Late to the Party

And I don’t really care that much about the Trayvon Martin case. (I wonder if there is some sort of bias revealed by describing the case with the name of the victim or the name of the defendant: I’ve seen both.) But since so many people do, my daily reading has included some interesting posts on this topic.

One of the things that I think is most disturbing about this whole case is the outcry for further prosecution and even some inferring that prosecutor needs more power to prosecute. There are a lot of people upset about this case, and understandably so. What is to my mind perfectly clear is that Zimmerman should never have left his car or confronted Trayvon. That he did may or may not have been racially motivated. But the fact is that there is most certainly reasonable doubt about the crime and that we, and especially minorities, should be glad that Zimmerman was acquitted. I’ll let the Economist explain this better than I would:

However, on the whole, our criminal-justice system is so frightfully racist because it’s too easy for prosecutors, not because it’s too hard. Of course, in a racist society, rules that help defendants are going to help the most privileged defendants the most, and that’s maddening. But that shouldn’t stop us from recognising that the least privileged, the most oppressed, the most discriminated against, are far and away most likely to stand accused. That’s why I suspect that a legal system making it harder for the likes of Mr Zimmerman to get away with it would be a system of even more outrageous racial inequity.

I think Zimmerman was wrong. A murderer? Possibly, but I’d think no. Irrelevant though, he killed someone, and used what certainly seems to be excessive force. But the one fact that is certain is that the facts themselves are blurry. And the fact that we are clamoring to make it easier to prosecute should be especially scary to anyone who is already likely to be unfairly convicted. While it’s hard to think so when a guilty man goes free, all of us would if we found ourselves in such a spot prefer that the guilty go free than the innocent go to prison.

Should we make it easier to convict people of crimes in order to reduce injustice against the weak? How foolish. The weak already suffer because it is too easy to convict — because we love to pass criminal laws, but hate to pay for an adequate defense. Thanks to “law and order” and the War on Drugs and our puerile willingness to be terrified by politicians and the media, one-sixth of African-American men like Trayvon Martin have been in prison, trending towards one-third. […]

It’s tragic that Trayvon Martin was killed, and I believe that George Zimmerman bears moral responsibility for his death. The banners of racism that have unfurled in defense of Zimmerman repulse me. I would be damn worried about my kids if I lived in George Zimmerman’s neighborhood.

But ultimately I am more afraid of the state — and more afraid of a society that thinks case outcomes should depend upon collective social judgment — than I am of the George Zimmermans of the world. Critics might say that view reflects privilege, in that as an affluent white guy I am far less likely to be shot by someone like Zimmerman. Perhaps. But I am also vastly less likely to be jailed, or be the target of law enforcement abuse tolerated by social consensus.

Weakening the rights of the accused — clamoring for the conviction of those we feel should be convicted — is a damnfool way to help the oppressed.

The one thing that is correct in all of this is that there is institutional racism, and it is ridiculous, absurd and wrong. The one thing that is definitely wrong is to think the solution is to make it more likely that Zimmermans of the future get convicted. Instead, we should make it less likely minorities are treated unfairly.

And finally this article from TheDailyBeast:

“Black-on-black crime” has been part of the American lexicon for decades, but as a specific phenomenon, it’s no more real than “white-on-white crime.” Unlike the latter, however, the idea of “black-on-black crime” taps into specific fears around black masculinity and black criminality—the same fears that, in Florida, led George Zimmerman to focus his attention on Trayvon Martin, and in New York, continue to justify Michael Bloomberg’s campaign of police harassment against young black men in New York City.

And this is spot on as far as it goes in highlighting some of our racist assumptions in these crimes. But I think it does not quite respond to one concern that is voiced when people argue these sorts of things. And that is that the media is far less likely to cover “black-on-black” crime. Crime within minority communities is ignored compared to crime in privileged ones. In fact, pretty much the only time you read about a minority person being killed is when it is by a white person. And that is racist; not against whites but minorities. Because we treat minority crimes as inconsequential compared to those that happen in our sheltered burbs.

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