U.S. criminal justice system succeeded when it acquitted George Zimmerman, failed when it charged him, Re: The Whole System Failed Trayvon Martin, International Herald Tribune/New York Times, July 16, 2013

Supporters of Trayvon Martin argue that the criminal justice system in America failed him when George Zimmerman was found not guilty of murdering him in a gated community in Florida.

Zimmerman is the white Neighborhood Watch volunteer who thought Martin, a 17 year old black thug with a long history of criminal activity, was acting suspiciously one night…he followed him, was attacked by him, and subsequently shot him in self-defence. Martin died, murder charges were laid, a trial was held and Zimmerman was acquitted last week.

The case was fraught with racial politics from the very beginning and galvanized the United States from the start. After the not guilty verdict came down there were protests and demonstrations all over the country, many of them violent. Indeed, they are carrying on as this is being written. Protesters claim that the criminal justice system in the U.S. is racist, that Martins death and Zimmermans acquittal were caused by racism and not by anything Martin did and that the system failed Martin by exonerating Zimmerman.

They are wrong. The system succeeded when it exonerated Zimmerman…it worked exactly as it is supposed to when he was found not guilty.

In a public trial by jury the prosecution simply could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman was guilty of the charges against him. It simply could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman murdered Martin, which is why he was acquitted. Race and racial politics had nothing to do with the verdict. The actual facts of the case were the determining factor and that means the system succeeded because the verdict was based on them and nothing else.

Unfortunately, the criminal justice system failed when Zimmerman was charged and brought to trial in the first place because the decision to charge him was based on racism, racial politics and political opportunism, nothing else. In fact, local authorities did not charge Zimmerman because they did not think the actual facts of the case warranted charges. Charges were only laid after their superiors intervened and that decision was most certainly not based on the actual facts of the case…it was bowing to racism, racial politics and political opportunism and was made after intense lobbying by racist opportunists who thought that they could take advantage of Zimmerman being white and Martin being black. Charges against Zimmerman were never warranted by the actual facts of the case and the system failed him when it laid them anyway.

The criminal justice system in the United States didn’t fail Trayvon Martin. Systems like the public education system certainly did and so did all the people around him who overlooked, excused and enabled his criminal and anti-social behaviour but the criminal justice system didn’t, not in this instance anyway.

Protesters talk about honouring Trayvon and Trayvons legacy.

A great way to honour him would be to fix all the systems that failed him and hordes of others like him, that fail hordes of others like him, especially the public education system.

A great way to honour him would be to discredit and hold accountable all those who overlook, excuse and enable criminal, anti-social behaviour by young people, especially black young people.

A great way to honour him would be to strengthen and support all those people and institutions that give everything they can to keep the Trayvon Martins of the world out of trouble in the first place, point them to a better future and help them get there.

Now those would be fitting legacies.

Would take a lot of honesty and hard work though.

Guts too.

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