There is an African proverb that goes something like this: Until the lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter.
  That line jumped out at me as I read the column Charles M. Blow has up for the Thursday New York Times.  It is titled Beyond the Courtroom, and should provoke some thinking.

I said he had some questions for us to consider.  He suggests that the trial of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin - for it is not in doubt that Zimmerman did kill Martin -

has produced a valuable and profound dialogue in America about some important issues surrounding race and justice, fear and aggression, and legal guilt and moral culpability.
And we can only examine those issue by asking questions.   Perhaps we might consider matters of race, of gender, of age.   For example, consider this from the op-ed:
...as a thought experiment, reverse the race and ethnicities of Trayvon Martin and Zimmerman and see if that has any effect on your view of the night’s events. Now, go one step further and imagine that the teenager who was shot through the heart was not male but female and ask yourself again: does it have any effect on how you view the facts of this case?

Are we acculturated to grant some citizens the right to feel fear while systematically denying that right to others?

I have a few thoughts of my own...

When I was much younger, it used to be normal to attack a girl or woman who filed complaint about rape to attack her on the basis of her sexual history.   Over time, despite the protestations of some, we as a society have largely come to accept the notion that a woman has the right to say no, even to her husband, that she can withdraw consent previously given.  To say that once she says yes she cannot say stop is to say as a man that one is not capable of controlling one's own urges and therefore has some theoretical right to impose his will upon her.  I don't buy that.  I suspect few women would.

We have learned that the law is not always what we think it is, that some people have advantages within the law.  This applies in civil law, as we see the right to sue corporations being taken away and aggrieved customers being forced to abide by binding arbitration with no voice in the selection of the arbiter.

If the notion that fear justifies the use of deadly force, even if the situation in which I experience that fear is the direct result of my own improper actions, is not that a rationale to provoke others to justify my use of deadly force against them?

Blow raises question about how Martin's view of the events does not carry equal weight with that of Zimmerman's.  It cannot.  Martin is not here to speak for himself.

But if the police failed to check Zimmerman for drugs and alcohol, why should a test for the same on Martin be admissible?  So what if he had THC in his blood.  What was in Zimmerman's blood?  Could his behavior, including that of disregarding the instruction not to follow Martin have been the result of being under the influence?

Or to put it another way, perhaps more bluntly, note again the last words I quoted from Blow above the fold:

Are we acculturated to grant some citizens the right to feel fear while systematically denying that right to others?

Let me rephrase that in the bluntest way I can -  do we consider some lives more valuable than others, based on race, or gender, or religion, or national origin, or sexual orientation?

I agree with Blow that the Martin case provides a real occasion for soul searching - for individuals, for our society.  

On the one hand, as a matter of law, Zimmerman is innocent until found guilty beyond  a reasonable doubt by a jury or had he chosen a judge. Regardless of facts in evidence, if he is not granted the presumption of innocence, then our entire legal system fails.

On the other hand, there can be no doubt that had Zimmerman simply followed the instructions that the dispatcher gave, that the police did not need him to follow Martin, the events leading to this trial, that is, the killing of Trayvon Martin, would not have happened.

There is another paragraph from Blow that caught my eye:  

Should “not guilty” as charged (if that were to be the verdict) be read the same as “without guilt” in general? Is there some moral space in which Martin can, as the defense contends, be solely responsible for his own death?
As a matter of law, Zimmerman can be found not guilty of 2nd degree murder, perhaps even of manslaughter.  That does not mean that one agrees with the defense contention that Martin was solely responsible for his own death.  After all, had Zimmerman stayed in his car, or not had a gun, there likely would have been no death.

If Martin did see the gun, as Zimmerman contends, and given that Zimmerman had not identified himself as neighborhood watch, could not Martin have felt in imminent threat for his own life and been justified in using violent force?  How would you react were you in Martin's position?  

There are larger issues that Blow does not address.  Most neighborhood watch organizations do not let their participants carry firearms.  The neighborhood watch patrols of which I have any experience have visible identification - a placard on a car, a jacket with identification.

How would you feel if an SUV was following you on a dark night?    How might you react?  If you had a weapon, would you draw it?

Should you have a weapon?  Should Zimmerman, given his history, have had a weapon?

You see, I have questions beyond those asked by Blow.

I still think you should read his column.

I fear that if Zimmerman is fully acquitted, it will be seen by many on both sides as legitimizing the use of force on behalf of racial prejudice.  That will inevitably have tragic consequences, possibly immediately, certainly over time.

We have people determined to criminalize behavior with which they disagree - Indiana wanting to make it a class 6 felony for a same sex couple to file an application for a marriage license, for example.

We have those who are willing to abuse the law to achieve personal, political, financial, or other ends.

Not everyone has an equal ability to turn the law against those they oppose.

That creates a sense of injustice.

Those who feel the system of justice is biased against them have no reason to trust it.

That leads to anarchy and violence.

When a black teenager is presumed to have the right to beat to death if necessary a non-black adult following him and carrying a gun, then maybe I will believe that Stand Your Ground is not something intended to justify violence against minorities and outcasts.

Unless and until we value all lives fully. . .

Unless and until we hold people to account not for their prejudices but for when they act on those prejudices and biases . . .

then we will have case like this, where perhaps all we can do is to raise the questions that should have been asked a long time ago.

Read Blow's column.

Perhaps you will have some questions of your own.


Originally posted to teacherken on Wed Jul 10, 2013 at 08:22 PM PDT.

Also republished by Trial Watch.

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