18 July 2013

Disturbing certainty

In case anybody was wondering, the reason why I haven't posted anything about the Snowden or Zimmerman cases is that I haven't been following them in enough detail to believe that I can provide useful commentary about them.  On Snowden, most bloggers seem to grasp the uncertainties inherent in judging a situation where much of the relevant information is necessarily secret -- and that we are not, and perhaps never will be, in a position to declare him a hero or a villain.

Not so with the Zimmerman case.  Everybody knows exactly what the rights and wrongs of the situation are -- evidence be damned, circumstances be damned, disputes and uncertainties about the details of what happened be damned.

On the right wing, this is to be expected, and the reactions have been predictable.  Martin was black and Zimmerman used a gun, therefore the former must have been at fault and the latter must be defended, details to be filled in later with whatever comes up.  If Zimmerman had been convicted, it would have been a miscarriage of justice to be invested with faux profundity about anti-gun hysteria and political correctness run amuck, not a sign that maybe the jurors who heard all the evidence and were able to consider it away from the partisan media shitstorm had good reasons for coming to a different conclusion.

That's disturbing, but what what I frankly find more disturbing is the reaction on our own side.  Martin was black and Zimmerman used a gun, therefore the former must have been a victim of racism and the latter must be a trigger-happy yahoo who could not possibly have had a valid reason for doing what he did.  Zimmerman's acquittal is a miscarriage of justice to be invested with faux profundity about racism and gun culture, not a sign that maybe the jurors who heard all the evidence and were able to consider it away from the partisan media shitstorm had good reasons for coming to a different conclusion.

Zimmerman probably shouldn't have followed Martin, especially after the police advised against it, but he may have felt it appropriate given his work with the local neighborhood watch program; it's an easy mistake to make in such a situation.  A critical point -- who started the fight that led to the shooting -- is in dispute and seems undeterminable.  Pictures taken at the time of Zimmerman's arrest show blood on his face and the back of his head, but it's disputed how serious the injuries were; another critical point -- whether he reasonably felt in danger of death or severe injury -- is unknowable.  To convict, the legal system requires that guilt be proven beyond reasonable doubt.  It would have been very surprising if the jurors had considered that standard to be met in a case like this.

But never mind all that -- the case pushed the correct symbolic buttons, and everyone is out of the starting gate and running along the predetermined tracks laid out by their own world-view.  Beyond bloggers, Zimmerman's life has been threatened, and while the riots eagerly anticipated by the right-wingers did not materialize, some of the protests have been marked by vicious and violent behavior.  Some right-wingers, denied a verdict they could protest, are now going after the special prosecutor for "railroading" Zimmerman.

Is Zimmerman racist?  The fact that he's a registered Democrat and once had a black business partner somewhat argues against it, though we all know how little the "Some of my best friends are....." defense often counts for.  Still, racism is a serious accusation and not one to make lightly.

A somewhat amusing side story has been the dispute about whether Zimmerman should be considered white or Hispanic (his mother was from Peru).  I've long said that the perceived boundaries between the categories "white" and "Hispanic" will soon increasingly blur as Hispanics in the US become ever more assimilated.  In practice, each writer seems to classify him according to which option creates the least cognitive dissonance for the writer's own preferred narrative.

I neither exonerate nor condemn Zimmerman.  I don't have enough hard information to do so.  Neither do you.

13 Comments:

Blogger Grundy said...

My thoughts exactly. It seems the less people followed the trial, the more they have to say about their opinion of the verdict. I don't get it.

18 July, 2013 07:15  
Anonymous Marc McKenzie said...

Excellent write-up. I too have had conflicting thoughts on the Zimmerman trial, but it's going to take time for all of it to sink in.

One thing is for certain--threatening Zimmerman's life is the wrong thing to do. It's not helping anyone.

Again, thanks for this.

18 July, 2013 07:41  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Grundy: I think most partisans had made up their minds about the rights and wrongs before the trial even started.

Marc: Thanks. Aside from the threats to Zimmerman and the thuggish protests, I saw comments by some right-wingers who were absolutely eager to see riots so they could go out and shoot them some black people in the name of keeping order. There are sick people out there.

By the way, this is great.

18 July, 2013 11:56  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The boy deserved better than what he got from Florida. That trial was a kangaroo court. The information out there about Zimmerman is damning. In a normal state, you can't claim self defense if you provoked the confrontation. But we're talking about Florida when the law makes that kind of thing legal. Stand your ground is a Jim Crow type law.

Vic78

18 July, 2013 17:23  
Blogger Scott McGreal said...

Thanks for posting this, this is one of the most sensible things I have seen written about this case. I have been quite disappointed to see otherwise intelligent people jumping to conclusions (e.g. the jury were idiots who must have been racist, just because the writer does not agree with their verdict) without considering that they don't actually have any evidence to justify such sweeping statements.

18 July, 2013 22:17  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Vic78: Thanks for providing an example of what I was talking about.

Scott: Thanks. Unfortunately with things like this people tend to force the case into the Procrustean bed of their own narratives about the world, and ignore anything that doesn't fit.

19 July, 2013 06:50  
Blogger Leslie Parsley said...

I guess I'm in a minority here and for probably the first time ever that I can remember, not in total agreement with you. It almost makes me feel like a traitor.

For one thing, I think the prosecution was so inept that one has to wonder what they were thinking. Remember, it was that fascist governor who appointed that hideous woman to head the team - the same woman who gave a black woman 20 damn years for shooting a gun into the ceiling in an effort to stop being abused by her husband. And she didn't even hit him, much less kill him.

And as several attorney friends have asked, why didn't the prosecution go for manslaughter? Had they done so, GZ would have been compelled to take the stand to defend his "self-defense" argument.

And how in hell did juror B-37 ever get on?

Finally, I don't think for one minute that race didn't have anything to do with it. Excuse me? Being a Democrat doesn't automatically exclude a person from being racist nor does having a black business partner. Plus there's his racist rants on social media.

I'm not much on videos but this six minutes of justified anger - the same anger I think a lot of us feel - by a satirist is not to be missed. I think he's got it.





19 July, 2013 08:14  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Zimmerman probably shouldn't have followed Martin, especially after the police advised against it, but he may have felt it appropriate given his work with the local neighborhood watch program; it's an easy mistake to make in such a situation. A critical point -- who started the fight that led to the shooting -- is in dispute and seems undeterminable. "

He was armed and knew it. Why would he feel it's appropriate to ignore sound instructions? Let's suppose Travon was armed that night and fired on Zimmerman. Travon ends up with the stronger self defense case right there. There would be Zimmerman's 911 call saying he's going after the kid. Instead the kid never makes it home. There was a damn good reason that the police told Zimmerman not to follow Travon. There's no way such a scenario can end well. There's probably a good reason that neighborhood watch are supposed to be unarmed.

As far as who started the fight, Zimmerman did when he left his car to track Travon. If Travon throws the first punch, he and anyone else in a similar situation is obligated to defend themselves. It doesn't matter who started the exchange. Zimmerman ends up at fault due to his stupidity.

The left's reaction is sensible. God forbid people walk around in their own neighborhoods unmolested. Black folks' sensitivity to something like that case is pretty reasonable, too. All we can do now is work to prevent something like that from happening in the future.

Vic78

19 July, 2013 08:49  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Leslie: The prosecution may have been inept, but I doubt any prosecution could have proven beyond reasonable doubt that Zimmerman's actions met the criteria for second-degree murder, which was the only point at issue in the verdict.

I don't think for one minute that race didn't have anything to do with it.

And I didn't say it didn't. I only said that we don't know whether it did or not.

Being a Democrat doesn't automatically exclude a person from being racist nor does having a black business partner.

And I never said they did, only that we don't know whether he's a racist or not, and those things at least suggest it's less likely. As for his "rants on social media", I'd need to know the exact content and context to judge.

Frankly, that video is stupid. That's exactly the kind of substitution of outrage and hysterics for sober consideration of the facts that the criminal justice system needs to be insulated from.

19 July, 2013 10:05  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Vic78: Shooting or punching somebody just because they're following you doesn't meet the standard of self-defense.

As far as who started the fight, Zimmerman did when he left his car to track Travon [sic].

Now you're just making up meanings of words. Who started the fight in the sense of what that means in normal English -- who initiated physical violence -- is in dispute and remains unknowable.

19 July, 2013 10:08  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An armed guy is approaching you and your choices are limited. You don't know he's armed at the time. You even try to run away but he's relentless. Nobody has a right to meddle with you. You're obligated to defend yourself. The neighborhood watch guy's duty was to call the cops and stay put. If he wants to be a cop, he should've signed up. It looks to me like this Zimmerman guy has some issues and he should at least not have a gun. Neighborhood watch is probably too much responsibility, too.

Vic78

19 July, 2013 10:45  
Blogger Leslie Parsley said...

WOW!

19 July, 2013 15:09  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Vic78: You're still relying on assumptions and over-interpretation of what happened.

Leslie: Care to elaborate?

19 July, 2013 16:02  

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