Sunday, July 14, 2013

Curmie Goes Contrarian (again): Don't Blame the Jury

Curmie is about to break with personal tradition and just rant. The key word here, of course, is “just.” Curmie rants a lot, but this time there are no links to news sources or other blogs, because you, Gentle Reader, either already know the relevant facts or don’t care.

It’s been well under 24 hours since the verdict in this month’s Trial of the Century, but everyone and his great-aunt Tillie has by now weighed in on the George Zimmerman acquittal. Most of Curmie’s left-leaning friends (which is to say most—not all—of Curmie’s friends) have opined about “justice” and the “racist society” and similar high-sounding but ultimately hollow catch-phrases.

No one—correction: none of the principals—looks good in this case. Curmie’s netpal Jack Marshall over at Ethics Alarms has repeatedly called this an “ethics train wreck”; sometimes Jack errs on the side of understatement. (I promised you no links—you are adept with net browsers, Gentle Reader: employ one at your discretion.) Trayvon Martin was not the angelic youth he was portrayed as being. His girlfriend lied before changing her story (or, possibly, told the truth and then lied because it was more efficacious to do so). Martin’s parents politicized the case, suggesting with little evidence that the lack of prosecutorial vigor was purely based on race, and far too many politicians—up to and including the POTUS—rose to that bait.

The police who first investigated the case glanced at a dead teenager and released his admitted killer after a few perfunctory questions, failed to conduct an appropriate investigation, and generally screwed up at every conceivable opportunity. Their stupidity, sloth, and general lack of commitment may or may not have been grounded in racism. There are racist cops. But not every case involving people of different races—or religions, or sexes, or whatever—is specifically about that difference. And racism is only one of many forms of stupidity.

The media incompetently and quite likely intentionally distorted the case—remember when the doctored tape of Zimmerman’s call to the police made it seem like he volunteered information about Martin’s race, when in fact he was responding to a question? There are other examples, but that one, to me, was the most egregious.

The DA’s office dithered, punted, and was ultimately over-ruled by authorities who, it could be readily and credibly be argued, were at least as interested in advancing either their own political careers or at least their political agendas. The prosecution in the actual trial appears to have been roughly akin to that in the O.J. Simpson trial: utterly incompetent. (I say “appears to be” because, frankly, I do not share CNN’s obsession with this case. I’d look at news reports suggesting that the prosecution had lost ground on a particular day, but, frankly, there are a lot more important things in the world than whether one guy in Florida “gets away with murder.”) Yeah, yeah, yeah. I get it: it’s an emblem for a larger problem. I’m not arguing that point. But comparisons to Emmett Till and Medgar Evers? Give me a damned break.

On the other side, there are the idiotic post-trial pronouncements by the lead defense attorney that Zimmerman wouldn’t have been prosecuted had he been black. Even if true (and I doubt it), this is in an utterly irresponsible thing to say, one which aggravates an already tense situation with no concomitant upside unless we think of lawyerly narcissism as a good thing.

All of which leads us to George Zimmerman. Was the death of Trayvon Martin directly attributable to his actions? Definitely. Could this situation have been avoided if Zimmerman weren’t such a jerk? Yep. Did Zimmerman’s actions stem from some combination of racism, arrogance, paranoia, and self-entitlement rather than conscientiousness? Almost certainly. Did he profile Martin, stalk him, precipitate the confrontation, and aggravate the situation on numerous occasions when he could have released rather than increased the pressure? Again, almost certainly.

OK, now the big questions. Is George Zimmerman morally and ethically responsible for the death of Trayvon Martin? I think so, yes. Is he legally, under Florida law, guilty of a felony? Probably. And the distance between “probably” and “yes” is known as “reasonable doubt.”

The cops were inept. The DA’s office was nearly as bad. The prosecution couldn’t convict a roast beef sandwich of containing meat. But the jury? From where I sit, they got it right. (Side note: when I wrote about the Casey Anthony trial—you can look that one up, too, Gentle Reader—I said I’d never question an acquittal. I meant it.) The foundations of the criminal justice system are the presumption of innocence and the abiding belief that it is better to free the guilty than to convict the innocent. Is George Zimmerman “innocent”? Nope. Is he “not guilty”? Yes. Yes, he is: legally, at least.

The howls of my friends are largely about “justice” for Trayvon Martin. He certainly deserves it, but his chance for that disappeared over a year ago, with the bumbling of every authority figure involved. To suggest that the verdict yesterday confirms anything is silly. The acquittal was simply the result of the jury’s doing the job they were charged to do. The legitimate resentment of those who believe that Martin was denied justice is properly channeled elsewhere. George Zimmerman deserves justice, too, simply by being a human being. He will probably—à la OJ—face a civil rights charge and a civil suit. Chances are, with a lower burden of proof in the latter, he won’t escape scot free. Does that constitute justice? No, but it’s as good as we’re going to get. And that is not an indictment of the system.


Jeannine said...

You are correct in your considered analysis, but I still don't like the verdict.

Jack Marshall said...

You have to like the verdict, unless you think that we should be able to throw people in jail without sufficient evidence, just because we really, really want to.

Tia said...

This is awesome!