Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Tragedy of Ignorance

This weekend several cities witnessed large demonstrations against the acquittal of George Zimmerman for second degree murder and manslaughter. Many demonstrators held posters or wore clothing recalling  the late Trayvon Martin. Although demonstrators kept it peaceful, the chant of "no justice no peace" certainly implies the threat of violence if they do not get what they want. Emotions running high appear to be the theme of the day.

Indeed, Trayvon Martin supporters have been fueled by emotion from the beginning. And that is understandable. Whenever a young person loses his life violently, we all share an immediate intuitive reaction that justice must be served--that someone must pay.

The justice system weights evidence however, not intuitions and emotions. When evidence about what actually happened emerges in a trial, it often fails to affirm those intuitions and emotions about the events. Many of us accept the verdict, however uneasy that may be. In an interview with Anderson Cooper, juror B-37 (here and here) apparently experienced this difficulty. She talked about the emotional strain of wanting the give the Martin family the verdict that they desire but feeling powerless to do so because of the law and the evidence.

Others seemed to have had their intuitions and emotions affirmed--not by evidence--but by racial bomb throwers like Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and Benjamin Jealous--along with their fluffers in the mainstream media. Our ever meddling President Barack Obama, joined in as well. They told the story of an innocent teen trying only to make his way back home after a visit to a local convenience store. They made Martin's hoody, Arizona drink, and skittles into a powerful symbols of youthful innocence.

In contrast, their narrative portrayed George Zimmerman not as a neighborhood watch volunteer looking out for the safety of the community, but as a "wanna be cop"  driven by malevolent intent. Zimmerman's suspicions about Martin revealed his racism--not his conscientious citizenship. Zimmerman profiled, stalked, and  killed Trayvon Martin.

The trial should have caused a reassessment of this narrative. The crucial evidence originated from the prosecution.  Jurors ( and any television viewers who cared to pay attention) learned that instead of hurrying back to the apartment of his father's girlfriend,  Martin decided to wait for  Zimmerman. Martin knocked Zimmerman to the ground. A witness residing in the complex heard the commotion and called 911. He testified that he saw Martin standing over Zimmerman repeatedly punching him. Once Martin made the decision to face Zimmerman, he no longer was a teen just trying to get home.

This crucial testimony moved the narrative of Martin supporters  not a whit. Progressive pundits on CNN, MSNBC, the Huffington Post, continue to describe the tragedy as the cold blooded murder of an innocent child simply trying to make his way home. Often the pundits eased into a discussion of Florida's "stand your ground laws," which neither the prosecution nor the defense introduced into the trial at all. If viewers did not know better, they would conclude that trial had not yet taken place.

These themes appear prominently in the mass demonstrations that have followed. Prominent among the messages from demonstrators signs are hoodies, skittles, racism, profiling and stand your ground. For demonstrators, too, the evidence failed to affirm their intuitions and emotions about the case, so they ignore it. Instead, they

More demonstrations are planned for this weekend. And more displays of ignorance.

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