My hope in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict

An analog clock reading 2:192013-07-15 / 2013-W29-1T14:19:55-05:00 / 0x51e44b5b

Categories: politics

My hope, in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict, is that people don’t interpret the “not guilty” verdict as an exoneration of George Zimmerman’s actions leading up to Trayvon Martin’s death. The jury concluded, perhaps justifiably, that the state failed to prove that Zimmerman committed a crime. But that doesn’t mean that what Zimmerman did that night was honorable or ethical. It wasn’t.

It’s just not a good idea for people to act like police officers when they don’t have the training and authority. It’s dangerous for both you and the people you accost. The dispatcher was absolutely correct to attempt to dissuade Zimmerman from following Martin. I agree with Jay Smooth that “The fundamental danger of an acquittal is not more riots, it is more George Zimmermans.”

I’ve read a number of blog posts and opinion articles in the wake of the verdict, but here are two observations I found especially insightful:

First, Scott Lemieux argues that the Zimmerman case shows the deficiency of our self-defense laws:

Carrying a deadly weapon in public should carry unique responsibilities. In most cases someone with a gun should not be able to escape culpability if he initiates a conflict with someone unarmed and the other party ends up getting shot and killed. Under the current law in many states, people threatened by armed people have few good options, because fighting back might create a license to kill. As the New Yorker’s Amy Davidson puts it, “I still don’t understand what Trayvon was supposed to do.” Unless the law is changed to deal with the large number of people carrying concealed guns, there will be more tragic and unnecessary deaths of innocent people like Trayvon Martin for which nobody is legally culpable. And to make claims of self-defense easier to bring, as Florida and more than 20 other states have done, is moving in precisely the wrong direction. And, even more importantly, no matter how self-defense laws are structured the extremely unusual American practice of allowing large number of citizens to carry concealed weapons leads to many unecessary deaths.

Second, Ta-Nehisi Coates (perhaps the best blogger writing today) argues that the law—not the verdict, but the underlying statute— is the result of structural racism “forces we set in motion years ago and have done very little to arrest.”

We have spent much of this year outlining the ways in which American policy has placed black people outside of the law. We are now being told that after having pursued such policies for 200 years, after codifying violence in slavery, after a people conceived in mass rape, after permitting the disenfranchisement of black people through violence, after Draft riots, after white-lines, white leagues, and red shirts, after terrorism, after standing aside for the better reduction of Rosewood and the improvement of Tulsa, after the coup d’etat in Wilmington, after Airport Homes and Cicero, after Ossian Sweet, after Arthur Lee McDuffie, after Anthony Baez, Amadou Diallo and Eleanor Bumpers, after Kathryn Johnston and the Danziger Bridge, that there are no ill effects, that we are pure, that we are just, that we are clean. Our sense of self is incredible. We believe ourselves to have inherited all of Jefferson’s love of freedom, but none of his affection for white supremacy.

You should not be troubled that George Zimmerman “got away” with the killing of Trayvon Martin, you should be troubled that you live in a country that ensures that Trayvon Martin will happen.

Both these articles are worth reading in full.

Finally, this morning I read a Washington Post story about Zimmerman’s lawsuit against NBC News for their uncouth edits to the 911 tape. I do think NBC’s edits were unfair and don’t blame Zimmerman for suing. I’m not going to criticize Zimmerman’s lawyers for doing their job by engaging in full-throated advocacy on his behalf, even if that advocacy is sometimes full of B.S. However, dear reader, you should recognize some of their arguments as B.S., especially this:

When asked how the not-guilty verdict affects the civil case against NBC News, Beasley responded, “This verdict of not guilty is just that, and shows that at least this jury didn’t believe that George was a racist, profiling, or anything that the press accused George of being. That probably doesn’t get you that much but it’s simply time for us to start the case and hold accountable anyone who was irresponsible in their journalism.”

The jury wasn’t asked to determine if Zimmerman was a racist or profiling, just if there was enough evidence to convict him of homicide. The rest of us are quite entitled to form our own opinions on the matter.