“Opinions are like assholes: everybody has one.” Even with no access to cable TV news, it seems I can’t get away from this case. It’s everywhere. So I’m going to unload my opinion on it, and hope that helps me ignore it for a while.
The case as I’ve heard it (and I am trying to ignore opinions here and go by things like the eyewitness reports, the police records, and the 911 calls) is that George Zimmerman is an asshole who thought he was Dirty Harry or something. He liked to go around his gated neighborhood and call 911, and he had a long record of false alarms with 911. He was carrying on with his jerkiness one night when he saw a figure he did not recognize, wearing a hoodie and walking between the houses. He called 911 to report it, and then got out of his truck to tell the person to leave. The person in the hoodie, Treyvon Martin, saw Zimmerman coming towards him and felt threatened, so he ran. Zimmerman chased him, and then they fought. During the fight, Zimmerman sustained wounds to the head and thought Martin was going for his gun, so he drew the gun first and shot Martin fatally. Zimmerman did feel like, in the end, the shot was self-defense because Martin was beating the shit out of him, and cooperated with the police investigation.
If I got any of those facts wrong, please feel free to correct me if you can provide a factual source.
You’ll notice I didn’t mention race here. That’s because I don’t think it is relevant to the facts of the case. Unfortunately, I think paying attention to race at all is what resulted in Zimmerman being acquitted, instead of getting locked in prison for a while where he belongs. My opinion is that the prosecutors, pushed by cries of racism, overcharged Zimmerman with second-degree murder. Second-degree murder requires an intent to kill going into the fight. The more appropriate charge would have been manslaughter. From what I have heard, had the charge been manslaughter, Zimmerman probably would have been convicted and served time. The reason he was not has nothing to do with his race and everything to do with the prosecution being unable to prove intent to kill. If the prosecutors had not been pushed to up the charges beyond what was provable, Zimmernman would not be a free man right now.
That really bothers me, as does a lot of the reaction going on surrounding that verdict. There are so many things wrong with this whole picture that I hardly know where to begin. Let me state first that I do not deny that racism exists. I do not deny that racial profiling happens with the justice department at all levels. I do not deny that people can be assholes, and I do not deny that I am not as closely familiar with this as somebody with darker skin. However, I did grow up in the south, I did graduate from Little Rock Central High School while living in what the local police department called “the war zone” of Little Rock, I have spent time in and around black culture both in Arkansas and here in Michigan. I am not totally sheltered and ignorant. I have felt what it is like to be a minority temporarily, I have been the only white person in a place, I have walked small and kept my mouth shut, I have listened to the locker room talk and watched behavior.
I do think that racism is a declining attitude. Every generation of children has less and less concept of it, and as those children grow, they affect policy and behavior and popular culture, and then their children move a little further down the line. I trust in this process. I am concerned that continuing to try and force this process may have backlash. I know that some people are already rebelling against what they see as a constant onslaught of accusations of racism and privilege where none was intended. I personally feel like definitions of “white” and “black” are getting awfully fuzzy, and I agree with the opinion that arbitrarily calling Zimmerman “white” in this case was baiting a bit. Hispanics have to deal with prejudice as much as blacks do, and I wonder if northerners realize how bad this attitude can be in the south, especially in places like Florida, Texas, and the other southern border states.
Getting away from racism, I am concerned with the general mob mentality toward not only this trial, but to many cases that manage to get into the mainstream media and widespread coverage. We have a system set into place. It may not be perfect, but it is the best system we have been able to devise. It is a system that allows evidence to be presented to a randomly selected group of people, who then decide the case. Voir dire practices today may mean that “random” is more theory than practice, but that is a separate debate. The jury trial system is intended to prevent two undesirable things: fiat rule, and mob rule. We don’t want either one of these. We do not want to have a fiat judicial system, where people who are appointed or even elected (because we know how elections can be bought) have the power of life and death in criminal decisions. We do not want mob rule…dear gods, we do not want mob rule! Mob rule is what brought us lynchings and burnings, for the love of all that is holy WE DO NOT WANT MOB RULE!!! And yet in this case, the opinions I keep hearing seem to be begging for mob rule. They seem to say, hey, that jury’s decision is invalid because the majority of people who weren’t there, who didn’t hear the case from the people involved, who only know the soundbites they hear on tv and see on the internet, that those somehow know better. I’m sorry if you don’t agree with the verdict. I agree that Zimmerman appears to be an asshole, that Martin did not deserve to die, that something went wrong in this case. BUT THE JURY HAS SPOKEN. I do not want mob rule, no matter what.
Finally, there is this new concern I hear this week about a civil rights case being brought against Zimmerman. This sounds a little bit like what happened to OJ Simpson; guilt could not be proven in the criminal court, so they tried him again in a civil court. I personally feel like this violates double jeopardy. I think the courts should be combined somehow. Make it so that the jury can assign civil penalties in the event of an acquittal. Zimmerman certainly seems like an asshole, Martin certainly didn’t deserve to die, and Zimmerman was obviously responsible for the death, no question. Surely the jury could have imposed some kind of penalty when they realized second-degree murder could not be proven. Redirecting the judicial system in this way would be a long process, but I think it is one that should be considered as better upholding our constitutional protections against double jeopardy.
That’s it. That’s my opinion on all of this. I’ll entertain and welcome civil discussion on the topic here, but otherwise I’m going to go back to ignoring all the facebook posts, all the tweets, all the headlines, etc.