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George Zimmerman Is Casey Anthony -- Only Question is will Zimmerman be Convicted?

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I am sure Iranian madman Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Syrian tyrant Bashar al-Assad are enjoying the distraction this week due to potentially the most hated man in America right now, George Zimmerman.  In many high-profile stories there are two courts -- the court of law, and the court of public opinion. No matter what transpired recently in that Sanford, Florida gated community where Trayvon Martin was killed by Zimmerman, the self-appointed neighborhood watchman is guilty in the court of public opinion  Now, he is in hiding and under attack by just about everyone.

The facts almost no longer matter, as churches and civil rights activists from coast to coast organize "hoodie" days and marches to show solidarity and empathy for young Trayvon Martin.  If Zimmerman did indeed shoot the teenager for racist or other malicious reasons, when the truth is finally known, he will be properly vilified and sentenced.  If, however, the facts prove that he at the very least acted in accordance with Florida's probably well intentioned, but poorly planned, "stand your ground" Statute 776.013 (3), Mr. Zimmerman will find himself even more vilified by an even angrier public that cannot understand how a hoodie and a pack of Skittles posed a mortal threat to a seemingly large man at 250 pounds, in comparison to the 140 pound young man.

If Zimmerman is in fact innocent, and has counsel, he is not getting good advice.  Having represented counselors of all legal persuasions, from criminal to civil, covering unlawful death to intellectual property, the advice to remain silent is standard legal procedure. Conventional wisdom from law school suggests that the less you say now, the less you'll have to answer for in court. To every rule there are exceptions, and this is one of those times. 

The pressure is mounting on law enforcement and public officials to do something to save face from what is turning out to be a huge public relations crisis for anyone in the aforementioned professions remotely involved in this case or in Florida's law. Even if the police did not have cause to make an arrest before, public pressure will demand some sort of punishment for Zimmerman.

To their credit, the civil rights groups and community advocates rallying for an arrest are waging an incredible publicity campaign against Zimmerman. Whereas Zimmerman needs to look as good as he can to the public right now, advocates and activists such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson understand how to use the media to further issues they champion. Sharpton is a pivotal force in the fight for symbolic justice here, and as his catchy line like "hoodies, not hoodlums" gain momentum, people will hear the message and pressure the authorities to make an arrest.

Sharpton knows that his only job here is to make it impossible for anyone in this country to hear the name Trayvon Martin without thinking "hoodie, not hoodlum". When churches have hoodie days, and the Miami Heat basketball team don hoodies before a game, and the Reverend Al Sharpton coins a phrase that may become as renowned as "if it doesn't fit, you must acquit;" they are successfully tainting the jury pool, making true justice nearly impossible.

If George Zimmerman has any chance of not being convicted, he needs to get involved in this story and explain what happened, rather than allow the media and the activists to fully control the dialogue.  Even if it means issuing his own videotaped statement to explaining certain facts.  The authorities will ultimately decide if there is enough evidence to pursue justice, and a grand jury will determine if he will be indicted, but he has to say something or make some sort of public comment himself. Martin's supporters' sympathetic narrative is all anyone knows.

What further compounds Zimmerman's case is the fact that police advised Zimmerman to take no action when he called in to report the suspicious individual. The dispatcher is clearly heard on the recording made available to the public telling Zimmerman "We don't need you to do that," when he asked if he should pursue the suspect. Zimmerman responded with an, "OK". From a crisis perspective - and it is hard not to see this as such - Zimmerman did everything wrong even if the law supports his final decision to fire his gun.

It is not too often that our nation's president comments on a local police matter, so when President Obama suggested that if he had a son he might look like Trayvon, it sent a powerful message to the public. We saw it most recently with Casey Anthony, and for those who remember it, the O.J. Simpson trial too; there are many instances of people who are declared guilty in the court of public opinion, no matter what happens in the court of law. 

Right or wrong on the law, Zimmerman appears to have at the very least acted with a heavy hand. His silence now is only making certain that whatever the legal outcome will be, he will forever be known as the man who killed an unarmed kid and got away with it.

Juda Engelmayer is an executive with the NY PR agency, 5W Public Relations
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Juda Engelmayer is the president of HeraldPR and Emerald Digital, and now a managing partner with Converge Public Strategies. His expertise are in the Corporate communications/Public Affairs/Crisis Communications areas of Public Relations, and (more...)

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