Trayvon Martin. (AP Photo/HO, Martin Family Photos)
During its closing arguments today, George Zimmerman’s defense team played a controversial animation for the jury based on unproven assumptions. It likely stunned jurors, as well as those watching the trial today. Meanwhile, Fruitvale Station, a film that traces the killing of another young black man named Oscar Grant, also opens in theaters. At stake today in a Florida courtroom, and in theaters across the country, is the representation of black bodies, animating the idea of whether they’re worthy enough to live.
The Zimmerman defense animation was created by a graphic artist named Daniel Schumaker, and Zimmerman defense lawyers argue that it is largely based on John Good’s testimony. Good called 911 just minutes before Zimmerman shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012, and partially witnessed an apparent confrontation between Martin and Zimmerman—briefly, and in the darkness.
But Schumaker’s animation goes far beyond what Good actually saw. Good made the 911 call around 7 pm, when it was dark out; the animation, instead, provides light that was never available to the witness. The animation also illustrates Martin punching Zimmerman with his left hand; it’s indisputable that Martin was right-handed, and neither Good nor any other witness’ testimony was ever provided that said Martin used his left hand to strike Zimmerman. Although Judge Debra Nelson ruled against allowing the animation to enter into evidence (which would have meant that jurors would have been provided the opportunity to watch the video over and over again during deliberations), it likely captivated the jurors’—and the nation’s—attention during closing arguments on Friday.
It isn’t the first time defense lawyers have attempted to introduce a controversial simulation during a racially charged trial. Although it’s little remembered today, attorneys tried to introduce a similar animation during what we refer to today as the Rodney King trial, more than twenty years ago. I mention that we refer to it as the King trial only because it’s rather poignant that we easily remember King’s name, but rarely the name of the officers who were actually on trial. In contrast, social media users have worked to trend #ZimmermanTrial, reminding users that while #TrayvonMartin is to be remembered, George Zimmerman is the one on trial.