In consequently exonerating him for such a murder, the Sanford court effectively added its government stamp of approval to Zimmerman presuming Martin guilty. Put another way, the Florida judiciary went on record declaring that armed citizens like Zimmerman have no obligation to presume unarmed black teenagers innocent, but instead have a right to presume them guilty — and, in turn, worthy of extrajudicial capital punishment. Call it the Zimmerman Principle.
Terrifying and grotesque as that principle is, it is sadly neither nothing new nor anything we can write off as isolated. On the contrary, Zimmerman’s presumption of guilt and his subsequent actions mimic those of his own government, and therefore reflect a larger attitudinal shift in the nation at large.
Remember, in the same year that saw Zimmerman kill Martin, Zimmerman’s president, Barack Obama, extra-judicially executed Anwar al-Awlaki and then his 16-year-old son, without charging either of the two U.S. citizens with a single crime. The two were simply presumed guilty, without any evidence being officially marshaled against them. Not only that, such a presumption wasn’t hidden from view in shame, as if it was something to be embarrassed about. Instead, Obama openly touted the extra-judicial killing of the father and then his spokesman haughtily justified the extra-judicial killing of the child.
Explaining the Zimmerman-like aggression against the Awlakis and thousands of others who find themselves targeted by U.S. drone strike missiles, the federal government later offered up the Zimmerman Principle, repeating the same sentiment that Zimmerman expressed during his cellphone call to non-emergency responders.
Whereas Zimmerman told non-emergency responders that Martin “looks like he’s up to no good,” the New York Times reported that Obama’s indiscriminate drone bombing, which “counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants,” presumes that people in a targeted area are “probably up to no good.” In other words, when it comes to military policy, the Obama administration is George Zimmerman perceiving the world as filled with Trayvon Martins supposedly “up to no good” — and who supposedly therefore deserve to die.
It is, of course, no coincidence that, whether African-Americans like Martin or Arabs like the Awlakis, those most affected by the Zimmerman Principle’s presumption of guilt tend to be people of color.
As has been the case throughout this country’s history, being racially, ethnically or religiously classified as non-white or “other” by America still means being presumed guilty (and certainly more guilty than others). Indeed, despite all the vapid paeans to our allegedly “post-racial” or “colorblind” ethos, we see that truth everywhere.
We see it in the disproportionate targeting of minorities through programs like “stop and frisk.” We see it in a CIA-directed police department targeting Muslim communities for surveillance. We see it in Arizona’s racial profiling law that aimed to weaken the requirement for probable cause. We see it in the proliferation of “stand your ground” laws that disproportionately protect white folk whose presumption of black guilt leads them to gun down African-Americans. And we see it in a drug war whose deployment of resources presumes that communities of color are more guilty than other communities.
I might add that public school teachers in urban areas also now operate under a presumption of guilt - a presumption that they're "bad" teachers until they can prove otherwise, a presumption that they're incompetent until they can prove competence, a presumption that they're "pervs" even if they can prove their innocence.