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A Zimmerman trial begins, while attacks on Trayvon continue

Jonathan P Hicks | 6/20/2013, 11:09 a.m.
It's time to make youth unemployment the focus of our national attention

SANFORD, Fla.--The trial of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin has begun at last. So far, nothing particularly dramatic has occurred in the lengthy, painstaking process of selecting the six people who will ultimately sit on the jury to determine the fate of Zimmerman, who is charged with second-degree murder in the death of the unarmed, 17-year-old African-American high school student.

Attorneys for Zimmerman and the prosecution spend between 20 and 30 minutes with each potential juror, asking him or her a laundry list of questions, from what newspapers each reads to the television stations they watch most frequently.

In listening to the various residents of Seminole County, Fla., whose residents make up the jury pool, one point is slowly emerging: Martin may well have been dealt a second tragedy following the one that took place here some 16 months ago.

In the weeks leading up to the trial, Mark O'Mara, Zimmerman's lawyer, and his team have systematically-but cleverly-unleashed a series of unflattering portrayals of the dead 17-year-old. Those have ranged from allegations of marijuana use to producing online photos of the teenager with gold teeth as well as information about a brief high school suspension.

Even before the trial began, the judge in the case ruled firmly that any such documents, photos or social media messages could not be used in the opening arguments of the internationally watched trial. As comforting as that may have been for the prosecution and the family of Martin, the damage was already done, which was precisely the intention of the Zimmerman legal team.

Sanford is a city of about 54,000 residents, about 30 percent of whom are African-American, with another 20 percent being Latino. The annual per capita income for residents of Sanford is about $21,000, with nearly a fifth of the city's population living in poverty.

But the jury is being selected from a far wider pool than just Sanford. The 500 or more people who were summoned live in the much larger Seminole County, which is home to 425,000 Floridians. The county is only about 10 percent African-American and could never be mistaken for a bastion of progressive leanings. It is significantly whiter than Sanford, far more affluent and far more conservative. It is a county that Mitt Romney won in last year's presidential election with 53 percent of the vote over President Barack Obama.

"I didn't really think that race was the reason something happened," said one potential juror when asked about her impressions of the case based on news reports she had heard. She went on to criticize the Rev. Al Sharpton, saying that the civil rights leader's attention to the Martin case was based more on Sharpton's past involvements with highly publicized incidents than on the urgency of the shooting of Martin.

This is precisely the type of juror that O'Mara and his defense team would relish as one of the six who will sit in judgment of Zimmerman. And they are in great supply here. The defense lawyer's attempt to poison the well may have been highly effective despite the ruling of the judge. Seminole County is not a place where such information is likely to go unnoticed.

So it will be a long road for the prosecution and for Martin's parents, who have sat attentively during the proceedings here. And it is a shame. They have undergone an unimaginable amount of pain from the events of February of 2012. It is doubly sad that the aching is far from over.