George Zimmerman was found not guilty this past weekend in his trial for shooting Travon Martin. But his problems are far from over. You have to wonder whether there isn’t a perverted, almost paranoid sense of trying to “get” Zimmerman at any cost. Yogi Berra said, “it ain’t over till it’s over,” and he would agree that the Zimmerman case is not going to fade away. More criminal actions, civil suits, and endless analyses will be front and center, and continue the Zimmerman-Martin debate saga for a long time to come.
The case got off to a questionable start when the President felt it necessary to
announce that, "You know, if I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon.” The President’s comment implied to many that Trayvon Martin was a victim, who in no way compromised his innocence by his own actions in this tragedy. He was in no way at fault, and was set upon by Zimmerman. This, of course, could have prejudiced both the investigation as well as potential jurors.
The case was not taken before a grand jury, one that had been picked and was available at the time of the shooting. It’s standard procedure all over America for similar cases involving violence to go before Grand Juries. Why not in the Zimmerman case? Skeptics would argue that prosecutors assumed they could not get an indictment from a grand jury, and because of political pressures involved, went ahead and charged Zimmerman directly.
And then there was the old prosecutorial ploy – the withholding of evidence. Just before the trial began, an employee of the prosecutor’s office who headed up the IT division testified that the prosecutors had withheld significant information from Zimmerman’s defense team. And low and behold, two days after the verdict came in, he was fired. Zimmerman’s attorney Mark O’Meara said other key evidence was withheld, and it was like pulling teeth to get the prosecutor’s office to cooperate, hand over the required information, and follow the law. That will be another column for another day. Why do prosecutors fight so hard to keep exculpatory information from the defense?
Now we have learned that within hours of the verdict being rendered, the Justice Department announced that they would begin an investigation into the shooting to consider possible separate hate crime charges against Zimmerman. So what’s a hate crime you ask? If someone is premeditatedly shot and killed, that’s generally murder. When you’re dead, you are dead, and there is a strong penalty for that; generally life or the death penalty. But hate crime supporters want more than justice. They want vengeance.
Under federal law, one can be charged with a hate crime if the crime was motivated by hatred involving race, religion, national origin, color or sexual preference. Penalties for crimes against these groups already exist, but under the law such crimes are enhanced by what’s in the perpetrator’s mind. So a Florida jury found Zimmerman not guilty, but now the federal prosecutors are considering bringing more changes for the exact same offense, in effect taking a second bite of the apple. What ever happened to double jeopardy? Simply put, they couldn’t get Zimmerman for his conduct, so now they want to go after him for his thoughts. In the Four Lads song, Standing on The Corner, Watching All The Girls Go By, there is the lyric, “Brother, you can't go to jail For what you're thinking.” Well, in the case of hate laws, apparently you can.
Having deeply troubling concerns over a thought police is nothing new. George Orwell’s novel, 1984 paints a disturbing and chilling scenario where one can be accused of a crime, arrested and prosecuted merely for thoughts in your mind. “The thought police would get him just the same. He had committed… the essential crime that contained all others in itself. Thoughtcrime they called it… Sooner or later they were bound to get you.”
Have you ever gotten so mad and pent up that you went into a rage and said things you really didn’t mean? “That sorry, no count blank, blank, blank, blank! I’ll get even with him!” Have you ever used a racial slur? Oh, no, you say. But then, upon reflection, maybe you did once or twice. Does that make you a racist?
If there is supposed to be equal justice under the law, shouldn’t the punishment be based on the crime, and not on who the victim is? If a deranged killer opens fire in a shopping mall, is this less of a crime than a maniac opening fire in a club filled with African Americans or gays? Otherwise, when a life is taken, aren’t we making a determination that that the lives of one particular group have greater value than the lives of another group? Isn’t it a fundamental principle of a democracy that the punishment fits the crime, not the victim?
Ayn Rand wrote about the divisiveness that takes place when preferences are given under the law. “There is no sure way to infect mankind with hatred – brute, blind, virulent hatred – than by splitting it into ethnic groups or tribes.”
Freedom in America means the freedom to have bad thoughts. I may not like what you are thinking, but ideas alone should not be a crime. A criminal should be punished for bad acts, not bad thoughts. James Madison said it well: “We have extinguished forever the ambitious hope of making the laws for the human mind.”
When it comes to crime, there should be a protected class that gets full protection from the criminal justice system. That protected class should be all Americans. And all Americans should be treated equally.