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News Media Tap Professor Donald Tibbs on the Outcome of the Zimmerman Trial

July 22, 2013

Following the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the man charged with the Feb. 26 killing of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, the news media have tapped Professor Donald Tibbs for his thoughts on the outcome of what many consider to be unfair and racially biased trial. 

In a segment which aired on Philadelphia's CBS-3 on July 19, Tibbs commended President Obama for raising the issues of racial bias and profiling during a press conference following the case. Tibbs found the president's remarks, which touched upon the disparate treatment of black men in society, appropriate.  "The president sits in two seats here, he sits not only as the president of the United States but he is an also an African-American man and . . . he has a responsibility to come forward and say . . . this is something that's real." Tibbs echoed these sentiments as a panelist on The Fresh Outlook with Mia Toschi on segments airing July 20 (video: part one, part two, part three).

Racial profiling in cases like the Zimmerman trial is nothing new, Tibbs told Marty Moss-Coane on a WHYY Radio Times broadcast that aired on July 18, citing that in the past year an unarmed black male was killed nearly every day in situations similar to those of Trayvon Martin. The prosecution's failure to discuss race was just one of many factors that led to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, Tibbs said. 

"Profiling is using some type of information that you have at your hands to act as a proxy for other information," Tibbs said.  In this case, Zimmerman used Martin's blackness as a proxy that he was involved in some type of wrongdoing which, in turn, in Zimmerman's mind, justified Martin's murder, Tibbs added.   

Another factor contributing to Zimmerman's acquittal was Florida's Stand Your Ground law, which Zimmerman allegedly claimed gave him the right to use deadly force against the unarmed Martin.  In a July 22 article, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette claimed that elements of the Florida Stand Your Ground Law can be found in Pennsylvania's "castle doctrine."

The Pennsylvania legislature amended its "castle doctrine" in 2011 to allow for the use of deadly force in certain circumstances outside the home, the Gazette reported.  Some worry that the amendment will lead to more results like the Zimmerman verdict in Pennsylvania.  However, Tibbs, who teaches Criminal Procedure at the law school, told the Gazette that limitations on the Pennsylvania law distinguish it from Florida's law and prevent Pennsylvania from "turning into the wild, wild West." 

Tibbs, who has taught Critical Race Theory at the law school, hopes that the high-profile trial will open up a more public and reasoned discourse about race and create opportunities to discuss how racism affects the criminalization of black individuals.