Wednesday, July 17, 2013

“The Zimmerman Verdict – The System Worked”

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“The Zimmerman Verdict – The System Worked”
July 17, 2013

Very few crimes have been as prejudged by the press and politicians as was the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman on February 26, 2012. Zimmerman was described as a “white Hispanic” and the 17-year-old, six foot, 170 pound Trayvon Martin as a child. (Can you imagine the media referring to Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros as a child, or the outcry if someone described Barack Obama as a white African American?) Judge Debra Nelson even allowed the prosecution to have the jury consider lesser charges of manslaughter and child abuse to secure some kind of punishment. Yet, despite enormous pressure, from protestors to the press to politicians, a jury of six women took only two days to find Mr. Zimmerman innocent of all charges. The jurors did not follow the path of least resistance, which would have been to convict. They let the facts speak. There appeared to be reasonable doubt. The system worked.

In the immediate aftermath, a year and a half ago, the killing became a cause célèbre. The NAACP jumped aboard, as did the American Civil Liberties Union and New York Representative, Charlie Rangel, along with the Reverend Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and a host of others. But, from a perspective of political decorum, worst of all was President Obama’s weighing in: “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” Mr. Obama is a lawyer with a Harvard education. He is supposed to be the “smartest man in the room;” he is described as “cool,” not quick to judgment. Yet he has a history of speaking out on legal cases before all the evidence is in. Either he forgets that as President of the United States his words have exceptional influence, or he is willing to fan the flames of racialism for political purposes. When Harvard professor, Henry Lewis Gates was arrested at his own house for house-breaking, he said the Cambridge police acted “stupidly,” but then added: “Skip Gates is a friend. I don’t know all the facts.” He didn’t know the facts and his comment was neither “smart” nor “cool.”

Mr. Obama can’t seem to help himself. As the New York Times noted on Sunday, the President recently commented on sexual assault accusations in the military. He said that those who commit such crimes should be “prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired [and] dishonorably discharged.” Defense lawyers for those accused, according to the front-page article, pointed out that, as commander in chief, Mr. Obama’s words amount to “unlawful command influence.” The Times quoted Thomas J. Romig, a former judge advocate general and dean of the Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, Kansas: “His remarks were more specific than I’ve ever heard [from] a commander in chief. When the Commander in Chief says they will be dishonorably discharged, that’s a pretty specific message.”

In fairness to the President, after the verdict was announced he spoke: “We are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken.” He urged “calm reflection.” That was proper. But damage had been done. We should not forget that early on the Administration used taxpayer money to finance local activists who called for Zimmerman’s arrest. As Thomas Sowell recently wrote, “[Zimmerman] will probably never be safe to live his life in peace.”

The initial response from the police in the Trayvon Martin shooting was that there was not enough evidence even for an arrest, let alone a conviction. The decision of the jury vindicated that assessment. But the failure to immediately arrest Mr. Zimmerman, despite laws protecting the innocent, resulted in a rush to judgment and a number of things happened: The chief of police of Sanford was fired; Governor Rick Scott removed the local prosecutors and appointed State Attorney, Angela Corey to handle the case. And the defendant had to spend sixteen month wearing a bullet-proof vest while “filled with fear and trauma,” according to his defense attorneys. Keep in mind, George Zimmerman’s home address was made public by Spike Lee. Since the verdict was announced, the Left has called for the Justice Department to file federal criminal charges against Mr. Zimmerman.

Segregation and the concept of “separate but equal” were blights on our character as a nation. They existed far too long and their effects are still with us. It is easy to forget, but during World War II African-American soldiers and sailors were segregated from their white comrades. In Citizens of London, Lynne Olson noted that there were 100,000 Black servicemen stationed in England, which unlike the U.S. did not practice segregation. It caused much dissension, with white Americans almost always assuming the role of the bad guy. The English often found white soldiers impolite and even obnoxious. Ms. Olson quotes one Brit: “I don’t mind the Yanks, but I don’t care much for the white fellows they brought with them.” Persecution persists in this case, but it is now Zimmerman who is the victim. Understandably, we associate lynchings with red-neck southerners stringing up African-Americans, as that was a too-frequent occurrence in the pre-civil rights South. However, that same unlawful, abhorrent attitude can happen to anyone. Prejudice and bias know no race, sex or creed. Ironically and perversely, Mr. Zimmerman has become a victim of racial hatred. It makes no difference if one considers him a frustrated “wannabe” cop or a racial profiler, the defendant is now the accused.

Refusing to accept the verdict in Sanford, Florida, protestors are out again, energized by ministers decrying from their pulpits the lack of justice, goaded by speeches from the Reverend Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and encouraged by politicians like Senator Barbara Boxer who sees this as a crisis to be exploited. The press, with an estimated 10 million people having watched the verdict, sees the episode as a media goldmine to be worked, with little regard for lives that may be destroyed. Never one to let an opportunity go to waste, Mayor Bloomberg entered the fray, vowing to fight laws such as Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. It makes no difference to the Mayor that Mr. Zimmerman’s counsel never used that law in his defense. “We’re all Trayvon Martin today,” said Charles Simmons, a 49-year-old carpenter, as quoted in Monday’s Wall Street Journal. Does Mr. Simmons really know what he is saying? As a father of three and grandfather of ten, I certainly hope that none of my issue emulates a young man who had been suspended from school, following arrests by Miami-Dade School District Police for “drugs, theft, graffiti and other delinquent behavior.” Like vultures attracted to carcasses, all these people are feasting on an unbearable tragedy. The victim and the accused are less important than the circus they have created. It is seen by opportunists as a chance to gain fame, win re-election, or sell advertising. Respect, decency, empathy, personal honor appear as anachronisms. It is capitalism and democracy at their worst.

Lost in the rhetoric of political correctness that permeates much of the commentary is the uncomfortable fact that African Americans commit a disproportionate number of violent crimes. They represent about 13% of the population, yet commit about 50% of murders, and over 90% of African Americans that are killed are done so by other African Americans. Fifty years ago in St. Louis, Martin Luther King noted that Blacks comprised 10% of the population of the city, yet committed 58% of its crimes: “We’ve got to face that. And we’ve got to do something about our moral standards.” As Jason Riley wrote in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, “Civil rights leaders today choose to keep the focus on white racism instead of personal responsibility, but their predecessors knew better.” As America’s first African American President, Mr. Obama has done little to address this fundamental problem, which is rooted in accountability and personal responsibility. Mr. Riley quoted the late Harvard Law professor, William Stuntz: “High rates of black violence in the late twentieth century are a matter of historical fact, not bigoted imagination.” Where is the outrage, Mr. Obama, over Black on Black crime?

Writing in USA Today a year ago, DeWayne Wickham noted: “More blacks were murdered in the USA in 2009 alone than all the U.S. troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to date.” And 93% of them were killed by other blacks, which mean they do not register on the “racial conflict meter.” Poverty in inner cities and inadequate education are part of the cause, but assuming a moral code that incorporates personal responsibility must be part of the answer. An effective approach has been the adoption of James Q. Wilson’s “broken window” policing techniques – the idea being that people take pride in their neighborhoods when they are kept in repair, but they must do so themselves, not rely on some government agency.

Because there were no eyewitnesses we will never know what actually happened that tragic night in Sanford, Florida. Sympathy, understandably, lay with the victim. But, as Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz has said, reasonable doubt suffused the trial. Who started the physical encounter? Who threw the first punch? Who screamed out “help me, help me”? Who was on top; who was on bottom? No one knows. Juries cannot convict when reasonable doubt is so prevalent. Fifty years ago, Zimmerman would probably never have been charged, the case would have been ignored and Trayvon Martin would have been forgotten. We have come a long way, but balance must be restored to our moral sense. In a matter of moments, one life was snuffed out. Over several months, a second has been destroyed. A jury deliberated and concluded that the accused in the first instance was innocent. As for the second life that has been destroyed, blame rests on politicians, including the President, and on a media who sensed manna from Heaven in increased viewership and readership. Will any of the latter atone? I thought not.

In the same Times article noted above, the journalists quote Benjamin Crump, a Martin family lawyer. He asked supporters to keep the peace and he read a Twitter post by Dr. Bernice King, Martin Luther King’s daughter: “Whatever the Zimmerman verdict is, in the words of my father, we must conduct ourselves on the higher plane of dignity and discipline.” Her words express a wisdom sadly missing from today’s leaders. Unfortunately, politics have become more divisive and we have become less civilized. But the decision in Sanford was an indication that the rule of law still holds, at least in our courts – that a trial by jury is a proper replacement for private vengeance. If only our political leaders agreed.

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