Friday, March 23, 2012

Vengeance Is Not Justice

The Trayvon Martin Shooting has become the hot topic lately with more and more voices being added to the din. It was probably a matter of time before the President waded in to this one, as he often does when he sees a chance to ingratiate himself with voters at the expense of local sovereignty. But I'll address His Worship in a minute. First, what is the hubbub?

If you've not been paying attention, the high level details are this:
  • 17 year old Trayvon Martin (who is black) and his father were visiting his father's fiance in a gated community
  • Martin walked to the local store to buy some snacks. When he was walking back, it started raining, so he put up the hood of his sweatshirt.
  • He was talking to his girlfriend on his cell phone using an earpiece.
  • A local neighborhood watch captain (the press has been calling him 'self appointed', whatever that means; he either is or he isn't) named George Zimmerman saw Martin and thought he looked suspicious.
  • Zimmerman began following Martin, and an altercation ensued.
  • The altercation ended when Zimmerman shot Martin once with a 9mm pistol, killing the young man.
At this point, that seems to be all the facts as they are known.  There is a tremendous about of added detail from Zimmerman, Martin's girlfriend, and from neighbors who called the police to report the struggle.  Much of this information is contradictory and the real truth has not been determined.  Based on the controversy around this situation, I doubt it will be.  Why?  Because this has gone beyond a "was he right or wrong to shoot" argument and has turned into a racially charged tinderbox.  It starts with items like
this from Eugene Kane of the Milwaukee Wisconsin Sentinel Journal:

Trayvon was unarmed; the 28-year-old white male shooter claimed self-defense and so far has not been charged. [emphasis mine]

You may have noticed I left out Zimmerman's race in my account above. I did that on purpose to highlight the shoddy journalism being undertaken here. In his article, Kane deviates from the standard practice of using the full name, then the last name for remainder of the article, repeatedly referring to Martin by his first name, even though other people named in the article are referred to by last name. Since Kane is a real, experienced journalist, I, as a layman, can only infer that he does this deliberately to make Martin's case more personal. Kane also deviated from another journalistic practice, which is that of checking the facts. What facts? Well, for one, Zimmerman isn't white. He's Hispanic (though at CBS' on-line DC affiliate they take care to call him "light skinned Hispanic"). As of this writing, Kane/Sentinel Journal has not corrected the on-line article.

This is one example of how the pen can cause people to use the sword, as Zimmerman has received death threats and had to move out of his house. Al Sharpton is even on the case, saying:

"We are tired of going to jail for nothing and others going home for something. Zimmerman should have been arrested that night"

Presente.Org is sending out emails asking for support for Trayvon (I wonder if they know the assailant is Hispanic...if so, good for them). The case is now being tried in the media, presumptions of Zimmerman's guilt are legion, and the media is misrepresenting this as a white-on-black, racially motivated crime.
As more information has unfolded about Zimmerman, it paint contradictory images of him. He is apparently well known to the police, having called the police some 50 times in the last eight years. He has a permit to carry his gun and had ambitions of being a police officer, leading Attorneys for Martin's parents to call him a "wannabe cop."
However, neighbors talk about him in positive terms. According to a CBS On-line article neighbor Samantha Hamilton said “The only impression I have of George Zimmerman is a good one...When I hear about him calling the police constantly, it kind of makes sense to me because we had so many break-ins recently."

According to a article , his father, Robert Zimmerman, published a letter in the Orlando Sentinal where he said "George is a Spanish-speaking minority with many black family members and friends. He would be the last to discriminate for any reason whatsoever."

On the other side, the family and millions of other people on-line have already convicted Zimmerman based on their belief the shooting was racially motivated. A 'million hoodie march' was held in New York Wednesday, promoted by on-line advertisements that said "A black person in a hoodie isn't automatically suspicious. Let's put an end to racial profiling." (I disagree - ANYONE in a hoodie is suspicious. You can thank the unibomber and Bill Bellichick for that.)

Based on what I can see from the sometimes grossly biased, sometimes very fair reporting on this situation is that Zimmerman was overzealous in his desire to be of service to his neighborhood. As a concealed carry permit holder, I can tell you I would not have done what he did. The three "E's" (Escape; Evade; Engage - if it's reasonable for you to escape or evade the situation, you should; if your life (or someone else's) is threatened and escape or evasion are not options, then you engage) were not followed; when Zimmerman told the 911 dispatcher he was going after Martin, he was told 'we don't need you to do that.' At that point it is conceivable that he became the aggressor; but based on lack of evidence the that he did not act in self defense, the police chose not to arrest him. And there began the controversy.

I am surprised he was not arrested. Based on my training for my permit, I fully expect that if I ever have to defend myself with a gun (or a knife, or whatever) that I will be arrested and investigated. That's why you don't act unless your life is in danger. The rule of thumb is that your choice is to be judged by 12 or carried by 6. But I am not going to Monday morning quarterback the police either. I am not close enough, nor do I know enough of the facts, to pass judgement on the situation.

But that's exactly what people are doing across the country, including president Obama, who today said:

"...when I think about this boy, I think about my own kids. And I thinkevery parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this, and that everybody pulls together -- federal, state and local -- to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened.

So I'm glad that not only is the Justice Department looking into it, I understand now that the governor of the state of Florida has formed a task force to investigate what's taking place. I think all of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how does something like this happen. "

My first question when I heard this was "why is the Justice Department involved in this?" While I do have sincere sympathy for Martin's parents, I think the president dipping his toe in this water is not called for. This is not a federal issue. No crime has been charged, no one is under arrest, nothing here invites the federal government into this issue. I can understand that would be beyond frustrating for the victim's family, but we are a nation of laws, and we must follow them, even if we don't like where they lead. And this is precisely why it's so important for those who want Zimmerman to fry that this be a racially motivated shooting - because then, under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (passed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010) the prerequisite that the victim be engaging in a federally protected activity was dropped. So any crime, anywhere, at any time, if it's racially motivated (or motivated by gender bias, religious bias, etc....fortunately for liberals, non-union status isn't a criteria) the Feds can step in and take over.
And now that Al Sharpton,, Eugene Kane, and Barack Obama have weighed in, that's the game we're playing here now, folks. At issue is no longer "Did Zimmerman break the law" but rather "How can we make Zimmerman pay." That's called vengeance, not justice.

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