“Today, we filed an information charging George Zimmerman with Murder in the Second Degree. A capias has been issued for his arrest.” – Angela Corey, Florida Special Prosecutor
In a little less than 24 hours after stating she would forego a grand jury and solely determine the fate of the Trayvon Martin case, Florida special prosecutor Angela Corey (Read her statement provided by the Miami Herald) held a news conference to announce the filing of a second degree murder charge against George Zimmerman and his arrest. Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch captain who gunned down Martin voluntarily surrendered to the police and was taken into custody. Earlier his attorneys had announced they were withdrawing from his defense. Zimmerman has retained new counsel.
The decision by Corey to charge Zimmerman closes one chapter of a tragic event and opens a new one. Trayvon Martin was killed on February 26 while walking in a suburban Orlando neighborhood en route home from a 7-Eleven store carrying a bag of Skittles candy and iced tea. Zimmerman spotted Martin and pursued him despite being told by a 911 operator not to follow the youth. Martin ended up dead, gunned down by Zimmerman, who claimed self-defense under Florida’s “Stand your Ground” law. Sanford police initially took Zimmerman into custody but released him despite an officer’s insistence the block watch volunteer should be arrested. The outcry in the Sanford Black community over the failure of police to arrest George Zimmerman hit the social media network and mushroomed quickly into a national movement.
The Trayvon Martin case spawned protests around the country and globe, with every major civil rights organization in the nation calling for Zimmerman’s arrest and young Black students taking to the streets in numbers not seen since the heyday of the civil rights movement. Over 2 million people signed an online petition demanding the arrest of George Zimmerman. The seeming injustice in the death of the Black youth touched a nerve across the racial divide too, as many whites also joined in the call for Zimmerman’s arrest. There remained, however, according to polls, a hard core base of whites who empathized with Zimmerman and took aim at Martin. The dead youth was demonized on right-wing talk radio programs and slighted on-air; one of the most egregious insults coming from Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera who blamed Martin for causing his own death by wearing a hooded sweatshirt or “hoodie.” The garment took on great symbolic meaning over the last month as protesters donned hoodies and social media users took photographs wearing the garment and posted the snapshots online in a show of solidarity with the slain youth.
Upon the announcement of charges against Zimmerman, Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and COO of the NAACP, stated, “Forty five days after Trayvon Martin’s life came to a violent end, the wheels of justice have finally begun to turn. This is an important first step toward bringing justice for Trayvon and his family.” Those sentiments were echoed by civil rights leaders across the country. Rev. Al Sharpton, who has been working closely with Trayvon Martin’s parents during the ordeal, noted of the case, “Had there not been pressure, there would not have been a second look.”
The Martin case now enters a new phase. Prosecutor Corey has declared her intention to try the case in Seminole County but the issue of jury selection will likely become a major sticking point with Zimmerman’s defense counsel. His new attorney Mark O’Mara, a well-known figure in Florida legal circles, has already expressed doubts that an impartial jury can be impaneled in Seminole County given the pre-trial publicity. There will likely be some concern among Martin supporters too over the selection of a jury in the county. There has been a push to have the U.S. Department of Justice investigate the Sanford police department and the sheriff who was at the helm of the department when Trayvon Martin was killed has stepped down. The key point of contention will likely be the state’s controversial “Stand your Ground” law and whether Zimmerman was within his legal right under the law and acting in self-defense when he shot Martin. The case could wind up as a no-win proposition for both sides and cause further resentment of the criminal justice system in Florida.