July| Vol. 22 No. 8.02 | Christian's Chronicles © 2015 – All rights reserved.
What’s in a name? Quite a lot, actually. And a couple of names that have in the past stirred up intense debate are in the news again: Trayvon and Zimmerman. One shoots the other, claims self-defense, and isn’t even charged. One identifies an African-American young man whose untimely death has become the rallying cry for those who often feel short-changed by a system that purportedly stands for justice for all, but in practice favors “white privilege;” The other is the quintessential Caucasian surname that is the personification of that privileged class that may at times appear to be above the law.
Only it is not.
As much as those who wish to exploit the tensions behind this event would have liked to characterize it as a white-man-kills-black-teen incident to suit their political agendas, the reality soon proved to be a bit more complex. While the name George Zimmerman may have sounded like that of a typical white male, he turned out to be part Hispanic. To be more specific, his mother is from Peru and his father is white. He identifies himself as Hispanic on voter registration forms, according to The Huffington Post. I realize that ethnicity and race are different concepts, and “Latino” is an even more complicated identifier. The intricacies of these terms are not relevant to my argument. For the present purposes it suffices to simply note: he simply does not look the part.
Zimmerman’s ethnicity is interesting only inasmuch as it was not immediately discussed when the incident first broke news. I strongly suspect that the name ‘Zimmerman’ figured prominently into the various decisions that initially led to this story about the claim of self-defense in the shooting of a black teenager being deemed newsworthy. Once the ball started rolling, it was too late to turn back and reserve judgment until the facts were established (as they still have yet to be). The sparks of racial tension had flashed; the hate-mongers had soon thereafter heavily invested themselves into exploiting public sentiment for personal gain by throwing fuel to the fire and declaring themselves the self-appointed champions of their respective causes. And many who are easily swayed by emotion were quick to follow.
The public quickly mobilized to voice its outrage, and demand action. There were speeches, vigils, and a ‘Million Hoodie March‘ to protest what was described as the ‘racial profiling’ of Trayvon Martin. I still have doubts whether this is even an intelligible phrase in the English language; it seems to me that racial profiling describes the practice of creating a profile of a hypothetical suspect based on racial stereotypes which is then misused in law enforcement activities to disproportionately affect minorities, rather than an act of one individual in relation to another individual. Be that as it may, the point is well taken: there may well be statistically relevant indicators of racial profiling that seem to show a bias against minorities in our justice system. Whether this is applicable in this case is a contested matter. Zimmerman was eventually charged by a special prosecutor after authorities initially failed to do so, arguably in an effort to satisfy the public outcry, and he is now facing trial for second degree murder.
What is beyond dispute is how easily our emotions are swayed by perceived injustice, and our propensity for so-called ‘righteous indignation,’ something of which famed defender of the damned Clarence Darrow was suspicious, and it seems justifiably so. We fall all too easily into this trap because it provides both the purported moral higher ground to pander to our preferred view of ourselves as those on the side of justice, while also giving us the go-ahead to satisfy our primal bloodlust and thirst for revenge. This is the stuff of vigilante justice and lynchings, where the quick action of emotion triumphs over the slow deliberation of reason. In an age of sound-bytes and social media quips, the collective attention span of our society may be ill-equipped to avoid the preferred rush to judgment. Perhaps the best illustration of this is Spike Lee’s decision to retweet George Zimmerman’s address. It turned out to be incorrect; it was the wrong Zimmerman who nonetheless had to go into hiding as an unfortunate victim of mistaken identity. Spike Lee eventually apologized, after receiving his share of justified severe criticism, along with plenty of inappropriate racist hate-mail.
Now, the saga of Zimmerman and Trayvon takes another turn. It appears that Zimmerman’s defense fund is running out of money. As if enough ugly truths about our society had not been exposed by this ongoing drama, yet another disturbing fact is now brought into focus. In addition to some of the lessons we should already have learned, including that criminal justice should not be a popularity contest nor should it cave to public pressure, or that we ought to try to resist being swayed by emotion and jumping to conclusions, we now are forced to confront the role of money in our legal system. If you are a notorious defendant in a system apparently under pressure to convict you, the limited resources of the public defender is not going to cut it. Despite the assurances of Zimmerman’s attorneys that they are providing legal services without pay, other expenses are so great that even an over $300,000 defense fund amassed by supporters is insufficient to balance against all the resources available to the State. It appears justice is for sale, and it has a steep price. That is not good news for those who may one day through some unfortunate circumstance become unpopular defendants facing a highly motivated prosecution team.
Meanwhile, anyone who was actually concerned with the facts may have noticed some additional information has come to light, thanks to Florida’s rules relevant to criminal procedure and public records, whatever we may think of them. Pictures of George Zimmerman’s injuries appear to corroborate his description of being assaulted. It is tough to fake a broken nose… Zimmerman’s initial account of the incident has also been made public. It seems pretty clear that whatever initiated the confrontation, Zimmerman was at the losing end of it until he shot Trayvon Martin. The only question is whether Zimmerman was the initial aggressor with Trayvon Martin acting in self-defense. Whether or not that was actually what happened, I have not seen anything that would tend to prove this version of events, and Trayvon is not there to offer his account. In short, I do not see any evidence to indicate that Zimmerman’s version of events was not what happened. It is tough to see what, other than the desire to appease public pressure and thus avoid possible rioting, would motivate prosecutors to go forward with a murder charge. Perhaps there are eyewitnesses, or some other damning testimony in the nature of a ‘smoking gun,’ but I doubt it. The only other possibility I see is that prosecutors are banking on damaging evidence based on Zimmerman’s past as a self-appointed neighborhood watch member; perhaps the number or nature of prior 911 calls, and the like. This would amount to little more than an effort at character assassination, which sadly often is enough to land a conviction.
American ingenuity, however, can conquer all. Crowd-sourcing your defense is an option, especially if you are an attractive female. Case in point: Casey Anthony and Jodi Arias. These two sites were set up by the same people, whoever they are. I’ll gladly read your comments providing additional information on these sites, but in the interest of brevity I will not research that topic. I’ll only note the depressing prospect of this manner of fund-raising becoming a new niche industry. Armed with a film crew, marketing team, and professional fund-raisers, you too can beat the charges! Just make sure you have a compelling back-story, so you can sell the movie rights and provide lucrative future income to your legal and marketing team, as well as yourself. It all falls in perfectly well with the principles we cherish: the free market for justice for all. Or something like that.