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The false choice on the Zimmerman & Martin saga.

I found a good commentary by Jim Geraghty that sums up much of my feeling on the trial of George Zimmerman. To me the biggest thing that’s bothered me is the purposeful factioning (what Geraghty divides into “Team Zimmerman” and “Team Treyvon” below, underscoring with his allusion to the Twilight movies, which is itself a social commentary, our simplistic urge to classify people and things into neat and clean groups). Human beings, particularly those in politics and the media, are especially skilled at creating deep schisms with simple rhetoric, half-truths, and selective editing. We’re given the false choice that either George Zimmerman was a racist or Treyvon Martin was a thug. There’s no in between, or nuanced understanding that both men could have equally shown poor judgement.

The media is especially culpable in this affair. See Breitbart’s “Timeline: How the Press Prosecuted Zimmerman While Stoking Racial Tensions,” or Victor Davis Hanson’s “Revolutionary Tribunals.” The media’s reporting and self-opining has been outright dangerous and bad for the country. It’s not George Zimmerman or his defenders that have set back race relations. Rather it’s the media.

Davis sums it up as the following:

The popular media once again did their best, along with politicos, to use a criminal court for larger social agendas and therefore hyped the racial aspects of the trial: CBS aired doctored photos of George Zimmerman to downplay the severity of his injuries. NBC altered Zimmerman’s 911 tape to make him sound a racist. The New York Times invented a new rubric, “white Hispanic,” to ensure that the case was explosively reinvented in the media as white on black, rather than a Latino/black incident.

CNN published photos of Zimmerman’s ID, making it easy for viewers to gain access to his Social Security number. Celebrities like director Spike Lee publicized (inaccurately) Zimmerman’s home address. The New Black Panther Party put a bounty on Zimmerman’s head. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus smeared him as a killer and racist.

Back to Geraghty and the false choice:

In the past few months, we’ve witnessed news events where the media quickly turned the story into a binary choice between two options:

Do we want to support the Syrian rebels or the Assad regime? Is Snowden a hero or a traitor? Do we stand with Morsi or with the Egyptian military?

Of course, in all of those examples, both antagonists are deeply flawed, perhaps too flawed to be worthy of official U.S. support, or even public-opinion support. The Syrian rebels have all kinds of Islamist, priest-throat-cutting goons in their ranks, and they’re taking on a brutal dictator who’s used sarin a few times; Morsi took Egypt in an autocratic, Islamist direction  . . . and then the military forces that replaced him started shooting protesters.

Snowden may have done the public a service by exposing an invasive surveillance system that violated privacy rights and perhaps the Fourth Amendment, but he also broke his oath, the law, and is now playing footsie with some of the world’s most repressive regimes.

I mentioned this no-white-hats phenomenon to someone and got a “Fifty Shades of Grey” joke in reply, but even that implies some light greys and folks who aren’t so bad; think of some of these situations, particularly Syria, as “Varying Shades of Charcoal.”

And now we have the George Zimmerman case. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that so many of our fellow citizens are choosing sides on Team Trayvon or Team Zimmerman, and insisting that the only form of “justice” would be the verdict that they prefer.

Why must we pick a side? Why is there this compulsion to declare one side is the “good guy” here? Keep in mind, everything Mark Steyn is saying here is right, that a criminal-justice system, terrified of public opinion, threw a slew of implausible charges against the defendant, while a slew of loud voices in the media and in government tried to shoehorn murky events into a simplistic narrative that inflames racial tensions.

Everyone remembers the president’s comment, “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.” But another bit of faux-insightful blather the president said that day is even more irksome, his declaration, “All of us have to do some soul-searching to figure out how does something like this happen.”

Er, no, not really. We figure out how something like this happens with a police investigation and trial. It doesn’t require “all of us” to investigate, and we certainly won’t find useful court-admissible evidence within our souls.

Chances are, you’ve never even met anyone involved in this case. Chances are, there’s absolutely nothing you could have done that would have changed events that night. So no, you don’t really have to look into your soul. It’s not your fault.

But even if we look at everything that was said and presented in this trial, and like the jury, we conclude Zimmerman did not commit second-degree murder, and in fact acted in self-defense . . . that doesn’t mean we have to lionize him. Being anti-racial-demagoguery doesn’t necessarily mean we have to be pro-Zimmerman. Part of Zimmerman’s defense was to insist he was not capable of defending himself in a physical altercation. Not merely not that good at fighting, his former trainer said he could barely throw a punch:

The trainer added Zimmerman “didn’t know how to effectively punch.”

That’s a rather strange condition for a neighborhood-watch guy, right? If you know that you’re likely to lose a physical confrontation, wouldn’t you do everything possible to avoid one — i.e, not follow someone you think is up to no good? If you know that your only recourse if someone tries to harm you is to pull out a gun, wouldn’t you try to avoid that confrontation?

A court has ruled Zimmerman’s not guilty of intentional murder. He appears to be guilty of bad judgment.

Indeed, we have good reason to complain that the media anointed Trayvon Martin the embodiment of youthful innocence, relentlessly depicting him with old photos that made him appear much younger than he was when the confrontation occurred. Some evidence points to Martin not being the saintly portrait of innocence depicted in the Hollister-shirt photo — marijuana use, suspension from school — but again, nobody deserves to die over an evening altercation. But let’s also stipulate no 17-year-old deserves to get shot dead, before their life has even really begun. We’ll never know if Martin would have gone on to become a gang member or a success story, rising above a broken home and troubled youth. His death is a tragedy, and Zimmerman pulled the trigger and caused it.

Again, without proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman didn’t act in self-defense, that doesn’t add up to second-degree murder. (Some jurisdictions have different types of self-defense, and some have a category called “involuntary manslaughter” — most often occurring when one person punches another and ends up killing them by causing a brain hemorrhage.) By pulling the trigger, Zimmerman knew he would be doing harm to Martin, but he was not necessarily intending to kill.

One thing I split from Geraghty on is his argument that because someone is out of shape they’re not fit for a neighborhood watch. I find that ridiculous in fact. The points of a neighborhood watch are (1) maintaining a visible presence to deter crime and (2) disseminating information or warnings that fellow neighbors could use to protect their family and property. Not to stay in shape for a possible altercation. Indeed, that’s exactly what you don’t want, and could be part of the reason why Treyvon Martin is dead today. We’ll never know all the facts, if Zimmerman or Martin instigated a fight. And if the instigator was Martin, one does not have the right to beat the hell out of someone because they *feel* disrespected or *feel* profiled (it’s my believe that Zimmerman would have followed any man of any race that night, and the only profiling he’s guilty of is sexism or perhaps ageism). That fact doesn’t make Zimmerman a murderer either. But neither does it make him a saint. He was fool that night. And he’ll have to deal with the repercussions of his actions in this life and the next.