A Few Zimmerman-Related Notes

I. For most of its history, the ACLU opposed separate state and federal prosecutions for the same acts as unconstitutional double jeopardy. If I’m remembering correctly, the ACLU abandoned this position under the pressure of the egregious facts of the Rodney King case, but by an extremely close vote with much controversy. Apparently, the ACLU has now fully abandoned this position without any significant controversy, as witnessed by its press release stating that “it is imperative that the Department of Justice thoroughly examine whether the Martin shooting was a federal civil rights violation or hate crime.” The ACLU used to be primarily a civil liberties organization, albeit one dominated by a liberal worldview. It has gradually become a liberal pressure group with some (and declining) interest in civil liberties.

II. With all the hullabaloo over the Not Guilty verdict, let’s not forget the serious accusations of prosecutorial misconduct that have been leveled against prosecutor Angela Corey. Prosecutors get away with such conduct way too often, and it’s the most vulnerable members of society who are typically their victims.

III. I’ve seen a lot of commentary by people upset with the verdict to the effect that if the races were reversed, a black Zimmerman would have been convicted for murdering a “white” Martin. That’s a good argument against the verdict only if you think there was sufficient evidence for the jury to convict the real Zimmerman beyond a reasonable doubt, which IMHO there wasn’t, not even close. And if there wasn’t sufficient evidence, I would hope it wouldn’t make anyone feel better to put multi-racial (or even “white”) Zimmerman in jail just because that person believes that a black Zimmerman would have been unjustly convicted on similar evidence, just to even things out. A better lesson would be to consider whether jurors fail to take African-American defendants’ claims of self-defense sufficiently seriously, as in the Corey Maye case, and, as in that case, whether prosecutors are fairly prosecuting the case or going for a conviction at any price.

IV. There is plenty of racism and injustice in the American criminal justice system, but a lot of people chose a poor case to illustrate that racism and injustice, and stuck with it even as the evidence failed to support it, even as the trial turned out to be a disaster for the prosecution, and even after the not guilty verdict. I suspect that some folks are afraid that if Zimmerman is not guilty, given the symbolic resonance the case has taken on it means that the criminal justice system is innocent. That is indeed a risk, and the Zimmerman case will in fact make it more difficult to draw attention to much clearer cases of racism and injustice. That’s truly a shame.

V. But what exactly did people expect when they jumped on a bandwagon led by Al Sharpton? Why in God’s name does anyone take anything the man says that has anything to do with race relations seriously, given his history of demagoguery going back to Tawana Brawley, Crown Heights, etc? Were they expecting that Sharpton had meticulously and objectively researched the facts to ensure he had an airtight case to support the narrative he was promoting on MSNBC and beyond?

VI. Today on a law professor listserv I frequent, one of the members was fulminating about how Zimmerman had once called 911 because he was afraid of a seven-year-old black boy, and this shows how racist Zimmerman is, and so forth and so on. The professor cited to this blog post at breakingbrown.com. The post cites to a Daily Beast post about Zimmarman’s interactions with the police. The first thing that raised my suspicion was the Beast made it clear that the call was to the police non-emergency number, not 911. The Beast reported the call log as:

April 22, 2011 – 7:09 p.m. Type: TEL Subject: Suspicious activity
Report: Juvenile black male “apprx 7–9” years old, four feet tall “skinny build short blk hair” last seen wearing a blue t-shirt and blue shorts.

This presented me with two possibilities: this was either strong evidence that Zimmerman was truly a paranoid racist nutjob, or the “suspicious activity” he reported was something along the lines of an unsupervised child. So I spent less then a minute googling and found the more detailed police description of his call (page 37 of the link), which paraphrased Zimmerman as follows: “Advsd is walking alone & is not supervised on busy street compl concerned for well-being.”

And thus a call from Zimmerman expressing concern for the safety of a young boy walking alone on a busy street gets turned into Zimmerman calling 911 on a seven year African American boy that he feared because of his racist paranoia. Unfortunately, lots of people seem to be only reading websites like BreakingBrown and not bothering to check on what they read so long as it fits the narrative they’ve already adopted. As noted, even law professors, who one would think would try to investigate before spreading libelous rumors, aren’t immune (though I should note based on blogs and social media I’ve seen, most crim law and evidence professors, including most liberal ones, think that the jury came to the correct conclusion based on the evidence presented).

VII. The New York Times beclowned itself consistently in reporting this case, especially in trying to maintain the white-black narrative when it turned out that Zimmerman was of multi-racial heritage and identified as Hispanic. The bleclowning reached its apex when on June 28 the Times described Zimmerman as “Hispanic” but “fair-skinned.” Has anyone seen a picture of Zimmerman that makes it look like he is accurately described as what people typically refer to as a “fair-skinned” individual? A Times reporter, defending(!) such nonsense, acknowledged that “If he were black or if his name was Rodriguez instead of Zimmerman, this would have been a completely different situation.” So the Times has to cover up the fact that Zimmerman was an olive-complexioned self-identified Hispanic to preserve some semblance of the original narrative?

VIII. All that said, Zimmerman strikes me as the sort of nudnik that tends to want to chair the condo board, lead the neighborhood watch, etc, that leads people like my wife and I to want to avoid living in a neighborhood with a “community association” if at all possible. He bears some moral responsibility for Martin’s death for reasons William Saletan has enumerated, and I take no pleasure in his acquittal beyond my relief that the jury did its duty under the law.

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