Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The rush to judgment in the Trayvon Martin shooting: it's not just, but we should be asking what fuels it

George Zimmerman is in hiding, fearful of the death threats lobbed his way in the wake of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin that has gripped the nation. And we still don't know all the facts.
Director Spike Lee retweeted to his 240,000 followers an address he thought was George Zimmerman's. The message said “feel free to reach out and touch him [Zimmerman].”  As if that wasn't bad enough, it turns out Lee publicized the wrong address. The couple who actually live there -- a 70-year-old school-cafeteria lunch lady with a heart condition and her 72-year-old husband -- have received hate mail, unwanted visits from reporters, and fearful inquiries from neighbors. To keep themselves from harm, they have temporarily moved to a hotel. And we still don't know all the facts.
Dozens of North Miami Beach teens left school to protest the Trayvon Martin case and stormed the aisles of a drug store, damaging merchandise. And we still don't know all the facts.
It is a noble impulse to be outraged when a perpetrator targets a victim because of his or her perceived membership in a certain social group. It is neither just nor noble to assume that such targeting occurred before we have all the facts.

The rush to judgment among some prominent voices on the left assumes George Zimmerman is responsible for a terrible hate crime, and that isn't fair to Mr. Zimmerman. He hasn't even been charged, much less been afforded the due process to which all Americans are entitled.  This is not a defense of Mr. Zimmerman; it is a defense of a sacrosanct Constitutional process being short-circuited by assumptions and rage.
On the other hand, some prominent conservative voices want to label it all a tragedy exploited by race-baiting pimps and leave it at that. They are unwilling to entertain the possibility that the black community's rage in this case might be fueled by an otherwise valid perception that, in general, innocent black men too often are presumed guilty by a racially biased criminal justice system.
Responsible voices should insist that the black community's rage is, at best, premature in this particular case. And while we await the facts in this case, our time would be well spent better understanding that rage, which chronically seethes just beneath the surface, and honestly ponder what's behind it.