Commentary: Zimmerman’s Effective, Yet Tragic, Blame-the-Victim Strategy

In the jury selection process in the trial of George Zimmerman, it is clear that many potential jurors believe the worst about Trayvon Martin.

Posted: 06/17/2013 11:19 AM EDT

During the lengthy series of question from lawyers to potential jurors in the George Zimmerman trial in Sanford, Florida, there was one highly illuminating moment.

A woman, when asked the impressions she had developed through the media of the unarmed, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, was straightforward in offering her views.

"He was learning to become a street fighter," the potential juror said. When asked about her thoughts about the night the teenager was fatally shot by Zimmerman more than a year ago, she said: "It seems to me that he's looking for someone to fight. I think George was just trying to protect his neighborhood."

As preposterous as that may sound to many, she was not the only potential juror who has expressed that general unfavorable review of Trayvon Martin during the trial, which is now in its second week of jury selection. Several of the residents of Seminole County, Florida, who are part of the jury pool have drawn similarly outlandish conclusions regarding a young man they have never met.

Some have characterized young Trayvon as a ne’er-do-well trouble maker, intent on causing disturbances in between bouts of indulging in marijuana smoking.

Few seem to have thought of Trayvon as what he in fact was: A regular teenager who was walking from a convenience store to the home of his father’s girlfriend to watch a basketball game.

This shows how effective Zimmerman’s lawyer, Mark O’Mara, has been in pursuing a strategy of blaming the victim. In the weeks prior to the opening of the Zimmerman trial on charges of second-degree murder in the death of Trayvon, there was barrage of information provided to the media with the aim of portraying Trayvon in a most unflattering light.

O’Mara released information that ranged from allegations of marijuana use and online photos of the teenager with gold teeth to information about a brief high school suspension.

Debra S. Nelson, the judge in the case, ruled firmly that any such documents, photos or social media messages could not be used in the opening arguments of the internationally-watched trial. As comforting as that may have been for the prosecution and the family of Trayvon Martin, the damage was already done, which is precisely the intention of the Zimmerman legal team.

It is by no means a novel tactic in the maneuverings of lawyers in a trial. But, particularly in the case of the death of Trayvon Martin, it’s a highly unfortunate one. Even if the worst of the allegations about Trayvon were true, how does that in any way justify the killing of this unarmed teenager? How would George Zimmerman – or anyone else for that matter – have the slightest idea of the background of a teenager he had never met and never heard of?

The intention of the Zimmerman legal is patently sinister. The idea here is to paint Trayvon as the young Black youth that all decent people should fear. Trayvon, the strategy goes, should be seen as someone so menacing that anything to stop him – including a 9-milemeter handgun – would be understandable.

However, it is the motivation of Zimmerman, not Trayvon, that should be examined in the course of this trial. The one-time neighborhood watch volunteer who was armed – against neighborhood watch guidelines – is the one on trial. Blaming the victim in this case is an loathsome strategy unfit for this trial or for the memory of the young man who was tragically killed.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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 (Photo: Joe Burbank-Pool/Getty Images)

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