Between The Idea And The Reality: Judging The Zimmerman Jury

July 18, 2013

culture

I told myself, I basically promised myself, that I wouldn’t write about the Zimmerman verdict.  Not why people come here, I told myself.  You’ve gotten serious a lot lately, I told myself.

But here we are.

Please bear with me; I’ll try to be brief.  I don’t have some grand assertion; more a meditation.  Some thoughts.

Of course there’s a lot of rage over this situation – and its hard to focus, because it’s actually confusing to know what, specifically to be outraged and horrified by.  A lot of people have focused on the jury.  I feel great sadness and empathy for them; I’ve actually thought about being in their situation and having no choice but to acquit.  Because, see, that’s the horror of this: the system didn’t fail.  It worked exactly at it was intended; and according to the laws in place, according to the legal system as its constructed, according to the burdens of a jury – they had to acquit.

Laws are an attempt to legislate morality – but that’s impossible.  If I say to you, “Stealing is wrong,” you agree, and we’re done.  But within that simple moral statement are volumes of tacit understanding: shades of severity, instances of justifiable theft, etc.  Once you say, “Stealing is a crime” you’ve changed things. Nothing is tacit in law.  Once you say, “X is a crime,” anything not – specifically – X, is by definition not a crime, and vice-versa.

Most reasonable people would agree that it is morally acceptable to defend oneself.  Most would agree that if one’s life is in imminent danger, deadly force could even be justified if there are no alternatives. And within that, are layers of tacit understanding.  A person who deliberately goes out of his way to put himself in possible danger, perhaps so that he may use deadly force,  is not acting morally.  But there’s no law against that.  A person who believes he’s in danger because of deep-seeded hatred and racial stereotypes is not – morally speaking – in danger, but believes he is.  And that’s the law in question in Florida: a person may use deadly force if he believes his life is in danger.

Add that to the structure of our legal system, and why even have the trial?

Our legal system stacks the deck a lot against the prosecution: and that’s a good thing, for the most part.  It’s founded on the idea that it’s better than 10 guilty people go free than 1 innocent person be convicted.  Thus, innocent until proven guilty, and a whole slew of obligations and rights slanted toward the accused. We even, in this country, have the de facto right or jury nullification: A jury can say, “We think the defendant committed the crime, but we’re finding him not guilty because we think he’s justified” and that’s the end of that trial (they don’t even have to add “Because we think…”  they could just say, “And we ain’t saying why”).  But, obviously, the reverse would be monstrous – a system in which people can say, “Well, technically, he didn’t break the law, but we all know he’s bad, so we’re finding him guilty.”  It would take seconds to think of a dozen ways that would be terrifyingly abused.

So under this system, how in God’s name would you prove – prove – that George Zimmerman didn’t feel that his life was in danger?  Especially once the racial component is barred from the proceedings?  Morally, rationally, it’s pretty obvious what happened here.  And it’s sickening. It’s horrifying.  It’s heartbreaking.  But, ironically, a legal system – which is an attempt to uphold the morality of a culture – can’t function as morality does.  It is a game of semantics.

And besides the obvious – the murder of a kid and the system saying nothing was done wrong – maybe that’s the source of the rage.  Laws are supposed to reflect our morals, and yet here we see them act in exact opposition to them.  We’ve been betrayed by the semantic agents of our moral code, and that’s really, really hard to reconcile.

And so who do you blame for this split? Because I really, really want someone to blame for this travesty.  George Zimmerman is an easy one.  As much as I want him punished, I’m not crazy about the DOJ going after him, simply because I don’t like that the federal government has found a loophole in the protection against Double Jeopardy.  Blame Florida?  Sure, that’s easy too.  But there’s nothing to do about any of that.  Blame the prosecution? Maybe.  I don’t know it well enough to know what else they could have done.

And so I – and so many others – are left with this unfocused shock, anger, and impotent rage.  But I can’t get with blaming the jury, because I really think they were trapped.  As Eliot said, “Between the idea and the reality… falls the shadow.”  And we’ve had to see that shadow here.  The jury?  They had to deliberate in it.

Next post will be back to funny, I promise.  Perhaps an “Ask Sexy Stalin.”  Maybe he’ll know what to do…

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About The Byronic Man

Recently voted "The Best Humor Blog in America That I, Personally, Write," The Byronic Man is sometimes fiction, sometimes autobiography. And sometimes cultural criticism. Oh, and occasionally reviews. Okay, it's all those different things, but always humorous. Except on the occasions that it's not. Ah, geez. Look, it's a lot of things, okay? You might like it, is the point.

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44 Comments on “Between The Idea And The Reality: Judging The Zimmerman Jury”

  1. 1pointperspective Says:

    Very, very well put. There was a valid legal reason why the authorities in Florida didn’t arrest Zimmerman right away – because they knew that they had a weak case at best. Not because Zimmerman didn’t act foolishly, not because something horribly avoidable happened, but because the laws under which to prosecute him would never result in a conviction. This isn’t taking sides, it’s about realizing that there is a difference between law and morality – as you pointed out so eloquently.

    Reply

    • The Byronic Man Says:

      It’s ironic, isn’t it? Florida was never even going to press charges (which is horrifying, morally), but did so because of public pressure. Now there was a trial and people are 500 times more horrified.

      Reply

  2. BrainRants Says:

    BM, this is very well-thought and eloquently put. Personally I am just sick of the spiral of obsession we’re in on this. Blame? How about the media?

    Reply

    • The Byronic Man Says:

      It’s a strange instinct, isn’t it? The need to immediately find someone to blame. I remember when the BP/Deepwater Horizon spill happened and everything was “Whose fault is it?” basically the same day. I just kept thinking, “Stop trying to figure out who to blame and PLUG THE GOD DAMN LEAK.”

      Reply

  3. Snoring Dog Studio Says:

    Sick of the spiral of obsession, BrainRants? Really? Wow. I can only barely imagine how sick black people are of the racial profiling, the racism protected by our legal system, the lack of justice in our system for them, the loss of their sons and daughters, and so on. And you want the whole thing to just go away, BrainRants. Well, I bet a lot of black people wish they didn’t have to be obsessed about worrying for their sons and daughters when they go out into the world.

    Hope the media lets it all go away so that you can get back to your regular programming.

    Reply

    • Derek Zenith Says:

      The only true racial profiling I saw in this case was against Zimmerman. Zimmerman was white (as white as the president, anyway) so, obviously, he was totally consumed with a desire to kill the black Martin. That was the whole case, and it was based totally on racial profiling.

      Reply

  4. Life With The Top Down Says:

    A well deserved standing O for this logical message. The part that really gets me is the ridiculous “stand your ground” law that seems to have selective rules. In my opinion, I would have to say that if anyone “believed” they were in danger it was Trayvon. He was the one being followed. But something tells me if he had the weapon and was the one on trial, this story wouldn’t be the media frenzy it is. It would just be another blurb on page 20 of the paper.

    Reply

    • The Byronic Man Says:

      It’s almost laughable to think that Trayvon Martin would have been let go as having “Stood his ground” if he’d been armed and Zimmerman hadn’t. Even though it was Zimmerman who pursued him.

      Reply

  5. Deborah the Closet Monster Says:

    I’m glad you deviated from funny here, because you said something I’ve been grasping at but haven’t been able to articulate. There are many things that frustrate me about the situation, about which I can find fault, but I have no frustration for the jury.

    What’s been possibly more frustrating to me than the (inevitable from the outset, in my view) verdict has been some of the responses. Some of the responses I saw indicated that “those black people” would be fine if they’d stop inciting people by trying to live–and fault others–like it’s still the 1950s. This could best be summed up by: “I don’t see racism, ergo it does not exist.”

    Oh, you’re right. The person who called my son’s grandma “nigger” because she had the audacity to step on elevator a couple months back? Must not have happened. The outrage over a biracial couple in a Cheerios commercial, or over Hunger Games viewers shocked and horrified to discover Rue was black? Must not have happened, either. The guys at Disneyland who judged my honey and my son for being black, while casting a hateful eye at me? Figments of our imagination, down to their clearly stated hate.

    The scariest thing to me is this kind of “if I believe it hard enough, it will be so” thinking. Wrong! By perpetrating that kind of thinking, its thinkers ensure they will never, ever be able to connect with true disparities or work to rectify them. I would much rather see how things are and strive to change them than pretend at someone expense all is solved.

    You might be interested in A’s take.

    In any case, my main point in posting this is to say thanks–for the thoughtful, open discussion, for being OK stating distress without being able to 100% pinpoint its source. Being too quick to pinpoint it, I think, means being too ready to solve the wrong problems because it’s more convenient, so I am grateful for this post. Thank you.

    Reply

    • The Byronic Man Says:

      The FB post is really interesting; I also really liked the comment left on it by the police officer. It’s the details about Zimmerman’s mentality and past actions that make the situation all the more horrifying.

      Reply

  6. Anka Says:

    Excellent distinction between the law and morality. Ruling with your head instead of your heart is no easy task. As a mother, like many of those who sat on the jury, I would’ve also broken down after handing the verdict to the bailiff.
    I would make an awful juror. There’s NO way I could separate myself from the fact that a young man lost his life.

    Reply

    • The Byronic Man Says:

      I suppose it would have just been overturned later, but I think if I’d been on the jury it would have been tempting to just say, “We find him guilty. Don’t ask us why. We just do.”

      Reply

  7. mistyslaws Says:

    A very well thought out and reasoned opinion. I was having a discussion with some friends on FB about this, as they wanted my legal opinion (believe it or not, it was all very civil). My opinion, somewhat legally educated at that (meaning, I’ve never prosecuted anyone for murder/manslaughter, so keep that in mind), is that it never should have gone to trial. The evidence was not enough to convict, even on manslaugter. The were pressured by many factors to try it, and unfortunately, there could have been no other outcome than what happened.

    I say this many times in my job when parties keep telling me what they KNOW is happening and want me to do something in court about it. I tell them, “I understand, and that’s all well and good, BUT . . . there is what we KNOW, and there is what we can PROVE. The courtroom is not a place to try to tell people what we know. There has to be evidence.”

    And while that might sound cold and heartless, I am not saying in any way that what Zimmerman did was RIGHT, nor that he was not guilty of many things. But LEGALLY, he wasn’t guilty. And at its essence, the law MUST be cold AND heartless. It is logical and empirical. It does not have a basis in emotion. That is the only way it works. And no, it doesn’t always WORK. But it is the system we have, and we must work within it, unless we can change it legislatively.

    Sorry . . . I’m going on and on. I could probably keep going, but I’ll leave it at that.

    Reply

    • The Byronic Man Says:

      But you’re exactly right about law needing cold logistics (you should be a lawyer!). That’s its purpose, in many ways. When people say, “But if someone hurt your family wouldn’t you want vengeance? Wouldn’t you want to make him suffer” Well, duh, of COURSE I would. And that’s why we have a legal system to step in and make me step out of it while it determines a rational response. If the legal system was just based on enacting our emotional responses we wouldn’t need it; we’d just need to arm ourselves and create lynch mobs.

      Reply

      • Derek Zenith Says:

        As I’ve mentioned on my own blog, government must be just, whereas it is the society’s place to be compassionate. The courts have found Zimmerman not guilty, and society has found him a reckless monster. All is well.

        Reply

  8. RFL Says:

    Well said.
    My husband recently served on a jury, and it’s an important distinction that anyone who serves is forced to deliberate and examine the only the evidence presented, and follow the laws exactly as they are written regardless of their personal beliefs about them. In his case, they deliberated for almost three days, and I don’t think anyone was particularly happy about the decision they made.
    I don’t know too many people who are thrilled with the outcome of the Zimmerman case, but this is how our legal system is set up.
    Anyway, I’ll leave it at that, but I thought this was a great post.

    Reply

  9. DiatribesAndOvations.com Says:

    An excellent observation. Thanks for sharing.

    You’re not just handsome and funny, you’re very insightful and smart, too.

    Reply

  10. Pleun Says:

    So if I lived on his street and ‘believed’ to be in great danger of my neighbor who shots a harmless kid, does that give me a license to kill? If I were Zimmerman I would be very afraid/worried right now. Living in fear is maybe worse than living in prison?

    Reply

    • The Byronic Man Says:

      Did you hear the quote by Zimmerman’s brother? He was lamenting how hard it’s going to be for his brother, because what if an armed vigilante decide to take the law in to his own hands?

      He said that without a hint of irony.

      Reply

      • Pleun Says:

        haha, that is funny. I guess even Zimmerman is upset about not going to prison as it probably would be safer for him there (this is also without a hint of irony 😉 )

        Reply

      • DreK Says:

        Yeah, the irony right? But what was your brother doing when he took someone’s life? Walking through your neighborhood at 7pm is not a crime.

        Reply

  11. List of X Says:

    I blame the people who proposed and voted for the Stand Your Ground law (Specifically, Republicans, ALEC, NRA). In an SYG case, it all comes down to – “does the jury believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the killer did not fear he was in danger of death or bodily harm”? And because you can never be certain what really went on in the killer’s head, there is really not that much justification for a guilty verdict. But there are exceptions: for a white or mostly white jury, it’s much easier to believe that a white defendant was afraid of a black guy than the other way around. So while the law may be cut and dried, it leaves open a wide window for racism and other prejudice.

    Reply

  12. Go Jules Go Says:

    Seriously. I feel like I’m wearing this wrist band day in and day out for a demi god that no longer exists. #SexyStalin…4Ever?

    Okay but SERIOUSLY seriously, this was very, very well said. I’m with Deb – I always admire your eloquence and willingness to share your thoughts WHILE you’re experiencing them and help us all make sense of our own ambiguity.

    Reply

  13. brickhousechick Says:

    I completely agree. The jurors are not to blame. Only they know what it was like to be there. Only they got to study in detail the evidence. Only they got to try abide by the law. We can all have our opinions but we were not there. I respect the jurors decision because they deserve our respect. I am saddened like everyone else about the tragedy of the situation.

    Reply

  14. Ashley Says:

    Reblogged this on The Left Coast.

    Reply

  15. Lauren Says:

    If we’re to blame anyone it’s ourselves as a society – there’s a reason that, in 2013, racial profiling is still so normal that it became an acceptable reason for a big grown man to fear a skinny teenage boy. But I suppose no one is ready to do that; no one’s really ready to fix this problem. People want to just be angry or fix the laws, but at the heart of all that is a much larger system perpetuating these crimes that no one wants to face.

    Reply

  16. Lorna's Voice Says:

    As a sociologist, I applaud your “meditation” on how very complex these sociocultural issues are. Nothing is simple when people are involved. And, make no mistake, people create the social institutions within which (and outside of which) we operate.

    We all want easy answers so we ask easy questions. There are no easy questions, thus, no easy answers. Maybe we have to start facing the reality that “easy” is an illusion and be willing to civilly discuss the complexities of living civilly.

    I’ll try to be funnier next time, too…

    Reply

  17. Alex H Says:

    Awesome……..Just Awesome Share.I love it.Looking forward for more.Alex,Thanks.

    Reply

  18. pjsarecomfyn Says:

    I am glad you wrote about it and in the way that you did. Although I love your funny posts. Your serious ones are important too.

    Reply

  19. Michael Says:

    Very well said. I admit, my blogging is almost entirely not-serious, so I admire bloggers like you who can do serious topics well and and civilly. A rare thing these days…

    Reply

  20. battlewagon13 Says:

    My feeling is – about the whole court environment – is that people get so tied up in the law that they forget about common sense. I just read that someone was suing Apple for letting him view porn through the iPad. It fed his devious appetite apparently and that was a wrong thing to do. So he sued them. Apple. Over internet content. Someone somewhere will waste time on this and will never get that time back.

    Just think….

    Reply

  21. Barbara Backer-Gray Says:

    Well, I blame Zimmerman, because his life wasn’t in danger until he confronted the kid after he was told by the 911 operator not to follow him. That’s like proving someone was attacking you when the person was shot in the back. But ultimately I blame the Stand Your Ground law of Florida, which is apparently so vague that anything that led up to the last seconds of the event can’t be taken into account. That’s plain ridiculous.

    Reply

  22. DreK Says:

    This is the first comments section I have seen that speaks sense and sounds sincere. It it absolutely a conflict of intrest to have a juror whose husband is best buds with the defense attorney and I think that is what is so upsetting for me.

    Reply

  23. thesinglecell Says:

    So I logged into the WordPress machine thinking I would write something – dammit, it won’t go away and it’s popping up all over the place, so maybe I have to write something just to get it out of my own brain – about this case. And then I read this. And now I’m back to thinking about something else to write about, because you win the blogosphere right now.

    Reply

  24. Paul George Eberlein Says:

    Rather than comment, I thought the following might provide some related food for thought…

    You can make of this whatever you like.

    Reply

  25. Valentine Logar Says:

    Thank you for this. It is a complex issue, not just this trial and its outcome but the entire problem. You have boiled it down. We live in a nation that fails so often to understand historical context and fails completely to understand the difference between the law and morality. Did we want someone to blame? We absolutely did and still do.

    I know who I blame, which doesn’t change the law and how it viewed the actions of that night.

    Reply

  26. Exile on Pain Street Says:

    I paraphrase the initial 911 call:

    Z: Hi. This is George Z. I’m following a suspicious character.

    Police: Well done, good citizen. We’re on it. Are you still following him?

    Z: YES!

    Police: Well, stop it. We don’t need you to do that.

    Seems to me he’s guilty. He should have gone home to watch Three’s Company reruns like the police TOLD HIM TO.

    Reply

  27. Elyse Says:

    Well reasoned and well put.

    I blame the Florida Legislature, personally for enacting such a heinous law. And I blame Zimmerman for not staying in his damn car like the dispatcher told him to. If you pick a fight with somebody and they fight back, that doesn’t give you the right to claim self defense. Except in Florida.

    Reply

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