“J’Accuse” George Zimmerman

Jul 14, 2013 | Criminal Justice/Prison-Industrial Complex, Race and Racism

Published: mic (July 14, 2013)

More than a century ago, the French novelist Emile Zola drew attention to one epidemic of bigotry that was infecting his country. In his classic essay “J’Accuse,” he pointed the finger of accusation at anti-Semites throughout the Western world who were celebrating a wrong that had been perpetrated against a Jew, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, because he was a Jew.

As I see the reactions to the George Zimmerman acquittal, I can’t help but think of Zola’s article — and how another one like it is necessary.

First, I accuse Zimmerman’s defenders of deliberate asininity when it comes to the details of this case. To whit:

1. Trayvon Martin was an unarmed teenager walking home after purchasing candy and a soft drink. No one has claimed that he was engaged in any criminal conduct at the time.

2. Zimmerman identified him as a potential criminal and decided to pursue him, against the advice of a 911 police dispatcher.

3. We will never be able to say with certainty what happened between the moment Zimmerman got off the phone with the dispatcher and the moment Martin was killed. For all of the speculation made by both sides, in the end we do not have any reliable accounts of what occurred. All of the witnesses are either biased (Zimmerman) or, for logistical reasons, were unable to provide entirely reliable accounts. What we do know is that, beyond any reasonable doubt, Martin died because Zimmerman shot him. As such, Zimmerman is indisputably responsible for Martin’s death. Insofar as the principles of Western jurisprudence are concerned, the only relevant issue is whether he killed Martin in self-defense. If he did, then his actions were justified; if he did not, then he is guilty of murder.

4. Contrary to popular misconception, the burden of proof lies on Zimmerman to demonstrate that he acted in self-defense, not on the state to show that he didn’t. “Innocent until proven guilty” only applies to culpability for the offense in question, and no one has argued that Zimmerman didn’t pull the trigger that ended Martin’s life. While someone who has committed a violent crime obviously has the right to defend himself, we set a dangerous precedent if we automatically give the benefit of the doubt to the murderer instead of the victim. Not only does the victim lack a voice to present his or her side of the story, but any murderer who has been caught will naturally be inclined to argue that his or her actions were somehow justified. Because a murderer’s word is obviously suspect, and because murder is not an offense which we can afford as a society to sanction without the strongest of all possible reasons, we must demand that one who is known to have taken another human life establish beyond any shred of doubt that he or she had good reason to do so — and punish them, for the sake of protecting the sanctity of human life, if their culpability can be established and their justification cannot.

5. Zimmerman never convincingly proved that his life was in danger. His bloody nose and the scrapes on the back of his head do suggest that he and Martin were involved in a physical altercation of some sort, but had he had his head smashed against the pavement several times (as he claims), he would have sustained far worse injuries than that. As the evidence stands, all we know for certain is that he and Martin had a fight, which does not translate into justifiable cause for thinking his life was in danger. If, for example, two men are involved in a barroom brawl, and one pulls out a gun and shoots the other, the killer shouldn’t be exonerated simply because both parties were equally engaged in the act of violence; he is only justified if he can prove that he had good reason to fear the other party would have killed him if he had not acted first. A charge of manslaughter may be substituted for a more severe account, but it is ludicrous to claim that he should be entirely acquitted. Similarly, Zimmerman simply fighting with Martin does not justify Zimmerman killing Martin precisely because the only sound evidence that could have proved his life was in jeopardy — the severity of his bodily injuries — failed to meet that standard of proof. In short, there is no good reason to believe beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman had to end Martin’s life.

All of these details add up to one conclusion: George Zimmerman stalked, shot, and killed an unarmed teenager without justifiable cause. As such, he should have been convicted of murder.

Yet millions of people have ignored the facts, and the rather basic logic that can be applied to them, because they want to take his side. Even before the photographs of Zimmerman’s injuries were released, or before Martin’s character was smeared by Zimmerman’s defense attorneys, these same people were scrounging around for ways to defend Zimmerman and condemn the child whose life he took. For all of the talk of political correctness inconveniencing white people, the primary beneficiaries of braindead etiquette are the racists who are allowed to spew their bile and then hide behind disclaimers of their own so-called “color blindness.”

I say enough. And I add to that disgust the following:

I accuse George Zimmerman of being a common murderer, for the reasons explained before.

I accuse Zimmerman’s defenders of believing that Trayvon Martin deserved to die because he was a black male.

Some of them undoubtedly have deluded themselves into thinking that they aren’t racist; others, just as certainly, know that they dislike black people but lie so as to avoid the stigma of being labelled a “racist.” All, however, are basing their opinions on the fact that Martin was black. If both men had been white, these same people would never dream of arguing that a heavyset adult male with a firearm could be defended for stalking an unarmed child and killing him. These same people, whether they admit it or not, would rightly dismiss his claim to have acted in self-defense once the aforementioned evidence was presented to them. Because Martin was black, however, they readily bought into the stereotypes our society teaches about African American men, and formed their opinions accordingly.

Finally, I accuse our society of systematically targeting African Americans using the same logic employed by Zimmerman, his supporters, and the Florida jurors.

Stories of blacks being profiled as criminals because of their race are so common that our history textbooks devote entire chapters to this subject. Indeed, we have grown so accustomed to this sociological grotesquerie that, like Cicero describing the music of the spheres, we have stopped appreciating the sheer freakishness of this phenomenon. In a culture devoid of racist attitudes, Zimmerman would have attracted attention as a character in the same vein of Robert John Bardo or Jodi Arias, a self-aggrandizing murderer no more deserving of sympathy than any other narcisstic child-killer. Instead we have grown so used to the idea of blacks being profiled as criminals, and whites treating them as such, that it is possible for so many of us to fail to see Zimmerman for what he was.

Reading about Martin’s story moved me for reasons that I’ll readily admit were somewhat personal. His tale reminded me of a 12-year-old boy who was likewise targeted because of his ethnic background — in this case, being Jewish — and nearly murdered as a result of racial hate. As was the case with Martin, that boy’s assailants ultimately got away with it because the culture which tried them didn’t particularly care for Jews.

The only reason I can write to you today is because that boy, luckily, was not murdered. The fact that Martin isn’t here to point the accusing finger at Zimmerman is because he wasn’t so lucky. That is why decent people everywhere must make the accusations for him.