Over at The American Interest, the inestimable Walter Russell Mead offers a sober assessment of the Zimmerman trial and verdict, placing it in historical, social and racial context.
Even so, as racial drama, the Zimmerman trial was at best second-rate. Atticus Finch wasn’t in the courtroom and no great principles were at stake in the sense that they were in Plessy vs. Ferguson orBrown vs. Board of Education. It was a haunting criminal case about the tragic and needless death of a teen aged boy, but it turned on ‘he-said’ ‘she-said’ and probable cause. America’s racial status quo wouldn’t have been affected if Mr. Zimmerman had been convicted; it won’t be changed by his acquittal.
Most of what the trial ‘taught’ us is what we already know. Many blacks and whites see the criminal justice system and much else in quite different terms. The presence of large numbers of immigrants from parts of the hemisphere where traditional American racial categories don’t apply very well is slowly blurring racial lines here. The relationship between African-Americans and ‘Hispanics’ is getting more complex and in some ways more tense. President Obama has lost control of the country’s race narrative. African American leaders like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton aren’t what they used to be. Class lines in America threaten to become more important, and as that happens, African Americans who are both black and poor find themselves increasingly alienated from whites in general and upper middle class and elite blacks. Florida is a mess.
All this was evident before the trial; nothing that happened at the trial changed any of it.
Nobody really knows or can know if the verdict in the trial is justice for either Trayvon Martin or George Zimmerman. Procedurally the trial seemed fair, and enough unbiased observers predicted this outcome that it is hard to call it a surprise. Law and justice don’t always point in the same direction; the state had to meet a tough standard and in the view of the jury, it failed.
The level of emotion generated by this case is off the charts, and misses the very salient point that the law is, and must be blind to those emotions. Trials are duels of evidence. George Zimmerman, under our system, was innocent and remains so. The state had the burden to prove it otherwise, and failed miserably from get-go. I still think this trial should never have happend, based on the evidence at the time. Sanford PD, in my humble opinion, got it right the first time. But the State of Florida bowed to incredible political pressure, and was forced to hack together a dog's breakfast of a show trial. That, as we have seen, turned into a disaster of epic proportions.