Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

July 16, 2013

Zimmerman again

By Nathan Harter Daily News
Greensburg Daily News

---- — Those of us living in multiracial communities such as Hampton Roads paused after the Zimmerman verdict to wonder how people would react. That alone is a sad commentary, that we have come to expect violence in these instances, but as it happens nothing of consequence occurred.

The obvious question is this. Who would be the target of anyone ire? The defendant was Hispanic. The prosecutors were white. I think by the end, many observers were predicting acquittal, so it was not as though it was a close call. True, anything can happen in a jury trial, but most folks foresaw this particular verdict.

The real show was the aftermath – not riots, but spin-meisters at press conferences, trying to frame the narrative as we go forward. And although there were different versions of what had just happened, nobody publicly called for retribution on the shooter (unless by that you mean a civil trial). Everyone spoke calmly and asked for peace in the streets.

I wasn’t worried that marauding gangs were going to rampage down my street because the jury decided that Zimmerman was not guilty. Nope. This wasn’t like the Rodney King trial so many years ago. There were just too many facts, too many legal provisions favoring the defendant. I suspect plenty of people saw the photos of Zimmerman’s injuries, heard the details during the trial, imagined the 17 year old kids in their own neighborhood who are hardly children or boys, and concluded to themselves – albeit quietly – yeah, I could see that sort of thing happening.

Lawyers are often ambivalent about these celebrity trials. They regret the politicization of their profession and the amateur commentary, but by the same token they appreciate an opportunity for the public to see up close what lawyers do for a living. They are rightly proud of our judicial system, with all of its flaws, and anything that educates the general public can be a boon.

Tragedies like what happened to these young men occur every day. Many if not most find their way into the judicial system, where professionals like these labor to reach the right outcome in a fair manner. They (the attorneys) are unusually bright, articulate men and women dedicated to resolving some of the thorniest and saddest predicaments in human affairs.

The process is complicated, by design. There are just so many variables and interests and ways that things can go wrong. We don’t want the local mob to take up their torches and their pitchforks and mete out justice the old-fashioned way. We are a civilized people. We require a civilized process. But for it to work, it will be very hard for laymen to understand.

There is a reason that attorneys set aside three years to study law, removed from productive labor. They have to gird themselves for intense, confusing problem-solving, where the case is not just an intellectual puzzle – like a Sudoku – but somebody’s patrimony, somebody’s reputation, somebody’s freedom.

Nobody expects perfection. The profession does the best it can, given its constraints, and then in cases such as this it turns the whole thing over to a jury, who are basically your neighbors. If we don’t want juries, then we reject the Constitution of the United States and hundreds of years of tradition. In the meantime, I can publicly acknowledge the importance of those officers of the court who tend the system. Wouldn’t want to be you. But thank you.