is the title of this NY Times column by Charles Blow, to which I would like to direct your attention. Blow begins his piece simply but bluntly:
The case of Trayvon Martin is producing another O.J. Simpson moment for America.A recent Gallup poll shows a real difference in attitude: most Blacks believe Zimmerman is guilty of a crime and that racial bias was a major factor, while only 11% of non-Blacks definitely think Zimmerman is guilty and only 1/3 think Zimmerman was operating on racial bias or that he would have been arrested had his victim been white.
Gallup itself makes the parallel with the OJ case:
"In one Gallup poll conducted Oct. 5-7, 1995, for example, 78 percent of blacks said the jury that found Simpson not guilty of murder made the right decision, while only 42 percent of whites agreed.”Blow makes two points. OJ was charged with murder, and he as a Black man thinks OJ was guilty. As I noted last night on twitter when he asked for responses to his column, I am white, have no doubt that OJ did it, but thought his rights were totally violated when the police went over the fence without a warrant, thus thought it almost poetic justice when the bloody glove - which should never have been admitted into evidence - turned out to be the basis of his acquittal - remember Johnny Cochran repeating "If the glove does not fit, you must acquit."
The point of Blow's column flows from the apparent parallel in attitudes between the two cases, something he puts simply:
But there is an important, if strained, commonality between them: the issue of equal treatment by the justice system.Please keep reading.
I am not going to go into all of the points of his exceedingly well written column.
Let me offer a few selections to explain why I think you should read it, beyond the fact that Blow is ALWAYS worth reading.
There is nobility in the advocacy for truth and justice for a dead child who would still be alive if Zimmerman had not pursued him. While opinions shouldn’t get ahead of the facts — and we must all remember that what is right and what is legal don’t always dovetail — public pressure for a thorough investigation and fair dealings in this case needn’t and mustn’t be defined as a black issue. It’s a universally human issue.This is key. Moreover, as I tweeted last night, it may lead us to understand that justifying the use of deadly force merely because of irrational fear is a license to widespread killing.
Blow notes that the case has reopened the question of racial profiling, writing
Guilt isn’t genetic. Color and culture don’t dictate criminality. Innocence must be the default assumption. No one should be punished for another’s sins.He reminds us that it is far more than this case:
And, as the investigation progresses, it may well open the conversation even wider to consider unequal treatment of boys and men — by all authority figures in this country — and the heavy toll that that takes.To support that line of thinking he points at a study that show that students of color are disproportionally subjected to corporal punishment in schools in those states that still allow it. He reminds us of the disproportionate number of people of color being stopped by the NY Police, a point that Bob Herbert also used to make regularly. And as those who pay attention know all too well, when it comes to sentencing those of color face harsher penalties.
This lifetime of harsher treatment seems to stand in stark contrast to the authorities’ treatment of Zimmerman. This perception of unequal treatment eats away at the psyche of these men and boys of color and erodes their faith in a just and honest society. That is its own tragedy.And this is key, if this case is not to undermine what trust may remain in the criminal justice system.
Blow concludes with a statement that until there is a trial for Zimmerman that the whole justice system is on trial.
But there may not, because of the Florida law, be a trial for Zimmerman.
For me the key sentence in Blow's piece is the final sentence of his penultimate paragraph:
In the decision not to charge Zimmerman, was the boy with the candy accorded the same presumption of innocence as the man with the gun?Zimmerman may not have volunteered to the 9-1-1 dispatcher that Trayvon was black: if one listens to the whole tape, he was asked the color of the person. But he did volunteer about the type of people always getting away, and having listened to the tape I am reasonably certain that the expression under his breath was "fucking Coon." Should not a thorough examination of the evidence be something about which a jury of the community is entitled to render judgment?
Even if Trayvon did confront Zimmerman, who was by his own statement to the dispatcher, following him, did he not have an equal right to stand his ground?
We will never know what Trayvon thought was happening. Perhaps when he and Zimmerman spoke he saw the gun and was in immediate fear for his life. Would not his fear be reasonable? Would not he be entitled to act to protect himself?
We don't know.
We do know that there are racial aspects to what happened, both in the confrontation, and in the failure to charge Zimmerman.
There is a real perception of unequal justice.
In politics we know perception becomes reality.
In how people react to police, perception also shapes reality.
I do not see a strong parallel between the OJ case and this case. In that sense I am perhaps troubled by the title and the beginning of Blow's column.
That I am troubled was not a reason to stop reading. I am glad I continued.
I think we should be troubled.
I think we should consider how the aspects of this case shape perceptions.
Read Blow's column.
It is well worth your while.