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The Book of Matt and What It Can Tell Us About the Zimmerman/Martin Case

BooksEveryone and anyone who has taken a position on the case involving Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman needs to take a very deep breath, and stop long enough to read Stephen Jimenez’s new book, The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths about the Murder of Matthew Shepard.

Matthew Shepard, who was born in Casper, Wyoming, was attacked near Laramie, Wyoming, on October 6, 1998, and died six days later.  Matthew was gay, and his murder became a cause célèbre for the gay-rights movement, because early news coverage asserted that (1) the murder was motivated by anti-gay animus, and (2) he was found on a fence on the Wyoming prairie positioned as though he had been crucified.  As soon as the story moved outside Wyoming, it was picked up by the national media, by gay activists, and eventually by no less than President Clinton, and other powers in Washington, DC and across the country.  It was a tragedy, to be sure, but the question is what kind of tragedy it was, and what lessons we should learn from it.

Journalist Jimenez, who was with ABC News and working on the story, and who is himself gay, started thinking that the story would make a worthwhile screenplay.  So he thought that he would follow up, in Wyoming, some of the details that he had read about, just to double-check his facts.  That decision began a years-long journey that only a first-rate investigative journalist would pursue, one which was punctuated with self-doubt on Jimenez’s part, and at times also with warnings to Jimenez from those involved to stop asking so many questions.

The more Jimenez delved, the less he found persuasive about the “story” of Matthew’s murder.  I do not want to give away the book’s chilling insights, because it is so readable, and well worth a close reading by most Americans.  Suffice it to say that the sensational story that was told was a thin veneer, and that in the end, there is a complex, sad reality underneath.

This is one of those books that I could not put down, but also almost could not bear to read in parts.  The suffering of the day-to-day lives of those involved is palpable.  The outcome is tragic, but it is also foreordained by the choices made by the community in which Matthew found himself, or I should say more accurately, placed himself.

Once you have read The Book of Matt, you will have concerns about the justice system, our war against drugs, some members of the gay community’s involvement with certain drugs, and the future of our children.  And even more so, you should have a finely developed sense that when the drums for one cause start beating loudly, before the facts are fully established, there is good reason to pause and to follow the path toward truth, as opposed to the path of emotion.  I am persuaded by The Book of Matt that we will learn more that is more valuable if we demand the facts, and not a case that is cut to fit a particular agenda.  It is not that I am criticizing those who have taken up Matthew’s cause in the interest of gay rights, but rather that I am saying that many, including many in the gay rights movement, would have been enriched by the truth of Matthew’s brutal and senseless murder, as much or more than they have been by the story that was told and embraced initially by the media.

This media dynamic should ring numerous bells for those following the Martin/Zimmerman events.  In the Shepard case, only the three men present that night actually knew what happened.  As I discussed in this July 18 Justia column, only Zimmerman and Martin themselves knew exactly what happened during their tragic confrontation.  As in the Shepard case, the media mostly has hewn to a unified story, and the President has jumped on board to make political points.  The special-interest involvement is doubled in Martin’s death, because the gun-rights activists have jumped on Zimmerman’s side, while the civil rights activists have embraced Martin’s side.

What if the truth is somewhere in between these two sides, and the lessons that we could have learned were more valuable than the ones we are being told to take from the story?  We need a Steve Jimenez to take up the Martin case and devote to it the energy and attention that he devoted to the Shepard murder, to enrich us with the truth.

Marci A. HamiltonMarci A. Hamilton is the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University, and the author of God vs. the Gavel: The Perils of Extreme Religious Liberty and Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children. She also runs two active websites covering her areas of expertise, the Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, www.RFRAperils.com, and statutes of limitations for child sex abuse, www.sol-reform.com. Professor Hamilton blogs at Hamilton and Griffin on Rights. Her email address is hamilton02@aol.com.
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  • Aseal Morghem, Esq.

    Your best line is that we always need to “follow the path of truth, not the path of emotion”. Inspiring article.

  • c684570

    There was absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Martin’s shooting death had anything at all to do with race. That burden is kind of the responsibility of the prosecution. It’s not the responsibility of the defense to prove there was no racial motivation. This is not a Stalinist show trial where you are guilty until proven innocent.

  • http://www.BR-549.com Junior Samples

    The problem has been the focus on irrelevant arguments – some of which are actually unsupported by the evidence.

    1. ‘George Zimmerman (GZ) racially profiled Trayvon Martin (TM)’ There is no evidence of this.

    2. ‘GZ disobeyed an order by the police’ * The civilian dispatcher, Sean Noffke, testified that he did not give GZ an order and, in fact, he, like his fellow dispatchers, are trained not make comments that sound like commands. * Noffke also testified under cross that, as a result of his asking GZ which way TM was going, GZ could have reasonably interpreted this as being asked to follow Martin. * It is also not a crime in Florida to disregard a comment made by a civilian dispatcher.

    3. ‘GZ got out of his car’ Not a crime on public property and not negligent either.

    4. ‘GZ followed TM’ Again, anyone can follow anyone on a public street unless the followee has obtained a restraining order against the follower and even there, the RS only places time, place, and manner restrictions on the person enjoined.

    5. ‘GZ wasn’t really injured’ * Under Florida’s self-defense laws, one doesn’t have to be injured AT ALL to use deadly force * No one is required to refrain from defending himself while another is engaged in or attempting to commit a felony.

    6. ‘TM is dead through no fault of his own’ * If you believe that TM assaulted GZ, then he IS dead as a result of his own actions.

    7. ‘GZ could have left’ * Under Florida law, there is not a duty to withdraw rather than use deadly force * TM was straddling GZ so how the latter was supposed to leave the scene is unanswered.

    8. ‘GZ was armed and TM wasn’t’ * One’s fists can be considered weapons and can result in severe bodily harm or death. * GZ was legally carrying a weapon * There is no requirement under the law that the same weapon be used by the assailant * A homeowner can kill an intruder whether or not he has been threatened * Those that attack cannot feign surprise if they are met with superior firepower.

    9. ‘Stand Your Ground!’ * SYG is NOT at issue in this trial. * The defense is a classic self-defense case.

    10. ‘Black men NEVER get to use SYG!’ * Wrong http://tinyurl.com/nboht35

    11. ‘GZ is a man and TM was a boy!’ * As if ‘boys’ don’t commit murder, rape, and assault everyday in this country.

  • JoAnn Rinaggio

    What is hapning with the inmates waiting for the Miller case, to be desided.Sence it is and was a + for all of them. how or when will they be released? How will they get back to there homes?.Will they be given anything cash wise to start out with since they have been locked up for something that was not right to start with?

  • glennd1

    My goodness, could she have been any more elliptical? I find it amazing that so many self styled activists and “voices” about equality and justice suddenly cannot find it in themselves to be direct about the implications of this book.

    The whole country was lied to and bought into a fiction to support an idea that the the political gay “movement” adopted and fed to us without a a factual basis as a cautionary tale that should make us inspect our attitudes and morality. It was used as evidence, as an exhibit of “hate crimes” when in fact it it is nothing of the sort. This is a scandal and should result in a huge loss of credibility for those who overlooked the truth and lied to us, no matter what their “cause” is.

    How about some honesty here folks? Wow. The only way she can talk about this is through the lens of the Martin shooting? I just don’t get it.

 

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