On Spiraling into Chaos

The trial of George Zimmerman is now over, and there are perhaps a few things we can learn from the whole sorry mess. Perhaps.

In the aftermath of this trial, we clearly have a highly polarized society. On the one hand, we have those who believe that a young and unarmed black man was targeted and killed simply because of his race, and who believe the “not guilty” verdict is therefore a travesty. On the other hand, we have those who believe that he was a young black man up to no good, and that he was the aggressor in his fatal encounter with Zimmerman. They were relieved at the verdict.

The reason we even have trials is so that we have a ordered substitute for what such polarized societies would do in the absence of trials. What they would do is fight, riot and kill. In advanced cases of this pathology, they go to war over such things. The function of trials is to dampen the ardor of factions, crowds, and lynch mobs, not to inflame them. The irony is that Trayvon is now being compared to genuine lynch mob victims, and the comparison is being made by crowds outside the courthouse, away from the evidence presented in a rule-guided setting, but nevertheless demanding the conviction of an individual for political reasons.

That is what a lynch mob is — a large group of people who have not thoughtfully weighed the evidence in a dispassionate setting, but who are consumed with the righteousness of their cause, and who demand a conviction that will consequently satisfy them. Lynch mobs get away with what they do because they are popular. It takes courage to stand up to a lynch mentality, and it takes courage because the current of opinion runs heavily against the accused. When whites were doing this to blacks a few generations ago, it took courage for a white man to stand up to them. Why did it take courage? The same reason it would take courage now. The color of the jerseys can change, but people are always people, and the game is the same one. I draw your attention to a Far Side cartoon that might help us understand this.

Wait Wait Sheep

Whenever someone is tried and acquitted, as Zimmerman has been, it is beyond offensive to continue to orchestrate political pressure in order to keep trying him until we find a venue that will give us the “right answer.” Our double jeopardy protections are there for a good reason, and the right of a convicted man to appeal, while restricting the right of a defeated prosecutor to do so, is grounded in biblical law. It is of the highest order of importance that political passions be kept out of the courtroom.

From the beginning, this sad and unhappy episode was force-fit into a preexisting narrative, and the longer those efforts went, the more lame they became. But because people on both sides don’t always think carefully, some sympathetic to Zimmerman don’t realize that there is a grounded reason for the pent-up frustration. It doesn’t come from nowhere. The fact that this particular incident did not fit the preexisting narrative does not mean that such a narrative is itself mythical. I am confident that many of my black brothers can tell me of numerous times when they were pulled over for “driving while black.” How to handle that kind of thing is the conversation that Al Mohler has never had to have with his son.

For myself, I believe the Zimmerman was kind of hyper, and showed very poor judgment in going out of the house to check on Martin with a loaded gun. But being hyper is not first degree murder, and showing poor judgment is not racism. I am grateful he was acquitted, not because I want him to be the guy to organize and run the Neighborhood Watch where I live, but because I care deeply for the rule of law. Trials matter, and juries should be honored — particularly this jury. I am also grateful that Martin’s parents called for the protests to be peaceful, and I am grateful for that for the same reasons — respect for the rule of law, and a desire to avoid the kind of behavior that will cause us all to spiral into chaos.

Polarized societies want to push toward a simple binary world, where the variables are open and shut, black and white, this or that, our team or their team. But the real world is far more complicated than that. Some have argued that Trayvon would not have aroused Zimmerman’s suspicions in the first place if he had been white. That is quite possible. But I would also argue that he would not have aroused Zimmerman’s suspicions if he had been black, and was walking through that neighborhood in a jacket and tie. And it is equally true that a young white male is fully capable of decking himself out in a way that would arouse the suspicions of every sane person. Skin color is not the only thing going on. You have factors of age, sex, the music pumped out of his car as he pulled up, dress, gang tattoos, behavior . . . and yes, race.

Because of the nature of the question, I am not going to ask for a show of hands here, but I am going to ask you to be brutally honest with yourself. You don’t have to tell anybody how you answered this thought experiment. You are the owner of a jewelry shop in a city, the kind of shop that has bars on the windows, and a buzzer lock to let people in on a case-by-case basis. It is five minutes until closing and a solitary individual shows up at the door. Do you buzz them in? You might say, it depends. Great. On what? Be honest, and whatever your answer is, be sure that you stop condemning others for doing in public what you would do in private.

One of the most insightful tweets I read on this was to the effect that we had a situation where a Hispanic killed a black man, and was acquitted by a jury of all women, and the whole thing is somehow the fault of white men. That is what a cultural breakdown looks like, and that is a threat to all of us.

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Mark Russell
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Mark Russell

Sorry but I cannot really read the cartoon on the cup. Not sure if that helps or hurts your point.

Jon Swerens
Member

What the cup says in this Far Side comic is “Wait! Wait! Listen to me! … We don’t HAVE to be just sheep!”

kyriosity
Member

A legible version of the cartoon, for those of us with aging eyes: http://trewblog.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/cartoon_more_than_sheep_c.jpg

Doug Shuffield
Guest
Doug Shuffield

“Wait! Wait! Listen to me! …
We don’t’ HAVE to be just sheep!”

Michael A. Coughlin
Guest

good points. minor edit: paragraph 2

reason we even have trials is so that we have a ordered substitute

reason we even have trials is so that we have an ordered substitute

Jim Upchurch
Guest
Jim Upchurch

Wouldn’t the more applicable question be: if you see this solitary person walking by your jewelry store, do you load your gun and proceed to follow him?

Matt
Guest
Matt

Love this piece. But I’d diverge slightly on the following: . . . (and to be fair, I think this may merely be quibbling over wording (but for the sake of clarity), because far as I can tell, the following is consistent with the overall piece) . . . Pastor Doug said . . . “But because people on both sides don’t always think carefully, some sympathetic to Zimmerman don’t realize that there is a grounded reason for the pent-up frustration” There certainly is an historical reason for *some* pent-up frustration – i.e. Jim Crow society and it’s accoutrements (and… Read more »

Matt
Guest
Matt

Uh, I don’t know what happened to my formatting above. It was a cut and paste. My apologies.

RFB
Guest
RFB

Pastor Wilson, In as fraternal fashion as I can and sincerely want to, I think that an examination of the facts of the case lead to a different conclusion than that GZ went “out of the house to check on Martin with a loaded gun”. I think that what the facts showed is that GZ was returning from an errand when he first saw TM, who he described as suspicious, not based upon his appearance but upon his behavior (not keeping to the sidewalks, walking up close to the residences, appearing to be looking into the residences). Knowing that you… Read more »

RFB
Guest
RFB

Pastor, One more brief comment, regarding Al Mohler’s rendition of “A smiling 17-year-old boy”. There is a lot of information that shows that to be an incorrect description of TM, even in TM’s self-description. I will refrain from posting any of it because it tends to be inflammatory, but nonetheless it does project something very different than “A smiling 17-year-old boy”. Now I was once 17, and extremely stupid and so I get that some at 17 have less going on than a bag of hammers. God was and continues to be very merciful to me. Nonetheless, if I walk… Read more »

Jane
Member

“On the other hand, we have those who believe that he was a young black man up to no good, and that he was the aggressor in his fatal encounter with Zimmerman. ” Can I be Tevye and have a third hand? I think a lot of people (yours truly included) believe that Zimmerman had a plausible story, the prosecution failed to prove otherwise, and therefore justice required that he be acquitted (cf. the Bible’s requirement of establishing a matter on the basis of testimony.) I don’t “believe” that Martin was the aggressor, because I have no information on which… Read more »

Jane
Member

“Wouldn’t the more applicable question be: if you see this solitary person walking by your jewelry store, do you load your gun and proceed to follow him? ” Actually, even more applicable: If you see this solitary person walking by your jewelry store, and you have agreed with your neighbors to check on and report suspicious activity, and you already have your gun on you, would you follow him?” People who carry guns don’t just pick them up in certain circumstances, they generally “carry” in any situation where they are not banned. That he might unnecessarily have tagged Martin is… Read more »

Matt
Guest
Matt

False accusations are sinful, but false suspicion is not necessarily sinful. It can be sinful in certain circumstances, such as when it’s a product of some sort of unbiblical animus – and in lieu of facts justifying suspicion. But having reason to consider mal-intent, and being mistaken about it – is no sin at all in and of itself.

Jane
Member

Matt, I agree — a false suspicion if it is based on an uncharitable animus is sinful, but a false suspicion based on a misapprehension of the situation or lack of information could be an innocent mistake. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to clarify. What I meant was that, at most, a false suspicion could be sinful, but is neither criminal nor forms evidence of criminal intent.

Joshua
Guest
Joshua

Interestingly, Ann Althouse had a theory while the trial was ongoing, and which is coming back up with the recent interview of the ‘girlfriend’ (who wasn’t really) Rachel Jeantel. Read it here:

http://www.althouse.blogspot.com/2013/07/i-told-you-this-3-weeks-ago-but-drudge.html

If she’s right (and seems plausible) then this really was a presumed gay-bashing situation. That ought to cause some short-circuiting in certain heads.

RFB
Guest
RFB

Reasonable suspicion is, within the law enforcement profession, a term that has substantial meaning. It is based upon the totality of the circumstances, and is not really objective. It is based upon what a person with similar education, training and experience, with the same information available to him, would think of the event transpiring in front of him. For clarification, there is what is known as a “Terry Stop”, referring to Terry v. Ohio 392 U.S. 1 (1968) A Terry Stop is a brief detention of a person on reasonable suspicion of involvement in criminal activity. It does not require… Read more »

Robert
Guest
Robert

If George Zimmerman had been named Jorge Zapata, we wouldn’t have heard of this case. Since WW2, Americans have been conditioned to think anything German must be suspected of racism. When we first hear this case, we hear that a White man with a German name has killed a Black teenager. Later we are told that this person is Hispanic. Even later, we see a picture of him. Okay, his skin is Brownish. OVER A YEAR LATER we see pictures of Zimmerman’s injuries. Media played this for ratings. Most of his critics never got passed the German name.

Robert
Guest
Robert

If you think my argument about German Americans is too simplistic, do a mental excercise. Think of something positive about German american. Then think something negative about German Americans. Which were you able to think of, faster.

Alonoz "Zo" Thomas
Guest
Alonoz "Zo" Thomas

God help us all.

Fredericka
Guest

RFB, correct me if I’m wrong, because I didn’t follow the trial, but George Zimmerman followed a pedestrian slowly with his vehicle, then when the pedestrian hid to evade him, stopped his vehicle and went searching for him. This was in a crime prone area, and at no time did Mr. Zimmerman identify himself as a Neighborhood Watch volunteer, nor was his vehicle marked. Cartoonists showed him wearing a clearly marked ‘Neighborhood Watch’ cap and t-shirt; would that it were so, then Mr. Martin would have understood what the nature of his business was and why he was so interested… Read more »

Alonzo "Zo" Thomas
Guest
Alonzo "Zo" Thomas
RFB
Guest
RFB

Fredericka, Respectfully, your recitation is incorrect. 1. This was GZ’s residential neighborhood; he was enroute home from an errand when he first saw TM. His first notice of TM was behaviorally based: a 6 foot plus male loitering around houses off of the sidewalk, peering into windows, in the dark and rain. 2. His reflexive response was to call the police. As a general rule, law abiding citizens call for law enforcement assistance when faced with suspicious circumstances. This is exactly what GZ did. 3. While on the phone with the police he described the person that he saw, and… Read more »

CeeCee
Guest
CeeCee

RFB, you place a lot of faith in the testimony of GZ.

RFB
Guest
RFB

I also wanted to make a final comment regarding the idea that citizens should somehow not intervene in law enforcement action or crime prevention. That idea flies in the face of both law and historic law enforcement philosophy. It is not “taking the law into your own hands”. The law already belongs to you. That law enforcement officers exist does not remove the authority or responsibility from citizens to uphold the law. Sir Robert Peel is often referred to as the “father” of modern policing. A famous quote from him underscores the principal of citizen involvement: “The police are the… Read more »

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

Knowing that we already have proven examples of Zimmerman lying to the police (when he falsified his bank account information in order to hide funds for bail processes), it’s rather stunning to see people like RFB still holding such faith in Zimmerman’s tale. When the case went to jury, 3 of the 6 women voted that Zimmerman was guilty of murder, having already seen all the evidence. The other 3 appear to have had stronger personalities or better rhetorical abilities, but to say that he was proven innocent is going to far. They were not able to prove him guilty,… Read more »

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

“6. GZ was returning to his vehicle, (he had walked a short distance to another street to get the exact street name for the dispatcher from the street sign) when he was attacked by surprise by TM.” Unless someone is able to provide good reasoning to the contrary, that point especially is almost impossible to believe. It was Zimmerman’s OWN neighborhood, which he’s lived in for years, and there are only 3 streets in the whole subdivision. How could he not know what street he was on, and if he really didn’t know, then how could he not figure it… Read more »

Alonzo "Zo" Thomas
Guest
Alonzo "Zo" Thomas
RFB
Guest
RFB

GZ’s neighborhood is a “planned” community with tortuous streets and not many intersections, so it has a dearth of street signs. That coupled with the verified fact that the streets had been recently renamed yielded ignorance regarding the address for the requested police response. “The other 3 appear to have had stronger personalities or better rhetorical abilities, but to say that he was proven innocent is going to far.” Two points: “appear to have had stronger personalities or better rhetorical abilities” Speculation sir. Equally as plausible is that initial thoughts were changed after a thorough and categorical review of the… Read more »

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

RFB, you can view the map of the neighborhood online. It is not “tortuous” The reason there is a “dearth” of street signs is because it is a small community and there are only 3 streets. By Zimmerman’s own account of where he first encountered Martin and where he killed him, he had just driven through (and turned at) the community’s main intersection, right next to the front entrance. That intersection has street signs posted. He was less than 100 yards past that intersection when he stopped the SUV and got out. Strangely, the direction in which Martin’s body was… Read more »

Jane
Member

“The other 3 appear to have had stronger personalities or better rhetorical abilities, but to say that he was proven innocent is going to far.” Why is the possibility that they effectively persuaded with good and true arguments not among one of your “appearances?” I agree that Zimmerman’s story should not be given absolute authority, but any scenario that establishes his guilt relies on speculation as to which aspects of his story were untrue, and how, and what happened instead. For example, to say he lied about which direction he was moving, and why, because he claimed not to know… Read more »

Jane
Member

Ugh, until this paragraph thing gets fixed, we need to remember katecho’s trick of putting……to designate breaks.

KJQ
Guest
KJQ

George Zimmerman passed a polygraph test the day after Martin died, and his recorded statement was run by a voice stress analysis expert and so his version of the events were deemed to be a truthful account. While neither test was admissible in court, the results do mean we have every reason to believe his account, just like the detectives, Chief of Police, and District Attorney did – hence no charges until politics came into the picture and the Governor ordered a special prosecutor to charge and try him. The mainstream media constantly portrayed Martin (using a picture of him… Read more »

Fredericka
Guest

a.) “When TM left GZ’s area of visibility. . .” i.e., fled; b.) “TM was no longer to be seen. . .” i.e., he had retreated; c.) “TM initiated a criminal act as soon as he touched GZ.” RFB, I don’t see how c.) follows from a.) and b.) Kindly note, all I’m accusing Mr. Zimmerman of is negligence in failing to identify himself, negligence resulting in Mr. Martin’s death. Ignore for the moment Mr. Zimmerman’s stated reasons for acting as he did, from Mr. Martin’s standpoint, it looks like Mr. Zimmerman is stalking him. Why would not a reasonable… Read more »

Robert
Guest
Robert

Jonathan, some people don’t have androd phomes such as me. Sometimes, even if you do, there is no guarantee he know how to use that app or that the thought to use that app would cross his mind.

Frank Golubski
Guest
Frank Golubski

Fredericka,

I have not closely followed the case. But by GZ’s account, he lost track of TM, then headed back to his car, when TM verbally challenged him. GZ keeping an eye in TM wasn’t illegal (or even sinful). TM verbally challenging GZ (“what the f___ is your problem?!” or somesuch) was neither illegal nor sinful.

But I’d bet that popping GZ in the nose, knocking him to the ground, straddling his chest, bashing his head against the concrete, and then threatening to kill him meet the requirements for justifiable use of deadly force in any jurisdiction in the country.

M B
Guest
M B

“all I’m accusing Mr. Zimmerman of is negligence in failing to identify himself”

So failing to identify himself, something I rarely, if ever do while walking in my own neighborhood, means he deserved to be jumped and beaten?

” it looks like Mr. Zimmerman is stalking him.”
Zimmerman WAS stalking him, because TM was acting suspiciously.

“both these individuals have the same right to self-defense”
Attacking someone who is following you is not self-defense.

RFB
Guest
RFB

This will be my last post regarding this, so I wanted to reiterate a few points, as well as general principle. Starting with the principle, regardless of emotions to the contrary, GZ has been justified. Think about that word; it is a forensic legal declaration that we should all be familiar with, and thankful for. A formal accusation in the form of a charge was levied, the case was tried, and GZ was found not guilty. He has been forensically justified; his presumption of innocence remains. Anyone arguing against that is arguing against reality. Anyone who accuses GZ of lying… Read more »

Fredericka
Guest

“Please get this straight: as soon as TM touched GZ, that was a crime.” Hi RFB. I see, repeatedly asserting it will make it so. Thank you for explaining that. It seems to me Mr. Zimmerman got away with manslaughter. It’s a shame the jurors who wanted that did not stick to their guns. His negligence led to a man’s death. Mr. Martin, realizing he was being followed, first attempted to flee. Under this state’s ‘Stand your Ground’ law, he does not actually have to do that. When he then jumps Mr. Zimmerman, he is not ‘assaulting’ him, he is… Read more »

Fredericka
Guest

“Zimmerman WAS stalking him. . .”

Hi M B, I agree Mr. Zimmerman was stalking Mr. Martin. Depending on the circumstances, –remember, this is a neighborhood with a crime problem, and it’s a dark night — that might frighten the stalking victim.

Fredericka
Guest

Hi Frank. Ultimately, Mr. Zimmerman BELIEVED Mr. Martin was a threat to his life. Although Mr. Martin had inflicted no life-threatening injuries, Mr. Zimmerman BELIEVED he would do so in the near future. What did Mr. Martin BELIEVE Mr. Zimmerman intended to do to him? We’ll never know, because dead men tell no tales. He did, however, have rational grounds for expecting trouble.

Frank Golubski
Guest
Frank Golubski

Fredericka, you write: “Mr. Martin, realizing he was being followed, first attempted to flee. Under this state’s ‘Stand your Ground’ law, he does not actually have to do that. When he then jumps Mr. Zimmerman, he is not ‘assaulting’ him, he is not committing a felony, he is defending himself.” Any thoughts on how TM’s “attempt to flee” ended with him verbally confronting GZ when GZ was heading back to his car? Additionally, “stand-your-ground law states that a person may justifiably use force in self-defense when there is reasonable belief of an unlawful threat, without an obligation to retreat first”… Read more »

Fredericka
Guest

Hi Frank. According to Mr. Zimmerman’s own account (I’m basically believing Mr. Zimmerman’s account, out of lack of information to the contrary, though the prosecutor thought his account impossible), Mr. Martin’s first response upon noticing that Mr. Zimmerman was following him was to attempt to get away, an effort which Mr. Zimmerman countered. Would that Mr. Martin had persevered in attempting to flee, he’d still be alive today. As far as verbally confronting him, Mr. Zimmerman disdained to notice this request for Mr. Zimmerman to explain himself, though his threatening and suspicious actions did require explanation. In the stated terms… Read more »

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

KJQ – there are obvious reasons that polygraph tests are inadmissible in court. They are junk science (https://antipolygraph.org/lie-behind-the-lie-detector.pdf). Voice stress analysis tests are considered even less reliable, not more. And there were only two shooting-related questions in the test that he passed, both with a ton of wiggle-room for Zimmerman to convince a tester that he “believed” he didn’t confront Martin, or that he “thought” his life was in danger, whether or not those statements were objectively true at the time: “Did you confront the guy you shot?” the tester asked. “No,” Zimmerman responded. “Were you in fear for your… Read more »

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

Also, KJQ, there are a dozen different false statements in that account you just made. Let’s start with the fact that the medical examiner said that Trayvon Martin’s height at time of death was 5’11” and his weight was 158 pounds. Nowhere NEAR the 6’4″, 220 pound scary man you’re portraying him to be. About 2/3 of the rest of your claims are equally false. I doubt that you’re a liar yourself, but you’ve been listening to liars.

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

RFB – George Zimmerman already proved himself to be a liar in at least some instances, by falsifying his financial situation for bail purposes. That wasn’t just a spur-of-the-moment lie to keep himself out of jail, but a carefully planned series of lies, with code words included, that were intended to hide his finances from the court. So no, I have no problem calling into question aspects of his account that are NOT supported by any evidence other than his own self-preserving claims.

Samuel
Guest
Samuel

Well, after reading this on National Review Online http://www.nationalreview.com/article/354042/neighborhood-zimmerman-watched-ian-tuttle?splash=

It seems that George Z. is EXACTLY the kind of Neighborhood Watch Leader you would want. But without all the facts, it is easy to just say he was a hyper guy with a loaded gun.

Ed Darrell
Guest

We shouldn’t keep the pressure on for justice? You don’t remember the kids killed in Birmingham, Alabama? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/16th_Street_Baptist_Church_bombing Did we learn anything from Emmett Till? http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/till/ Are we really saying this wasn’t important, because the speaker played the race card? http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/resources/article/annotated_letter_from_birmingham/ Justice Roberts thinks we’re in a post-racism society? Oh, then you’re saying it’s not just black kids who are at risk — but all kids who now cannot walk their own neighborhoods? Open season on children? No, thank you: The jury was right in the case of John Peter Zenger, but the jury decision was not right in the… Read more »

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

At least one juror still believes that Zimmerman committed 2nd-degree murder. In the end, the other jurors convinced her that though he may have, there just wasn’t enough evidence to convict.

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

Here is the link from Fox News with the juror stating that Zimmerman got away with murder:

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/07/26/zimmerman-trial-juror-says-owes-martin-parents-apology/

your relative
Guest
your relative

Great post, Uncle Doug! Level-headed and honest