Blogger Mychal Denzel Smith Equates Zimmerman Defense with Justifying Lynching

July 19th, 2013 3:00 PM

MSNBC's Steve Kornacki took to the air on Sunday morning's edition of Up with a panel comprised exclusively of liberal African Americanshe panel, which was composed of exclusively African-American liberals, all in agreement regarding their disdain for the not-guilty verdict reached in the Zimmerman trial on Saturday. [Link to the audio here]

But Mychal Denzel Smith of The Nation took his disapproval to an entirely different level when  he claimed that the defense “invoked the same justification for the killing of Trayvon Martin that you would during  lynching.” He claimed that, in showing the jury a picture of a white woman in the neighborhood who has a victim of a robbery, they were claiming that Zimmerman had to protect, to quote Smith, “white womanhood from this vicious black thug,” Trayvon Martin.

To establish some background, Smith was referring to a moment in the defense’s closing arguments when attorney Mark O’Mara held up a picture of a woman who used to live in Zimmerman’s neighborhood whose house had been recently burglarized while the woman was at the home with her child. According to her account, all of the thieves were young black men. The defense then held up a shirtless picture of Trayvon Martin making crude hand signs. O’Mara then made the argument that Zimmerman’s goal in forming the neighborhood watch was to protect vulnerable residents like that woman.

While Smith certainly has the right to his opinion about the decision made by the jury, to compare defense arguments to those used to justify lynching is an unfair and ridiculous comparison on several grounds. First of all, in lynching situations, the justification of the event was almost always a fabricated or greatly exaggerated story of a black man “making eyes at” a woman or something of the like. However, in the Zimmerman defense, the crimes that Zimmerman was trying to prevent through the neighborhood watch were legitimate and documented robberies. The neighborhood clearly had a problem, and according to neighbor’s testimony, Zimmerman was helping to alleviate that problem by keeping watch for suspicious activity.

A second reason this comparison is inappropriate is due to the nature of the crimes that are being justified. To use the example of Ell Persons’ lynching, the practice was not even close to comparable to what happened in the Zimmerman case. Ell Persons was arrested for the rape and murder of a young white woman in Memphis and was, en route to jail to await trial, captured by a mob demanding vigilante justice for the young girl, despite the lack of evidence that Persons was guilty. The mob then advertised in the newspaper the site and time of the lynching so that people could attend. Many who reported the event said it was like a “party” or “holiday” and that the nearly 5,000 spectators brought picnic food to enjoy during the lynching.

Persons was then chained down, covered in gasoline, and set on fire. After the flames went out, his remains were dismembered and scattered among the African-American part of town and pictures of his head here even sold on postcards for months to come. That was a horrific, disturbing, and inexcusable incident of racist mob violence.

Clearly this event, and the thousands more that took place in the early and mid-20th century are not even comparable to the events of the Zimmerman case in which it was unclear who was the aggressor in a tragic and regrettable incident in which a young boy died. Yet, the liberal media feels the need to continuously, like Smith, juxtapose the two tragedies in an attempt to vilify Zimmerman and his defense. It's insulting to MSNBC viewers, insulting to the historical record, and insulting to victims and families of victims of real cases of lynchings. 

For reference, the transcript of Smith’s comments are provided below:


Up with Steve Kornacki

July 14, 2013

8:09 a.m.

MYCHAL DENZEL SMITH: They had no respect for Trayvon Martin to begin with. The thing that disgusted me was, you mentioned that the jury was m up of six women, five white women, the defense literally invoked the same justification for the killing of Trayvon Martin that you would during lynching, they showed a picture of George Zimmerman’s white woman neighbor and show her as the picture of fear and said, this is what the neighborhood was up against and put a picture of Trayvon Martin with his shirt off looking like the most thugged out version of Trayvon Martin that you could get and basically said, George Zimmerman was protecting not just himself but white womanhood from this vicious black thug.