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July 21st 2013 print

Peter Smith

Obama whistles up a lynch mob

How would the US President have reacted if he had encountered Trayvon Martin on a dark night?



Too many people are mugs. When you think about, it’s best to keep a low profile lest they turn on you in their ignorance as, say, they turned on Lindy Chamberlain. In the United States vigils are being held to protest against the not-guilty verdict brought down in the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case, and to call for Zimmerman to be tried again under federal civil rights law.


I was privy to the most awful rot passing for intelligent comment and conversation, from people who should know better, when news of the case first broke in Australia. Even now, with the trial over and Zimmerman rightly acquitted of all charges, you could be forgiven for thinking a grave injustice had been done if you listened to most media accounts of the verdict, including on our own ABC. It all goes along the lines of the unarmed Martin being shot down. Who could ever defend that? Well, in this case, blind justice can.

In the United States under Obama and his attorney general, Eric Holder, ignorance and mob leaders, like Al Sharpton, appear to be calling the shots. “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago”, the President said the other day. You might recall his earlier comment immediately after the tragedy came to light that Martin could have been his son. He supports the protests and vigils though, of course, he doesn’t want violence to “dishonour” Martin’s death. The mind would boggle if we hadn’t all had our expectations of our leaders’ integrity and common sense lowered over recent years.

This is Sharpton: “We are not going to be silent, we’ll stand up for what’s right, we’ll stand up for justice. If you mess with one of the children, the family has to come in and protect them.” When racial division can be stoked let’s ignore the carnage each weekend of black youths killing other black youths in Chicago and in other the big cities.

George Zimmerman should never have been charged and would not have been without political invention. It was a show trial of the kind they run in despotic regimes. Thankfully a fair-minded jury could still be found (and an all-women one, which must be a big plus for womenfolk). What is the betting if things continue to go downhill at the current rate that such a jury could be found in, say, ten years’ time?

While only contempt is appropriate for rabble-rousers like Al Sharpton and the so-called superstar couple Jay Z and Beyonce who attended a Manhattan rally, liberal allowances have to be made for the feelings of Martin’s parents. We all understand that. But that doesn’t mean giving wide, unqualified and uncontested currency to their ill-considered statements.

“The death of my son, we believe, has to make changes in our society and repeal the laws that allow [someone] to kill somebody just because someone thinks he is suspect”.

Now there is no law which allows anybody to kill anybody else in these circumstances. The circumstances of Martin’s death were entirely consistent with Zimmerman’s account, which was accepted by the local authorities at the time in Sanford Florida. He had no case to answer.

There were no eye witnesses. Zimmerman was a Neighbourhood Watch volunteer in a gated community of mixed race. He was on patrol and thought the hooded Martin looked suspicious. Robberies had occurred within the community. Zimmerman followed Martin, at first in his vehicle and then on foot. He called the matter in and was told to cease following. According to Zimmerman, he discontinued the ‘pursuit’ and walked back to his vehicle. On his way back Martin approached him from a side street. Words were exchanged and Martin hit Zimmerman, breaking his nose. Martin got on top of Zimmerman and proceeded to bash his head against the road. Zimmerman drew his gun and shot Martin, who he said was attempting also to go for the gun. Martin had no injuries apart from the gunshot wound. Zimmerman had a broken nose and grazes to the back of his head. Contrary to the prejudicial and repeatedly shown photographs of Martin as a 14-year-old, he was 17 at the time and towered over the 29-year-old Zimmerman.

Zimmerman’s defence had nothing at all to do with Florida’s "stand your ground" law. It was a case of self defence – available to anyone, anywhere in the world of jurisprudence. The calls for reconsideration of the stand your ground law (admirably based on ‘an Englishman’s home is his castle’) is therefore irrelevant to the case. But why should you have to run away from (give your ground to) a criminal attacker when you have the means to defend yourself and your rightful position or property?

That this case was brought to trial was an absolute and unmitigated disgrace. Hopefully, Zimmerman will be able to seek some kind of compensation for wrongful arrest and trial, I don’t know; but his life has been potentially ruined and put at great risk. It shouldn’t have happened even in a banana republic.

Martin’s parents “seek a future when a child can walk down the street and not worry that others see him as dangerous because of the colour of his skin or the clothes on his back”. So do we all. Unfortunately, that is not the world we live in or will ever live in. Profiling is one of our essential self-protection mechanisms. I make no apologies, for example, for clothes profiling.

I would be much more wary of hooded white youths on a dark night than I would of a black man in a well-cut suit. Call me a clotheist if you like. The facts are that black youths in the US commit many more crimes and more violent crimes per head of population than do white youths. Profiling can be a problem, but as with most generalisations, it begins with substance before morphing into prejudice.

There is no answer. Not every problem has a solution. You cannot expect people to treat everyone equally no matter their appearance when the facts say that this would be dangerous. On the other hand, you should expect that objectivity rather than prejudice will prevail in the justice system. Objectivity took too long to assert itself for George Zimmerman.

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics