,” he profiled Trayvon Martin as representing all Black male teens and all Black male teens as criminals.
When Trayvon ran, Zimmerman called him “fucking coons” although he claims that he said “punks.” Regardless of the word, it was plural establishing that Zimmerman saw Trayvon as representing a group.
What is your opinion of George Zimmerman’s use of plurals in referring to Trayvon Martin? What does it demonstrate about his state of mind?
Why would George Zimmerman become angry when Trayvon ran?
Since George Zimmerman told the dispatcher that Trayvon was running to the back gate, why would Zimmerman get out of his vehicle to follow on foot rather than driving to the back gate? Does this convey Zimmerman’s state of mind?
Did George Zimmerman violate Trayvon’s civil rights when getting out of his truck for the purpose of following Trayvon? If so, why?
Did George Zimmerman violate Trayvon’s civil rights by failing to render aid after he shot him?
After discussing the aforementioned questions, let’s proceed to other areas, such as George Zimmerman’s associations, his previous calls to the police, and his possible state of mind as expressed by his advocates to the media as well as his defense attorneys.
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