The other victim in the Trayvon Martin investigation

The rush to judgment by the public has threatened true justice.

Andrew Johnson

Wandering around Thursday’s hoodie march for Trayvon Martin on campus, I saw many “Justice for Trayvon” signs. I found it peculiar that participants at a rally standing for equal treatment for all were aggressively demanding a justice system to convict one side when the investigation is incomplete and so much of the situation remains unclear.

 With all the elements that confirm Gustave Le Bon’s theory of mob psychology — unfounded statements, stirring rhetoric, chants and efforts to establish an “us” versus a “them” mentality — the event was the local illustration of the tumult this incident has caused nationwide. As facts continue to pour in, we find that, despite wide-ranging efforts to force a conclusion, the situation is more complex than first believed from the initial simplified reports that it was racially motivated. At this point, we don’t know enough to responsibly act and react in one way or another. The hysteria that has taken place has been entirely irresponsible, reckless and ultimately jeopardized true justice from being done while risking an impartial justice system for all of us, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation. The most vulnerable of us should be the most concerned.

Martin’s death is incontrovertibly tragic, and everyone should sympathize with the loss. Sadly though, the rush to judgment by the media, organizers and participants in the various marches has channeled grief into anger to exploit Martin’s death for personal, political and popular satisfaction. The continued persistence of the opinion that the shooting was racially motivated has consumed the entire narrative and has hardened within people’s minds to the point of obsession. Activists are labeling George Zimmerman as racist to validate that they are not. In the editorials the Minnesota Daily has already run on the subject, each piece, without substantial evidence in a still-ongoing investigation, assumed racism played a part.
“[M]isguided judgment based on racial prejudice” killed Martin, a fellow columnist wrote; another stated this was one of “many other signs of the racism that still exists in our country.”

Yet, neither of them, or anyone else for that matter, knows if Martin’s race prompted Zimmerman to find him suspicious; had Martin been any other race, would he have been equally suspicious? We don’t know. Furthermore, Zimmerman had called 911 46 times over the years, wary of random individuals from different races. He reportedly also tutored minority children in his free time. The point is these developments don’t neatly fit into the instantly presumed narrative of racist inclinations.

This disregard for and lack of facts while clutching to a storyline driven by emotion has been destructive and dangerous. While the Department of Justice queasily shudders over voter ID laws, they have no comment on the New Black Panthers Party’s bounty on Zimmerman or the @KillZimmerman Twitter handle. The widespread public heedlessness is endangering more than those involved in the shooting; it’s distressing others who had nothing to do with it. Spike Lee retweeted an address he thought was Zimmerman’s and imperiled elderly retirees in doing so. While he eventually apologized, it doesn’t excuse that he intended to use his popular platform to aid in vigilantism.

We cannot claim to be advocates for a righteous society when our actions cause citizens to go into hiding for fear that the justice system won’t sufficiently protect them from the hasty judgment of the public. A free and just society cannot exist under conditions where so-called “civil rights” leaders warn of escalating civil disobedience unless their demanded conclusion is realized. Marchers promoting “justice” will only be satisfied if they get their desired outcome, tying the hands of those charged with administering a fair process. This approach doesn’t just put Zimmerman’s hopes of justice at risk; if the presumption of innocence is ignored when enough people cry out and erratically come to a conviction, it risks all of ours. Emotion over evidence and power over proof is not a justice system we should want.

Even if you’ve thought Zimmerman was guilty from the start and he is ultimately found to be just that through a fair and non-discriminatory process, you still never actually “knew” he was guilty from the beginning; you guessed, and it turned out to be accurate. Jumping to a conclusion without decisive information and rashly embracing it is exactly what you’re accusing Zimmerman of having done: coming to an unfair generalization about a tense situation and leaping to an injudicious decision on how to handle it. You’re finding Zimmerman suspicious and profiling him without knowing the entire story, just as opponents of real justice say he did with Martin.

It is impossible for anyone to claim that they can appropriately come to any conclusion at this point. Settling on a verdict now would be listening to only affirmation rather than information, and that is a far greater threat to justice than a Florida neighborhood watch captain. I don’t know what happened that night, so my view on how to respond is with patience and cooler heads as we await the facts.

In a CNN.com op-ed, William Bennett wrote that the best way to ensure a fair outcome is “giving both Martin and Zimmerman a just weighing of the evidence, both in the court of law and public opinion. Let us not assume the worst of anybody but be guided by facts.” The pain felt by this loss is understandable, but real justice is equal application of the law to those we care for as well as toward those we have ill feelings for. With the hoodie as the symbol of this tragedy, don’t let it shroud our abilities to properly and impartially look at and assess the facts — all the facts — before unjustly pulling the trigger, because that’s how to best protect us all.

 

Andrew Johnson welcomes comments at [email protected].