Beware All Those in Whom the Urge to Punish Is Strong – George Zimmerman and Justice
“Everyone deserves a good defense,” people have been writing in response to these final moments of the George Zimmerman murder trial. “Making sure everyone accused of a crime has access to the best defense possible is the strength of American justice,” they’ve been writing. As slogans, such sentiments seem above reproach.
In practice … it’s a lot more complicated. “Everyone” DOESN’T have access to the best defense possible — and neither would George Zimmerman except for a massivinvole, right-wing-fueled fundraising campaign that has traded in racism and Tea Party terror in order to funnel a cool half million Mark O’Mara and Don West’s way.
So arguing that Zimmerman’s defense demonstrates the success of American justice strikes me as cynical at worse and willfully ignorant of context at best.
And, while “the right to a good defense” may be a strength of our legal system, we can only wonder what might have happened if Zimmerman had gone the route of the good, old-fashioned “admit what you did and face the consequences” rather than insisting on costing the taxpayers of Sanford nearly another million for his trial. I’d wager the state would have accepted a plea of manslaughter to stay out of court.
My prediction is that Zimmerman is either going to get manslaughter or will be acquitted, and I’m leaning toward the latter. His “good defense” has taken the normal doubt that exists when there are no direct eyewitnesses and when the victim isn’t around to testify, and they’ve magnified it with magician’s tricks until it seems reasonable.
The only consolation, and that cannot be the right word, is that George Zimmerman’s life is a ruin. When he first laid eyes on Trayvon Martin, Zimmerman was certain he was in the right and that the reality he saw — an “F-ing punk,” as he put it — was the only reality possible. That inexorable conviction, that relentless us/them, which had already condemned him to live in a tiny, troubled world, waited only to be acted out. In the moment before Zimmerman decided to get out of his car, a Greek chorus of tragedy wailed, but Zimmerman could never have heard it.
O’Mara says Zimmerman will “never be safe again.” I doubt that’s true. But he’s never going to be free of suffering — whether he lives in a real prison or in the one he built for himself out of home-grown American infallibility. Small-minded distrust of others, the overwhelming desire to ingratiate oneself to authority, and the odor of jingoistic sanctity make for strong bars.
Whether or not Zimmerman is found legally guilty, he is morally and ethically guilty. He knows it and, even if he walks “free,” he will have to live with that.
Unfortunately, so will the rest of us.