To me, the most poignant moment of the George Zimmerman trial came when defense attorney Mark O'Mara questioned Tracy Martin, the victim's father. Many pundits said the lawyer had made a terrible mistake. I thought otherwise. At issue was whose voice could be heard screaming for help on a neighbor's 911 call that recorded the fatal shot -- an unbearable thing for any father to hear.
Tracy Martin's great dignity, sincerity and terrible sorrow ended up underscoring two points Zimmerman's lawyers badly wanted to make. First, when he'd initially heard the 911 tape, he hadn't recognized his son's voice. Whether he'd said it definitely wasn't Trayvon's voice, as police said, or that he simply couldn't be sure, as he testified, wasn't as significant as his uncertainty.
Second, was the implied message O'Mara sent to the jury: that although a trial is an adversarial procedure, Tracy Martin was not the Zimmerman team's enemy. They respected his grief, they trusted him to be truthful, and they didn't fear his testimony. Rather, it was the prosecution that ended up looking as if there were aspects of the story they didn't want told. Not a critical moment perhaps, but a telling one.
As a father of sons, I felt great empathy for Tracy Martin. Like the jurors, however, I also thought he was probably mistaken about the voice on the 911 tape. Common sense says it's more likely the guy getting his head pounded into the sidewalk crying out for help.
But then I saw the case as a tragic collision between two confused, frightened strangers rather than a melodrama pitting good against evil.
Obvious questions like exactly how an unfit, 5-7, 200-pound man managed to chase down a 6-foot high school athlete with a running start never got asked. Possibly because the most obvious answer -- that at some point in their confrontation Trayvon Martin became the aggressor -- would have taken the conversation into forbidden territory.
Meanwhile, and there's no way to say this that won't infuriate some readers, Trayvon Martin got journalistically "profiled" as an Innocent Angel. But Trayvon Martin wasn't necessarily a symbol of anything. His own impulsive actions appear to have had as much to do with his fate as George Zimmerman's. This case is more of a shame than an atrocity.
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons can be reached at email@example.com.