Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Reality Check on the Trayvon Martin Case

cross-posted from Dagblog

George Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder in the killing of Trayvon Martin. Since everyone agrees that Zimmerman shot an unarmed seventeen-year-old dead, this seems like a pretty reasonable move. If you kill someone with a handgun, especially someone who didn't have a weapon, you should probably expect to be arrested and tried.

Of course, Zimmerman may have a defense, and his lawyers will now have a chance to mount that defense. So it's good news all the way around. Those who complain that Zimmerman is "being tried in the media" should be happy that he will now be tried in court, and we can be done with all the hearsay and speculation. If Zimmerman was genuinely in reasonable fear for his life, he has a chance to establish the facts and end the argument. But I suspect that getting a day in court will not suffice for Zimmerman's supporters.

Even a few weeks ago, it looked like we were going to avoid the vitriolic national disagreements that have now become standard for almost any issue. The Republican presidential candidates, like the President, went on record saying that the shooting was a problem. And after all, it should be easy enough to agree that none of us want unarmed teenagers getting shot dead, and even easier to agree that when an armed person kills an unarmed person the police shouldn't just take the killer's word for what happened. But apparently, we can't agree about common-sense things anymore, and Zimmerman now has some passionate defenders on the right, who complain that he is a victim of injustice. One of their main complaints is that he has been "tried in the media."

So let's recap a few common-sense facts:

1) The media furor has not been hampering the investigation. The media furor made the investigation happen. When Trayvon Martin was killed, on February 26, the Sanford Police seem to have done much, much less than a standard homicide investigation. It took weeks of mounting public pressure to get a special prosecutor appointed to give the case a real, hard look. And the case did deserve that hard look. The media furor comes from the Sanford Police not doing their jobs.

2) Being investigated when you shoot an unarmed person dead is not an outrageous result. Being indicted for shooting an unarmed person is not an outrageous result either.

3) Zimmerman's supporters have been playing the press assiduously, largely through attempts to disparage Trayvon Martin's character, and Zimmerman himself recently phoned Sean Hannity to talk about the case. (This is according to Zimmerman's former lawyers, and has been confirmed by Hannity.)

4) The antidote to a media trial is a genuine trial, whose result will either punish Zimmerman for a crime or free him from this charge forever.

5) When you kill an unarmed person with a gun, you should expect that your story gets some scrutiny. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but no one gets to kill someone else with no questions asked.

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