Monday, April 9, 2012

George Zimmerman "Relative" Calls Eric Holder A Racist; Grossly Misinterprets Federal Hate Crimes Law

A member of George Zimmerman's family has unwittingly provided possible insight into the background of the man who gunned down Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager. Today, the anonymous family member sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder that accuses him of being a racist. To support this claim, the letter argues that Holder is selectively enforcing federal hate crimes statutes. Although the Department of Justice is investigating whether Zimmerman committed a hate crime when he killed Martin, DOJ has not arrested the New Black Panthers, who offered a bounty for Zimmerman's life.  For many reasons, the letter confirms my suspicions that despite Zimmerman's Hispanic ancestry, he likely grew up in an environment shaped by conservative racial prejudice and stereotyping.

So Many Problems, So Little Time

First, Zimmerman's relative distributed the letter exclusively to the Daily Caller -- a proudly rightwing blog that despises all things liberal. At the time of this blog posting, Fox News is the only major news outlet that has a scoop on the story. Thus, the family is definitely using rightwing sources to market its case.

Second, the letter itself makes some very bizarre claims, and it rests on very troubling notions about racial equality -- namely that protecting blacks from racial oppression is itself discrimination. The letter, for example, states that "many" people (a veiled effort to pass the buck to others) are saying that a "lynch mob" has formed against Zimmerman. I have always found the use of this term in this setting particularly odd. In US history, if a lynch mob was successful, the black man usually died. Well, that is exactly what happened in this case! Yet, Zimmerman's family member and many rightwing pundits still insist that he is the victim of a lynch mob.

And, of course, the lynchers are a long list of black people, including: "Congressmen (and women), the Congressional Black Caucus, The NAACP, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Spike Lee, President Barack Obama, and the most violent, The New Black Panthers" and "the black community." Two things come to mind after reading this list. First, people of many different racial backgrounds have expressed support for Martin's family. Also, a coalition of LGBT rights groups signed a joint proclamation demanding that Florida provide justice in this case. Also, the governor of Florida announced that the state police were taking over the investigation and that a special prosecutor would determine how to proceed with the case. Florida's governor and the special prosecutor are both white. Yet, Zimmerman's relative only singles out black folks and organizations for condemnation. This sounds like classic racial discrimination to me.

The letter also asks, "Whatever happened to INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY and DUE PROCESS," implying that Zimmerman has been deprived of these rights. This is ludicrous. Despite having killed an unarmed teenager, Zimmerman remains free. He has not been arrested. He has not been charged with a crime. Martin's family has not filed a civil suit against him. The federal government has not taken his passport. Zimmerman is a free man. Not only does he have a presumption of innocence, he is being treated as if he were actually innocent by both the federal government and the state of Florida. These same misguided arguments have appeared on many conservative media sites. Apparently, Zimmerman's relative is strongly influenced by rightwing media.

Perhaps the most bizarre statement in the letter is the assertion that DOJ's investigation will determine that Zimmerman's rights were violated. Although the letter does not state the culprit, it appears that the relative believes the New Black Panther party has violated federal law. For example, the letter asks Holder to explain "why, when the law of the land is crystal clear, is your office not arresting the New Black Panthers for hate crimes?" The letter suggest that Holder's racism prevents him from arresting the New Black Panthers. Interesting -- yes. Provocative -- absolutely. Right about the law -- not at all.

Federal Hate Crimes Law Not Implicated By The New Black Panther Actions

In 2009, Congress passed -- over intense conservative objection -- the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The statute contains two broad sections. The first section authorizes the Attorney General, "at the request of a state, local, or tribal law enforcement agency," to "provide technical, forensic, prosecutorial, or any other form of assistance in the criminal investigation or prosecution" of hate crimes. The second part of the statute makes the commission of a hate crime a violation of federal law. The statute, however, clearly defines a hate crime -- which it must do in order to comply with the Constitution.

A person commits a federal hate crime if he or she
willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, a dangerous weapon, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived race [or] color . . . of any person (italics added).
While the behavior of the New Black Panthers is despicable, it does not constitute a hate crime under federal law because the group has not "caused bodily injury to any person." Also, while Zimmerman's actions fit at least a portion of the statutory requirements -- he caused bodily injury to Trayvon -- the federal government has not arrested him because it is unclear whether he acted out of racial motivation. Investigating whether he acted with racial motivation is not a determination that he has done so. Instead, DOJ is apparently giving Zimmerman the presumption of innocence that the rambling letter demands.

In order to support the baseless claim that the New Black Panthers have committed a federal hate crime, the letter does not cite the relevant federal law. Instead, it cites language from a 1996 document contained on a "Community Relations Service" page of the DOJ website.  The document looks like an informal production. It is likely an archived link.

The document, which was written over a decade before the passage of the current federal hate crimes statute, suggests a much broader definition of hate crimes, to include acts of "intimidation" and "verbal threats." This document, however, does not purport to interpret any federal statute. Even if it does, it certainly does not interpret current law -- passed 13 years after the document was published. If Zimmerman's defense counsel approved this letter, then he should hire new lawyers -- immediately!

Arguing Reverse Discrimination for Financial Gain

Fittingly, the letter concludes with a very melodramatic claim. It analogizes Zimmerman's situation to the plight of Tom Robinson in To Kill A Mockingbird. Robinson, a black man, was convicted of raping a white woman despite a lack of evidence. It was a racist prosecution - consistent with a history of racism in the criminal justice system. Robinson was later murdered. Supposedly, Zimmerman is equally oppressed on account of race. Oppressed -- yet free.

Finally, the timing of this letter is very interesting. Today, Zimmerman created a webpage to solicit money for his defense. This letter -- which was released exclusively to a rightwing outlet -- seems targeted toward rallying opponents to civil rights who believe that a foreign-born, Muslim, socialist, communist, traitorous, racist black man is President of the United States. Judging from the hundreds of responses to the letter, it has reached its target audience. One wonders whether Zimmerman penned it himself.

For similar stories on this blog, see:

BREAKING NEWS IN TRAYVON MARTIN CASE: Zimmerman's Legal Team Abandons Him; He Says They Were Not His Lawyers

The Black-On-Black Crime Discussion Is a Racist Maneuver

Shelby Steele and Other Racial Apologists Are the REAL Exploiters of Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin: A Fatal Flaw in Zimmerman's Self-Defense Argument

BREAKING NEWS: Geraldo Rivera Says Hoodie Killed Trayvon Martin

Sorry, Trayvon Martin: They Just Don't Like You

BREAKING NEWS in Trayvon Martin Case: Officer in the Case Has A Prior Record of Racial Controversy

Trayvon Martin: 911 Call Contradicts Police Account (Audio)


Trayvon Martin: "Stand Your Ground" Rule Has NOTHING To Do With This Case

George Zimmerman, Killer of Trayvon Martin: The Man Who Would Be Cop


Geosqt said...

..."he likely grew up in an environment shaped by conservative racial prejudice and stereotyping."

Seems to me that YOU grew up in an environment shaped by blatant racism against all colors - except, of course black people. Shame on YOU. Delete THAT!

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Sorry - but my conclusion is based on the illogical rantings in this letter. Yours is just based aparently on disagreement -- and prejudice. If you read my blog and law review publications, you will see that I have advocated civil rights for persons of all races, sexual orientations, gender identity, etc. Have you?

chickeee said...

Maybe Robert Zimmerman wrote it

Boston Boomer said...

Thank you for an outstanding analysis of this very odd letter. It does sound like George Zimmerman grew up in a right wing, racist environment. Zimmerman's father has also made comments that seem to suggest that.

George Zimmerman's choice to post racist graffiti on his new fundraising website provides more support for this hypothesis.

I have really appreciated your coverage of this case.


serfing usa said...

The author of the letter does raise one legitimate concern; unfortunately (for the author) it only supports a timely detainment of Zimmerman.


Apparently the Florida self-defense statute has done away with both. Zimmerman claims to have had the legal right to use lethal force when retreat would easily have sufficed. And according to both of those principles, Mr. Zimmerman should have an opportunity to raise that question in front of a jury of his peers.

The author of the letter shockingly (not surprisingly) overlooks the violation of Mr. Martin's due process rights and his right to remain innocent until proven guilty (in front of a jury of his peers - not a vigilante). While it does not excuse the horrible things being said about Mr. Zimmerman, it does, in my eyes, significantly reduce the sympathy he should receive from the "court of public opinion." Typically, even in clear self defense cases, the person killed, and her or his family is entitled to a trial to determine whether the act of self-defense is justified. Homicide is not, and should not, be presumptively excused.

Mr. Martin did not get his day in court; his guilt was presumed and acted upon. It is a horrendous denial of the Martin Family's rights to have not so much as a preliminary hearing regarding Mr. Zimmerman's culpability for Mr. Martin's death.

Shannon said...

I am just impressed you managed to read the whole thing...and then analyze it! The letter was such a poorly written, garbled, crackpot mess that I had to give up two paragraphs in.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Shannon: It was difficult. When I was a law clerk, I had to read pro se complaints and briefs. So, I am used to it.

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