Earlier this evening, Florida State Attorney Angela Corey, the special prosecutor in the George Zimmerman case, filed second-degree murder charges against him in the death of Trayvon Martin.
There was much speculation as to whether Corey would press charges, but given the hell this 57-year-old Republican would have faced if she did not, I’m not surprised that she did.
If I were George Zimmerman, I would almost welcome a trial. Without one, he would have forever remained a hounded man, and with one, in a fair world, he will almost surely be acquitted.
The problem for Zimmerman is that the world is not fair. To show how unfair it can be, I would like to introduce as evidence the case of one Steven Nary, a fellow I have written about on these pages before.
Nary and Zimmerman have a good deal in common. Most notably, each killed a man acting in what he believed to be self-defense.
Then, too, the incident that landed each in hot water happened during a year when a Democratic president was up for re-election, Nary in March 1996, Zimmerman in February 2012.
A third common denominator in this unhappy trifecta is that each killed a member of a highly protected political class: Trayvon Martin being a black youth and Juan Pifarre, Nary’s “victim,” a well-connected gay Hispanic.
If Zimmerman has an advantage it is that he will be tried in Florida, where he should have a fighting chance. Nary was tried in San Francisco, where he had no chance at all.
Nary has been in a California prison every single day of his life since the day he was arrested. The injustice still shocks. As an 18-year-old sailor on leave in San Francisco, he was lured from a co-ed dance club to the apartment of a gay predator, the 53-year-old Pifarre, under false pretenses.
Nary’s memory on what happened chez Pifarre has always been imperfect. He wrote to me from prison about Pifarre’s attempt to rape him:
“I felt stuck. I could not speak. I could not move, and I could not do anything. He just kept trying and trying over and over. In fact it brings me to tears as I write this because I have avoided this image for so long.”
Nary had no idea he was describing the precise reaction of a person who had been slipped a date rape drug, then all the rage among sexual predators. Nary’s public defender did not even raise the possibility at the trial.
“Please, stop,” the lanky sailor begged as he struggled through a paralyzing stupor. Pifarre would not. Finally, in desperation, Nary grabbed a glass mug by Pifarre’s bedside and smacked the chunky, coked-up Pifarre in the head with it. Pifarre fought back.
Nary had never before been in a fight. But this time he was fighting for his life. When he finally subdued Pifarre, he had no idea the chunky older man was dead. He grabbed his clothes and fled back through the deserted streets to the naval base.
Back at the ship, Nary told the chaplain, unaware that San Francisco had morphed into the equivalent of Jim Crow Alabama. This being a Clinton re-election year, the politically sensitive Navy washed its hands of this latter-day Scottsboro Boy in unseemly, perhaps illegal, haste and turned him over to San Francisco authorities.
As to Pifarre, not only was he gay in America’s gayest city, but he was also among the most influential movers and shakers in the Hispanic community. As publisher of Horizantes, a Spanish language paper, he had real presence in the Latino community and serious pull at City Hall.
That Pifarre had several priors for sexual assault and exposure, a history of violent sexual encounters and a cocaine jones seemed, in San Francisco, altogether normative.
In a similar vein, Trayvon Martin will remain in the minds of many Americans an elfin 12-year-old on a Skittles mission. If his evolution into a 6′ 3″ wannabe gangster can be discussed in court, the media will try to ignore it.
In addition to their natural sympathies, San Francisco jurors harbored a few anxieties. In 1979, after the murder of Mayor George Moscone and gay activist Harvey Milk, a local jury convicted former city Supervisor Dan White only of voluntary manslaughter.
Shocked by the leniency, the anti-death penalty coalition organized a protest march. It quickly went south on them. How far south? How about thousands of angry gay men marching down Market Street chanting “Kill Dan White” south.
When the marchers reached City Hall, they broke windows, burned police cars and injured 61 cops. To be sure, the video of the “White Night Riot” – a cold-blooded pun on the recent Jonestown carnage – wasn’t about to make the anti-death penalty highlight reel.
That night, however, gays finally did establish themselves as a serious political force. They had the power to influence, to elect and now to intimidate.
From that time forward, in any case of controversy involving a gay, no judge or jury in the city could fully forget the White Night Riot, especially if that gay were also a prominent ethnic leader like, say, Juan Pifarre.
Potential Zimmerman jurors will harbor even greater anxieties. Hanging over their heads will be the threat of much worse riots – like those that ensued after jurors in L.A. returned the “wrong” verdict in the trial of the police officers who arrested Rodney King.
Jurors will also have to worry that if they judge Zimmerman not guilty, the threats now directed at Zimmerman would be directed at them.
George Zimmerman has little to look forward to. His best bet is that Corey allow the trial to be televised. The truth exposed may just set him free.