For the past couple of days, ever since returning from my apartment pool on Saturday night and learning of the Zimmerman verdict, I have engaged in a lot of Facebook dialogue on the subject. Mostly, I have reacted to the outrage at a perceived travesty of justice. Of course, this outrage pre-dated the verdict and has been building ever since the criminal-justice system in Florida declined to prosecute Zimmerman for killing Trayvon.
According to the Trayvon apologists, there are three culprits for freeing Zimmerman:
- The racist, bigoted law & order people (police and prosecutors) who, following their investigation, declined to charge or arrest Zimmerman.
- The incompetent special prosecutors who, although they felt the political winds and decided to charge and arrest Zimmerman, failed to present a credible case for conviction.
- The six racist, bigoted women on the jury who accepted Zimmerman’s argument of self-defense. These culprits are given the least attention because we know so little about them and it’s hard to claim bigotry solely on the basis that they disagreed with you on self-defense.
As President Obama is wont to say at moments like this, the Zimmerman/Martin matter, like the Gates incident, can be a teaching moment. The teaching to Trayvon apologists is that the South remains suffused with racist people, an innocent black teenager can’t safely take a walk at night, and a mostly white jury will excuse vigilante conduct against black kids.
I suggest this cautionary tale reminds us of things we already knew:
- Lots of conservatives in this country believe strongly in defending themselves and their neighborhoods against perceived outsiders instead of relying exclusively on their police departments.
- Lots of conservative states in this country, like Texas and Florida, have adopted laws that give the benefit of a doubt to those people who are defending themselves and their neighborhoods.
- When innocent bystanders encounter overzealous, self-proclaimed authority figures, it is not a good idea to confront them and it is a horrible idea to physically challenge them. Just walk away from the nosy neighbor; don’t assault him.