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Marc Lamont Hill: ‘Trayvon Martin Was Put on Trial’ [Exclusive]

Marc Lamont Hill gave Black Enterprise an exclusive column on the verdict handed down in the George Zimmerman case.

This past Saturday, the world stood at attention in anticipation of the verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman, the 28-year-old Florida man who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. The six-person jury, comprised of white women and one racially ambiguous Hispanic woman, declared Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder and the lesser charge of manslaughter. After 17 months of controversy, Zimmerman was free to go home. The rest of the country, particularly the Black community, was left to negotiate the sadness, pain, and confusion of the moment.

For many, the Zimmerman trial was bigger than the fate of an individual defendant. Rather, the trial represented an opportunity to measure the very status of racial democracy. After centuries of unprosecuted Black deaths, Zimmerman’s trial provided a chance to prove that race was no longer an obstacle towards receiving justice. If Zimmerman were held legally accountable, many people felt, our nation would have gone a long way toward making good on its “post-racial” promises.

Unfortunately, from the time Trayvon Martin was gunned down on his way home from a nearby convenience store, the racial deck was stacked against any reasonable expectation of fairness or justice. While George Zimmerman entered the courtroom with the constitutionally mandated presumption of innocence, Trayvon Martin was afforded no such luxury in the court of public opinion.

From the moment he was killed, Martin’s identity and character were called into question by law enforcement, media, and everyday citizens in ways that transformed the “Trial of George Zimmerman” into “The Trial of Trayvon Martin.”

Some critics argued that Trayvon Martin’s choice of clothing, a dark hoodie, was “criminal attire” that warranted Zimmerman’s suspicion. This perspective ignores the fact that the same hoodie is also a popular fashion choice among middle class white suburbanites and Ivy League college students, who manage to do so without arousing suspicion or getting shot. Others pointed to the fact that Trayvon Martin was “out of place” in the predominately white neighborhood, making him a worthy target of surveillance and investigation.

Such arguments speak to a larger public narrative that frames young Black men as civic terrors whose very presence demands legal intervention. They also speak to a set of public policies — such as juvenile curfews, stop-and-frisk laws, and Stand Your Ground Laws– that make it both illegal and lethal to be young and black and outside. It is within this context that the defense team was able to convince the nearly all-White jury that a teenage Black boy, even one armed with nothing more than Skittles and iced tea, posed such a threat to the general (read: White) public that his killing was both reasonable and justifiable.

This “blame the victim” approach to criminal justice wasn’t simply reserved for Trayvon. Defense attorneys and their media allies questioned the legitimacy of Trayvon’s family structure, teachers, and friends. Rachel Jeantel, a key witness for the prosecution, became the largest public target. While Zimmerman’s inconsistencies and outright lies were largely ignored in court, Jeantel was framed as immoral and untrustworthy because of minor discrepancies in her testimony. Jeantel was also attacked for her use of non-standard English and disposition towards a hostile defense attorney. By framing Jeantel as less intelligent and less respectable simply because she did not speak Standard American English, the defense was able to ignore her compelling (and irrefutable) testimony that spotlighted Zimmerman’s role as the instigator of the confrontation. As with Trayvon, the conversation centered on her integrity and character rather than the man on trial.

By successfully placing Trayvon on trial, as well as his family and friends, the Zimmerman team spotlighted one of the nagging secrets in American life. While there are plenty of available scripts in American public life for Black pathology, there are none for Black victimhood.

As a result, it was easy for the bullet riddled body of Trayvon Martin to be placed on trial. It was even easier for the guilty verdict to be rendered.

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  • tysandsnyc

    I love it when people argue that this case had nothing to do with race, when the defense team themselves included RACE in one of their many arguments during the trial last week. It was their whole rationality over why Zimmerman followed Tray that night!

    And for those arguing about the lack of proof clearly wasn’t paying attention to this trial, when even the Professor thoroughly laid it out in an indirect way that Trayvon could’ve used the Stand Your Ground Law just based on the premise of him being followed.

    Him being followed could give him the suspicion that his life was in danger. So even if you were to believe “Georgie’s” story, he was still guilty.

  • jbrisby

    Young black men ARE civic terrors, and everybody knows it. Black people have embraced a culture of criminality, and they refuse to come to grips with that fact. Instead, everything is blamed on racism. Well, fuck you.

    Why no attention paid to the fact that Trayvon Martin was a thug, a vandal and almost certainly a burglar?

    • DB

      Why do you call Trayvon Martin a “thug” or “almost certainly a burglar?”

      I don’t see how you can assume Trayvon’s a “thug” and not Zimmerman (Who has been accused of molesting a girl from 8-16 years old, been arrested for assaulting a police officer, been accused of domestic violence, and has had a restraining order against him.)

      I want you to REALLY think about why you’re characterizing Trayvon as a “thug” and not Zimmerman.

      And to say only “young black men are civic terrors…and have embraced a culture of criminality” and ignore the fact that people of all races and nationalities commit crimes (OKC bombing, Aurora shooting, The Unibomber, KKK, the Olympic Park Bomber, Sandy Hook Shootings, V-Tech Shootings, etc) shows your racial bias.

      Again, think about what you’re REALLY saying. Thanks.

      • jsmithcsa

        No assumption. He was a thug. Google “More evidence that Trayvon Martin was a violent, dangerous thug” and read about this punk.

        • DB

          Zimmerman is the only one with a record of violence towards law enforcement and violence towards women. He has been accused of molesting a young girl for almost a decade.

          So again, why isn’t Zimmerman a “thug?”

          • BenKOwen.blogspot.com

            You are conflating “accusations” with “a record.” You may have been accused of many things in your own life. That does not mean you have “a record” of doing them.

          • DB

            The same could be said about Trayvon. Again, why is Trayvon labeled a “violent, dangerous, thug” and not Zimmerman? There’s a reason why you both refuse to answer this simple question but that’s okay. Enjoy your day.

          • BenKOwen.blogspot.com

            I have not refused to answer your question, in fact I relish it. Again you should refrain from calling allegations “a record” or by the same standard Trayvon Martin would also have an extensive record due to copious accusations. Zimmerman was charged with (accused of) “resisting officer with violence” and “battery of a police officer.” Those charges were reduced thus he was ultimately charged only with “resisting an officer without violence.” Ultimately those charges were also waived upon Zimmerman entering an alcohol education program. Thus Zimmerman has accusations but no convictions and no “record” of assaulting a police officer. Likewise anyone can get a restraining order against anyone due to their “feelings” of threat regardless of any actions of the accused to justify that. The law simply states that if one party “feels” threatened the accused is guilty of domestic violence. In the incident you speak of both Zimmerman and his girlfriend accused each other of the violence and both received restraining orders against the other. No Domestic Violence charges were ever brought against either. The accusations of child molestation are interesting and certainly inflammatory but again, these are only accusations, and the only thing there are more of than accusations in the universe are perhaps the sands of the sea or the stars in the sky. There could very well be some merit to the molestation charges and in such case Zimmerman should go to prison forever, but interestingly not only are the police and prosecutors not pursuing this but neither are any of the people calling for George’s head on a plate, which makes one wonder how much merit those accusations hold. Also, though child molestation charges should be taken seriously, good people like you and I should be very careful of assuming or even suggesting guilt of such a momentous charge against any man absent a thorough trial and examination of the evidence against him.

            While you are free to assume and believe someone to be a thug, child molester, batterer of women, or anything you wish your allegations do not equate to that person having “a record” of what you are accusing them of. Likewise a credible person uses accusations judiciously, whether accusing people of thuggery, or of refusing to answer one’s questions.

  • Rod

    This column is invalid for this simple fact. None of Trayvon Martin’s past, was allowed in trial. Marc is pure and simple, a race baiter.

    • knock knock

      Dude none of Zimmerman’s past was allowed ether. What is your point ?

    • Bells

      What is in Trayvon Martin’s past that would be relevant to what happened that night?

  • DB

    jbrisby Why do you call Trayvon Martin a “thug” or “almost certainly a burglar?”

    I don’t see how you can assume Trayvon’s a “thug” and not Zimmerman (Who has been accused of molesting a girl from 8-16 years old, been arrested for assaulting a police officer, been accused of domestic violence, and has had a restraining order against him.)

    I want you to REALLY think about why you’re characterizing Trayvon as a “thug” and not Zimmerman.

    And to say only “young black men are civic terrors…and have embraced a culture of criminality” and ignore the fact that people of all races and nationalities commit crimes (OKC bombing, Aurora shooting, The Unibomber, KKK, the Olympic Park Bomber, Sandy Hook Shootings, V-Tech Shootings, etc) shows your racial bias.

    Again, think about what you’re REALLY saying. Thanks.

  • jsmithcsa

    Marc is wrong on this one. Google More evidence that Trayvon Martin was a violent, dangerous thug and get some facts on Trayvon.

    • knock knock

      dude i was going to say the same thing except about Zimmerman. I was going to type the following “Google more evidence that Zimmerman was Violent(because it’s on his record ) dangerous police officer wannabe and get some facts on Zimmerman”

  • eg

    It is no doubt very tragic that a young man died. But Mr. Lamont-Hill, your are selective in your assessment. Perhaps it is not possible to ever look at this case objectively because of race. That is a perspective to which I cannot relate either.

    But Martin was not “gunned down” or shot because he was black, because he was walking home, because he was wearing a hoodie. He was shot once because he punched Zimmerman in the face and proceeded with an assault, probably as aggressive as he was capable. Zimmerman shot him once to defend himself. Was Zimmerman a racist? Was Martin a hoodlum or thug? It may not matter. There may or may not be evidence to lead to conclusions to answer those questions.

    Mr. Lamont-Hill, I don’t have your superior intellect and education, but could it be that you are just allowing the great emotional sadness of this tragedy remove your ability to look at this reasonably. You are an eloquent man and many people seriously consider things that you say. Even I have appreciated your points of view. In this case you are looking for something that is not there. When did it become okay to assault someone because you didn’t like the way they were looking at you? This is not an attitude we want in our society. Does everyone who cuts you off in traffic deserve a whoopin’?

    You will have plenty of opportunities to observe and call for change about injustices, but this is not one. Yes, an unarmed youth was killed and it is dramatic and already has the nation’s attention.

    Bullet-riddled? Sounds good for your rant, but maybe you should use a dictionary when writing or get a better editor. Or maybe you knew better and chose that description anyway. There are many lessons to take from this incident and plenty of things for you to write about, but keep it real. You are a smart guy. I look forward to seeing what else you can come up with that can have a positive impact. Skittles? I certainly hope not. Still love you man.

    • Bells

      Trayvon may not have been “gunned down” because he was black. But he was racially profiled and deemed suspicious because he was Black. I say this because all Trayvon was doing to arouse suspicion was walking home and talking on the phone.

      Nobody can know exactly what happened because only two people know the story and one of them is dead. Maybe Zimmerman caught up to Trayvon and had his gun out, causing Trayvon to feel he needed to fight for his life. Maybe Zimmerman shoved Trayvon, initiating a fight, and then Trayvon got the better of the stranger who was stalking him.

      Nobody knows. What we do know is that Trayvon was simply walking home and talking on the phone to his friend. What we do know is Zimmerman deemed him suspicious. What we do know is if Zimmerman would have stayed in his car Trayvon would have lived that night and I wouldn’t even know who Zimmerman was.

      • BenKOwen.blogspot.com

        Bells,

        You make some bold claims here. That is fine, but I would be fascinated to hear what facts or evidence you have to back those up. What are your facts that prove your statement that “Trayvon was simply walking home that night?” Zimmerman never said anything about suspecting him because of his skin color, or hoodie but rather that he was just standing around (in the rain) staring at the houses. What EVIDENCE do you have that Martin was not casing houses while walking toward his home with Skittles? I understand that literally thousands have proclaimed Trayvon’s pure intent here but saying it lots of times doesn’t make it so. The lack of evidence of Trayvon’s intent and actions cut both ways, not just the way we want it to.

        • Bells

          I don’t claim anything. I said nobody knows what happened.

          What EVIDENCE do you have that Trayvon was “casing” houses? What EVIDENCE do you have that he wasn’t simply walking and talking on the phone (despite testimony from his friend and phone records)? The word of the man who killed him?
          Again, only two people know what happened and that’s Trayvon and Zimmerman. I’m not going to take the word of a man who was on trial for his murder as “evidence.”

          Other way it doesn’t matter. Zimmerman is free so now it’s about having discussions to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Zimmerman DID profile Trayvon. Don’t worry, that’s not illegal. But he did profile him. Thinking Zimmerman did NOTHING wrong will only ensure that this continues to happen.
          Enjoy the rest of your night.

          • BenKOwen.blogspot.com

            Bells,

            Before saying that you are not making claims you should re-read your own words: “all Trayvon was doing to arouse suspicion was walking home and talking on the phone.” How do you know what Martin was doing while walking home? How do you know he was not casing houses as Zimmerman apparently thought? How do you know he was not talking to Jeantel about burglary prospects? Zimmerman may very well be wrong, lying, or have misread Martins ACTIONS, but he at least saw some evidence (Martins Actions). You and I have not. You can believe Martin had no bad intent or actions but at least admit that that is nothing but pure speculation.

          • BenKOwen.blogspot.com

            Yes, the evidence does show that Zimmerman profiled Martin that night. His own words show him as profiling Martin as suspicious because he appeared to Zimmerman to be “…just standing around … staring at all the houses.” This evidently seemed strange to Zimmerman that anyone (of any race) would be standing around in the rain rather than trying to get on to where they were going. Zimmerman said nothing about Martin’s race until specifically asked by the 911 dispatcher. Likewise Zimmerman said nothing about Martin’s hoodie until asked specifically by the dispatcher. Zimmerman has never indicated that the hoodie aroused his suspicions. Profiling suspicious BEHAVIOUR is the neighborhood watches job and mandate.

            While you may believe that Martin was not “just standing around staring at all the houses” as if he might be casing them as Zimmerman said and inferred; please, please just recognize that their is utterly no evidence to bolster that belief. And thousands of others saying it with the same lack of evidence does not make it any more true.

  • Shante

    When We Couldn’t Comb Our Hair: We Took Action

    In the days following the verdict in the Trayvon Martin murder case, there has been a public outcry expressing outrage and dissent over the jury’s decision. Issues of race and class have come to the forefront of what many are calling the start of a new movement. I, like so many others, have looked inward and asked myself, “where do we go from here?” Is change really coming or are we getting swept up in the controversy surrounding the case and the demand for justice?

    And then I had an epiphany. It hit me like a bolt of lightning. While getting ready this morning, I realized that the last major “movement” that affected REAL CHANGE in the Black community and around the country, was over HAIR! Although many sisters had been natural for years, it was Chris Rock’s documentary, “Good Hair”, that brought that dialogue to the forefront; and suddenly we began to engage in dialogue about conformity, self esteem, and cultural affirmation.

    And what happened?

    1. We started to educate one another. YouTube came to my rescue as it has for so many other women who abandoned relaxers and straight hair in favor of their natural texture
    2. We stopped INVESTING in brands and products that did not affirm our culture
    3. We CREATED OUR OWN resources and invested in OUR OWN culture
    4. We CHALLENGED the stereotype that something was WRONG with us, and proclaimed that our natural beauty was acceptable, professional, BEAUTIFUL, and worthy of esteem
    5. We created support groups, empowerment groups, and education groups

    And what happened?

    MAIN STREAM MEDIA AND WALL STREET RESPONDED!

    All of a sudden brands that never catered to the needs of black women were developing products to gain back some of their market share when we abandoned them

    Nearly every commercial featuring a black woman has NATURAL hair/styling

    News anchors and media personalities began to wear their hair naturally

    Hair that was once considered “unprofessional”, “militant”, “unacceptable”, was now in the forefront of mainstream media, embraced and encouraged

    Because we took action…because we withheld our dollars and our support from those who did not value and respect our culture…because we educated ourselves and one another… because we empowered each other…the world took notice. We changed the perception and changed the direction.

    If we can do ALL of that over the issue of HAIR…My Lord… IMAGINE what we could do at a time such as this for our young people who so desperately need us.

  • Concerned Voice

    It was a truly a failure of the judicial system. The father a native of East St. Louis Mo has a rally be orgainized by Black Pearl Tattoo Studio for publi outcry. The St.Louis based company lead the march from the beginning on the incident.