After examining the death of Trayvon Martin and the trial of George Zimmerman, Slate's William Saletan has concluded that the verdict was just and the real problem now is rabble-rousers, pretty much exclusively on the left.
I'm sure you're shocked.
In court, evidence and scrutiny have exposed these difficult, complicated truths. But outside the court, ideologues are ignoring them. They’re oversimplifying a tragedy that was caused by oversimplification. Martin has become Emmett Till. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is using the verdict to attack Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, which wasn't invoked in this case. The grievance industrial complex is pushing the Department of Justice to prosecute Zimmerman for bias-motivated killing, based on evidence that didn't even support a conviction for unpremeditated killing. Zimmerman's lawyers have teamed up with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, inadvertently, to promote the false message that Zimmerman's acquittal means our society thinks everything he did was OK.Well, there are plenty of people in this country who absolutely believe that everything George Zimmerman did was OK, and in fact heroic -- but they're not part of a "grievance industrial complex" (which Saletan considers a suitable description for black activists but not for, say, talk radio, Fox News, and their audience), so I guess they don't count. Oh, and, of course, Stand Your Ground was "invoked in this case," explicitly, in the charge to the jury, and was cited last night on CNN by Juror B37 as a major reason for the acquittal.
To Saletan this was a tragic case of two people making mistakes and both causing the death of one. That rainy night, Both Sides Did It:
Chief prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda ... pointed out that the wounds, blood evidence, and DNA didn't match Zimmerman's story of being thoroughly restrained and pummeled throughout the fight. But the evidence didn't fit the portrait of Martin as a sweet-tempered child, either.How are those things equal? How do they cancel each other out? Saletan accepts the notion that Trayvon Martin didn't have George Zimmerman in a death grip, and seems to accept the notion that Zimmerman's wounds weren't as bad as he claimed, and still he wants to distribute the blame, as if the seriousness of the risk to George Zimmerman and his likelihood of escape are utterly irrelevant to his self-defense claim.
Oh, but it's because Martin was profiling Zimmerman -- and yes, those are Saletan's exact words:
Martin, meanwhile, was profiling Zimmerman. On his phone, he told a friend he was being followed by a "creepy-ass cracker." The friend -- who later testified that this phrase meant pervert -- advised Martin, "You better run." She reported, as Zimmerman did, that Martin challenged Zimmerman, demanding to know why he was being hassled. If Zimmerman's phobic misreading of Martin was the first wrong turn that led to their fatal struggle, Martin's phobic misreading of Zimmerman may have been the second.Yes, it was "phobic" of Martin to think that Zimmerman might initiate a violent confrontation with him -- what a wacky, nutty theory, completely not borne out by the facts!
But I want to get back to Saletan's contempt for the notion that Trayvon Martin should be compared to Emmett Till. I'm no expert on the Till case, but when I read this account, I'm left with no doubt whatsoever that a 1950s William Saletan would have found fault with both sides.
I think he particularly would have latched on to this:
In the first few days following the discovery of Till's body, there was reason to hope that justice might follow. Mississippi Governor Hugh White telegrammed District Attorney Gerald Chatham "urging vigorous prosecution of the case." For his part, Chatham said, "Murder is murder whether it is black or white, and we are handling this case like all parties are white." Mississippi citizens expressed shock over the crime. Ben Roy, a white merchant in Money, told reporters, "Nobody here, Negro or white, approves of things like that." Local newspapers added their condemnation. The Greenwood Commonwealth editorialized, "The citizens of this area are determined that the guilty parties shall be punished to the full extent of the law."Ideologues oversimplifying difficult, complicated truths! Surely the NAACP and other northern opponents of segregation were as morally reprehensible as the people who killed Emmett Till and mutilated his body!
Then everything changed. When Roy Wilkins, Executive Secretary of the NAACP, described Till's killing as a "lynching" and opined that "the state of Mississippi has decided to maintain white supremacy by murdering children," many Mississippians were deeply offended and angered. According to historian Hugh Whitaker, the strident remarks of Wilkins and other northern opponents of segregation caused the local power structure to dig in, and throw its support to Bryant and Milam, two men they otherwise might have been happy to see put away. All five lawyers in the town of Sumner, where the Bryant-Milam trial would be held, agreed to serve as defense counsel. One of the defense lawyers acknowledged later that he only agreed to represent Bryant and Milam after "Mississippi began to be run down."
And I strongly suspect Saletan would have concluded that Till deserved some punishment, if not death exactly, for what he did, or was alleged to have done (I imagine Saletan would have said the truth was somewhere midway between the conflicting accounts):
... Emmett was left alone in the store for a minute or so with Carolyn Bryant, the white woman working the store's cash register. What was done or said in those few moments is not known for certain, but whatever happened doomed Emmett. As Carolyn Bryant would later tell the story in a Tallahatchie County courthouse, Till asked her for some candy inside a candy counter. When Bryant placed the candy on top of the counter, Till grabbed her right hand tightly and asked, "How about a date, baby?" When Bryant pulled her hand free and started to walk away, Till grabbed her by the waist near the cash register and told her, "You needn’t be afraid of me, baby I’ve [slept] with white women before.” Till's cousin, Simeon Wright, writing about the incident decades later, questioned Carolyn Bryant's account. Entering the store "less than a minute" after Till was left inside alone with Bryant, Wright saw no inappropriate behavior and heard "no lecherous conversation." Wright said Till "paid for his items and we left the store together."A wolf whistle? The evidence didn't fit the portrait of Till as a sweet-tempered child, now, did it?
There is, however, general agreement about what happened next outside the store. As Carolyn Bryant left the store and headed towards a car (to retrieve, she testified, a gun), Emmett whistled at her. Till's cousin described it as "a loud wolf whistle, a big city 'whee wheeeee!'" Till's Mississippi cousins instantly knew that Till had broken a longstanding taboo relating to social conduct between blacks and whites, and that they were in grave danger.
Yes, I'm glad Saletan wasn't around to write about Emmett Till in real time.