- A Voice for Trayvon Martin
320 Pages; Print, $16.95
The death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin and the subsequent trial and acquittal of his admitted murderer, George Zimmerman, may be remembered by historians as the moment that defined a generation. President Barack Obama, in a rare reflection on race, called the shooting death a “tragedy” and claimed if he had a son, he would “look like Trayvon.” Mobilized black youth took to the streets in hoodies to march and stage sit-ins across the nation in what some called a new Civil Rights Movement. Three African-American women organizers, inspired by the sense of injustice at the outcome of the jury decision, began a hashtag called #blacklivesmatter that fast took on a life of its own.
Lisa Bloom, in her book Suspicion Nation: The Inside of the Trayvon Martin Injustice and Why We Continue to Repeat It, takes us back to this pivotal tragic event. Suspicion Nation’s focus isn’t on Trayvon’s murder, however, but instead the police investigation and trial that came in its wake. Bloom places the Zimmerman trial within a broader societal context, indicting a lackluster prosecution team, an inadequate justice system, and a nation gripped by a toxic mix of fear, guns and race bias, for the ultimate cause of this American tragedy. Worse still, she warns, we are only likely to repeat it.
Lisa Bloom is a legal analyst most familiar for her regular television appearances, sharing insight on high profile cases on The Today Show, NBC News, CNN, MSNBC and other cable news channels. Before that, she hosted her own national live daily talk show on Court TV for eight years. Bloom is also, however, a Civil Rights lawyer in her own right, helping to sue the Boy Scouts of America for sex discrimination and the LAPD for excessive force cases. This legal background plays out within Suspicion Nation as Bloom brings her expertise and advocacy to bear in analyzing the Zimmerman trial and its outcome.
Bloom starts with the story of Maddy, a thirty-six year old Puerto Rican woman and the only non-white juror in the Zimmerman trial. Maddy describes a painful experience of racial slights, class humiliations, and bullying by jurors who seemed to have predetermined Zimerman’s innocence and, by extension, Trayvon’s guilt. Feeling isolated, uncertain and under debilitating stress, Maddy gives in to pressure and votes for an acquittal. The decision haunts her long after the trial ends. “I kept saying to myself I feel like I killed him [Trayvon],” she tells Bloom. “I carry him on my back. I’m the only minority, and I felt like I let a lot of people down.” Suspicion Nation casts responsibility for Zimmerman’s acquittal, however, away from Maddy or overbearing jurors and instead to a prosecution that seemed to go out of their way to lose a quite winnable case.
Bloom divides her book into two parts. Part One, “A Winnable Case is Lost,” takes readers through the immediate aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s death to the eventual verdict to acquit George Zimmerman. She begins by recounting the bizarre inaction of local police, investigators, and district attorneys in the wake of the murder and the groundswell of community activism initiated by a frustrated Martin family to receive justice for their son. It’s a reminder that if not for protests and public outcry, there may never have been a trial at all. But this seeming victory may have doomed the hunt for justice from the start. This was a case no prosecutor or anyone in law enforcement wanted to take. The reason Bloom gives for this reluctance is sobering: police and prosecutors charged with delivering justice for Trayvon believed his killer’s self-defense story. No amount of protest had changed that. Forced to mount a prosecution that it never truly believed in, a dispassionate State Attorney’s Office overlooked evidence, left witnesses unprepared...