Sympathy for the Devil — 2 April 2012

Who knows what happened to Trayvon Martin?  There are a few sparse facts, which far-from-disinterested parties have filled in with conjectures that fit their own preferred story lines.  Here is a good summary of what is known and what is not, courtesy of the Seattle Times.

There were several witnesses, but so far none who have been certain enough of what transpired on that dark, rainy night to answer the key question: who started the fight?  The most tantalizing detail is that during at least one 911 call to the police, the scuffle can be heard in the background with someone yelling for help, but it’s difficult to say whether that was Martin or George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch captain who admits to shooting him.   The yelling stopped after the gun went off.

The Orlando Sentinel asked two audio experts to evaluate the recording, and they both said it was unlikely that it was Zimmerman who was calling for help.  At the same time, the first officer on the scene wrote in his report that  ‘I overheard him state [to the medics from the Fire Department], ‘I was yelling for someone to help me, but no one would help me.”  The officer also noted blood on Zimmerman’s head and moisture and grass on his back, tending to corroborate his story that he had been attacked by Martin.

There are now at least three law enforcement agencies looking into this case, including the FBI.  My suggestion to all the pontificators out there looking to exploit this incident for their own purposes is to let the professionals do their job.  I am certain, however, that they won’t.

This is very dangerous.  In the first place, it turns a terrible incident into another story feeding black grievance.  George Zimmerman is an unlikely poster boy for racist profiling: he mentored black kids in his spare time, and is himself part-Hispanic.  Nevertheless, those with little patience for police procedures have concluded that the Sanford police declined to arrest him because of racist sentiment.  Was it?  Nobody on the outside of the case knows, but one can be sure that Eric Holder’s Justice Department will be unlikely to give such behavior a pass.

Nevertheless, this has given certain provocateurs an excuse for very dangerous actions.  The New Black Panther party has issued a $10,000 bounty for a “citizen’s arrest” of Zimmerman, claiming that if the Sanford police won’t do their job the NBP will.  One wonders what they will do with him if they find him – doubtful they will deliver him to the police.  No wonder Zimmerman is in hiding.

Then you have the disgraceful actions of Spike Lee, who mistakenly tweeted to his 250,000 Twitter followers an address supposed to be Zimmerman’s, and then repeated the mistake even though the elderly couple actually living at the address had no connection to him.  The terrorized couple had to move to a hotel until Lee tweeted an apology.  What in heaven’s name did he think he was accomplishing, even if the address was correct?

Frankly, I think President Obama’s intervention, while on a far higher plane, was of a similar nature.  The President said that, “if I had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin,” i.e., black.  The suggestion is that Martin’s race is at the heart of the issue, which gives validation to all those who want to make this another civil rights cause celebre.  What the President ought to do – if he ought to do anything, which is debatable – is focus on defusing public passions.  This is similar to his quick conclusion that the Cambridge Mass police had acted “stupidly” in their arrest of Henry Louis Gates in 2009.  Maybe he can’t help himself, but in revealing moments like this he shows he is not the post-racial politician he claimed to be.

Next, the public declamations raise the risk of a predetermined “right” outcome to the case.  When Al Sharpton and his like step up to the microphone and start hollering for “justice” for Trayvon Martin, the very first thing that happens is that public objectivity goes out the window.  “Justice” will not require a fair trial, but a “just” result; and if Zimmerman is not found guilty, the risk of riots grows increasingly high.

There are two larger stories here that this tragedy ought to highlight.  First is the growing use of the “stand your ground” laws under which Zimmerman has been allowed to claim self-defense.  In a change to earlier laws that imposed on would-be victims the duty to stand down rather than defend themselves, these laws allow people to defend themselves with deadly force.

This is probably an appropriate return to balance away from the situation where the criminal has all the power and the victim’s only course is to be victimized and then call the police to catch the perp.  But the boundaries have not been well-established, and this might very well be a case that examines the issue more closely.  That would be a good thing.

The other larger story, which has been completely ignored in all the noise-making about justice for Trayvon Martin, is that black kids are killed by the dozens every week in our cities, mostly by other black kids, and it barely rates a mention on the back pages.  A few commentators, including Rich Lowry and Juan Williams, have brought this up, but it has not lit up the public scoreboards like the Trayvon Martin case.

Why, one wonders?  How can Al Sharpton charge up to the microphones every time he has a chance to bring back the old charges from the ’60’s, and he never makes a similar effort to address the far worse problem of societal suicide in black people’s own neighborhoods?  If he really wanted to save the lives of African-American youth, he would devote his considerable talents to drawing attention to the pathologies rampant in our inner cities.

Sadly, he would probably get far less air time if he did.  Outrage and charges of racism are catnip to the media.  Indeed, NBC doctored Zimmerman’s own 911 call to make it sound like he was pursuing Martin because he was black, rather than because he looked suspicious.  The facts were not quite supportive, but the network decided the story had to be told.

It is probably to be expected, sadly, that in this country the purveyors of outrage would hijack this case for their own purposes.  I do hope Trayvon Martin gets justice.  I just hope George Zimmerman gets justice as well.

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