Over a year ago I expressed confidence that our judicial process and public good will would clarify the facts of the tragic shooting death of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman: https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2012/04/01/the-trayvan-martin-tragedy/. Indeed, after carefully listening to and weighing the evidence presented to it the six women jury rendered its unanimous verdict a week ago that Zimmerman had lawfully, but no less tragically, shot and killed Martin in self-defense and was therefore not guilty of the charges against him. At the time a year ago, the failure of local Florida law enforcement officials to arrest Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, seemed to me and many others a potentially racially tinged judgment. I supported the call for his arrest. Once all of the obtainable facts had been presented and evaluated by the Jury that earlier decision turned out to be a sound professional judgment by the police. But I still think it was desirable to go through the process of this trial.
I did not follow the trial closely but have no reason to question the judgment of the jury. The utterly disgraceful misreporting and doctoring of the conversation between Zimmerman and the 911 dispatcher aired by NBC made it seem that Zimmerman might be racist in his reaction to Martin (a claim no one made during the trial because there is apparently no basis for it) tarnishing the professionalism of at least NBC. https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2012/04/03/the-trayvon-martin-tragedy-continues/. Sadly the press has continued to reproduce the young, handsome picture of Martin and the thuggish picture of Zimmerman long after more neutral pictures became available.
The slanted reporting of the press is nothing, however, compared to the highly inappropriate statements from our increasingly discredited Attorney General, who suggested that the federal government was investigation the possibility of trying Zimmerman for civil rights violations for which no evidence was introduced in the just finished trail. But my heart stopped when President Obama chimed in that “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.” How could the President of the United States join the cheap political babbling of Attorney General Holder? And thus I started this blog.
This is an example of how fragments out of context can be totally misleading. The President’s full statement yesterday, when he joined the White House press briefing unannounced, was quite the opposite of my impression from the news headline. President Obama has disappointed me on many things (promoting bigger government generally, higher taxes, expanding snooping on Americans, drone assassinations of Americans without trial, and poor leadership in general), but I have always found him an honest and thoughtful commenter on race issues. His statements yesterday were no exception. Zimmerman’s trial produced no evidence of racism in anything that happened that tragic night in Florida, but the President rightly noted that each of us carries impressions (“priors”), often from personal experience, that frame our views of the world and events and that it is better that we acknowledge them and open ourselves to an examination of the role they play in our everyday judgments. This was exactly the point I was trying to make a year ago, though Obama said it better. The President is right on this issue and an excessive political correctness has stifled this discussion for too long.