A Tale of Two Trials: What the George Zimmerman and O.J. Simpson Verdicts Reveal About Racial Denial

Cooper Sterling


One transparent outcome of the “not guilty” verdict in the George Zimmerman trial is the racial disconnect between the average American and the nation’s powerful elites (the mass media, politicians, and “civil rights” leaders). The ever-widening gulf between racial reality and racial fantasy—the daily repetition of Black violence in contrast with the media-driven narrative of nonstop injustices of an oppressed minority—seems more pronounced in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict.

We live in an era of extreme racial denial. The nation’s media and political elites—what Joseph Sobran termed the “hive”—live in a fantasy realm that dismisses latent racial differences, an existence defined by unrealistic egalitarianism and hyper-liberalism; racial disparities are merely symptomatic of the lingering impact of slavery, racism, and discrimination. The emphasis is always on some inanimate object—“mean” streets, “gun” violence, “epidemic of violence,” “crack” cocaine, “heat waves,” “underfunding” of Head Start, the lack of upward “middle class mobility”; or the fault of law enforcement—“police brutality,” “deficient” law enforcement strategies, “racial profiling,” or “Stand Your Ground” laws.

The crux of the Zimmerman case is fundamentally about holding Blacks accountable for their own actions. The jury of six females—five Whites and one Hispanic—reached a reasonable conclusion that the defendant acted in self-defense in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. The evidence presented at trial countered the prosecution’s claims that Zimmerman was the aggressor, stalked Martin, initiated the altercation, and as a “wannabe” cop shot Martin—an innocent “unarmed” 17-year-old bystander. Most of the media coverage in the wake of the verdict reinforces the unfounded assumption that Trayvon Martin was innocently preyed upon—nothing more than a victim of “profiling,” who was just an “unarmed” teenager, a kid, trying to get home. This is the fantasy that our elites are hyping and one the jury simply rejected outright.

The Zimmerman jury, after a careful assessment of the evidence, concluded that Martin was the aggressor. After an initial encounter, Martin forced Zimmerman to the ground after sucker-punching him, pounded Zimmerman’s head against the concrete sidewalk, and after 45-seconds of screaming and fearing for his life, Zimmerman shot Martin to save his own life.

The verdict has produced a predictable tsunami of racial demagoguery from beltway pundits. Chris Matthews, Al Sharpton, Tavis Smiley, and Jesse Jackson have exploited the jury decision to project their own warped views about the endless suffering of Blacks from White oppression.

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In the world of mass media punditry, Black violence doesn’t exist. Violence exists in a vacuum. Undefined “youths” riot or ransack shops or randomly shoot other “youths” (as in this LATimes article on a rampage Hollywood in the wake of the verdict “‘Flash mob of thieves causes chaotic night in Hollywood”). While the newspaper article only notes that the perpetrators were from South LA (a Black area), the images of violent suspects that appear nightly on the local news (see this video on the same Hollywood rampage on the local ABC-TV outlet) leave little to the imagination as to the race of these perpetrators. In Chicago, the same weekend of the Zimmerman verdict, Black-on-Black shooting sprees killed five and injured 21 others in what is often described as “gun violence.”

Even liberal columnist Richard Cohen of the Washington Post admits, “Where is the politician who will own up to the painful complexity of the problem and acknowledge the widespread fear of crime committed by young Black males? This does not mean that raw racism has disappeared, and some judgments are not the product of invidious stereotyping. It does mean, though, that the public knows young Black males commit a disproportionate amount of crime.” Cohen elaborates,

After all, if young Black males are your shooters, then it ought to be young Black males whom the police stop and frisk. Still, common sense and common decency, not to mention the law, insist on other variables such as suspicious behavior. Even still, race is a factor, without a doubt. It would be senseless for the police to be stopping Danish tourists in Times Square just to make the statistics look good.

I wish I had a solution to this problem. If I were a young Black male and were stopped just on account of my appearance, I would feel violated. If the police are abusing their authority and using race as the only reason, that has got to stop. But if they ignore race, then they are fools and ought to go into another line of work.

Of course Cohen, being the liberal that he is, protects himself by subscribing the reigning zeitgeist for Black crime:

The problems of the black underclass are hardly new. They are surely the product of slavery, the subsequent Jim Crow era and the tenacious persistence of racism. They will be solved someday, but not probably with any existing programs. For want of a better word, the problem is cultural, and it will be solved when the culture, somehow, is changed.

The aftermath of the jury’s verdict last Sunday has produced the same predictable pattern of protest and violence that has followed other intensely publicized, racially charged events.

  • In the wake of the Zimmerman verdict, rioters and looters took to the streets in Oakland, California, setting fires, assaulting police officers, and smashing business windows. (See here.)
  • In addition to the Hollywood rampage mentioned above, protestors erupted in violence in South Los Angeles, damaging a Wal-Mart and clashing with police (See previous link).
  • In Baltimore, police are investigating an incident involving several Black youths who attacked a Hispanic bystander, according to one eyewitness, and yelled, “This is for Trayvon, [expletive].” The witness heard the crowd repeat this chant multiple times—a reaction that underscores the volatility that defines majority Black inner-urban areas. (See here.)
  • Black students have occupied the office of Florida Governor Rick Scott, calling for a repeal of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. (See here.)

In some respects, the verdict in the Zimmerman case raises comparisons and contrasts with the verdict in the O.J. Simpson trial. The two murder cases offer stark contrasts of the racial dynamics in each trial: after deliberating four hours, a jury of nine Blacks and three Whites acquitted Simpson of fatally stabbing Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, concluding a nine-month trial which produced overwhelming evidence of Simpson’s guilt. Prosecutors established Simpson’s motive, opportunity, and produced a substantial trail of forensic evidence, which tied together two crime scenes, one at Simpson’s estate and the other at Nicole Brown Simpson’s residence.

Anyone old enough to remember the live telecast of the Simpson verdict on October 3, 1995, will likely recall the moment it was announced when Simpson’s acquittal produced thunderous applause across the country by groups of Blacks watching the televised court proceeding. On college campuses and in cafes, Blacks were gleefully roaring and fist-pumping their approval over the Simpson jury’s verdict of “not guilty.” Whites had largely perceived the jury verdict as a guilty celebrity outmaneuvering the justice system with a defense team who played the “race card;” Blacks viewed it as an innocent celebrity unjustly accused of killing his ex-wife and an innocent bystander.

The virtually all-White, all-female Zimmerman jury, by contrast, deliberated over the evidence for more than 16 hours, carefully weighing the evidence and considering the probabilities of whether the defense arguments or prosecution case better explained the facts in this case.

Robert Gordon, emeritus professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University and an expert in population differences in IQ, addressed an often overlooked explanation of racial differences in everyday life outcomes in a 1997 paper published in the journal Intelligence. Gordon specifically looked at behavioral outcomes between populations and raised the following point:

A major concern of research, politics, and social policy in the U.S. is why the Black and White populations differ in rates of good and bad outcomes. Such differences are often attributed, sometimes rather freely, to differences in poverty and to racial discrimination.

Gordon’s expansive and tightly argued paper included a review of the Simpson verdict in the context of both the likely IQ level of the jury weighing the evidence (based on the available biographical information of the jurors) and polling data that show the prevalence of Blacks accepting conspiracy theories (e.g., the theory that law enforcement entraps Black suspects or that the government unleashed the AIDS virus, which adversely impacts Blacks at a higher rate than Whites). Johnny Cochran, the defense attorney pandered to such attitudes in his closing defense argument, drawing criticism from former Simpson defense attorney Robert Shapiro, who was quoted after the verdict as saying, “Not only did we play the race card, we dealt it from the bottom of the deck.” Gordon notes,

The not guilty verdict on October 3, 1995, of the nearly all-Black jury in the 9-month, $9 million Simpson double-murder trial after less than 4 hours of deliberation, along with nationally televised images of Blacks from all walks of life rejoicing over the announcement, left much of the nation stunned. A degree of racial polarization had been quantified by many months of polling and thrust before the nation that few persons, Black or White, viewed with complacency, especially now that it had been made palpable by a verdict in what media had dubbed “the trial of the century” (e.g., Bollinger & Hoffmann, 1995; Kramon, 1995; Reibstein, 1995).

Black columnist Carl Rowan (1995, p. 15A) earlier had complained of the polls, “Their constant harping on differences in racial attitudes creates the potential for stupid racial strife.” Defense attorney Robert Shapiro (1996, p. 355) later blamed the polls for splitting the Simpson case “down racial lines,” although it has since been reported that it was Shapiro himself who first conceived of a Simpson defense strategy that would be based on an alleged racist conspiracy (Cochran, 1996; Toobin, 1996). In any case, the polls did not invent the race differences, they only reported them. If the verdict made the polling data palpable, the abundant polling data in return made it impossible to dismiss the jury verdict as just an aberration of small sample size that held few implications for the wider democracy.

The verdict was often viewed as an instance of jury nullification (viewed as the determination to ignore evidence of guilt in a particular case, but originally a rejection of a law considered unjust) and an expression of racial anger over police injustices (Darden, 1996; Goldberg, 1996; Holden, Cohen, & de Lisser, 1995; Hopkins, 1995; Kennedy, 1994; Smith, 1995), possibly justified, according to one Black law professor, by the high incarceration rate of Black males (Butler, 1995a). Such special motives, if true, would certainly account for the outcome.

The Simpson and Zimmerman verdicts reveal a prevalent attitude among Black activists that what matters—justice, in other words—is any outcome that exonerates a Black defendant (Simpson) or convicts a non-Black defendant (Zimmerman) on trial for murdering a Black teen regardless of the evidence at trial (or lack thereof) that indicates guilt or non-guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. All that matters for Black activists and our media and political elites is that the outcome benefits Blacks irrespective of their actions or the evidence of their culpability in each case. Jesse Jackson has already complained that the Zimmerman jury failed to reflect a “jury of his peers” since it didn’t include Blacks or males. Having Black jurors, in other words, translates into a greater likelihood to identify with a Black defendant or perceived Black “victim” such as Trayvon Martin).

What is often referred to as “social justice” is nothing more than the fulfillment of a prescribed narrative of racial denial that instills justice—the prevailing ethos of mob rule—by our nation’s political and cultural elites.

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