Protestors Apparently Have Concluded That Race Should Have Been the Dispositive Factor in the Martin-Zimmerman Case—Evidence, Be Damned!
“Justice” may mean learning to live with verdicts many may not like.
By Ken K. Gourdin
After the confrontation in Florida between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin which resulted in the former shooting and killing the latter (Zimmerman claimed he shot Martin in self defense), Sanford Police Detective Chris Serino looked at the evidence to determine what charges might be brought against Zimmerman and—apparently concluding that Zimmerman’s self-defense claim and other explanations for the evidence were credible—said, “There’s no there there,” and declined to request that charges be filed against Zimmerman.1 The local state’s attorney, Norm Wolfinger, wanted to convene a grand jury to screen the case for charges.2
Perhaps worried that a grand jury, too, wouldn’t find any there there, Florida Governor Rick Scott then intervened and said, “Evidence, be damned! If the police can’t find any there there, and since I’m worried that a grand jury might not find any there there, I’m going to find someone who can find some there there.” And he named Angela Corey as a special prosecutor to handle the case.3 Zimmerman has now been acquitted, because the jury looked at the evidence (even though the state of Florida said, “Evidence, be damned!”) and said, “There’s no there there—or at least, there’s not enough there there to convince us beyond a reasonable doubt that George Zimmerman committed a crime.”
But not to worry! Even though the local police and six trial jurors all looked at the evidence and said, “There’s no there there,” even though a grand jury may well have not found any there there, and even though neither Governor Scott nor Special Prosecutor Corey could convince those six trial jurors that there was any there there, all is still not lost! United States Attorney General Eric Holder has declared, “We’re going to find some there there, the overwhelming weight of contrary witness opinion and evidence to the contrary be damned!” And he’s ordered the Justice Department to determine whether Zimmerman violated Martin’s civil rights4—even though his own Federal Bureau of Investigation has adduced evidence (from agents’ questioning of Serino) that Zimmerman was not motivated by racial animus against Martin (which the Justice Department will have to prove in order to prevail in a civil rights action against Zimmerman). 5
Given that so many others have said, “There’s no there there,” it shouldn’t have been surprising that Zimmerman’s lawyers were able to elicit something favorable to their case from nearly every prosecution witness. When defense attorneys are able to elicit favorable testimony even from witnesses who are supposed to be adverse to them—before even putting their own witnesses on the stand—it’s hard to see how anyone could possibly be surprised by an acquittal.
Except that George Zimmerman is not black—non-Hispanic surname notwithstanding, Zimmerman also belongs to a minority group, but of course, that’s irrelevant: it’s irrelevant to such a degree that one news account referred to him as a “white Hispanic” (whatever that is … although it’s apparently a descriptor meant to differentiate him from, for example, darker or black Hispanics from, say, Cuba, Puerto Rico, or the Dominican Republic) 6—while Trayvon Martin, conversely, is black. The racial disparity between the two men is the only relevant fact—the dispositive fact—in this case. (Blacks shoot and kill other blacks all the time, sometimes in self-defense, but oftentimes not; and nobody bats an eyelash. It’s only a problem when someone of any other race shoots a black person—and any claims of self-defense, along with any other mitigating or exculpating evidence, become irrelevant. Evidence, be damned!)
Many of those who are dissatisfied with the verdict apparently have asked themselves, “What should we do now that we’ve failed to get the guilty verdict we wanted against Zimmerman (evidence, be damned!)? Why, we’ll take to the streets in protest, of course—and some of us might even riot! Call it, ‘justice’ by mobocracy!”
One need not read very much of what I have written to realize that I’m a big fan of “law and order”—yes, I’m a fan of the television shows, but I’m also a fan of these two qualities which I believe are two essential underpinnings of any decent, moral, civilized society. If I’m not as “pro-police” and “pro-prosecution” as they come, I’m close: it’s not often that I criticize the actions of these two organs of the state. But even I believe this case never should have been brought.
Some would say that “Justice is in the eye of the beholder”: one person’s justice is another person’s injustice. But in a courtroom, “justice” should be what a jury, after considering the EVIDENCE, says it is. (At least, barring, for example, juror misconduct.) Yes, society sometimes falls short of that ideal. Yes, we should sympathize with the family members and friends of Trayvon Martin, who lost his companionship much too soon and under tragic circumstances. But the minute we stop letting evidence determine what justice is—the minute we allow race, or or socioeconomic class, or gender, or any other consideration which has nothing to do with evidence to determine what justice is—that’s the minute we have taken another step toward a government of men.
Indeed, when cases are prosecuted on the basis of racial, or social, or political considerations rather than on the evidence—when cases are prosecuted to avoid offending one racial group or another (or to avoid offending any other class of people)—we move one step closer (and I think it’s a giant step closer) to having a government not of laws, but of men.
If the situation had been reversed, and if Trayvon Martin had been put on trial for attacking George Zimmerman, only marginalized, fringe groups of whites would protest or riot if Martin were acquitted. Too many blacks, however, would be dancing in the streets if Zimmerman had been convicted. For proof, one need look no further than the aftermath of the acquittal of O.J. Simpson for the killings of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ron Goldman.
Indeed, if the situation had been reversed, Martin would have wanted the most vigorous, zealous defense possible within the bounds of law and legal ethics. He would have wanted his attorneys to cross-examine the state’s witnesses vigorously, just as Zimmerman’s attorneys did. He would have wanted them to elicit as much mitigating, exculpatory evidence from those witnesses (as well as from his own witnesses) as possible, just as Zimmerman’s attorneys did. In short, he would have wanted exactly what George Zimmerman got. And nobody would be rioting (or even protesting) in the streets if he had gotten it.
What to do about the distrust of other races toward young black men? How to quell the (completely irrational—not to mention racist!) impulse that many whites’ first instinct toward such men is to fear them? How best to try to ameliorate the situation? Forget protest! Forget even rioting! Assault and hate crime! These are the answers! They’ll prove how wrong whites are to fear young blacks! Or so a gang of young blacks, who reportedly assaulted a white jogger after receiving an affirmative response upon inquiring if the jogger knew who Trayvon Martin was, apparently concluded.7
If a gang of white men sought to avenge an injustice—real or perceived—against another white man which had been perpetrated by a black man by assaulting another black man, it would be called racism. And such a gang would be marginalized and ostracized by civilized people of all races. When the reverse occurs, however, too many blacks and and members of other oppressed groups approve—or at least, they don’t actively object.
Call it “justice” by thugocracy.
The bottom line is that justice means that all of us are going to have to live with some verdicts that many of us may not like for one reason or another. That’s the price we pay for living in a free society. And no amount of protest, of rioting, of race-based assault, or of fomenting unrest or other violence is going to change that.
1 See, e.g., Frances Robles (July 12, 2012) “Detective in Zimmerman case said he was pressured to file charges,” Miami Herald, accessed on line at the following address on July 16, 2013: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/07/12/2892510/detective-in-zimmerman-case-said.html
2 See, e.g., Madison Gray (March 21, 2012) “Trayvon Martin Killing: Prosecutor Orders Probe as Calls for Justice Rise,” Time, accessed on line at the following address on July 16, 2013: http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/03/20/10775671-trayvon-martin-case-to-go-to-grand-jury-fla-state-attorney-announces
3 See, e.g., Caroline Linton (July 15, 2013) “Who is Angela Corey? From being fired to prosecuting Zimmerman,” accessed on line at the following address on July 16, 2013: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/07/15/who-is-angela-corey-from-being-fired-to-prosecuting-zimmerman.html
4 See, e.g., Kevin Johnson (July 15, 2013) “Holder vows to press federal probe in Zimmerman case,” USA Today, accessed on line at the following address on July 16, 2013: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/07/15/holder-zimmerman-trayvon-civil-rights/2518435/
5 Special Agents Elizabeth C. Alexander and Matthew R. Oliver (Identified in report as case agents) excerpt of report, Federal Bureau of Investigation (March 3, 2012), accessed on line at the following address on July 16, 2013: http://www.thesmokinggun.com/file/serino-fbi-report
6 Lizette Alvarez (March 22, 2012), “City Criticizes Police Chief After Shooting,” The New York Times, accessed on line at the following address on July 16, 2013: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/22/us/police-chief-draws-fire-in-trayvon-martin-shooting.html?_r=0 (One wonders if Ms. Alvarez—is she Hispanic or “white Hispanic”?—used the term, or if her editor added it.)
7 No author listed (July 15, 2013), “Police: Senatobia man claims assault in retaliation [for] Zimmerman verdict,” Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Miss.), accessed on line at the following address on July 16, 2013: http://www.clarionledger.com/viewart/20130715/NEWS/130715047/Police-Senatobia-man-claims-assault-in-retaliation-of-Zimmerman-verdict-