Monday, July 15, 2013

Symbols Of Injustice

"Even when we already know the likely outcome of some events, we can still be amazed at how some of those events unfold - and how persons involved in those events can justify horrible outcomes as acceptable."

That's how we began a commentary back in 2012 about stupidity in law and politics, in which we wrote about George Zimmerman's murder of Trayvon Martin. Sadly, we didn't know how prophetic those words would be.

In case you missed the news, on Saturday night, George Zimmerman - a man who admitted to shooting and killing the unarmed, innocent, barely 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida in February of 2012 - was acquitted of second degree murder in a Florida courtroom. While George Zimmerman may be legally not guilty of second degree murder, he will never escape the fact he killed an innocent boy.

Even so, George Zimmerman got to go home. He'll likely get his gun back. Trayvon Martin is still dead, and the legal system in Florida - because it cannot be called a justice system - failed him. That system isn't some mechanical thing, though. That so many groups and individuals failed the innocent Trayvon Martin hasn't been lost on us.

To start with, Mr. Zimmerman, who was supposed to be a "Neighborhood Watch Captain" failed in his duties, completely. Not only should Zimmerman - a man convicted of assault more than once - not have been carrying a weapon on his neighborhood watch duties. He shouldn't have even been allowed to carry a gun. Sadly, we've discussed the failures of the gun lobby to be responsible more times than we'd care to count in these pages.

The Florida legislature also failed the young Trayvon Martin - though we have a strong suspicion the laws in Florida are actually meant to be unjust. Even so, as writers Josh Marshall and Eugene Volokh point out, the self-defense statutes in Florida, and indeed around the nation, don't actually match up with what common sense - and the original common law they were based on - should be.

The Florida State Attorney General and the Seminole County prosecution team also obviously failed in their duties. There are concerns about how they handled evidence, and about how race was and was not used as a factor in court, in what was an obviously a racial shooting incident. The list of failures by the prosecution team may even spur U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to file charges against both the prosecution team and Mr. Zimmerman himself.

The upside, such as it is, to all this failure, is that George Zimmerman has to spend the rest of his life being George Zimmerman. As both supporters of Trayvon Martin and of Mr. Zimmerman noted over the weekend, Mr. Zimmerman isn't even safe in his own hometown of Sanford any longer - and he likely won't feel safe in most places in the United States.

Further, there are still more lawsuits Zimmerman will have to face, including a civil lawsuit where he will be forced to testify, and that legal experts we've consulted note he is highly likely to lose.

If there is any individual justice for Trayvon Martin, that may be part of it: that George Zimmerman is now sentenced to a life of perpetual paranoia, and unending lawsuits with little hope of ever being anything more than a living symbol. For gun nuts, racists, and Fox News viewers, that symbol will be as a hero who can effectively roam neighborhoods freely at will, dispensing "justice" vigilante-style, as Charlie Pierce so eloquently noted at Esquire.com.

For the rest of us, Zimmerman should be a symbol of how all Americans have failed, and are continuing to fail, in ensuring we have a true justice system, and not just a legal system.

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