At last night's press conference a reporter asked the defense team whether the story would have played out differently if Zimmerman -- who identified himself as "Hispanic" in the last census -- were black. One of the lawyers answered that things would have been very different; the case would never have gone to trial. He expresses the widespread assumption that Zimmerman was race-baited by race-hustlers who cynically exploited Martin's death for political reasons. There's probably a kernel of truth in the observation. I don't doubt that some people think this way:
A young black man was killed.
The killer was not black.
Therefore, the victim was killed because he was black.
However, I think the attorney was wrong. I suspect that a black Zimmerman would have been prosecuted since, as a neighborhood-watchman, the theoretical perpetrator would be seen as part of The System first, and as a black man second. To expand on the syllogism above, if anyone empowered to act on suspicion of criminal activity or intentions -- a watchman, security guard or cop -- kills a black man, then the victim was killed because he was black as far as some people are concerned. That's why sympathizers with Martin and supporters of the prosecution continue to insist on the relevance of Zimmerman's apparent profiling of Martin. I heard at least one legal expert lament the absence of a black juror who could have explained the relevance of profiling to the rest of the panel. How would that have made a difference? You would have to accept the premise that Zimmerman had somehow surrendered his right to self-defense because he had hassled Martin. But while many may feel that Zimmerman deserved a beating for hassling Martin, the law won't back up that sentiment. Had a policeman arrived before Zimmerman fired his gun and found Martin on top of him, Martin would probably be in jail today, no one having accepted his resentment of profiling as an excuse for the battering he inflicted on the hapless watchman. Of course, the complexion of everything changes if you accept the prosecution implication that Martin only attacked because he thought his own life in danger. But the jurors were not convinced that Zimmerman had already menaced Martin to an extent to justify his violent reaction -- and even if they had, I can't imagine them deciding that Zimmerman had to submit to a potentially fatal beating. The irony of the situation is that Martin might have had a better chance of beating any rap had he actually beaten Zimmerman to death than if he had been pulled off beforehand, because then, as with Zimmerman now, it's his word (plus cell-phone recordings) against the silence of the dead. In any event, my main point is that Zimmerman was going to be presumed guilty of a hate crime by some people the moment the news broke, but I think it goes too far to presume, as Zimmerman's defenders do, that bias of that kind is the only reason Zimmerman ever went to trial. It's not just a matter of feeling but arguably an objective fact that shooting his unarmed attacker was an unreasonably excessive use of force that should be penalized. If Florida law immunizes him from any penalty for the sake of a self-defense dogma that has become an end unto itself -- an exalting of force over life -- then Florida law needs to change. Even FOX News reporters last night opined that the state's "stand your ground" rules are too broad in their implicit authorization of lethal force in most cases. Something clearly needs to be done, but the Florida legislature is reportedly dominated by rural Republicans who are self-defense extremists. Under current constitutional rules, a national consensus, if it exists, can't be implemented nationally without amending the Constitution. It may have been easier long, long ago, when a Zimmerman may have paid wergild to a Martin's survivors to end the matter -- but that seemed uncivilized at some point. Maybe we don't even need that. Maybe it would make more difference than some of us can imagine if George Zimmerman would state publicly that, the jury's opinion notwithstanding, what he did to Martin was wrong. It wouldn't be much of a consolation to Martin's relatives, but it'd be better than nothing and the nation would probably be better off for it.