I was recently flying on a business trip when the passenger next to me struck up a conversation. Ultimately, it came around to the Zimmerman trial. I have no idea why she felt the need to discuss it. Perhaps because she was absolutely and completely petrified by air travel. Or because, as she told me, she has bi-racial children. Either way, she expressed her opinion that Zimmerman was ‘going down.’ She explained that sure, Trayvon had been in trouble at school. And sure, he had used marijuana. But her child had also used marijuana, so what? Furthermore, ‘that man shouldn’t have had a gun. And besides, if he isn’t’ convicted, there will be riots you know, just like with Rodney King!’
I told her I thought it was unfair that the case was tried in the media and certainly it would seem unfair if he were convicted only to avoid riots. She pressed on and kept emphasizing the public opinion angle. Finally I couldn’t take it anymore.
‘Maybe,’ I suggested, ‘we should execute him. I mean, it’s clear he’s guilty right?’ She nodded, nervously. ‘And an eye for an eye is the right thing to do, right?’ She was uncomfortable here, and vacillated. ‘I mean, wouldn’t it be best for everyone if he were just hauled out of court now and killed by a mob? It would save the state the cost of the trial and avoid all the mess of further riots. A good lynching might be just the thing!’ She said that maybe he should just go to jail for life. ‘Well, then maybe we could hope for him to be killed in jail. Wouldn’t that make everyone happy?’ She smiled nervously.
She has a point. Maybe it’s the mob that counts now. The mob expressed through the media, at least. I imagine justice is hard to obtain, given that most cases are tried on the Internet and airwaves well before the trial actually begins. It certainly may be harder for Mr. Zimmerman, who is a man being tried before six women and a female judge. (If it were one woman and seven men, feminists would howl about a ‘jury of her peers.’ As with so many things, ‘this is different.’)
Maybe George Zimmerman did it. Maybe he is a murderer who deserves punishment. Maybe young Mr. Martin was innocent of any wrong-doing. If he were my son, I’d likely see it that way. But if George were my brother, I’d see it another way too.
But that doesn’t matter. It’s time for the media to let the court do its work, in this trial and in all other trials, from the very beginning. (You’d think that the Duke Lacrosse team rape debacle would have been instructive enough for the screaming media, wouldn’t you?) And it’s time for the mob, the lynching, hating masses who endlessly cry for blood, for vengeance, to shut up and look at history.
Presumptions of guilt based on circumstance, race or bad timing were the things that left innocent blacks swinging at the end of all too many ropes in years past. Ropes thrown across tree limbs by bitter, stupid, hateful crowds as their victims shook and wept and cried out their innocence. It’s a lesson I wish everyone would revisit now and then. The mob is cruel and the mob is stupid. And the mob is never held accountable for its actions; whether it acts in person or by electronic media.
Until we remember, until we think, we will continue to live in a land where men are no longer innocent until proven guilty. Rather, in a land where men are charged, tried, convicted and threatened with death long before the gavel sets the court in motion. What a sad state of affairs, whether Zimmerman is guilty or not.
You see, a media lynching, an Internet lynching, a popular opinion lynching are powerful motivations for an actual one. They make it a form of impending entertainment. They tease the consumers of news with the titillation of retribution and death. I just hope the court can resist the impulse to comply with those who cry for blood, out of political expediency or the desire to be praised, and simply focus on the ages-old cry for justice.