Carefully assess facts before assigning blame
Schlomo Bar-Aba plays a Talmudic scholar in rivalry with his son. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
david_shankbone/Flickr Creative Commons
Feb. 26, Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old boy from Florida was returning home from a convenience store, carrying only the snacks that he had purchased there, when he was shot and killed.
The man who killed him, George Zimmerman, is an officer for the local neighborhood watch and was on duty when he saw Martin walking alone, wearing a hoodie. Zimmerman was alarmed by Martin and called the 911 dispatcher to report that he was following a "suspicious" person.
Zimmerman was found, wounded on the back of his head and bleeding from the nose, standing over young Martin, who was already dead from a fatal gunshot wound.
Naturally, considering the shocking facts of the case, it has received national attention and a massive public outcry.
At best, Martin and Zimmerman tragically misunderstood one another. Perhaps this was an ill-fated scenario in which a man, with the intent to protect his neighborhood, acted overzealously and killed an innocent young man, who could not understand why he was being pursued and ran in fear. At worst, as many national voices are alleging, this was a violent crime, motivated by race, as Martin was African American and Zimmerman is Latin American. In fact, much of the public outcry centers on the possibility that this killing did stem from the latter scenario.
There is very little evidence to prove this scenario-in fact, there is insufficient evidence to prove any crime-which helps to explain why Zimmerman has not yet been arrested. The police do not believe this was a murder, and the only charge that they could feasibly bring against Zimmerman is manslaughter. In Florida, he is protected from this charge by the "Stand Your Ground" law, which permits citizens to use lethal force in self-defense. Because Zimmerman and Martin fought, Zimmerman is able to claim that he fired his gun in self-defense.
The public outrage in response to this case is focused on getting Zimmerman arrested. Protests have cropped up around the country, including the recent "Million Hoodie March" in New York City, which stabs at his suspicion of Martin, seemingly based purely on that he was an African American boy wearing a hoodie. Several petitions have also been circulating on the Internet, including a petition on Change.org calling for Zimmerman's arrest, which has nearly one million signatures. While this reaction is understandable, all of us who are outraged by this case ought to take a step back and pay mind to the integrity of our judicial system. Simply put, the public does not-and should not-decide who should be arrested.
Our involvement in this case must not exceed keeping a watchful eye on the police officers who are investigating.
It is essential that, as a populace, we are vigilant of our law enforcement officials to ensure that they carry out their tasks properly, but we must not intrude upon or attempt to bypass those tasks.
Rather than maintaining this vigilance, the public has demanded that the police skip all due process, which is absolutely essential in assuring that those who are accused of crimes have their rights respected, and move to arrest Zimmerman without evidence that he was not acting in self-defense. The simple fact is that, until there is substantial evidence that Zimmerman did not act in self-defense-that is, evidence that can be used in court, not circumstantial evidence or popular suspicion-Florida's laws do not permit the Sanford Police Department to arrest him.
I cannot fault those who are calling for Zimmerman's arrest.
As a culture, most Americans have either forgotten or have never been taught the value of a judicial system that operates on an "innocent until proven guilty" basis. If we choose to act on the presumption of guilt rather than the presumption of innocence, being accused of a crime is as dangerous as committing one.
When due process is gone, and the will of the majority becomes judge, jury and executioner; innocents have no protection from false accusations, a la the Salem Witch Trials.
I can, however, fault those who stoke the flames of this dangerous mentality. Media personalities have demonstrated their typical heinous lack of conscience in promptly taking advantage of Martin's heartbreaking demise to further their political agendas. Perhaps the most despicable act of political self-aggrandizement came from Karen Finney, an MSNBC host.
After setting the stage with an anecdote about her exposure to institutional racism, she diverged, and made a bizarre, illogical leap to blaming Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum for Trayvon Martin's death. Despite my disagreements with and distaste for these three men, I am shocked by Finney's blatant and baseless opportunism.
The only way to conquer divisive racial tension is through the recognition that skin color is no more than the amount of melanin you have in your skin.
We recognize the evil of forming judgments on the basis of race. It is crucial that we remain consistent in this view and adamantly refuse to accept the toxic notion of divisions between different shades of mankind.
Even the most emotionally shocking cases must not make us act purely on emotion. We must protect ourselves and our judicial system from political opportunists who seek to pull at our heartstrings to create enmity for their own gain.
It is absolutely imperative that each and every one of us assesses the facts of cases like Martin's with objectivity, lest we be led astray and lose our ability to protect the innocents we so deeply yearn to save and seek justice for.
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