Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Zimmerman Trial

I've been following the Zimmerman trial from a distance. Last year the surge of media attention was necessary to secure an arrest. Now it has just become a predictable attempt by our adolescent media to get ratings and make a spectacle of a serious situation. Charles Blow has a good editorial in the Times today that nicely summarizes my attitude toward the trial.

There have always been three interrelated yet distinct issues here that are easy to confuse or blend together. It's important to keep them at least somewhat separate. Let's deal with them in no particular order.

1) Morality -- We have known from the earliest days of this case, ever since the 911 tapes were released, that Zimmerman did something horrible. The wrongness of his actions ought not be questioned, which is one of the reasons this case is so fraught with tension. People who ordinarily seem to be decent have said that what Zimmerman did was not just legal, but morally justifiable. That is an utterly indecent idea that a Christian cannot accept.

2) Florida law -- Florida has an unjust law on its books that offers extraordinary latitude for people to use deadly force merely for feeling their physical safety is threatened. Importantly to this case, this law even protects people who initiate a confrontation. Zimmerman's immoral behavior needs to be separated from the legal case. It is not clear that Zimmerman did anything illegal under Florida law, and it seems extremely unlikely that a jury would find that he did so beyond a reasonable doubt.

3) Racism -- The background to this case is the near certain knowledge that if all the evidence were exactly the same but the demographic profiles of the case were different, an arrest would have been made immediately and a conviction would be likely. The scenario is this: An armed black man in a predominantly black neighborhood sees a white teenager slowly walking through the neighborhood and begins to follow him. What happens next is murky, but the white teenager ends up dead.

Some conservatives at that point would say, "hey, the media would have ignored that!" Actually, yes, that's part of the point, because an arrest would have quickly been made and justice would have taken its course. In the Zimmerman case, media attention started after authorities declined to make an arrest.

To sum it up, I don't expect a conviction (especially with the racially imbalanced jury) but I can live with that. The solution is not to convict one man, but to remove the unjust laws that Florida and other states have instituted. What I can't accept is a defense of Zimmerman on anything more than technical legal grounds. The number of people who seem to be in some sense "on his side" in terms of their sympathy and moral feeling really drives home how hostile this country is toward black people.

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