Criminal Justice

Truth is sometimes a casualty in, often an inconvenience to, and never the goal of a criminal trial in America. The laudable directive “to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” does not apply to the lawyers in the courtroom, whose mandate it is not to tell the whole truth but rather the advantageous and convenient truth. Theirs is the art of persuasion, and the simple fact is that in a jury trial, the better story wins. Justice is not synonymous with truth. Justice is the administration of the rule of law. The rule of law exists to preserve order, not to extoll the truth and certainly not to insure freedom. In the George Zimmerman murder trial, a jury of six women, none of them African American, chose to embrace the defense team’s story of the dangerous young black man, louche and lascivious, who is after your property—a venerable if perverse American stereotype that goes back to Mandingo, a distasteful myth that we have not had the will nor the sense to reject. We all tend to believe a first-person narrator—he was there when it happened, after all. But we need to remember that all first-person narrators are unreliable. The Russians have a saying: “He lies like an eyewitness.” George Zimmerman saw to it that he was the only eyewitness left standing to tell the story of that horrific night, the night he stalked, assaulted, and killed Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman behaved like a thug, a schoolyard bully who taunts and provokes his often younger and slighter victim, until the victim responds, and then the scumbag has his excuse to retaliate with gleeful, brutal, and in this case, fatal force. The fact that a punk like Zimmerman can carry a loaded and concealed weapon in public while trying to assert his insubstantial manhood should concern all of us. The NRA never tires of flogging the public with the fatuous bromide that an armed citizen is the best deterrent to crime. In the Zimmerman case, not surprisingly, the armed citizen committed the crime, murdered an innocent teenager. Without his weapon, Zimmerman would have been just a squabby and bilious little fellow, stamping his tiny boots on the sidewalk, mumbling his racial invectives, waving his meaty fists in the air, and cursing the darkness.