It's time to make youth unemployment the focus of our national attention (36211)

In the Trayvon Martin trial, the focus should be on the shooter, not the victim.

For the last few weeks, there has been an alarming strategy unleashed by the defense in the Trayvon Martin trial in Florida. It is known simply as “blame the victim.”

As the world now knows, Trayvon Martin was a 17-year-old high school student walking to the home of his father’s girlfriend in a gated community in Sanford, Fla., more than a year ago. While walking unarmed through the complex, the teen was shot dead by a neighborhood watch volunteer who was asked by law enforcement officials not to follow him.

George Zimmerman, the man who killed young Martin, is now awaiting trial on charges of second-degree murder. He has maintained that he shot the teenager in self-defense after having been attacked by the unarmed teenager. The trial is set to begin June 10.

By most clear-headed thinking, the focus of the trial should rightly be on Zimmerman himself and producing testimony that would add clarity to what happened on that fateful night in February 2012. However, the attorney for Zimmerman has been working overtime to portray Martin as a behaviorally challenged thug who deserved to die.

The attorney, Mark O’Mara, has been working feverishly to dig up and pick apart every unflattering Facebook utterance and every less-than-noble behavior pattern of the teenager. The defense has made public everything from alleged marijuana use to the presence of gold teeth to make the case that the teenager’s character was so deficient that Zimmerman had every reason to fear him and that the killer had somehow done a service to the public.

However, earlier this week, a Florida judge brought an end to this legal strategy, telling Zimmerman’s lawyers that they may not bring up any of the unflattering depictions of Martin in their opening arguments in court. It was a profound victory for the prosecution and for Martin’s family. However, much of the damage was already done, which was indeed part of the defense strategy from the outset.

It’s clearly O’Mara’s hope that the uncomplimentary portrayals of Martin become part of the pre-trial impressions of any potential juror, whether they articulate it or not. They’re designed to create a sufficient amount of doubt about the teenager’s character that a juror might afford Zimmerman the benefit of the rather significant level of doubt.

It’s rather like attorneys representing the killers of Emmett Till crafting a strategy to defame the young man. Till, a 14-year-old African-American Chicagoan, was murdered in Mississippi in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman. He was shot through the head and his body was placed in a river after it was tied to a 70-pound cotton gin fan.

Looking for and exposing blemishes in the character of young men is a misguided and deceptive way of seeking to justify their killing to a jury. The character that needs to be searched and fully examined in the Trayvon Martin case is that of Zimmerman himself. And between the allegations of assaulting a police office and speaking of African-Americans in disparaging terms, there seems to be plenty to work with there without disturbing the memory of Martin.