Mark O'Mara, the lead attorney for George Zimmerman in the case of Zimmerman's alleged murder of unarmed Florida teen Trayvon Martin earlier this year, has published a scathing retort to recent claims made by Martin's lawyer that race is the "elephant in the room" in the ongoing legal case.
In a post on gzlegalcase.com, a website set up by Zimmerman’s defense team, Mark O'Mara lays out his disagreement with the opposition's accusations. “The term 'elephant in the room' typically describes something that people won’t talk about -- despite how obvious and apparent it is,” O’Mara wrote. “This term is misapplied in this case.”
Benjamin Crump, the attorney representing Martin's family, said recently that the case "shouldn't be about race." However, Crump added he felt race has become "the elephant in the room."
“Nobody believes that if you make Trayvon Martin white [and Zimmerman black], there’s no way he would not be arrested, and that’s the unfortunate and tragic truth of the matter. There is a double standard. That’s why race is involved in this case,” Crump told the Orlando Sentinel in late September.
On Wednesday, O'Mara fired back. “Mr. Crump has led a chorus of voices in drawing attention to the race factor in the George Zimmerman case, including comments from the President of the United States. While it can be safely argued that it is largely the question of civil rights issues that has made the George Zimmerman case a national -- and international -- story, there is nothing to support the contention of racism in the Zimmerman case.”
O'Mara continued, “The real “elephant in the room,” however, is that race should not be a factor in the George Zimmerman case, and should never have been made one.”
Race has been at the core of the case since it began to garner national attention in mid-March, when a groundswell of support rose up from cities across the country and national news outlets thrust the story of the killing into the spotlight. Pundits and supporters on all sides have picked over both Martin's and Zimmerman's racial profiles. Zimmerman, who was described in police reports as white, is biracial, with a white father and Latina mother.
However, Martin's race has been cited as the factor that initially piqued Zimmerman's suspicions that rainy February night when Zimmerman ultimately shot and killed the unarmed teen.
Zimmerman, who has maintained that he shot Martin in self-defense, was not initially arrested. But when national outrage grew from a grumble to a roar, a special prosecutor was assigned to the case. More than 40 days after the shooting, Zimmerman was taken into custody.
Others have placed much of the onus of any racially-motivated missteps on the Sanford Police Department, which initially investigated the case. Locals and community leaders say the department has a long history of botched murder investigations, with some people in town saying that officers have historically been lax in the investigations of African-American victims.
“Let’s forget for a moment that George Zimmerman is Hispanic, not white,” O’Mara wrote. “What Mr. Crump is saying is that race is an issue in the George Zimmerman case because, he insists, that if a black man shot a white person in a similar situation, the black man would have been immediately arrested. This is not an indictment of George Zimmerman; this is fundamentally an accusation that the Sanford Police Department acted in a racist way, and that perhaps the criminal justice system at large is biased against black men.”
O’Mara continued, “The truth is that there is credible evidence that black men are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, and that is evidence of an underlying problem.”
“This is something that needs to be discussed as a nation, and if this case has brought that conversation to the forefront, then now is the time to have that conversation,” O’Mara wrote. “Mr. Crump is right in talking about the George Zimmerman case when he says: 'It shouldn’t be about race.' But by projecting race onto the George Zimmerman case, Mr. Crump is pinning a supposed civil rights victory on a Zimmerman conviction. The problem is that by associating a Zimmerman conviction with a civil rights victory, Mr. Crump has framed a scenario where a Zimmerman victory in a Self-Defense Immunity Hearing or a Zimmerman acquittal will represent a civil rights defeat. That is inappropriate and dangerous to us as a nation.”
In his interview with the Sentinel, Crump talked about the role of the media in catapulting the story into the forefront of American consciousness. He invoked ideas of race, class and equality in shaping public opinion of justice.
“I think the media is vitally important in presenting to the world and the court of public opinion [the facts of a story] so that court officials and the officers of the court all know that the world is watching and that we have to be fair and apply equal justice no matter who the person is. That a black child born to the poorest and most uneducated parents, that that child has the same exact, same rights as the child born to the wealthiest, most educated parents. But we know that’s not the case. All we’re asking for is equality. Black or white, you still have a child who is dead.
“And with Trayvon Martin, I kept the message very simple. All I did was hold up the facts. A child is walking with only Skittles and iced tea and is killed.”
In a hearing scheduled for Oct. 19, O’Mara will seek a delay of Zimmerman's trial and request access to Martin’s school records and to the teen’s social media posts, the latter of which will likely spark more talk of race in the case.
In the weeks and months after Martin's death, a white supremacy group allegedly hacked his Twitter account. Shortly after, a number of images -- many of which were not in fact Martin -- began circulating in emails railing against Martin and a so-called liberal media bias.
In one of the emails, the words “'LITTLE' TRAYVON MARTIN” appeared above a photo of the tattooed West Coast rapper Game.
“They don’t show the up-to-date pictures of Trayvon Martin, in the media. Now you know why. Kinda scary, ain’t it?” some versions of the email continued, describing Martin as a “17-year-old drug dealing, gold-toothed thug whose name on one of his Facebook profiles was 'wild nigga.'"