Zimmerman Could Still Be Charged for a Hate Crime

Late on Saturday afternoon, a Florida jury delivered a verdict that should be shocking but isn’t, for reasons that say a lot about the state of race relations today in the U.S.

A jury has acquitted George Zimmerman of all charges in the February 26, 2012, shooting death of Trayvon Martin. 28-year-old Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watch volunteer, killed (as he admitted to police) Martin with a handgun in Sanford, Florida. The teenager had been returning home carrying a can of iced tea and a pack of Skittles. Zimmerman claimed that he had fired in self-defense in accordance with the state’s “stand your ground” law; he was released without being charged that same night. Zimmerman was only arrested 44 days afterwards amid a massive public outcry and the intervention of President Barack Obama.

The jury was composed of six women, five of whom were white and one of whom was Hispanic. They found Zimmerman not guilty on the charges of second-degree murder as well as a lesser charge of manslaughter.

DOJ Restarts Hate Crimes Inquiry

For all that the case was “driven entirely by racial profiling,” as Colorlines notes, the courtroom proceedings “studiously sidestepped race.” Judge Debra Nelson did not allow attorneys to use the term “racial profiling” during the trial.

On Sunday, the day after the verdict — which resulted in thousands rallying in the streets of cities across the U.S., in Sanford, Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Newark, to name only a few places — the Department of Justice said that it was reopening its investigation of possible hate crime charges against Zimmerman. The DOJ had began a hate crimes inquiry shortly after Martin was killed but had delayed it while the state trial in Florida was underway.

The DOJ sets a very high bar for prosecuting a hate crime and there are many challenges to seeking such in the case of Martin’s death. Under the 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, were the government to charge Zimmerman with a hate crime, it would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he “acted willfully with a seriously culpable state of mind,” Samuel Bagenstos, who until 2011 was the principal deputy assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division, explains. That is, the government must establish that Zimmerman acted with discriminatory intent in shooting Martin.

Civil rights leaders state that Zimmerman’s shooting of Martin indeed had such a racial element.”There is a pattern of George Zimmerman making dozens of calls to 911 over several years, frequently about young men of color,” Benjamin T. Jealous, the president of the N.A.A.C.P., said in the New York Times. One key piece of evidence is likely to be a 911 call that Zimmerman made on the night he shot Martin. In that call, Zimmerman said that Martin — who was warned by the operator not to follow the teenager – -had “suspicious behavior”; he also said that the teenager was “up to no good, on drugs or something” and used the phrase “f—ing punks.”

Verdict Delivers a Chilling Message: It is “open season on black boys”

It is imperative that the U.S. government investigate the killing of Martin as a hate crime. The Florida jury’s verdict has delivered a chilling message, that it is now “open season on black boys,” writes Gary Younge in the Guardian.

In his statement after the verdict was announced, Obama emphasized that the U.S. is “a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken” and called on Americans to “respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son.” But as Younge says, parents of black boys and those whose partners are black men are certainly not likely to feel calm about what could happen when a loved one ventures out in public.

Guerlie Bazile Arglade has a 20-year-old son and lives in the affluent New Jersey community of Short Hills. She attended a rally on a broiling hot Sunday in downtown Newark, saying that the verdict is proof that a young African-American man can be recognized as a stranger, an outsider, in his own community. “When he comes home late at night, I fear he’ll be killed by someone who doesn’t realize he belongs here,” Arglade said of her son.

There have been reports of vandalism in Oakland and arrests have been reported in New York, but most protests have been peaceful, countering inflammatory pronouncements by the likes of Newt Gingrinch that protesters would be a “lynch mob” and a fake video of riots in Miami. Larry Hamm, founder of People’s Organization for Progress and an organizer of the rally in Newark, underscored the need to keep the protests nonviolent, saying “a violent response would have defeated the goal we’re working toward.”

Indeed, as one commenter, jay smooth, wrote on Twitter after the verdict, “The fundamental danger of an acquittal is not more riots, it is more George Zimmermans.”

Photo Credit: Werth Media on Flickr.


Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for the article.

Dennis D.
Past Member 3 years ago

Cousin It A. The trial was not over what the victim.. That would Trayvon did in school. The trial was over what a man did when he willingly and against the advice of the 911 operator. Trayvon past was never on trial. But again thanks for blaming the victim in this.

Mr. Zimmerman walked. While I do not agree with the verdict. It has stood. So at the end a boy was died. The man responsible walked away. Justice?? In my own personal opinion. It was not the outcome I was hoping for Trayvon or his family.

That is the nature of a trail. 12 people stepped up and did their civic duty. Regardless of what I think of what justice should have constituted.

Dale O.

Linda M, I have to wonder just how 'Flight Comp-Air' is doing these days? Likely still flying aimlessly into vast clouds of right wing fog, hot air and clouds and still unable to land in a just society.

'Great White' Earth Being
'Great White' 4 years ago

I could not agree more with what Amy L. posted. And I would add why should we have to risk it (I would be surprised that people in his situation did not at least commit another crime, once they have gotten away with such a server crime)?

Dale O.

Catherine O, the day we give injustice a rest is the day that we may as well pack it in. Certainly Zimmerman didn't mind 'packing' a weapon and using it to kill.

Fascinating article, Teresa B. More like dumb like a Fox Faux unNews broadcast, Mary B.
Such logic CC C, getting out of the car to tell the dispatcher the name of the street when he could have driven right up to a street sign in his vehicle. Do you really think that people are going to fall for yet another lame right wing inanity?

Dale O.

Sarah H you say that a lot of trials don't go the way people want and we should simply build a bridge and get over it. Tell that one to Trayvon Martin's family. Build a new bridge? Why not just bridge the injustices perpetrated by humankind. Amy L, will Zimmerman kill again? Getting away with it emboldens some and sends a message to people of a similar ilk to do exactly the same thing. Isn't vigilante justice 'marvellous?' How many other people will die because others were so inspired by this tragedy to take the lives of other innocents?

Amy Liebetreu
Amy L4 years ago

I wonder if Zimmerman will kill again.

Robby K.
Past Member 4 years ago

Cousin It- excellent comments- the 'purple drank' (what a STUPID uneducated thing to call it) is rarely known about b/c the liberal media left it out, just like the 12(?) stolen rings trayvan had in his backpack during one of his last suspension busts. His drug use was left out- a little joint doesn't bother me, but other things found in his system show other bad side effects. Not to mention, a 'little joint' could be the cause of more violent thoughts. He was not walking, he was standing still, according to Z on the 911 call & only started moving when Z got out of car. Z prob SHOULD have stayed in car as was suggested by dispatcher, but as we all know, the dispatcher has NO right, legally NOR ethically, to ORDER anything! M was walking through a gated community late at nigh, prob looking like a gangsta, white or black- w/a hoodie on, it'd have been harder to tell color anyway. And Z was Spanish, not white. And there had been sev recent break-ins, in that community/area, by thugs matching his description. I'm not taking sides- I was not there. But BOTH men made piss-poor decisions & have lost their lives. National media was swayed when someone living in the white house irresponsibly said "IF I had a son he'd look like trayvan." He'd be better off now, saying "If I had a city it'd look like Detroit." And better "In my 2nd country, I managed to make it more racially divided w/one statement than all you assholes combined!" This whole thing's been blown WAY out of propor

Cousin It Addams
Cousin It Addams4 years ago

mary, ros, and pam

you just KNOW a man is guilty by your "gut instinct" about him?

THAT is why so many young black men are in prison for shit they didn't do. cause the "accuser" or "jury" went on gut instinct instead of evidence. one young man had video of himself at a party at the time of the murder, but "gut instinct" put him on death row.

death. row. and he didn't do it.

MLK said:
"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."

did Dr. King know you ladies, cause my "gut instinct" says he's talkin' about YOU!

Cousin It Addams
Cousin It Addams4 years ago


zimmerman should have stayed in his car. but trayvon was in the yard, and if you research a little, in those condos there, that means he was a few steps away from the door. he was a wiry 17 and ran. zimmerman was an out of shape guy (couldn't hope to keep up) and had no idea where trayvon went, and if you hear the full tape of his call he said he thought trayvon was exiting the area but the cops could meet zimmerman at his current location and he'd show them the other way out of the complex.

trayvon was no angel. any kid of mine got suspended for the stuff he was doing (assault bus driver, has stolen goods and burglary tools hid in his locker) woulda been on punishment at home. i'd cut off the cell phone, and he'd be staying in the house, grounded. instead, he was unsupervised going out for ingredients for a drink of watermelon punch, skittles (jolly ranchers work too), and cough syrup, called sizzurp, lean, purple drank (google it) that is a cheap home made high. he was known to be quick to start fights.

so 100% of the blame can't be on either. zimmerman should've stayed in the car. trayvon should've stayed in the house, or once he got back, stayed in the yard or better still walk in that door and not go back out in the rain to beat the guy up.

since recently an off duty cop was beaten by a guy he stopped (and said to the dude he was a cop, btw) for key scratching a car. the cop did not shoot, but was hit and attacked while down, then died in the hospital