Three months ago, George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla., shot and killed Trayvon Martin.
Handcuffed, taken in and interrogated, Zimmerman told police Trayvon had been acting suspiciously that dark and rainy night, that he had followed Trayvon, been knocked down and battered on the ground, and, fearing for his life, pulled a concealed handgun and shot him.
Sanford police and prosecutors concluded that Zimmerman acted in self-defense and had not committed a provable felony. They let him go.
A racial firestorm followed. "Blacks are under attack," railed Jesse Jackson. "Killing us is big business." Arriving in Sanford, the reverend dialed it up. Trayvon was "shot down in cold blood by a vigilante ... murdered and martyred."
Rep. Maxine Waters' charge of "hate crime" was echoed by radio talker Joe Madison. Rep. Hank Johnson said Trayvon had been "executed." The Grio compared his killing to the lynching of Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955.
The New Black Panther Party put Zimmerman's face on a "Wanted Dead or Alive" poster, called for 5,000 black men to run him down and said Trayvon had been "murdered in cold blood."
Spike Lee tweeted Zimmerman's home address.
Zimmerman and his family have been in hiding for months in fear for their lives after the death threats.
President Obama expressed his empathy with the parents.
"If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon. And I think (the parents) are right to expect that all of us as Americans are gonna take this with the seriousness it deserves and that we're going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened."
Obama said not a word to cool the lynch-mob atmosphere created by some of his major allies in a nation where he is the chief law enforcement officer. And so the campaign to convict Zimmerman of racist murder in the public mind, before he ever got to trial, proceeded on.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky called Trayvon's killing a "modern-day lynching." CNN claimed to have picked up the phrase "(bleeping) coons" on the tape of Zimmerman's call to police, but had to retract when an enhanced version of the tape revealed no such slur.
Three times NBC used a version of Zimmerman's call to the police edited to make it appear he racially profiled Trayvon.
The actual version:
Zimmerman: "This guy looks like he's up to no good, or he's on drugs or something. It's raining, and he's just walking around, looking about."
Dispatcher: "OK, and this guy, is he white, black or Hispanic?"
Zimmerman: "He looks black."
The transcript was spliced to have Zimmerman say: "This guy looks like he's up to no good. He looks black."
CNN media critic Howard Kurtz called it "blatant distortion."
Caught and called out, three NBC employees were cashiered.
With this wind at her back, Florida State Attorney Angela Corey charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder. Translation: Zimmerman murdered Trayvon in a "depraved" state of mind.
If convicted, he could get life.
Last week came a more ominous report. Federal investigators are looking into hate crime charges that could bring the death penalty. The feds would have to prove Zimmerman stalked and murdered Trayvon because he was black.
Yet, last week also, evidence from the investigation spilled out into the national media and seemed to contradict and swamp the prosecution's case.
A medical report the day after the shooting revealed that Zimmerman had suffered a broken nose, two black eyes and lacerations on the back of his head. Photographs from the night of the shooting confirmed it.
A police report that same night said Zimmerman's sweatshirt had "grass stains and was wet on the back," consistent with his being flat on his back.
The lead investigator on the scene, Officer Christopher Serino, wrote that Zimmerman could be heard "yelling for help as he was being battered by Trayvon Martin." One witness said he heard 14 separate cries for help. Trayvon's father initially told police the cries were not those of his son, then recanted.
One responder at the scene said he saw wounds on the knuckles of one of Trayvon's hands, suggesting he had connected with a punch. The coroner found both the knuckle wounds and traces of the drug found in marijuana in Trayvon's blood and urine.
Trayvon's hoodie had powder stains indicating he was shot in the chest from 1 to 18 inches away, consistent again with what Zimmerman said.
Another eyewitness said the guy in the hoodie was on top beating the guy on the bottom "MMA style"—mixed martial arts style.
With this evidence, how can a jury convict Zimmerman of murder?
Yet the public mind has been so poisoned that an acquittal of George Zimmerman could ignite a reaction similar to that, 20 years ago, when the Simi Valley jury acquitted the LAPD cops in the Rodney King beating case.
Should that happen, those who fanned the flames, and those who did nothing to douse them, should themselves go on trial in the public arena.
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