Opinion: Case more notable as tragedy than crime

July 20, 2013


— “No justice, no peace” chants the telegenic mob. In a civilized society, however, where the mob doesn’t rule, justice is defined by the verdict that follows a fair trial. It’s the best that humans can do.

And in the case of George Zimmerman, we have a verdict. It followed a trial every minute of which was seen by the world. Nothing secret, nothing hidden. Where in the trial was there racial bias? What evidence of the case being tilted toward the defendant because the victim was black? What sign of any racial animus in the jury?

Those undeniable realities have not prevented Benjamin Crump, attorney to the victim’s family, from placing Trayvon Martin in the tradition of Emmett Till and Medgar Evers.

This is a disgrace. Those were race crimes of the most savage and undeniable kind. To compare those to a shooting deemed by an impartial jury after a fair and fully open trial as a case of self-defense is to desecrate their memory and to trivialize centuries of real, brutal, bloody race hatred.

The injection of race into the story by the media, by irresponsible politicians and by the usual racial entrepreneurs has been poisonous. President Obama didn’t help when his first reaction to the death of Trayvon Martin was, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” thereby immediately making skin color a central issue.

Imprudent as was that remark, it is nonetheless understandable given the history of this country and the initial appearance of the incident. At that point, a racial motive was not an implausible assumption, although certainly an unhelpful one coming from the president of the United States — a president who had consistently reacted to other killings, such as the Fort Hood massacre of 13 soldiers by a Muslim gunman shouting “Allahu Akbar,” by immediately urging us not to jump to ethnic/religious conclusions.

But that remark about Martin came before the Zimmerman trial. Afterward, the president acted responsibly. “A jury has spoken,” he said, and then used the moment to reflect on other things, such as care for one’s neighbors and concern for one’s community, thus helping deracialize the case.

In doing so, Obama was following the overwhelming evidence. A concurrent FBI investigation, which involved interviewing more than 30 of Zimmerman’s acquaintances, found zero evidence of Zimmerman harboring racial animus. Nor did he even mention race when first describing Martin to the police dispatcher. (Race was elicited only by a subsequent direct question from the dispatcher.)

Now, however, there is major pressure on the Justice Department to pursue Zimmerman with some kind of federal prosecution. On what possible evidence for what possible crime? A hate crime? Who calls 911 before setting out on a hate crime? “This case has never been about race,” said Angela Corey, one of Zimmerman’s prosecutors. The jury concurred. Regarding the killing, said one juror, “All of us thought race did not play a role.”

While Attorney General Eric Holder told the NAACP he would continue to investigate a federal role, that could simply be his way of punting the question to a time when temperatures are lower. Moreover, he made a point of turning his NAACP address into an attack on Stand Your Ground laws, thereby deflecting attention to legislation, which is the proper role of government, and away from continued persecution of a defendant already acquitted, which is not the proper role of government.

Further federal prosecution of Zimmerman would fail, humiliatingly. Assuming Holder knows that, his focusing on Stand Your Ground would be a deft way to finesse the current frenzy and drain the issue of the race element.

If my favorable reading of Holder is correct, then the Zimmerman case will take its historical place as not crime but tragedy. Its unfolding was nearly theatrical: an encounter in the dark of two men, confused, agitated and fearful. This should never have happened and surely Zimmerman’s misjudgments contributed mightily, most grievously his ignoring the dispatcher’s advice not to follow Martin.

Tragedy — but without catharsis. No crime, no punishment. Under law, there’s a difference between misjudgment and murder (or manslaughter), which the prosecution never came close to proving. Zimmerman will nonetheless carry the taint, the mark, the notoriety of that misjudgment — of reckless zeal that led to the needless death of a young man — for the rest of his life.

Divine punishment? It’s not for us to judge. All we have is the human kind whose only standard in a civilized society is this: A jury has spoken.

— Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


Linda Endicott 4 years, 10 months ago

Do you really think Zimmerman would have perceived a white teenager, wearing a hoodie, as just as much of a threat?

Armored_One 4 years, 10 months ago

Considering that neighborhood, as with the rest of that entire town, was predominately white, and to a greater degree than other similar sized communities in that state, a white boy in a white neighborhood would largely go unnoticed. Adding to it that the recent spat of thefts in that neighborhood were, according to accounts, committed by someone other than white, either latino or black, it's no wonder George Zimmerman decided to play vigilante and attempt to head off what could have been another theft about to happen.

He decided to play cop, against the demands of the dispatcher, and followed Martin with a loaded weapon, which was against the rules of the local neighborhood watch.

Now put yourself in Martin's shoes. You've got some dude purposely following you. You have no idea if he followed you from the store, which means he knows you have at least some money on you.

Zimmerman profiled. Not out of any racial animosity, but out of past experience. His comment about punks always getting away demonstrates that. He purposely followed Martin after making that comment. I don't think he was trying to ask Martin what time of day it was. He profiled him as a criminal based on previous events in the neighborhood.

You'll also notice that Zimmerman refused to testify. I, personally, think it was because he and his lawyers didn't want to have to answer questions about why he thought Martin was such a threat. There are a lot of questions that I think he should have been forced to answer, not for my own or some other person's edification, but to ensure the law hadn't been broken. Murder 2 is a bit much, in my opinion. Some form of manslaughter, however, is, or at least was until the case was bungled badly multiple times.

Brian Thomas 4 years, 10 months ago

what evidence do you have to support this ?

jayhawklawrence 4 years, 10 months ago

From the evidence, it is likely that Trayvon attacked Zimmerman.

It is also true that Zimmerman was part of a neighborhood watch program and was justified in monitoring the actions of anyone appearing suspicious in the the neighborhood.

There was no evidence of profiling.

The media clearly fabricated a lot of the fiction surrounding this story and the question I have is whether this was all part of a carefully orchestrated plan in which our news is being manipulated.

There are a lot of incidents occurring everyday in which the gunman is actually guilty. This story is about something else.

jafs 4 years, 10 months ago

He shouldn't have followed him with a loaded gun, though, I think.

Doing that is provocative and dangerous, obviously, for everybody concerned. What would you think and feel if you were being followed by a strange guy at night in the rain? Would you think he was a "good guy"? I wouldn't.

And, of course, "appearing suspicious" is quite open to problems, depending on who's deciding that.

If he had just called the police, and not followed him, this almost certainly wouldn't have happened, which would be a very good thing.

Brian Thomas 4 years, 10 months ago

this is silly for you to say this. Would it have been better if the gun was unloaded? He had every right to have and carry a concealed weapon as do many other people in this nation. There was no evidence of provocation because of a loaded gun he was carrying and as far as being dangerous, yes it can be so if used in an unsafe manner. Most people who carry guns have some sort of training, to assume carrying a gun is always dangerous is nonsense. Zimmerman did call the police and it was his duty to follow him to see what if anything martin was up to. So , it seems you are one of the many who don't know the facts of the case or the law and are making assumptions and misguided statements

jafs 4 years, 10 months ago

Actually, according to the testimony of the police officer who worked with Zimmerman's watch group, watch volunteers are specifically told not to follow or confront people. Also, the dispatcher told him they "didn't need him" to do that.

So, not only was it not "his duty" to do that, he had been told by law enforcement not to do it.

And, I'll say again that it's provocative, dangerous, and exhibits poor judgment for non law enforcement officers to follow people with loaded guns. How and why would the person that's being followed know that you're a "good guy" rather than a "bad guy"? I know that if somebody were following me at night, I'd immediately think he was up to no good, and react accordingly.

Which is exactly what happened here.

Jim Fisher 4 years, 10 months ago

Whatever. The whole thing was stupid. Two powers of stupid intersecting at the same point in time and space. Two powers of stupid who know exactly what happened.

If we treated one another in the fashion we are supposed to, in the fashion there is so much lip service to, two powers of stupid would have gone their own way. Now a jury of peers disagrees with a prosecutor, and powers of stupid are back out on the street, urged on by a media powered by, well, you know

50YearResident 4 years, 10 months ago

Now to add fuel to the fire, President Obama has said "Trayvon Martin could have been me" 25 years ago. What do you think that means?

skull 4 years, 10 months ago

That he walked home once or twice in the rain?

Nikonman 4 years, 10 months ago

If Zimmerman had not fired or didn't have a gun what would have happened? 1. TM would have stopped slamming GZ's head onto the concrete and ran off. 2. GZ could have been at least rendered unconscious and TM would have left the scene the victor. He may not ever have been identified or charged. 3. TM could have caused severe trauma to GZ's brain and left him a basket case for life, unable to identify his attacker. 4. GZ could have died at the scene. 5. GZ Might have been able to roll TM off of him and flee the scene. You pick one. And in the end, TM Was Armed, (with a Concrete Sidewalk). Lots of people have died from what is commonly called Blunt Force Trauma.

jafs 4 years, 10 months ago

I strongly suspect that if Z hadn't had a gun, he wouldn't have followed M, and the whole mess wouldn't have happened.

jafs 4 years, 10 months ago

Because having a loaded gun gives a feeling of power.

It would be even more lacking in good judgement for an unarmed person to follow someone they thought was a criminal at night.

James Minor 4 years, 10 months ago

President Obama made a good point on obvious gestures and mannerisms regarding racism. Just like a woman who can tell when a man is looking at her in an inappropriate way, an African American can tell when just being in the room makes someone uncomfortable. GZ did not use the N word but statements were made regarding someone being up to no good without a good example leads some African Americans to believe it was based on race.

Hoodie clothing is sold everywhere to everyone, so is Skittles, canned Ice Tea, and cell phones. There was no curfew for that city, area, or state, where young adults must be off the street after a specific time. Walking down a side walk that separates apartments is not walking in between homes.

Where is the accountability for GZ's actions? Where was the justification for GZ to follow? Common Sense? The defense said the trial was not about common sense. I would be willing to bet that if the police had done an effective job in their investigation, there were other people walking around in the neighborhood. As GZ was in a panic about someone in the area how many other phone calls did he make?

A wannabe cop looking to make a name for himself and hopefully a job in law enforcement didn't raise questions from the police that this person may have gone too far?

Obama is right it could have been him - it could have been me.

If a wrong in the decision was made it needs to be corrected. This is the time to get it right before it becomes more confusing and it will if something is not done.

Brian Thomas 4 years, 10 months ago

so you want to hold Zimmerman accountable on what grounds and what law? Following someone is not illegal, nor is assuming someone is up to no good. Confronting someone is also not illegal. Defending yourself with lethal force against fear of great bodily harm or death is also not illegal.

In what way do you think Z should be held accountable? Should the laws be ignored and he be thrown in jail just because you didn't like the outcome?

jayhawklawrence 4 years, 10 months ago

Like a bad movie, nobody likes the ending but this is real life and you cannot keep trying to make stuff up.

Apparently, the media believes otherwise.

Brian Thomas 4 years, 10 months ago

Charles, I have to say this is one of the few good , informed articles I have read regarding this tragic case. .
I have followed this case since the event happened last year. Initially I felt Z might have been in the clear based on what I read, but I kept an open mind to learn about the facts as they developed. What is real sad is how this played out in media and the countless misinformed people strongly voicing their rage over this tragedy. Even after the verdict with evidence presented, there are many people making statements that simply are irrelevant, non factual, and just plain absurd. I blame this on the media, those who wish this to be a race issue, and those who just want to hear themselves rant about a tragedy they don't know much about.

There are certainly no winners with this and its terrible to think the many lives that have been affected.

Trumbull 4 years, 10 months ago

I think Zimmerman is not guilty, and in this regard I agree with the jury. But at the same time, he is not necessarily innocent. When bad outcomes happen, sometimes both parties share partial responsibility/fault. Martin paid the ultimate price and lost his life. This is the way I view it.

One of the few times I agree with Krauthammer.

Cait McKnelly 4 years, 10 months ago

This is a prime example of the fact that "justice" and "law" are two completely different things.

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