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Justice for all?

Amidst all the national uproar for justice for Trayvon, what has been lost is a concern for universal justice. Some, mostly from the right, have accused Trayvon Martin supporters of initiating a lynch mentality. This has even brought the New Black Panther Party (NBPP) into the spotlight, with its $10,000 bounty on George Zimmerman "dead or alive." The NBPP is an internationally recognized hate group which has been disowned by Bobby Seales and the Huey P. Newton Foundation and described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as "black racist."

While the NBPP is an extreme version of the black community response to this tragedy, it differs more in tone and measure than in kind. It appears that much of the ideological "Left" in America has already indicted, tried and convicted George Zimmerman, even when the available evidence (and there's been a great deal made public) paints a very murky and ambiguous picture of this man and of the nature of this incident and unfortunate death.

I, too, succumbed to a gut reaction upon first reading about the incident and seeing the old pictures (which I included in a March 20 email to five Vermont peace and justice lists, titled "Racism and Vigilante Justice (sic) in America," and in which I posed the premature question "Which of these two would you rather have walking in your neighborhood?" Those pictures were of a cherubic 14-year-old Trayvon and a heavy-set and very glum Hispanic Zimmerman in a mug shot and were part of a continual media misrepresentation of both the two parties involved and the facts on the ground.

We have since seen more recent pictures of both and have learned that Trayvon was not the perfect angel that he was made out to be, but a typical teenager whose father was trying to keep on the straight and narrow. While defenders of the Martin family insist that Trayvon's school suspensions and other past behavioral missteps are irrelevant (including the possible punching of a bus driver in anger), they also insist that Zimmerman's expunged police record of pushing an undercover alcohol agent in a bar and dueling domestic violence injunctions (both he and his girlfriend claimed to have been battered, as often happens in domestic cases) ARE significant.

What the "justice" seekers, however, don't seem to be interested in is that George Zimmerman has a lifetime history of befriending people of all races, of defending bullied kids, of spending quality time with the autistic child of a neighbor and of mentoring two black teenagers when he was in college. He wanted to be a police officer and maybe a judge, like his Vietnam veteran former intelligence officer father (a magistrate).

Those who are so quick to rush to judgment and declare Sanford, FL, the new Selma, also don't seem to care that the community that Zimmerman volunteered to patrol had experienced eight burglaries, nine thefts and one shooting in 2011 alone, and residents were wary of strangers, particularly gangsta-dressed youth.

Just which of the two people initiated the confrontation, or escalated it from verbal to physical, we can't yet know with certainty. But the reported injuries of Zimmerman included a bloody nose, a swollen and cut lower lip and two cuts to the back of his head. Apparently, the Sanford police took multiple pictures of these wounds, interviewed multiple eye- and ear-witnesses and also took Zimmerman back to the scene the following day to have him re-enact the entire incident. Hardly a lack of investigation, as the most vocal are claiming.

The evidence and the majority of the witnesses corroborated Zimmerman's story and, in spite of the lead investigator's attempt to secure an arrest warrant, the state's attorney refused, citing insufficient evidence to disprove a claim of self-defense. Angela B. Corey, the state’s attorney for the Jacksonville area who has been appointed special prosecutor in the case, said that the controversial 2005 law has changed the rules for prosecutors. Making arrests, filing charges and securing convictions are more difficult and time consuming. Now, she said, “There is a different standard.”

If there is an obvious culprit in this tragic incident, it is the Stand Your Ground law, pushed by the NRA and ALEC and signed by Jeb Bush in 2005 as the first and most broad in the nation. Since its enactment, "justifiable homicides" in Florida have tripled, and police and prosecutors (most of whom had objected to the law's passage) have found themselves hamstrung. Now 24 states have similar laws and, if the NRA has its way, the entire country will soon become a vigilante nation.

But vigilantism, just like racism, cuts both ways. The New Black Panther Party is a black white- and Jew-hating racist group, and far too many of Trayvon Martin's supporters are screaming for revenge rather than justice, having prematurely condemned a man who, by all accounts, was just trying to serve other people's needs as he has done all his life. Whether Zimmerman was truly in fear for his life (as he claims) during the confrontation, he surely fears for his life today, and that is not an environment which is conducive to authentic justice.


Riversong lives in Warren.


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