Jeffrey Toobin’s seen it all. The New Yorker writer and CNN legal commentator was there for the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995 and he’s helping to cover the trial of George Zimmerman, the Florida man who is standing trial for the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
“I think racial issues are difficult to understand or confront in large abstractions and we’ve always understood these issues better as stories whether it’s Rosa Parks or O.J. Simpson,” Toobin reflected when I asked him to compare the Zimmerman case with the O.J Simpson trial. “The Zimmerman case is a classic confrontation that raises a lot of larger issues.”
Commentators and the public invest trials with cultural symbolism. Race. Class. Justice. Read deep meanings into a trial all you want. Ultimately, as any lawyer will tell you, they turn on the little moments–what judges allow or don’t allow, the luck of the jury, the strengths of the legal team. If Zimmerman walks, it will be seen by many as a deep injustice, the release of a man who followed a black teenager armed only with iced tea and Skittles. Others will surely see a Zimmerman conviction as a legal system run amok, a prosecutor who sought murder charges only because of public pressure in the case. But the truth is that the verdict will be about the evidence presented to the jury, not the winds of the commentariat.