Zimmerman Trial Activism: A Political Reporter Offers Coverage Tips

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Community leaders call for a change in Florida’s self-defense laws as they join in prayer at the state Capitol.

A lot has been said and written about race in the jury trial of George Zimmerman, who was acquitted on all charges in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an African American youth.

The Department of Justice has announced it will look into the case, which could lead to criminal civil rights charges. Zimmerman may also face civil lawsuits from Martin’s family.

Some journalists criticize what they see as a media frenzy and a bias against Zimmerman, who identifies as Hispanic. On the other hand, many civil rights activists feel an injustice was carried out by the six-woman jury that acquitted Zimmerman. Zimmerman and his legal team have said they plan to push a lawsuit against NBC over the selective editing of Zimmerman’s call to police.

Some suggestions to advance your own reporting on the topic:

  • One of the many stories that journalists can follow is the “stand your ground” law in your state if the legislature has approved it. What is the definition of self-defense and the limits of community-watch programs? Take a look at the states that have them, based on a report in the Atlantic.
  • What is your state’s legislative black caucus doing? The Tennessee Black Caucus on Wednesday, for instance, said it would look at laws, rules, regulations concerning neighborhood watch programs, how they are structured and operate for safety of citizens and the community as a whole. The National Black Caucus of State Legislators on Sunday released a state of support for the Martin family and re-iterated its opposition to “stand your ground” laws across the country. The organization earlier was on record to reform or repeal the laws. It also supports the review and investigation by the Justice Department.

    RepWilliams

    Rep. Alan B. Williams speaks at a meeting convened by the Florida NAACP to discuss support of the student sit-in at the Capitol.

  • Check what’s going on in your local NAACP, United Church of Christ, National Organization for Women or other organizations promoting justice. How are they preparing for Rev. Al Sharpton’s Aug. 24 March on Washington?
  • What actions are local organizers taking to pressure the state legislature, influence Florida’s legislature, or press for federal action? How are they responding to the Tallahassee Dream Defenders’ sit-in at the Florida State Capitol?
  • Here is analysis of Florida’s history. What is your state’s history of race relations?

Here are some commentaries to get you thinking about more ideas:

One blogger doesn’t believe the Justice Department action is needed.

Cheryl Contee writes on forgiveness.

Moyers & Company ran this piece on gavel to gavel coverage.

Former national SPJ president Kevin Smith feels journalists need to continue to be objective as developments unfold. Here’s what he wrote on Facebook: “Journalists need to cool their jets on the Zimmerman coverage. Regardless of the verdict, you have a responsibility to fair and accurate coverage that is void of your personal views.”

There’s also commentary in ethnic media.

Keep the conversation flowing with civility.

Georgiana Vines is retired associate editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel and an active member of the SPJ Diversity Committee.

Photos by Sally Lehrman.

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