Sunday, April 1, 2012

Even Here, You Can't Escape the Trayvon Martin Case

I'm having an OJ verdict moment, where the statements and actions of otherwise reasonable people seem insane, and my point of view strikes them as an abomination. Of course, maybe I am insane. But I don't think so.

This Zimmerman kid does seem to be a warped vigilante, and Trayvon Martin does seem guilty solely of an excess of melanin. Absolutely. We've seen this before, and justice must be done. But how do we know for sure? All we've heard are news reports. We don't know much, just appearances and assumptions.

Guilt in this country is established by jury verdict, and until then our national credo is to presume innocence - or at least to keep an open mind until all data is considered. But this week, previously harmless - even virtuous - statements like "presumption of innocence" or "keep an open mind" have suddenly become very touchy. To even utter such words is to be deemed, by some very smart and reasonable people who I respect a great deal, squarely in the same right wing backlash camp as the white supremacist scum who conjured up fake photos of Trayvon acting out in order to fuel a "he had it coming" argument.

How on earth did "let's not rush to judgement" become an ugly statement?

It's particularly baffling, because the angry, viral conclusion-leaping mechanism at work here is precisely the lynch-mob dynamic that's long been the bĂȘte noire of African Americans. If you hear the 911 call where Zimmerman supposedly called Martin a "coon", all that's for sure is that he uttered some garbled word starting with a "c". Am I the only one who finds the way this audio rorschach has helped fuel outrage flagrantly lynch mob-ish? Or to find disgraceful the eager stoking by media? (the normally sober Lawrence O'Donnell has gone positively apeshit this week, screaming at every guest, regardless of their role in the incident.)

The proper target of anger should be Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law (versions of which appear in nearly a dozen other states), which makes shootings ok if you merely say you did it in self-defence, encouraging citizens to shoot 'em dead so as to avoid any counterargument on the whole "self-defense" thing. The law's repugnant and flagrantly immoral. It should be repealed at once. But if police let killers go because their legislature's passed an obscene law, I don't see how the police are the problem.

Why is all the anger directed at hapless policemen and a messed-up kid (who'll eventually get what's coming to him) and his panicky father, rather than at the NRA, which rammed this awful law down our throats via political extortion? Without such a law, killers would go into custody, period, with guilt to be determined later via due process. Fiasco averted!

It's been pointed out that if the victim were white and the shooter black, the latter would have undoubtedly been hauled to jail. Law or no law, a way would have been found. That's damned right. So how do we fix this inequality? One option would be to treat white kids just as brutishly. But the other is to strive to make things more fair for everyone...which entails a fierce defense of the presumption of innocence and enduring respect for the moral value of an open mind.


Ninnevah Ninnie said...

I think the problem is what your definition of "is" is. A lynch mob is not just a bunch of angry people! Specifically.. the mob is DEMANDING that the law enforcement hand the accused over to THEM so they can kill him! The demonstrations being led by Sharpton et al are DEMANDING that the law do its job. That is the POLAR OPPOSITE of a lynch mob.

The point of ending lynchings was so that every citizen has the right to due process.. be the citizen accused of a crime OR the victim of one. In that sense.. Trayvon Martin WAS lynched.. by the virtual mob that authorized Zimmerman to patrol on their behalf AND the mob that is giving tacit approval to Zimmerman's actions... a mob which in its length and breadth seems to accept just about any scenario of the shooting.

Jim Leff said...

As with your other comment, you're not really arguing against MY point!

There's no denying the law failed here. Regardless of what happened, Zimmerman should have been taken into custody. Absolutely right. The problem here was very specific: a very, very bad law.

Anger has been mostly directed, however, not at the law (which we know is immoral, wrong, and denying justice here), but at Zimmerman. And we just have no freaking idea what happened that night. We know "what it looked like". But I don't like mobs who get worked up at appearances. That's not a dynamic I'm enamored of.

And my point was that I'm apparently not allowed to say phrases like "we don't know what happened", or "let's not rush to judgement". They apparently (given what I've seen a LOT of people say) brand me as a right wing vigilante racist thugishness. And that's an awful situation, because IMO those are two of the best phrases one can utter in a civilized society!

That was what I was saying...

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