The Herald Bulletin

July 20, 2013

Editorial: Zimmerman case points to distrust of US legal system


The Herald Bulletin

---- — The trial of George Zimmerman for the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., cast a glaring light on both the U.S. legal system and the simmering distrust of that system among many African Americans.

The legal system worked the way it is designed to work. Charges were filed, and the prosecution and defense selected a jury to hear and decide the case. The jury heard three weeks of testimony and reviewed all of the pertinent documents. It reached the decision to issue a verdict of not guilty on charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter.

No one in the media and no one at home sitting in their armchair poring over news reports was as well positioned as the jury to issue a verdict in the case.

This is the way the U.S. legal system functions. All of the steps were followed.

From a layman's perspective, though, we're left to wonder whether the innocent-until-proven-guilty foundation of the system passes muster in a case where a man has been shot and killed and there are no eyewitnesses. The person who pulled the trigger can claim self-defense, and the dead man isn't around to give his version of what happened. Shouldn't the accused have the burden of proof that their well-being was tangibly threatened?

In the aftermath of the verdict, protests flared up around the country — including one Saturday in Anderson. African Americans, in particular, are aghast that an unarmed black teenager could be gunned down and the shooter be found not guilty of committing a crime.

This strong negative reaction is another clear indicator that America has a long way to go, farther than most Americans believe, in creating a society where all, regardless of skin color, are treated equally — and believe that they're treated equally. In fact, a 2011 study by Harvard and Tufts universities suggests that a majority of whites believe that whites have displaced blacks as the primary target of racial discrimination in America.

However, an abundance of statistical evidence related to crime, suggests the contrary. For example, an American Civil Liberties Union study released in June showed that black Hoosiers were about three times more likely than white Hoosiers to be arrested on marijuana charges. This discrepancy exists despite evidence that the incidence of marijuana use among whites and blacks is roughly equal.

Media are littered with reports that show anecdotal or statistical evidence that blacks, across the country and in specific locales, are targeted as crime suspects more often than whites.

While racism is still an ugly part of our society, most police officers are upstanding citizens, sworn to enforce laws that are based on the tenet that all should be equal in the eyes of justice. So why would African Americans feel targeted, and why would statistics indicate that they sometimes are?

Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the concept of "institutional racism," which suggests that people are often victimized because they don't have personal or cultural connections within institutions, and don't clearly understand the way the system works and how best to stay out of trouble.

The issue is thorny and deep-seated; and the protest of the Zimmerman verdict is not without justification. Maybe one day in a case like George Zimmerman's, judgment will be passed and few will feel that racial prejudice swayed the verdict. That day, clearly, is a long way off.

In summary Maybe one day in a case like George Zimmerman's, judgment will be passed and few will feel that racial prejudice swayed the verdict. That day, clearly, is a long way off.