Prosecutors have portrayed George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch enthusiast who shot the 17-year-old Martin, as being many things: profane, mendacious, overzealous, violent. But they haven’t called Zimmerman, who is claiming that he acted in self-defense, a racist. Instead of becoming a meditation on race, the courtroom action is unfolding as a police procedural, a saga of guns and vigilantism, a glimpse of civic rage and frustration.
Outside the courtroom, the case is still widely perceived in racial terms.
Some here had hoped for more from this trial, which entered its seventh day of testimony Tuesday. They had envisioned a trial filled with testimony that more overtly deepened our collective understanding of race in America or placed the crime more squarely in a racial paradigm. “It makes you feel kind of angry and kind of bad that race is not a part of this,” said the Rev. Harrold C. Daniels, who has been attending the trial as part of a biracial group of Sanford pastors. “It’s a missed opportunity.”
The almost complete absence of race from the proceedings stems from practical and legal considerations. Attorneys for Martin’s family explored the possibility of pressing for a hate-crime charge against Zimmerman, Daryl D. Parks, who represents Martin’s parents, said in an interview. But they kept coming up empty.
“There was not enough evidence to say that [Zimmerman] made this decision based on race,” Parks said. “On the facts of this case, you can’t say it was based on race. . . . We strategically don’t want it to be about race. . . . It wouldn’t be wise to portray him as a racist.”
The role of race was limited by Judge Debra Nelson, who is overseeing the trial, which is playing out before a courtroom jammed with spectators who line up each morning for seats. Nelson ruled that prosecutors could not say that Zimmerman, who has white and Hispanic parents, “racially profiled” Martin. Instead, she said, they could only say he was “profiled.”