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Andrea Lyon Headshot

Perspective Is Everything

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A lot has been written about the Trayvon Martin killing, George Zimmerman, the "stand your ground" laws and the intersection between race and the criminal justice system. Believe me, race is a big part of what happens in the criminal justice system, what color you are is an enormous determinative factor on what is going to happen to you if you are the accused, both in the death penalty context, and elsewhere.

I have to say I have been very impressed by the dignity with which Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin's mother, has handled herself while looking for a real investigation, answers to her questions and for justice to be sought.

What is troubling, though, is what we have learned about the misreporting of the 911 call made by Mr. Zimmerman. What I, and many others, heard on the news was that George Zimmerman called to report a suspicious person because he was black. In fact that is not the case. Here is the text of NBC's apology:

"During our investigation it became evident that there was an error made in the production process that we deeply regret. We will be taking the necessary steps to prevent this from happening in the future and apologize to our viewers."

As The Washington Post reported, that apology addresses The Today Show's failure to abridge accurately the conversation between Zimmerman and the dispatcher in this high-profile case.

Zimmerman: This guy looks like he's up to no good. He looks black.

Here is the actual conversation:

Zimmerman: This guy looks like he's up to no good. Or he's on drugs or something. It's raining and he's just walking around, looking about.
Dispatcher: OK, and this guy -- is he black, white or Hispanic?
Zimmerman: He looks black.

These facts make the way one looks at the beginning of this tragedy differently, do they not?

When asked by the police for a racial description, Zimmerman gives one. It is not the reason he gives for calling in, and it changes how one might view the incident. I am not saying that racial stereotypes are not involved here, but it certainly means that the reason for the call was not tied, at least consciously, to race.

Indeed, the fact that enhanced video of Zimmerman's head when he was originally arrested that shows some gashes, gives some support to his version of events as well.

Previously the media was reporting no signs of injury on Zimmerman.

Like most situations involving human beings, the truth here is neither simple nor obvious. Certainly the tragedy of Trayvon Martin's death is clear, as well as and the fact that George Zimmerman shot him.

What is not clear: the facts and their context. For these to be found, a careful investigation is needed, and any resulting prosecution should be based on the facts not the hyperbole.