I have long maintained that the final verdict from the Zimmerman trial changes absolutely nothing, and the value of the trial is in what it highlights about our flawed–but somewhat functional legal system. If George Zimmerman is found not guilty, who can really be shocked that a bunch of Southern white women felt it was okay to kill a black boy under mysterious circumstances.
If Zimmerman is found guilty then it took Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, national protests and the president of the United States just to get the Florida legal system to do their due diligence. No matter the ruling, nothing has radically changed. However, the most critical part of this case for the viewer is not the final jury verdict, but the behavior of the local police in this case, which is horribly and shamefully exemplified by the testimony and behavior of lead Detective Chris Serino.
For much of the nation’s African American community, skepticism about the legal system and apprehension about institutions is not based on some abstract fear or ignorance. It is based on day-to- day interactions or anecdotal stories about police officers. Police, who bully, harass and assault African Americans with little or no consequence. Police, who show up late when we call for help and ask “Is this your house?” when you answer the door.
As I watched the Zimmerman trial, I was struck not by the occasional flaccid nature of the prosecution, or the smarmy dog-whistling and race-baiting by the defense attorneys. What struck me most was the horrible, petulant and insubordinate behavior of lead Detective Chris Serino, who has done all he can to torpedo the state’s case.
Detective Serino a 15 year veteran on the force, interviewed George Zimmerman three days after the murder of Trayvon Martin and seemed less than convinced of the neighborhood watchman’s story. He pointed out that it was hard to believe Zimmerman was beaten so viciously by Trayvon Martin, if he was able to go to work the next day and not even visit a hospital. He and another officer pointed out that Zimmerman was obviously following Martin, and that his failure of identify himself as Neighborhood Watch might’ve scared the kid.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly, he pushed back on Zimmerman’s characterization of Martin as a “f***ing punk,” chastising Zimmerman and pointing out that he’d shot an unarmed kid with candy and iced tea in his pocket. All of Serino’s interview, which was put into evidence last week in the trial, is pretty damning and certainly looks like effective police work. That’s when things get sticky.
Despite these obvious inconsistencies and questions mere days after the shooting, Det. Serino felt there wasn’t enough evidence to arrest, let alone file charges against Zimmerman. This is where the problems start for most observers of this case. A police officer who shoots an unarmed person will automatically get a two week paid suspension while the department investigates–and they’re trained law enforcement. Heck, Aaron Hernandez of the New England Patriots was arrested and the cops only had a broken cell phone, broken security camera and some Molly Maids as evidence–and he was a millionaire football player.
The point being, there are hundreds of thousands of cases with much less evidence on the table than the Zimmerman case where people get arrested, even if they are released later. Yet somehow Detective Serino didn’t feel like filing charges against Zimmerman even though in his own testimony to the FBI he said Zimmerman had “a little hero complex,” and that his story sounded “scripted.”
The remainder of the story has been fodder for the right wing and Fox news for the last year. Serino claims he was ‘pressured’ to file charges by fellow officers and higher ups in the state of Florida, and he was demoted in his job. Consequently, during this trial Serino has made it a point to throw a temper tantrum during testimony, editorializing on George Zimmerman’s behalf, answering questions in ways that help the defense, and on more than one occasion actually lying on the stand in direct contradiction to his aggressive interview with Zimmerman from last spring. The problem with this entire case can be boiled down to the saga of this cop who is either incredibly noble and willing to risk everything for what he thinks is right, or he’s a disgruntled, petulant civil servant who puts his own ego ahead of the life of a dead 17-year-old boy.
Serino has been mad for a year because he feels he was forced to file charges he didn’t believe in. This would be compelling if I could believe that this was the first, or only time in his 15 years as a police officer he’d ever been overruled by fellow officers; or if he wasn’t so obviously skeptical of Zimmerman to begin with.
Detective Serino is the reason so many African Americans don’t trust the police. He’s more concerned about his own ego and covering his sloppy police work than he is about actually doing his job. And when we see law enforcement take the lives of black children and use them as political footballs, rather than lives to be spared or victims to be avenge, it reminds us that no matter what the ruling in the Zimmerman trial as long as there are cops like Serino, nothing has truly changed.