Criminal charge brings some normalcy to the Martin case

No case since O.J’s trial has so po- larized the nation along racial lines as that of George Zimmerman’s fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin.

Polls have shown that white people tend to see Zimmerman as blameless, possibly even as a victim himself, while black people clearly see Martin as the only victim. There’s some crossover, of course, but the lines are pretty clearly drawn.

The tragedy in all of this is that none of the hatefulness that has festered for a month had to happen.

First, if Zimmerman wanted to participate in a Neighborhood Watch he should have done so by the book, in cooperation with local police. That would have meant his following standard watch rules: Watch and report, don’t confront. And don’t arm yourself while on patrol, because you are not the police. Martin would never have been shot.

Second, had a proper investigation of the shooting been conducted the evening of Feb. 26, the aftermath of Martin’s homicide would not have become a national spectacle. It was only when it became painfully obvious that Zimmerman was unlikely to face criminal charges that Martin’s death became a cause and part of the national dialogue.

With the definitive action taken Thursday by special prosecutor Angela Corey, the wheels of justice have once again been put into motion. But those wheels will be moving slowly in a case that has attracted as much attention as this.

This will take time

Zimmerman made his initial court appearance Thursday. No plea to the charge of second degree murder was entered, and no bail was set. Formal arraignment is not scheduled until May 29, and both the state’s attorney and Zimmerman’s lawyer asked the judge for a “complete sealing” of future records in the case, including witness statements and identifying information.

We understand the inclinations of the lawyers, but such an extreme blackout is only going to encourage more of what we’ve already had: questionable information coming out in dribbles and drabs, often from sources with obvious biases.

The state’s affidavit of probable cause, however, is on the record. It alleges that Zimmerman observed Martin walking through the gated community in which Zimmerman lived and Martin was a visitor, and “assumed Martin was a criminal.” A police dispatcher informed Zimmerman that an officer was on the way and advised him to wait for the officer, advice which Zimmerman disregarded.

Martin, who was talking on the phone with a friend, told her he was being followed by an unknown male and attempted to run home. “Zimmerman confronted Martin and a struggle ensued.” Cries of help captured on 911 tapes were identified by Martin’s mother as those of her son. Zimmerman shot Martin in the chest and when police arrived minutes later, he admitted doing so.

Two modes of operation

That is likely the most detail that will come from official channels until the judge lifts his seal. In the meantime, reporters will be doing what they do: trying to find out information that their readers and viewers want to see. And the 24/7 news cycle will feed off each tidbit until a more compelling story comes along. The legal system has its way of doing things; the press has its. The free American press is not bound to report only that which can be introduced in a court of law, even though some judges and lawyers have tried to make it so.

But all of that should be little more than background noise now, because with Zimmerman’s arrest and with Corey’s decision to pursue a murder charge rather than manslaughter, one question has been answered. Whatever the early failures in this case may have been, there is no longer a question as to whether the state of Florida is prepared to treat Martin’s death as a criminal case that must be adjudicated.

That should be seen by anyone as a major step toward seeing that justice is served.

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