Media researcher and thinker Marshall McLuhan published influential books during the 1960s including Understanding Media, The Extensions of Man and The Medium is the Message that introduced or at least popularized the concept of the Global Village and predicted the establishment of our current World Wide Web.
The practically instantaneous communications we have today allow anyone with access to a television or a smart phone, which includes nearly everyone, even those who are abjectly poor, to learn details of events while they are occurring halfway around the globe, or even down the street. Marshall McLuhan’s Global Village has become a reality.
Our Global Village is a busybody’s delight. Purely personal or local matters become everyone’s business. An unfortunate homicide resulting from an encounter that, in a still not completely explained manner, became a struggle perceived by at least one participant as a deadly threat, turned into a universal cause célèbre.
Every village has its idiot; some have more than one. A Global Village is bound to have millions. They have come out in force to exhibit themselves on the village green, aka the Internet and cable news, in the wake of Florida’s trial of George Zimmerman.
George Zimmerman is not guilty of murder or manslaughter. That does not mean that he is innocent in a moral sense. He may be even found legally liable for damages in a future wrongful death civil suit, as O. J. Simpson was after his acquittal in 1995. The moral issue will be decided in another forum, perhaps another world. Civil liability is doubtful.
Except for comments about the role of a neighborhood crime watch participant, I have expressed no prior opinions concerning the Zimmerman case. It had to play out in the Florida legal system. Now that the jury and court have spoken, I offer my observations.
The prosecution was politically, not legally, motivated. It was a shameless exercise of pandering politicians. Don West was right about that.
Recall that 2012 was an election year. There were a number of important races in Florida, and the state itself was a “battleground” state in the Presidential race. The case came to national attention because the alleged victim was useful as a symbol of the left’s narrative of ongoing racism and oppression in the nation. Playing on that paranoia could solidify and motivate voters to vote for Democratic Party candidate. It also would be dangerous for Republicans, or so they perceived. I can just imagine special prosecutor Angela Corey being summoned into the corridors of power and told “put a lid on this for us, and you will have a great future career” or words to that effect. In many states, she would have had to present the case to a grand jury for an indictment to allow the case to go forward. In Florida, that is optional, but is often used to keep the political heat off of prosecutors. That wasn’t good enough for the Florida politicos. Corey knew she could not get an indictment – the previous police and state’s attorney investigation found no evidence that negated self defense, and indeed, her subsequent investigation revealed none – so she chose to proceed by a charging document called an information, or complaint. It took on a life of its own from there.
The case should never have come to trial, and it should have been a directed verdict. Of course, there was no way the judge was going to do anything but let the jury decide. She did not want to fade that kind of heat.
The smartest part of the defense argument was Mark O’Mara’s use of the hunk of concrete to show a deadly weapon. How much brain damage should one have to risk? Some idiot commentator on a television news program likened this altercation as a “fistfight” to which the use of a firearm was a “disproportionate” response. A young adult woman was killed in my neighborhood by being struck and hitting her head on a concrete walkway not too long ago. A juror post trial said that demonstration, coupled with Zimmerman’s bloodied head made an impression on the jury.
The prosecutors did not have much to work with. Nevertheless, their histrionic closing and attempted heartstrings-pulling rebuttal was pathetic and counterproductive. That kind of drama can work only if you have matching underlying facts. Those facts were not there. Furthermore, when the prosecution’s rebuttal belabored the “common sense” theme, it was obvious he was playing to the respect for that concept that most ordinary people have. For it to be effective, however, it has to apply; it must be commonsensical. Anything other than a finding of self-defense in this case would have defied common sense.
Referring to a seventeen year old athletic male as a “child” in this context was ridiculous. Adulthood used to be acknowledged much earlier. A 13 year-old used to be an adult among many groups. True, in our soft culture, childhood sometimes extends into one’s mid twenties or later – witness the absurdity of requiring insurance companies to keep the children of policyholders on medical policies to age 26. The reality is that many 17 year-olds are a match for adult men of all ages.
The prosecution put on most of the defense’s case. The defense turned nearly every state’s witness around. The forensic science experts, especially Vincent DiMaio, at one time an assistant medical examiner here in Dallas County, were some of the most effective defense witnesses. DiMaio demonstrated almost to a certainty, that Zimmerman’s version of the confrontation was the right one.
As Thomas Sowell stated in his column “The only real heroes in this trial were the jurors. They showed that this is still America — at least for now — despite politicians who try to cheapen or corrupt the law, as if this were some banana republic.”
Profiling of individuals, even when considering their race, is not illegal and often is truly common sense. In Zimmerman’s neighborhood, there had been multiple burglaries and thefts; nearly all perpetrated by young black men. Commentator Shelby Steele, who happens to be black, described a hoodie as “a costume of menace.” A common figure of speech, a synecdoche for a brigand, ruffian, or other kind of criminal is “hood.” That has been around for a long time, and it refers to person of any complexion who wears a garment that covers his head and most of his face making him harder to identify. Looking into houses in the neighborhood while walking in the darkness would arouse suspicion, or at least prompt inquiry. Put these together, and you have a profile – a profile that bears pursuing further inquiry. Recall Jesse Jackson’s comment that he was distressed by hearing footsteps behind him at night and being relieved when he discovered that the person they belonged to was white. I don’t believe Jackson is a racist, but in that respect he is not a lunatic either. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, who leans left most of the time opined “If the police are abusing their authority and using race as the only reason, that has got to stop. But if they ignore race, then they are fools and ought to go into another line of work.” There are many complex reasons why such a disproportionate number of young black men become mired in our criminal justice system. But it is a fact; a fact that someone walking on the street ignores at their peril.
Neighborhood crime watch organizations are effective, but those who participate must know their limitations. See something suspicious? Call the professionals. Now a big problem, particularly where I live, is the police are stretched pretty thin. Even if timely called, they might not get there soon enough to prevent a crime. They usually do not. It is easy to understand frustration. The punks get away most of the time.
I have come to believe that President Obama has unnecessarily set back race relations in this country. His 2008 campaign was by no means a sure thing, and he believed that part of his baggage was being at least half-black (which as an unfortunate legacy of our past, means all black to a good many, if not most people). He took an analogous page out of John F. Kennedy’s 1960 campaign play book. Many perceived Kennedy’s Catholicism to be a liability. Kennedy believed that stirring up a certain amount of bigotry might actually help him because Americans by and large feared religious bigotry more than they feared that he would be consulting the Pope at every turn. He was right, and that ploy probably worked. After his election, however, Kennedy did not wear his religion on his sleeve, and determined to be President of all the people. Obama, on the other hand, not six months into his term of office, injected himself in the Henry Louis Gates affair in Cambridge when he should have kept his mouth shut. After Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, the President did likewise with his notorious bon mot that if he had a son he would look like Martin. In both instances the President, enabled the transformation of purely local matters into national media circuses. One wonders what he was thinking. He reminded me of President Richard Nixon opining about Charles Manson’s guilt right in the middle of the trial.
Whatever it was, it had some predictable effects. The more virulent race baiters are calling for a federal civil rights prosecution and a wrongful death civil suit against Zimmerman, and threatening social unrest if those do not occur. There is no legal basis for a civil rights prosecution, though one commentator who worked there opined that left wing zealots in the civil rights division of the Justice Department doubtless would try to manufacture one. The response of “we’re looking into it” so far has the quality of putting it off hoping it will go away. As for a wrongful death suit like the one against O. J. Simpson? No lawyer in his right mind would take this on a contingency. There is a mountain of exculpatory evidence already marshaled and an insolvent defendant, not to mention immunity from civil liability for the use of deadly force in self defense under Florida law (the law is similar, and perhaps even stronger in that regard here in Texas). It’s a summary judgment case, or in lay terms, one that would be thrown out of court because it has no basis. If there are zealots who would pursue it on principle now, when the costs begin to mount up with no real prospect for remuneration or even symbolic vindication, their ardor will fade rapidly.
One exceptionally disturbing – and offensive – piece of rhetoric is some, supposedly responsible, leaders and spokespersons equating Trayvon Martin with Emmitt Till and Medgar Evers. That is preposterous on its face; not even remotely comparable. These absurd attempts at invidious comparison can only serve to inflame the uninformed. When emotions override reason, nothing but bad can come.
Finally, what about justice. Was it served here? I have given that some thought and will spend some more time, bits, and bytes later.