Sunday, July 14, 2013

The post-Zimmerman world

As I'm sure everyone throughout the land is aware, George Zimmerman has been found not guilty of second degree murder and of manslaughter in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman is responsible for shooting Martin dead--there has never been any doubt about this--but apparently the jury accepted Zimmerman's claim of it being done in self-defense or (and far more likely, in my opinion) it decided that the prosecution had simply failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it was not self-defense.

I talked about this case once before, with regard to the invocation of Florida's Stand Your Ground law. As I noted then, that law had no relevance to this case and Zimmerman's defense would ultimately have no basis for invoking it. At the same time, I also noted the initial failures of local authorities to properly investigate the cases and place Zimmerman under arrest. And even with the verdict in, I maintain that Zimmerman should have been arrested and ultimately charged for Martin's death. But not for second degree murder, only manslaughter, because that is the only charge the available facts can support.

In that regard, I believe the prosecution overreached in charging Zimmerman with second degree murder, put on a shoddy case, and basically undermined both the murder charge and the manslaughter one. Many of the witnesses it put on the stand helped the defense, particularly the medical examiner and Martin's friend/girlfriend. So the not guilty verdicts came as no surprise to me, even if I believe Zimmerman should probably be in jail for manslaughter (which I do).

But I'm not looking to retry the case, tear apart the verdict, or even justify it. I simply accept it as a fair outcome of our jury system. Because make no mistake, none of the people outraged by the verdict can offer a rational, logically coherent argument as to why the verdict was unfair, why the jury somehow did something wrong. Or if they can, I have yet to see it articulated.

Instead, I see articles like this one, long on emotional rhetoric an short on facts. Entitled "Open season on black boys," the author claims:
Let it be noted that on this day, Saturday 13 July 2013, it was still deemed legal in the US to chase and then shoot dead an unarmed young black man on his way home from the store because you didn't like the look of him.
That's nonsense, as is much of the rest of the article. The author has no command of the facts and precious little understanding of the law and of how the justice system works.

Beyond such editorials (and there are a lot of them), I also see comment after comment on social media sites, messageboards, and news article comment trails declaring how the verdict was "a travesty of justice," "an outrage," or "disgusting." I see one person after another making hyperbolic statements about how there is no justice in Florida, about how everyone's children are now in danger of being shot, and the like.

And I actually see people threatening to riot over the verdict, some seemingly dead serious, others trying to be funny, and a few talking about the possibility of such as a chance to score some free goodies from Best Buy or the like (via the looting that often accompanies the rioting).

Many people are praising these reactions--aside from the rioting and looting--as a Good Thing, as reflective of a nation and a generation that cares about injustice, that speaks out against it. Such praise ignores the damage being done to the system, damage which may have very well been the reason for the not guilty verdicts in this very case.

For while it is true that the initial outrage over the case forced the hand of the authorities, with regard to ultimately charging Zimmerman with a crime, the non-stop attention on the case and constant hysterics over it in the media--especially with regard to things like its supposed racial overtones--are very likely the root cause of the overcharging of Zimmerman that ultimately led to his acquittal.

When it comes to the issue of race, many in Camp Hysterical are fond of "what-iffing" the story, supposing how things would be different if the races were different, like Paul Campos at Salon:
Suppose Trayvon Martin had been a 230-pound 30-year-old black man, with a loaded gun in his jacket. Suppose Zimmerman had been a 150-pound 17-year-old white kid, who was doing nothing more threatening than walking back from a convenience store to his father’s condo.  
Suppose Martin had stalked Zimmerman in his car, until Zimmerman became afraid and tried to elude him. Suppose Martin had gotten out of his car and pursued Zimmerman. Suppose this led to some sort of altercation in which the big scary black man ended up with a bloody nose and some scratches on the back of his head, and the scared skinny (and unarmed) white kid had ended up with a bullet in his heart.
They take it as a given, of course, that things would actually be different. They don't have any evidence to make the case; it's all just naked speculation. And when speculating, what they habitually fail to mention is how different their own righteous indignation would be in their new scenarios. If it was as Campos notes, would he even be paying attention? If both Zimmerman and Martin were black, if both were Hispanic, if both were white, would the case be in the national spotlight at all? If things were different--racially speaking--and a jury still came to the same conclusion, would there be any outrage, apart from the family and friends of the slain boy? Would people still be demanding justice, offering pathetically weak editorials on the case, or insinuating that the jury was a bunch of idiots?

Guilty people get away with crimes all of the time. This happens because the system is set up that way. The onus is on the prosecution to prove its case when the accused is innocent until proven guilty. The outrage over this particular decision is not a product of injustice due to race, it's a product of people in the media wanting it to be about race, assuming it therefore is about race, and supposing injustice is a given if the verdict appears to favor one race over another. And unfortunately, the general population is all too willing to follow the music of the Pied Pipers, to accept the tale being told by the media and to jump on the outrage train.

And that's a shame. Because the evidence in some trials is not always cut and dried; sometimes, perfectly reasonable people can look at such evidence and not come to the conclusion others think they should come to. This isn't injustice. It's a consequence of a system built to minimize injustice.

We can mourn the tragic death of Martin. We can even criticize the actions of Zimmerman on that fateful night. But we need to accept the verdict of a jury in what appears to have been a fair trial.

Cheers, all.

1 comment:

  1. Well-worded and not what I was expecting. Reasonable, readable and focuses on the realities versus the rhetoric. Nice!