On Feb. 26, 2012, Florida teen Trayvon Martin, 17, was killed in an altercation with another Florida man, George Zimmerman, in the troubled neighborhood of Sanford. The incident led to massive national protests of the killing and eventually the indictment of Zimmerman for second-degree murder.
These events eventually gained the attention of President Barack Obama, who stated, “If I had a son he would look like Trayvon and I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves.” In 2012, Obama was seeking his second term for the presidency.
Martin was shot and killed by neighborhood watchman Zimmerman. The act was ultimately determined to be self-defense by both local law enforcement and the state of Florida. Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges on July 13, 2013. This spawned nationwide protests, most notably those of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Beyond the eight-year anniversary today, the Martin-Zimmerman episode has been revived in the public imagination by documentarian Joel Gilbert. According to Gilbert in his recent documentary, “The Trayvon Hoax: The Witness Fraud That Divided America,” the case is yet another hate crime hoax on par with the Duke lacrosse debacle, Tawana Brawley, and the recent Jussie Smollett charade.
“The Trayvon Hoax” documents Gilbert’s research for his book of the same title. Gilbert alleges that the state’s star witness in the case, Rachel Jeantel, was a puppet of the prosecution and knew nothing of the events of Feb. 26, 2012. Gilbert maintains that Jeantel was swapped into the trial when Martin’s real girlfriend, Brittany Diamond Eugene, refused to testify.
Based on Gilbert’s research, Judicial Watch founder and lawyer Larry Klayman has filed a $100 million lawsuit on behalf of Zimmerman for defamation, malicious prosecution, and conspiracy against all parties involved. Those named in the lawsuit are, most notably, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, Trayvon Martin’s parents; Benjamin Crump, the Martin family attorney; Eugene; and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, including lead prosecuting attorney John Guy and former state’s attorney Angela Corey.
HarperCollins Publishing has been named as well, for publishing Crump’s book, “Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People,” which specifically cited the Martin case and, according to the suit, demonized Zimmerman without warrant.
Why Gilbert Thinks the Prosecution Hoaxed America
Gilbert’s evidence for framing the Martin case as a “hoax” is as follows. An amply proportioned, barely literate Rachel Jeantel was substituted for a slim, attractive, and intelligent Diamond Eugene to put the prosecution’s case across at Crump’s behest. He believes Jeantel was coached by Crump and possibly others to testify that “Diamond Eugene” was her nickname and that she was speaking with Martin by phone when he was killed.
Gilbert bases this allegation on Martin’s text messages and social media engagement with his girlfriend leading up to his death. Gilbert demonstrates from court documents that the handwriting of Diamond Eugene, Martin’s girlfriend, did not match that of Jeantel. In addition, when Jeantel was asked to read these documents in open court, she struggled to read the cursive hand produced by what Gilbert calls the “real Diamond Eugene.” The documentary also shows that Martin’s text messages and social media feeds had no images of Jeantel, but plenty of photos of an attractive and slender girl that were accompanied by slick and witty prose.
The bulk of Gilbert’s film documents his long search for “the real Diamond Eugene.” His aim? A handwriting sample that could be compared to the official court documents. In the end, through an elaborate scheme, Gilbert acquired a signature from the person he suspected was Diamond Eugene, Trayvon Martin’s girlfriend until the day he died. The signature was matched by handwriting experts to the court documents, ultimately confirming Gilbert’s suspicions of a witness swap in the Zimmerman trial.
Unlikely Film Endorsements
The film is endorsed by John McWhorter, professor of linguistics and philosophy at Columbia University, and Glen Loury, professor of economics at Brown University. They call the documentary “credible” in its facts and research (here and here).
Still, Gilbert’s credibility has been called into question. Some see him as a partisan conspiracy theorist and a few have lobbed the usual charge of racism. Much of this is based on his previous documentary, “Dreams from My Real Father,” where he maintains that Obama’s birth records have been falsified. Gilbert claims noted communist Frank Marshall Davis is Obama’s genetic father while Barack Obama Sr. only entered the picture after his mother, Ann Dunham, became pregnant. Gilbert also has appeared several times on “InfoWars” with Alex Jones.
Regardless, McWhorter and Loury, black activists in their own right, find Gilbert’s case in the Martin film compelling. In a recent podcast on Blogging Heads TV, McWhorter said, “Glen and I are very aware of (Gilbert’s background) and yet there’s an equipoise that we find ourselves having to muster…..the case that he lays out (is a) really damning case that there was really a Trayvon hoax and I’m willing to put myself on the line for that.”
Loury opines, “The Trayvon Martin case played an outsized role in the dynamic that led to Black Lives Matter and the politicization of the issue of race and policing. I watched the film…..and I come to the end of it and I say, ‘Darn it. It might be true (and) it’s worth taking seriously.’”
Appropriating Tragedy for Politics
In recent interviews about his film, Gilbert goes to great pains to insist that Martin was, at heart, a good kid and a victim of circumstance. The film documents how his father, Tracy, was openly associated with heinous gang activity and how Trayvon was pushed back and forth among the adults in his life. To Gilbert, it is no wonder this teen sought solace in drug use and violence.
Gilbert claims he tried to portray Martin as a young man who possessed tremendous potential and his death as an absolute tragedy. However, the documentary does not place this tragedy at Zimmerman’s feet. It places the blame on a lack of proper parenting and a political climate that took advantage of a sad situation. Like others in similar racial hoaxes, Martin, Jeantel, and even Zimmerman became political pawns.
What seems to grieve Gilbert the most in all of this is that these hoaxes detract from finding genuine racial reconciliation in America. In the documentary and in public relations appearances, he attempts to portray himself as a “social justice warrior” of a different sort. Gilbert fears that “crying wolf” on racial crimes only exacerbates the challenges Americans face.
Here, the subtitle of the film seems apt: “The Witness Fraud That Divided America.” Gilbert’s admitted mission is that Americans stop opposing each other based on skin color. He believes that until the narrative that black boys and men are being murdered by white men en masse is reigned in, the division will only continue.
As Gilbert put it, “The shooting death of Trayvon Martin was ground zero for racial division in America.” He believes the problem is not that white men writ large hate all black men enough to murder them, but that those seeking political and financial gain are concocting a narrative that pits one skin color against another. Gilbert concludes that until this fraudulent narrative is exposed, the situation will continue to escalate.