Sunday, 14 July 2013

Does what happens in Florida stay in Florida?

What the verdict [George Zimmerman being acquitted of murder or manslaughter, after shooting the unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin] says, to the astonishment of tens of millions of us, is that you can go looking for trouble in Florida, with a gun and a great deal of racial bias, and you can find that trouble, and you can act upon that trouble in a way that leaves a young man dead, and none of it guarantees that you will be convicted of a crime. But this curious result says as much about Florida's judicial and legislative sensibilities as it does about Zimmerman's conduct that night. This verdict would not have occurred in every state. It might not even have occurred in any other state. But it occurred here, a tragic confluence that leaves a young man's untimely death unrequited under state law. Don't like it? Lobby to change Florida's laws.
 Andrew Cohen in The Atlantic

So, just another of those dumb laws from the Internet "funny" pages gone bad?

But the verdict has broader political salience. Trayvon Martin seems to have presented no credible threat to anybody as he walked home, minding his own business, but he ended up dead because some trigger-happy curtain-twitcher in a gated community decided he looked suspicious. We live in an age where the political agenda seems to be dominated by Zimmerman-style paranoia.

Where there is no vision, the people perish worry unduly about immigrants, scroungers, teenage mums, criminals and terrorists, and share their fears with market researchers. The market researchers pass their findings up to the political party machines and the leaders duly assure the fretful public that they are listening to their concerns and announce plans to get "tough" with the scapegoat du jour (being too scared of doing some really tough thing, like treating the voters as adults and using argument and evidence to refute groundless panic).

Letting the wrong target have it with both barrels might seem tough (on the innocent victims) and unjust but, as the victims of such witch hunts tend to be politically powerless, nobody minds (at least nobody powerful enough to fight back).

In this instance, Florida's Laws seem horribly, perhaps uniquely, unjust. But vigilante politicians punishing the innocent on the basis of perceptions, rather than facts is, sadly, far from unique, and not just in Florida.