By Lizette Alvarez
From the very beginning, there was no more powerful theme in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin than the issue of race. But in the courtroom where George Zimmerman is on trial for second-degree murder, race lingers awkwardly on the sidelines, scarcely mentioned but impossible to ignore.
For African-Americans here and across the country, the killing of Mr. Martin, 17, black and unarmed, was resonant with a back story steeped in layers of American history and the abiding conviction that justice serves only some of the people.
Had Mr. Martin shot and killed Mr. Zimmerman under similar circumstances, black leaders say, the case would have barreled down a different path: Mr. Martin would have been quickly arrested by the Sanford Police Department and charged in the killing, without the benefit of the doubt.
Instead, there was no arrest for six weeks. And only after sharp criticism from civil rights leaders and demonstrations here and elsewhere did the Florida governor transfer the case to a special prosecutor from another county.
“For members of the African-American community, it’s a here-we-go-again moment,” said JeffriAnne Wilder, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of North Florida. “We want to get away from these things, but this did not happen in a vacuum. It happened against the backdrop of all the other things that have happened before.”
Yet inside a Seminole County courtroom, with the prosecution’s case against Mr. Zimmerman now over, race only occasionally punctuated the proceedings. The judge made it clear that statements about race would be sharply limited and the term “racial profiling” not allowed. What is more, overtly bringing up race might not have helped the prosecution.