At least, it looks something like one at the moment. To recap the furor–in case anyone reading has been hiding in a silo and missed it–George Zimmerman was acquitted on July 13, 2013, of second-degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin. Results include protests in the streets, Zimmerman hiding from death threats, and various authorities demanding the review or abolition of so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws.
A brief news summary of the case is here.
Now, I don’t know what happened the night Trayvon Martin was killed. Who swung first, who got scared, who over-acted and who over-reacted. I do know George Zimmerman had no business in this world following Trayvon Martin in the first place. He may or may not be guilty of murder. He is guilty of precipitating the situation no matter the outcome, because he followed, when told “you don’t need to do that.” He is guilty of Criminal Stupid.
Unfortunately, the law doesn’t deal well with Criminal Stupid. Even manslaughter charges–what I would have preferred to see in this case–don’t always fit perfectly, given the legal wording.
In the end, the verdict has come down, but it’s not over yet. Now there are calls for civil rights charges, and calls from people who don’t want any charges at all–just Zimmerman’s body hanging from a lamp-post. A wrongful death lawsuit, perhaps more than one, may yet be filed. The whispering undercurrent is “we’ll get him yet.”
There are times when we all find the law inconvenient, never more so than at times like this. Inconvenient and uncaring; right or wrong in its principles; just or unjust in its application. Blind. Heartless. Fragile.
It’s as fragile as the words and the actions of you and me.
It’s a strange, secure thing to live in America. Most of us have no sense of walking on ice that cracks and trembles–of wondering whether our neighbors today will be our murderers tomorrow. We have never lived through the bloodbaths of Bosnia, Rwanda, or Darfur. We don’t look at peace as a fragile vessel of the moment, ready to shatter when passions rise.
We should. History is telling us, time after time: the monstrous thing called mob rule is never far away. It’s a death threat on the telephone. It’s an unsigned note. It’s a spawn of vile, anonymous threats emerging from the Internet. It’s rioting in the streets.
We can shake our heads at all this. They are few now. They are not the majority. The law remains. So what, if George Zimmerman loses every piece of a normal life he ever had? Doesn’t he deserve it?
Maybe he does, but we don’t. And it’s ourselves who will pay the price for looking the other way, on the day that the majority becomes the mob.
Not too very long ago, as Eric Snowden escaped to spread National Security Agency secrets, President Obama announced that “I’m not going to be scrambling jets” to get Snowden back again. It’s not worth it. The potential costs are too high.
So are the costs of pursuing Zimmerman, by fair means or foul. Costs to our understanding of what the law is. Costs to our respect for it and its processes.
Change the law if it needs to be changed, but let Zimmerman go. It’s not worth scrambling the jets.
*I’m having an intense amount of trouble getting links to work today, so if you don’t see them right away, they will hopefully be back up.