July 11, 2013 by Julia
Now that I’m home all day on maternity leave and need to spend most of the day languishing on the couch (walking around is HARD, for serious), I have the news on when there is nothing worth watching on Comedy Central, or USA isn’t showing one of its NCIS marathons. Out of professional interest, I try to watch coverage of the George Zimmerman trial–from everything I read previously, the defense is putting on a clinic.
Now, I am not necessarily impressed with defense counsel’s monologues (although it was never going to be granted, the argument on behalf of a judgment of acquittal was not very good), but their cross-examinations are fairly brilliant. I’m interested in those, along with the meta-trial–i.e. how we as a culture process the trial and the issues it presents. It seems fairly obvious to me, as someone who sat through three years of law school, that there is clearly reasonable doubt whether Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense . . . but large segments of society seem either ignorant of the law, unwilling to understand the law when presented with it, or insistent that the law is wrong, so it shouldn’t be applied here.
Ann Althouse has written an excellent take-down of this New York Times op-ed complaining about how no one is allowed to mention race in the courtroom. What Professor Althouse references is that “the backdrop of all the other things that have happened before” includes kangaroo courts convicting and executing black defendants without any pretense of real justice. The rules of evidence and procedure? Thrown out in the window by a racist court system intent on railroading (sometimes) innocent people. The entire point of the American justice system is that there is one set of rules and procedures that applies to everyone–we all have a baseline for how we should act to avoid an arrest, and what to expect in court if we ever are arrested. It is called the rule of law, and it is sacred.
And yet! For some reason, despite this country having a history of ignoring the rule of law in order to attack black people, some folks want to suspend the rule of law and stop applying the rules of evidence to guarantee the conviction of a Hispanic man who shot a black teenager in self-defense. If there is a group out there which ought to cherish the rule of law and advocate for its consistent application, it should be the black community, which has personally experienced what happens when the rule of law is ignored. The very idea that the races of the victim and alleged perpetrator are relevant should be abhorrent to a group of people who were once attacked using the legal system because of their race. But then again . . . I’m opposed to hate crime laws for this very reason. Justice must be color-blind for it to be, in fact, justice.
Speaking of being color-blind, keep your eye on the DOJ Community Relations Service story. We know that the CRS submitted expenses for providing “technical assistance” at anti-George Zimmerman protests. According to the DOJ, the CRS was there in support of its mission, which is “to assist State and local units of government, private and public organizations, and community groups with preventing and resolving racial and ethnic tensions, incidents, and civil disorders, and in restoring racial stability and harmony.” So, in theory, CRS staff may simply have been helping to maintain order and encourage nonviolence during the protests. Alternatively, CRS staff may have been setting up glorified lynch mobs targeting an American citizen and a local government. We need more information before getting angry, though.