A jury verdict in a criminal case is determined by facts and evidence presented in a courtroom under strict rules, and with important limitations on what can be said or considered so as to protect the constitutional rights of the accused. Whether you like the George Zimmerman verdict or not, it was under these circumstances that he was acquitted, and this same system has been protecting people from wrongful conviction for more than two centuries.
The verdict of public opinion, by contrast, comes about as a result of things said and heard with almost nothing to ensure accuracy or fairness.
That’s how you end up with a six-person jury unanimously coming to one conclusion, while large segments of the public come to another. The media presented a particular spin on what happened between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, and even now media commentators who surely did not sit and watch the entire trial (and full disclosure, I watched almost none of it), are passing judgment on the verdict and on what it means.
The media chose to obsess over the killing of Trayvon Martin and the trial of George Zimmerman because the trial fit a racial narrative they like to promote. They turned the trial into a political conflict, and I was sorry to see that people on both sides of the ideological divide played to type — rooting for “their guy” as if Martin and Zimmerman were proxies for American liberalism and conservatism respectively.
That was a shame because the facts in any criminal case are always complex, and while you may feel an emotional stake in a particular outcome, it is an important aspect of our system that we protect the rights of the accused such that certain facts must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
The media’s continued insistence on fanning the flames of resentment — all based on emotion, hearsay, and spin — could have real and potentially tragic consequences. Already, the U.S. Department of Justice says it is looking for a way to charge Zimmerman with a federal crime, obviously in an attempt to respond to public opinion. That should never be a factor in a decision to charge a person with a crime, but in this case it looks to be the only factor.
One editorialist wrote on Sunday that George Zimmerman deserves to have no peace for the rest of his life. Did that writer consider the possibility that his words could give license to some angry person to physically attack, or even kill, this man? Is that a rational or responsible way of responding to the verdict of a jury?
The Martin family deserves credit for urging people to behave responsibly regardless of the verdict. The same cannot be said for Al Sharpton and his media colleagues who did everything they could to undercut such sober appeals and stir black people up.
I don’t know if the facts of the case justified an acquittal or not. I did not follow the case that closely. Some expected an all-female jury to be inclined toward conviction, but these six women showed that the facts, not emotion, were what guided their decision.
Surely the media are continuing to stir this up for any number of reasons. They love to play up racial conflict. And they would surely rather talk about this than about the many scandals of the Obama administration. But it is the height of irresponsibility to stir up public opinion when most of the public — and most of those reporting on the case — did not watch the trial and don’t understand the facts.
Like it or not, the justice system was designed to work as it did here, and the same protections enjoyed by George Zimmerman have been employed to protect many innocent black defendants throughout the course of this nation’s history. If the media cannot understand that, those who do need to call them out. It is the decision of the court, not the sentiments of public opinion, that matter.
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