(The Root) — Today, Monday, is the beginning of jury selection for the second-degree-murder trial of 29-year-old George Zimmerman in the shooting death of 17-year-old high school student Trayvon Martin. The trial comes just ahead of Father's Day, and The Root spoke with Tracy Martin, Trayvon's father, to ask him about the son he knew and loved.
We discussed the media war with Zimmerman's defense team and what advice Tracy Martin would offer African-American fathers in a society all too prone to finding black and brown boys suspicious. The family attorney, Benjamin Crump, also offered insights into the facts of the case, racial profiling, "Stand your ground" laws and what an acquittal or conviction would mean in a supposedly postracial America.
The Root: If you knew then what you know now, would you have told your son anything different about what it means to be a young black man in an American society that treats him as suspicious? What would "the talk" sound like? And do you have any advice for African-American fathers raising sons?
Tracy Martin: You can't prepare your child to contend with the warped mentality of someone else. You can only teach them to be good and live by the laws of the land. George Zimmerman acted in a deranged way — and all the evidence supports that. I know how society negatively portrays black boys, and my son Trayvon wasn't naive. He wasn't blind to stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination. But I shouldn't have to tell my child to fear walking to the store to get snacks just because he's black.
We're supposed to be living in a free society, aren't we? Trayvon lived in a diverse community. His school is mixed, and Trayvon had friends who are white, black and Hispanic. I never thought this could happen to him, and I know Trayvon was scared and confused in those final moments. This wasn't anything that any parent could prepare their child for.
TR: What was Trayvon Martin like? What do you want the public to know about him?
TM: My child was a fun-loving kid. He loved being outside and loved working with his hands — bikes, motorcycles, anything like that. He could take a radio apart and put it back together. That's how his mind worked.
So many people want their kids to grow up to be doctors, lawyers or professional athletes. My son was interested in aviation. He took two summers and studied for his pilot-mechanic license. He would have definitely become an engineer. And I would have been so proud. Trayvon would have learned to fly.
TR: What's your reaction to the Zimmerman defense team's attempts to destroy Trayvon's character?
TM: My kid was perfect to me. As a father, it hurts to see how Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, has tried to twist the truth. And I can't defend my son, who has been killed. It's demoralizing. How do you blame the victim?
What they don't understand is that Zimmerman didn't only murder my son — he destroyed an entire branch of my family tree. I looked forward to the possibility of having grandkids from Trayvon. And that's something that can never happen now. But as far as the attacks on Trayvon's character, it certainly isn't true, and therefore doesn't affect me personally. I just hope it doesn't work with the jury and the public.
O'Mara has tried to focus attention on whether or not Trayvon had smoked marijuana in the past. First, that's irrelevant to the facts of the case. I recently read a government report that showed 36 percent of American high school seniors had tried marijuana in the past year. And white kids do it more often than blacks or Hispanics. Is that a reason to shoot a kid? Would Zimmerman have shot a white kid in that neighborhood?
My child was walking to get Skittles; that's a fact. Zimmerman has no defense, and O'Mara … is relying on lies and the power of suggestion. My son was a good kid. Deep down in my heart, I believe justice will be done.
Benjamin Crump: What's important to keep in mind, from a legal perspective, is whether or not George Zimmerman acted with a depraved mind. It is fully established that Zimmerman has a past that includes an arrest for "resisting an officer with violence," and his former girlfriend sought a restraining order against him for domestic abuse. That order was granted by a judge who clearly had enough evidence to justify the order.
What isn't relevant to this second-degree-murder trial is the teenage victim's alleged dalliance with marijuana. In fact, that narrative has been constructed by Mark O'Mara as a red herring to deflect from the fact that Zimmerman was taking various prescription drugs that are known to have violent side effects. At the time he shot and killed Trayvon, Zimmerman was on Temazepam and Adderall — drugs that cause insomnia, anxiety, aggressive behavior and hallucinations.
And because Sanford police failed to do a toxicology report on his blood-alcohol level, it's quite possible Zimmerman may have mixed those drugs with alcohol — and thereby exacerbated the effects of the prescription drugs. These are the cold, hard facts that O'Mara doesn't want to talk about and he's afraid for the public to know.
TR: Are there broader legal implications to the case that aren't being discussed?
BC: Yes, absolutely. And it's troubling. The larger issue is the precedent that a potential acquittal of George Zimmerman would set. It would show how far this country still has to go with respect to offering equal protection under the law regardless of race. If Zimmerman gets off, it will tell other deranged minds and trigger-happy police officers that they can kill black and brown boys with impunity.
It is very clear from this case — and American history in general — that if it had been a black man who had tracked and killed a white child, no defense would be sufficient. That man would be in jail and likely facing the death penalty. George Zimmerman is every parent's worst nightmare. A self-proclaimed vigilante, on prescription drugs, taunting and tracking a child in the dark.
TR: Where does Zimmerman's "Stand your ground" defense place things legally?
BC: Well, let me first say that "Stand your ground" was intended to protect victims like Trayvon — not predators like George Zimmerman. Mark O'Mara realizes that and so decided to forgo the "Stand your ground" pretrial hearing. This was a surreptitious move. Why? Because "Stand your ground" requires Zimmerman to take the stand, whereas "self-defense" does not.
O'Mara knows that once Zimmerman is forced to speak, his inconsistencies and mendaciousness will be revealed for all to see. And Zimmerman certainly wouldn't survive a cross-examination. Prosecutors would destroy him. What remains to be seen is whether black mothers and fathers, especially in the South, can receive justice in a court of law. Emmett Till's mother didn't, but I believe Sybrina and Tracy will.
Edward Wyckoff Williams is a contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, ABC, CBS Washington, Arise America and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
Edward Wyckoff Williams is a contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, ABC, CBS Washington and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.