George Zimmerman has been tried and convicted in the media and public opinion for the shooting of Trayvon Martin, with the case almost uniformly being portrayed as racially motivated, with the wearing of a hoody by a young black male as the symbol.
Violence is in the air.
A threat has been made on the Sanford Police Chief.
Democratic politicians and pundits have joined the crowd, with Karen Finney on MSNBC blaming Rush Limbaugh and Republican candidates; Charles Pierce in Esquire blaming a Republican-induced war on children; former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm photographed wearing a hoody; and Debbie Wasserman Shultz using the case to demand repeal of Florida’s stand your ground law. And many, many more.
Even Obama has framed the case in racial terms, saying that if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon, which has thrust the issue into presidential politics as Newt pushed back on Obama’s racial narrative of the case.
Zimmerman, not surprisingly, is in hiding and has not returned to work, where his employer fears for the safety of fellow employees.
A case which should be focused on the guilt or innocence of the accused based on evidence, and finding justice for a victim based on law, has been turned into a racial political play.
The evidence made public so far, however, is not as conclusive as public opinion either as to Zimmerman’s guilt of a criminal offense or racial motivation. Based on what is known so far, the possibility of a not guilty verdict is very real; indeed, it is unlikely that Zimmerman would be charged but for the public outcry.
As we know, even seemingly rock solid cases of racially motivated violence can fall apart once the actual evidence is scrutinized in court and a vigorous defense — which includes a focus on the alleged crime victim — is part of the defense strategy:
George Holliday thought his video camera had captured something important. On March 4, Holliday took his film to Los Angeles television station KTLA. News producers at KTLA found the tape shocking and played it on the evening news. CNN picked up the tape the next day and soon it was everywhere. CNN Vice President Ed Turner said “television used the tape like wallpaper.” Most viewers who saw the tape–which ran without the first fuzzy seconds showing King’s charge at Powell–as revealing the brutal and senseless beating of a helpless drunk. A poll taken in Los Angeles after the tape had been running showed that 92% of those polled believed that excessive force was used against Rodney King. Those feelings seemed to extend even to many within the LAPD itself. Police Chief Daryl Gates called the use of force “very, very extreme”: “For the LAPD, considered by many the finest, most professional police department in the world, it was more than extreme. It was impossible.” …
Stacey Koon was of three defendants to take the stand. He proved to be an impressive witness. Koon testified that he had quickly identified King as dangerous, believing him to be an ex-con on PCP. He said he was “concerned” and “a little frightened” by King. He described the use of escalating force–verbal commands, swarming, use of the electric stun guns, and finally metal batons–and how they were used on the night of March 3, 1991. Koon seemed to sincerely believe that the use of force against King had been appropriate and controlled. The most effective moment in his testimony came when he was asked by Mounger, what he was “thinking at the time you saw Melanie Singer approaching with a gun in her hand?” Koon fought back tears as he answered: “They show you a picture when you are in the Academy [taken] at the morgue, and it is four [highway patrol] officers in full uniform that are on a slab and they are dead, and it is the Newhall shooting.”
In a frame-by-frame analysis of the videotape, expert witness Sergeant Charles Duke backed up Koon’s contention that only reasonable force was used against King. Duke, a critic of LAPD policy banning use of chokeholds, suggested that the King incident showed the inevitable result of a policy that left the police with few viable options short of deadly force. Duke said it was sometimes necessary “to break a bone” and that every one of the fifty-six baton swings shown on the videotape was justified.
The defense, it would turn out, won its case with Koon and Duke….
With the evidence not seeming to be as conclusive as public opinion in the Martin case, this is being set up for a major blow-up, in which expectations and agitation confront the legal rights of the accused.
We know what happens when there is no outlet, when a case has been so used for racial politics that a portion of the public will not accept anything less than a conviction, and where tempers have been so inflamed that flames are the result.
We may not be there yet, but if we allow the narrative to continue as it has, with the racial agitators leading the way, we may get there.
Responsible Democratic and Republican leaders should — as many have done — demand a thorough investigation in which the outcome is not prejudged, and should have the guts to stand up to the Al Sharptons of the world.