The George Zimmerman Murder Trial: An American Tragedy

I am a licensed clinical psychologist with a board certification in both medical and forensic psychology. I have spent the last 25 years practicing a specialty I helped to develop. I am a trial analyst. A trial analyst is to courtrooms what a psychoanalyst is to the therapist’s couch. My expertise encompasses every human factor that is dispositive of the outcome of civil and criminal litigation. My expertise spans lawyer presentation to jury selection and everything else in between. As interesting as those factors are in the George Zimmerman murder trial, I want to talk about something much more important.

My purpose in writing this essay is to reduce the likelihood that people like Trayvon Martin and George Zimmeran don’t repeat this human tragedy. Without suggesting equivalency in their fates, people who may identify with Mr. Martin do not want to end up dead and people who identify with Mr. Zimmerman don’t want to end up on trial for murder.

I am aware that 17 year-old Black males and neighborhood watchmen are not likely to read this essay. Therefore, if this essay is to ever to reach my intended audience I am going to need some help from the media. Common sense tells me that if you want help you should not begin by scolding the people whose assistance you need, so I’ll be reserved in making the following observations.

Media coverage of the Zimmerman trial is a facsimile of what a trial analyst would do if he or she were parsing the day-to-day goings on in the trial and had to do that while keeping an ever-watchful eye on ratings. The media focuses upon the path toward guilt or innocence using a blow-by-blow assessment of the path toward conviction or acquittal. I don’t chide the media for taking this approach, but that approach may be harmful, dare I say deadly, to my intended audience.

Permit me to speak directly to my intended audience by stating this principle: Being in the right doesn’t necessarily mean that you should not change your attitudes and ultimately your behavior. Mr. Zimmerman’s lawyers are busy persuading a jury of six women that their client was “in the right.” Friends of Mr. Martin and many pundits are busy persuading their audience that Mr. Martin was “in the right.” This is one case where “two rights made a wrong.”

I don’t doubt for a moment that Mr. Zimmerman profiled Mr. Martin. But I also don’t doubt for a moment that Mr. Martin profiled Mr. Zimmerman. Mr. Zimmerman’s calculus, we are told, was predicated upon the fact that the last seven home robberies in his gated community were all committed by young Black males.

Mr. Martin’s advocates make the case that non-Blacks often suspect young Black men of being up to no good when, in fact, they are doing nothing wrong. I’m sure Mr. Martin’s advocates don’t intend to hurt my intended audience, but what they are doing, quite inadvertently, is justifying why Mr. Martin was right to physically act upon his anger against Mr. Zimmerman. I would never be so presumptuous as to lecture young Black men on how they should feel, but I am absolutely confident in the wisdom of my efforts to persuade young Black men to not physically act on their anger, justified or not, given what may happen to them. Why? It is simply not worth it.

And to those of you who identify with George Zimmerman, I would ask that you keep this in mind: Once you have identified a potential threat and you have reported it to the police, you may wish to consider this fact, young men are notoriously stupid, physical and haven’t thought about the fact that the shorter guy you may punch in the nose may have a gun, and he may use it on you if you are successful at beating the living daylights out of him. Young men don’t stop and think that you may kill someone with your fists, especially if those fists belong to someone angry. Our prisons are full of old men who made this exact fatal error when they were young, angry, stupid and out of control.

One other thing I want the George Zimmerman’s of this world to think about. I want you to sit down and contemplate the human factor of empowerment. Absent the weapon Mr. Zimmerman was carrying on his hip would Mr. Zimmerman have made the wiser choice, given the wisdom of hindsight, and kept his distance from someone who may pummel you into unconsciousness? Having deadly force is a comforting option for some people, but if the presence of the gun makes you more likely to risk becoming embroiled in a life or death situation or ending up on trial for murder, then maybe, just maybe, you should rethink your strategies and tactics.

So to all the people who identify with George Zimmerman and believe he is innocent of the crime charged, you do agree with me that being on trial for murder is something to avoid. To all the parents, teachers, therapists and older brothers and sisters of the Trayvon Martins of the world, please sit your loved one down and teach them this lesson, because it may save their life.

Perceptions may be based in fact or they may reflect the prejudices of the perceiver, but your life and those who love you are more important than mere perceptions of you. On that rainy night George Zimmerman was nothing more than a suspicious guy watching another suspicious guy and both had their reasons for their suspicions. If you know someone who is like Trayvon Martin or someone who is following the Zimmerman case and identifies with Trayvon Martin, play the following song for them and talk to them about the lyrics and what those lyrics mean until it sinks in because their life and your heartbreak may depend upon it.

“Beat It”

[1st Verse]

They Told Him Don’t You Ever Come Around Here

Don’t Wanna See Your Face, You Better Disappear

The Fire’s In Their Eyes And Their Words Are Really Clear

So Beat It, Just Beat It

[2nd Verse]

You Better Run, You Better Do What You Can

Don’t Wanna See No Blood, Don’t Be A Macho Man

You Wanna Be Tough, Better Do What You Can

So Beat It, But You Wanna Be Bad

[Chorus]

Just Beat It, Beat It, Beat It, Beat It

No One Wants To Be Defeated

Showin’ How Funky Strong Is Your Fight

It Doesn’t Matter Who’s Wrong Or Right

Just Beat It, Beat It

Just Beat It, Beat It

Just Beat It, Beat It

Just Beat It, Beat It

[3rd Verse]

They’re Out To Get You, Better Leave While You Can

Don’t Wanna Be A Boy, You Wanna Be A Man

You Wanna Stay Alive, Better Do What You Can

So Beat It, Just Beat It

[4th Verse]

You Have To Show Them That You’re Really Not Scared

You’re Playin’ With Your Life, This Ain’t No Truth Or Dare

They’ll Kick You, Then They Beat You,

Then They’ll Tell You It’s Fair

So Beat It, But You Wanna Be Bad

[Chorus]

Just Beat It, Beat It, Beat It, Beat It

No One Wants To Be Defeated

Showin’ How Funky Strong Is Your Fight

It Doesn’t Matter Who’s Wrong Or Right

[Chorus]

Just Beat It, Beat It, Beat It, Beat It

No One Wants To Be Defeated

Showin’ How Funky Strong Is Your Fight

It Doesn’t Matter Who’s Wrong Or Right

Just Beat It, Beat It, Beat It, Beat It, Beat It

[Chorus]

Beat It, Beat It, Beat It, Beat It

No One Wants To Be Defeated

Showin’ How Funky Strong Is Your Fight

It Doesn’t Matter Who’s Wrong Or Right

[Chorus]

Just Beat It, Beat It, Beat It, Beat It

No One Wants To Be Defeated

Showin’ How Funky Strong Is Your Fight

It Doesn’t Matter Who’s Wrong Or Who’s Right

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