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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Race and the American Justice System

It's hard right now to digest this verdict. I've been telling friends and family for a week that I this trial was stressing me out entirely too much, but part of it is that I always knew this is a possibility. The Stand Your Ground law is extremely flawed, and the right lawyer in front of the right jury can get this verdict.

So we've seen the punditry and the arguing and the ridiculousness. Now a man who killed a child - a man who has never denied doing so - is free.

But alas, that's happened before and it will happen again. The real reason we are all so anxious now, more so with this than with Casey Anthony or OJ Simpson or any number of others, is that racial tension is very much in the air, and very few people can or will acknowledge why.

I've been thinking about this a lot since this trial began. I don't know that I'm the best person to try, but I've seen so many people utterly unqualified to say this is not about race do just that. Maybe I can at least try and explain what those people cannot or will not see.

First off, let me make the wild suggestion that I don't consider George Zimmerman a racist. At least not in any significant fashion. Would he have gone stalking a white teenager in the streets? Who knows. But after having the facts of this case hammered in repeatedly over the last few weeks, I have no doubt at this point that he would have shot a 10-year-old girl that not if she came at him armed with a bottle of Snapple.

The point really is, what if he had done that? That may seem a strange mental exercise, but just walk through it. Zimmerman said he feared for his life because the person he was stalking with a loaded weapon came at him, caught him off-guard and put him on the ground, said he would die that night, then seemed to go for his gun.

None of those facts depend on Trayvon Martin being bigger or stronger, or on him knowing mixed martial arts (as this rather disturbing RedState article suggests was important). Virtually anyone could have done the things which George Zimmerman says prompted him to shoot a child at point blank range.

So what if it had been a woman? What if it had been a white teenager, even one build like a fullback? I realize some may argue, but many people, including myself, can only guess Zimmerman would have gone to jail that night, Stand Your Ground likely never would have been discussed, and none of us outside a small neighborhood in Sanford would have any awareness of this case.

That's where the problem lies. We have a justice system today which applies different treatment based on race of the VICTIM.

At the heart of the defense has always been a rather offensive notion: that a black teenaged boy is inherently a threat to your life. Not a black girl. Not a white boy. No, the one time it
s ok to shoot to kill is if a young black man is at the other end of the gun because, who knows, somehow they may have the power to kill you.

There have always been complaints that the justice system is less likely to give the benefit of doubt to a black youth facing charges. But for most of us, at least those who are white like myself, that's a complaint that doesn't consume our thoughts. There may be greater scrutiny on black youths, after all, but if he stays out of trouble, a young black man can still grow up to be president.

This is different, though. Trayvon Martin didn't create this situation, however he responded to it. He died because he was in wrong place at the wrong time and handled it the wrong way. Alas, that too has happened to people before and it will happen again.

But usually, when you bring a gun with you to stalk someone and that someone ends up dead, the justice system will bring you to justice, particularly if they find you standing over the body with a smoking gun.

There are a lot of people in American confused and hurt about what makes this case so different.

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