Reading Chizu Omori’s thoughts (in the July 25 – Aug. 7, 2013 issue of the Nichi Bei Weekly) on the injustice surrounding George Zimmerman’s trial got me thinking. I have been conflicted with this case’s final verdict, as while Zimmerman committed what is morally a heinous act, I am also wary of automatically denouncing the verdict. Rather, I accept it with resignation and the understanding that, all things considered, I am unable to say he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The evidence was shoddy; there was no proof that Zimmerman had not shot in self-defense.
Yet I feel this is still an injustice, and it’s because of racism.
If Zimmerman is not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin, I would hope that the law is upheld for all other similar cases. But statistically it is not. White on black murders are far more likely to be “justified,” by 250 percent, according to a report by PBS’ Frontline, and 354 percent more likely in states with Stand Your Ground laws. While statistics alone don’t tell the whole story, that disparity should call to question just how unequally the law treats people based on unspoken biases.
While, as minorities, we might constantly live facing and identifying prejudice, the larger white society fails to realize discrimination still exists. As Charles Pierce wrote July 14 in Esquire, “of course, this was not about race because nothing is ever about race.”
For many folks, racism is dead. It is a bogeymen caricature from a bygone-era that people are again and again shocked to rediscover in their own backyards. No one is racist anymore — until they are, and then it’s a fluke. We gloss over introspection because we don’t like to think we have flaws and what worse flaw can you have than to admit to being even a little prejudiced?
So yes, Zimmerman had, according to his own story, no recourse but to shoot Martin in self-defense, but that doesn’t make it right. The concept that a grown man can legally gun down a teenager he followed after the cops told him not to, makes me doubt the justice system. To this, I’d like to quote Nathaniel Burney, a New York criminal defense attorney who writes the blog “The Criminal Lawyer.” He recently wrote about New York’s Stop-and-Frisk law and how it does not work, but I think his conclusion also works for Zimmerman’s case.
“Remember: the criminal justice system only works when the public perceives that it achieves justice. … If people think that, on the whole, the guilty are punished, then the system works to deter crime. When people think the guilty get away with it, the system breaks down.”
While Burney wrote that to address how Stop-and-Frisk does not prevent crime, I think the same applies here for the popular outrage against the verdict. There is a lack of faith in the criminal justice system and if we perceive it as unjust, how will we ever know if the next acquittal or guilty verdict is just?
Tomo Hirai is a Nichi Bei Weekly staff writer. The views expressed in the preceding commentary are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.