Commentary Magazine


Topic: George Zimmerman

The One Insult John McCain Can’t Forgive

The part of John McCain’s interview with the New Republic getting the most attention today is where he admits to being conflicted over whether, in a hypothetical 2016 general election, he’d vote for Hillary Clinton over Rand Paul. The article is even headlined “John McCain, Undecided 2016 Voter,” as if to nudge readers along, in case they thought the flames of GOP internecine warfare weren’t being fanned quite enough yet this week.

And of course it is juicy enough in its own way, raising the prospect that the party’s former presidential nominee will jump ship rather than be captained by a libertarian. Nonetheless, though the interview spans foreign and domestic policy, from drones to “wacko birds” to Egyptian coups, one part of the interview caught my attention. McCain was asked about the role Sarah Palin played in the 2008 campaign and her choice of attack lines to aim at the Obama/Biden ticket (“IC” is the New Republic’s Isaac Chotiner, who conducted the interview; “JM” is McCain):

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The part of John McCain’s interview with the New Republic getting the most attention today is where he admits to being conflicted over whether, in a hypothetical 2016 general election, he’d vote for Hillary Clinton over Rand Paul. The article is even headlined “John McCain, Undecided 2016 Voter,” as if to nudge readers along, in case they thought the flames of GOP internecine warfare weren’t being fanned quite enough yet this week.

And of course it is juicy enough in its own way, raising the prospect that the party’s former presidential nominee will jump ship rather than be captained by a libertarian. Nonetheless, though the interview spans foreign and domestic policy, from drones to “wacko birds” to Egyptian coups, one part of the interview caught my attention. McCain was asked about the role Sarah Palin played in the 2008 campaign and her choice of attack lines to aim at the Obama/Biden ticket (“IC” is the New Republic’s Isaac Chotiner, who conducted the interview; “JM” is McCain):

IC: But she also accused Obama of “palling around with terrorists.” It wasn’t entirely positive.

JM: Well, if she attacked Obama and Biden, that is fairly standard.

IC: “Palling around with terrorists”?

JM: With all due respect, you never heard about when John Lewis said my campaign was worse than the Birmingham church bombing? That may have escaped your attention.

IC: It did. I agree, that is bad.

JM: OK, well, that is what he did, when they orchestrated this “racism” effort against me. Maybe Sarah Palin said “palling around with terrorists,” but the things that were said about me and her were far worse. I’ll never forgive John Lewis.

IC: Did you ever talk to Lewis?

JM: No. I would be glad to show you the press release. But we selectively take something Palin said, and the vice president’s job is to attack, and how many people know about John Lewis? I can show you many other comments. For me to complain about it is a waste of time.

This actually quite tragic, and it just reinforces the fact that the false accusations of racism in which the media and elected Democrats traffic is so corrosive to American politics. You don’t hear McCain complain about the fact that the Obama campaign mocked his war wounds or told Hispanic voters that McCain was against immigration reform when it was Obama who torpedoed McCain’s attempt to liberalize the system. Or, for that matter, any of the other more routine attacks.

Politics ain’t beanbag, of course. Campaigns breed all kinds of personal and political attacks, but rarely the kind that can never be forgiven. Tarring a person’s character with the racism charge just to try to win an election is especially reprehensible. It’s reminiscent of Ted Kennedy’s attack on Robert Bork at the latter’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing. “Robert Bork’s America,” the bilious speech claimed, would be a place where “blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters.”

It went beyond the usual character assassination and smear campaigns typical of the left. It forever changed the way judges were confirmed. It broke new ground–even for Kennedy, who had long mastered the politics of personal destruction and turned vapid belligerence into an art form. The confirmation process never recovered, and neither did the courts, membership of which was now available only to those who pretended not to have an opinion about anything. Intellectual discourse was off the table–Kennedy had spoken.

And American politics hasn’t truly recovered either. Even the left understands the damage Kennedy and his cohorts (including the current vice president) did to the country. As Joe Nocera wrote in the New York Times in 2011:

The Bork fight, in some ways, was the beginning of the end of civil discourse in politics. For years afterward, conservatives seethed at the “systematic demonization” of Bork, recalls Clint Bolick, a longtime conservative legal activist. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution coined the angry verb “to bork,” which meant to destroy a nominee by whatever means necessary. When Republicans borked the Democratic House Speaker Jim Wright less than two years later, there wasn’t a trace of remorse, not after what the Democrats had done to Bork. The anger between Democrats and Republicans, the unwillingness to work together, the profound mistrust — the line from Bork to today’s ugly politics is a straight one.

And yet the media and Democrats persist in their efforts to call everyone with whom they disagree a racist. Detroit’s bankruptcy is just the latest example, but the trial of George Zimmerman is a reminder of this as well. NBC chose to edit the 9-1-1 call Zimmerman made in order to make it appear as though Zimmerman might be racist, setting off a trial that was suddenly a referendum on racial justice. The press decided to paint Zimmerman as a racist monster, and now the family Zimmerman saved from a car wreck is afraid to speak out publicly on his behalf for fear of “blowback.”

I’m sure there are those who will accuse McCain of sour grapes or unjustly holding a grudge. But he seems to have been able to let the election go. He just can’t quite get beyond the sinister accusation of racism, which became so normalized by the left that virtually every Republican candidate four years later was hit with the same accusation. The damage this is doing to the country is visible and resilient, but as long as Democrats believe it helps them win elections, we can only expect more of it.

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Trayvon, Texas, and Voter ID

Attorney General Eric Holder never uttered the words “Trayvon Martin” or “George Zimmerman” in his remarks today at the convention of the Urban League in Philadelphia. But his address, in which he vowed to impose “preclearance” procedures on the state of Texas in order to prevent it from making any changes in voting procedures without the express permission of the Department of Justice, must be viewed in the context of a liberal drive to take advantage of the “conversation” on race that so many on the left have urged upon the country in the aftermath of the verdict in the Zimmerman trial. Holder’s actions are primarily a response to the Supreme Court’s decision to reaffirm the Voting Rights Act while mandating that Congress redraw the map that determines which jurisdictions must get advance permission from the DOJ without the latter having to go to court first, rather than merely going by the outdated one drawn up in 1965. But there’s little doubt that Holder and the left are hoping the hysteria that race merchants like Al Sharpton have helped stir up in the last two weeks will help them turn public opinion on the question of voter ID laws that are at the heart of the federal attack on Texas.

The Martin case has been cited by many liberals who have sought to argue that the Court’s majority was somehow wrong to rule that the America of 2013 is nothing like the one that existed in 1965. The tone of much of the commentary from the left, including that of President Obama on the Zimmerman case, has been to insist that for all of the obvious progress made, the death of Martin proves we are essentially no better off in terms of racism that we were in the pre-Voting Rights Act era. But like the post-trial discussion that ignored the actual facts of the trial, Holder’s assertion that voter ID laws are, by definition, proof of discrimination is not only disingenuous; it’s flat out false.

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Attorney General Eric Holder never uttered the words “Trayvon Martin” or “George Zimmerman” in his remarks today at the convention of the Urban League in Philadelphia. But his address, in which he vowed to impose “preclearance” procedures on the state of Texas in order to prevent it from making any changes in voting procedures without the express permission of the Department of Justice, must be viewed in the context of a liberal drive to take advantage of the “conversation” on race that so many on the left have urged upon the country in the aftermath of the verdict in the Zimmerman trial. Holder’s actions are primarily a response to the Supreme Court’s decision to reaffirm the Voting Rights Act while mandating that Congress redraw the map that determines which jurisdictions must get advance permission from the DOJ without the latter having to go to court first, rather than merely going by the outdated one drawn up in 1965. But there’s little doubt that Holder and the left are hoping the hysteria that race merchants like Al Sharpton have helped stir up in the last two weeks will help them turn public opinion on the question of voter ID laws that are at the heart of the federal attack on Texas.

The Martin case has been cited by many liberals who have sought to argue that the Court’s majority was somehow wrong to rule that the America of 2013 is nothing like the one that existed in 1965. The tone of much of the commentary from the left, including that of President Obama on the Zimmerman case, has been to insist that for all of the obvious progress made, the death of Martin proves we are essentially no better off in terms of racism that we were in the pre-Voting Rights Act era. But like the post-trial discussion that ignored the actual facts of the trial, Holder’s assertion that voter ID laws are, by definition, proof of discrimination is not only disingenuous; it’s flat out false.

The attorney general’s decision to go to court against Texas gives the lie to much of the fulminations from the administration about the decision in Shelby v. Holder. Far from easing the way toward a new era of Jim Crow, the court reaffirmed the Voting Rights Act’s safeguards against discrimination but merely said that the DOJ could not preempt the judicial process without a necessary re-write of the act based on the realities of contemporary America rather than one based on the situation in 1965. Thus, Holder is perfectly free to sue in federal court to stop Texas from doing anything he deems discriminatory.

But, like the incendiary rhetoric that sought to indict “Stand Your Ground” laws after Zimmerman’s acquittal as being a license for shooting down innocent young black men, Holder’s claim that Texas’s drawing of voter districts discriminates against Hispanics is unfounded. But the big prize here is his bid to prevent any state from requiring voters to identify themselves at the polls.

In an era when it has become easier to register, including at the polls on election days and where mail-in and absentee ballots have become commonplace, voter fraud has become easier, necessitating measures to ensure the integrity of results. The vast majority of Americans, including African-Americans, believe there is nothing wrong, let alone discriminatory, about asking voters to identify themselves in the same manner that they must to conduct virtually any other transaction with the government or business. Voter ID laws are a commonsense measure that are as easy to comply with as it is to register to vote. But liberals and race baiters have sought to make them the lever by which they can convince the country that racism is alive and well.

Like the Martin case, the discussion about voting rights is about assumptions about race that have little to do with facts. Trayvon Martin has been transformed from a troubled youth who died in a confusing fight to a martyr because civil rights groups and others that seek to profit from the focus on race need him to symbolize their effort to persuade America that nothing has changed since 1965. The same is true of Holder’s rant about Texas and voter ID. The courts should dismiss this claim just as decisively as the Zimmerman jury rejected a murder charge.

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The Zimmerman Trial as Rorschach Test

In response to my post on the George Zimmerman trial and the left’s reaction to it, I heard from some people I know who felt like I erred in my analysis. They believe Trayvon Martin was targeted as a suspect because he was a black teen, that it’s clear that Zimmerman engaged in racial profiling, and so race was a motivating factor in the Martin killing. 

People can decide for themselves if what I wrote is sufficiently careful and fair-minded. But I thought I’d use the comments and concerns raised by these individuals to clarify and expand on some points.

What I argued was that there’s simply no indication that George Zimmerman is a racist. No evidence was presented at the trial that the killing was the equivalent of what the head of the NAACP called a “modern-day lynching.” It matters that neither the prosecution, nor the defense, nor the police, nor the jurors ever said that this trial was about race. In fact, they said the opposite. Many in the media (especially NBC/MSNBC) have acted in deeply irresponsible ways. And comparisons to what happened in Sanford, Florida on February 26, 2012 to what happened to Emmett Till on August 28, 1955 is a terrible disfigurement of history.  

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In response to my post on the George Zimmerman trial and the left’s reaction to it, I heard from some people I know who felt like I erred in my analysis. They believe Trayvon Martin was targeted as a suspect because he was a black teen, that it’s clear that Zimmerman engaged in racial profiling, and so race was a motivating factor in the Martin killing. 

People can decide for themselves if what I wrote is sufficiently careful and fair-minded. But I thought I’d use the comments and concerns raised by these individuals to clarify and expand on some points.

What I argued was that there’s simply no indication that George Zimmerman is a racist. No evidence was presented at the trial that the killing was the equivalent of what the head of the NAACP called a “modern-day lynching.” It matters that neither the prosecution, nor the defense, nor the police, nor the jurors ever said that this trial was about race. In fact, they said the opposite. Many in the media (especially NBC/MSNBC) have acted in deeply irresponsible ways. And comparisons to what happened in Sanford, Florida on February 26, 2012 to what happened to Emmett Till on August 28, 1955 is a terrible disfigurement of history.  

On the matter of whether Martin was targeted because of his race: Sanford Police Department detective Chris Serino’s interpretation sounds plausible. He told the FBI that Zimmerman’s actions were not based on Martin’s skin color but rather based on his attire, the total circumstances of the encounter and the previous burglary suspects in the community. And if Trayvon Martin had been a 75-year-old African American man in a suit using a cane and walking next to his four-year-old grandchild, we all know nothing would have happened that night. If, on the other hand, a 28-year-old “white Hispanic” male with rough attire had been walking around his neighborhood on a rainy night, George Zimmerman may well have followed him. It appears what Zimmerman was doing was engaging in criminal profiling. Now, whether it’s inappropriate for race to ever, under any circumstances, be taken into account when it comes to criminal profiling is an issue worth discussing. But that is entirely different than Zimmerman killing Martin was based on racial animus, which is what racial demagogues like Al Sharpton are saying.

At the same time, I want to underscore again my belief that George Zimmerman made some tragic errors. He’s no hero. Moreover, Trayvon Martin not only didn’t deserve to die; he was innocent of any wrongdoing. The fact that he was killed is a crushing blow from which his family will never fully recover. His parents are living through an ordeal they didn’t deserve. A month from now the rest of us will have moved on from this trial. They will not have. Those of us who believe the Zimmerman verdict was correct should not forget that.

But the trial and its aftermath demonstrated something else as well. It served as a kind of Rorschach test. Some people who paid close attention to the trial came away convinced that the second-degree murder charge against George Zimmerman was indefensible, that the jury verdict was correct, and that the effort by some on the left to turn this into a Mississippi Burning moment is wrong and reckless. And many of those who claim solidarity with the African American community right now have had little or nothing to say about black-on-black crime, which is doing far more damage to the African American community than the type of incident that occurred in the Zimmerman-Martin confrontation. The moral outrage therefore seems somewhat contrived and convenient.

Others who paid close attention to the trial came away from it focused on one overriding fact: an innocent young black man was wrongly killed and the person who pulled the trigger of the weapon is a free man. In addition, they believe Trayvon Martin was a victim of racial profiling–if he had been white, the killing would never have occurred–and the consider George Zimmerman to be a “wannabe vigilante.” All of this upsets them and is evidence that the system is rigged, to one degree or another, against blacks. The fact that an innocent African American is dead from a gun shot and no one has been convicted of a crime is “another piece of evidence of the incontrovertible contempt that this nation often shows and displays for black men.” 

Now, I’ve made my case for which of these two interpretations I consider to align more closely with the facts in this case. I also believe the incendiary and reckless rhetoric has made a sober and informed discussion of race and crime very difficult to have. Any time Al Sharpton is a central figure in a discussion about race, it won’t be constructive. That said, I understand why reasonable people will react in a much different way than I did to the Zimmerman verdict and its aftermath and why they believe race may well have played a role in the death of Trayvon Martin, even if racial bigotry did not. One can appreciate why this is something that troubles them.

A final observation: None of us interprets things in a perfectly detached and objective way; we all bring to our analysis of events certain predilections. We see the same set of facts and might process them in entirely different ways. That doesn’t mean that every interpretation of events is equally valid. But we should all be alert to the fact that we often seek out information or view things in a manner that reinforces our existing opinions. And most of us should try harder than we do to see things from different vantage points that are the result of different experiences, assumptions and moral intuitions. It’s probably good, too, to have at least a few people in our orbit who have standing in our lives and are willing to challenge our interpretation of reality. That doesn’t mean we’ll agree with them on every point. But if we’re lucky, it just might help us see things a bit more clearly and a bit more fully.

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Civil Rights Cases and Racism

In a week in which accusations of racism have become the hottest topic in the public square, it was probably smart for the publishers of David Dinkins’s forthcoming memoir to trot out the former mayor of New York City for an interview with the New York Times in which he could air his personal grievances. According to the Times, the Dinkins autobiography due out in September will highlight his belief that the only reason why his 1989 victory over Rudy Giuliani was won by a narrow margin was racism. Not surprisingly, Dinkins credits the same factor for his defeat at the hands of Giuliani four years later. While nobody should expect Dinkins to accept the general assessment of his single term at Gracie Mansion as an unmitigated disaster, his inability to understand that it was his performance rather than prejudice that soured many New Yorkers on him shows that he is just as out of touch with public opinion today as he was then.

But the irony here is that his attempt to smear the slightly less than a million voters who voted against him in both elections as racists is that the most memorable event of his term in office was a riot motivated by bias. Even Dinkins has to admit that the 1991 Crown Heights pogrom against Jews in Brooklyn was a disaster for which he had to accept responsibility. It is also of particular relevance today because it spawned exactly what protesters against the acquittal of George Zimmerman want: a successful federal civil rights prosecution of a man who was judged not guilty of murder by a state court. However, the differences between that case and the death of Trayvon Martin go a long way toward helping us understand Dinkins’s defeat as well as why a civil rights prosecution of Zimmerman would make a farce of the concept.

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In a week in which accusations of racism have become the hottest topic in the public square, it was probably smart for the publishers of David Dinkins’s forthcoming memoir to trot out the former mayor of New York City for an interview with the New York Times in which he could air his personal grievances. According to the Times, the Dinkins autobiography due out in September will highlight his belief that the only reason why his 1989 victory over Rudy Giuliani was won by a narrow margin was racism. Not surprisingly, Dinkins credits the same factor for his defeat at the hands of Giuliani four years later. While nobody should expect Dinkins to accept the general assessment of his single term at Gracie Mansion as an unmitigated disaster, his inability to understand that it was his performance rather than prejudice that soured many New Yorkers on him shows that he is just as out of touch with public opinion today as he was then.

But the irony here is that his attempt to smear the slightly less than a million voters who voted against him in both elections as racists is that the most memorable event of his term in office was a riot motivated by bias. Even Dinkins has to admit that the 1991 Crown Heights pogrom against Jews in Brooklyn was a disaster for which he had to accept responsibility. It is also of particular relevance today because it spawned exactly what protesters against the acquittal of George Zimmerman want: a successful federal civil rights prosecution of a man who was judged not guilty of murder by a state court. However, the differences between that case and the death of Trayvon Martin go a long way toward helping us understand Dinkins’s defeat as well as why a civil rights prosecution of Zimmerman would make a farce of the concept.

Dinkins’s attempt to resurrect his old grudge against his successor isn’t of much interest. But the idea that the refusal of New Yorkers to embrace his political ambition with unanimity was rooted in their prejudices is an absurd distortion of the facts. As the Times notes, Dinkins was an urbane, well-dressed and well-spoken man. But he was also a political hack who inspired little affection or confidence. Many New Yorkers may have thought that after three exhausting terms of Ed Koch, they needed a man lacking dynamism. But once Dinkins took office, many repented of this sentiment as the impression of a dysfunctional, ungovernable city took hold.

The Crown Heights riot was not the only instance in which Dinkins’s lack of leadership was telling—a black boycott of Korean storekeepers was just as toxic and also illustrated the mayor’s indecisive nature. But it was the most notorious. It started when a Jewish driver ran over a black child in a car accident. An angry mob formed and violence soon brook out as racial hucksters encouraged attacks on Jews in an area in which Hasidic Jews lived near a predominantly black neighborhood. For three days, black rioters ran amuck as the police failed to act to stop the violence that was directed against Jews that has since been widely and accurately described as a pogrom—the only such instance in American history.

Many Jews were injured as homes and businesses were attacked and looted. During the course of this riot, 20 young black men surrounded a 29-year-old Australian Jewish student living in the area. They taunted him with anti-Semitic epithets and then beat and stabbed him. Before he died, he identified Lemrick Nelson Jr. as his murderer.

Eventually, Dinkins ordered in enough police to stop the violence after earlier attempts to restore order were overwhelmed by the rioters.

It should be remembered that this was an era in which leadership of the black community seemed more the function of racial hucksters such as the young Al Sharpton than figures such as Dinkins. The future MSNBC host distinguished himself during this incident by invoking anti-Semitic stereotypes about “diamond merchants” while speaking at the funeral of the child killed in the original accident and referring to a Jewish ambulance service as a function of “apartheid.”

In this inflamed circumstance, it is perhaps not entirely surprising that Nelson was acquitted of the murder by a predominantly minority jury despite the fact that he had been identified by the victim and arrested while carrying the blood-stained knife used to kill Rosenblum.

After that verdict, pressure was put on the federal government to prosecute the murderer for depriving Rosenblum of his civil rights. It was, like any second prosecution of Zimmerman would be, a form of double jeopardy. But the legal justification for the second trial was solid. The attack on Rosenblum was clearly based on anti-Semitism as it was carried out by a crowd that had been yelling, “kill the Jew” at their victim and during the course of a riot specifically directed at inflicting violence at Hasidic Jews.

The problem for those who would like to manufacture a civil rights case against the Hispanic killer of Martin is that there is no evidence that he said anything racial to the teenager. Nor, despite the attempt to interpret his repeated complaints about those who had committed thefts and acts of violence in his community, is there any evidence of racism on his part, a point that has already been made by the FBI’s failure to procure any such evidence during its initial investigation of the incident.

As legal commentators have rightly noted, the bar for a civil rights prosecution is very high. It was met in the Crown Heights case, but that was a case of mass violence rooted in bias, not a confused confrontation without witnesses.

The proof of Dinkins’s general incompetence was clearly illustrated not so much by the anger of the city about what happened from 1989 to 1993 but by the widespread and correct perception of a radical improvement under Giuliani. His successful mayoralty consigned Dinkins to the dustbin of history from which he can only hope to extricate himself via accusations that are as untrue as they are pathetic.

However, those eager to beat the drum for the Department of Justice to take on Zimmerman should find the history of Dinkins’s mayoralty to be instructive. Crown Heights provides an actual example of what happens when prejudice runs riot and how true jury nullification can lead to a successful civil rights prosecution.

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Hispanics and the Zimmerman Narrative

Four days into the post-Zimmerman trial verdict era—which many in the media have already dubbed the post-post racial era of American history—a small but interesting thing happened that tells us a lot about the way the narrative of this event is being crafted by the media. Politico’s Dylan Byers gets credit for noticing a curious detail about President Obama’s much talked-about interviews with Hispanic television networks. The focus of the appearances was the discussion of immigration reform. The main point was the White House’s not-so-subtle hint to Republicans that though the president had taken a low profile on the issue in order to not sabotage bipartisan efforts to pass a Senate compromise, Democrats were poised to use the failure of the House to pass a bill as a cudgel to attack Republicans in the future. But the most fascinating element of the president’s Hispanic outreach was the question that he wasn’t asked. As Byers points out, on a day when the country was transfixed by the debate over the acquittal of George Zimmerman on a charge of murdering Trayvon Martin, no one from Telemundo or Univision even mentioned the case.

In and of itself it’s curious that any presidential interview this week would not contain at least one question about the case. But even Byers didn’t mention the irony here. While the prevailing narrative of the case has been to portray the tragic death of Martin as a symbol if not a practical example of white racism against African-Americans, Zimmerman isn’t white. He’s Hispanic. So it is telling that not only have none of the leading lights of the Latino media claimed him as a member of their community, but in doing so have consciously abstained from dealing with the issue of race relations in America that has become the primary topic of political discussion since Saturday night. At least as far as these interviews were concerned, the Hispanic media seems determined to do nothing to alter the prevailing narrative in which Zimmerman is stripped of his own identity as a minority in order to make the point about racist America in a way that allows the left to wave the bloody banner of Jim Crow unimpeded by concern for the sensitivities of Hispanics.

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Four days into the post-Zimmerman trial verdict era—which many in the media have already dubbed the post-post racial era of American history—a small but interesting thing happened that tells us a lot about the way the narrative of this event is being crafted by the media. Politico’s Dylan Byers gets credit for noticing a curious detail about President Obama’s much talked-about interviews with Hispanic television networks. The focus of the appearances was the discussion of immigration reform. The main point was the White House’s not-so-subtle hint to Republicans that though the president had taken a low profile on the issue in order to not sabotage bipartisan efforts to pass a Senate compromise, Democrats were poised to use the failure of the House to pass a bill as a cudgel to attack Republicans in the future. But the most fascinating element of the president’s Hispanic outreach was the question that he wasn’t asked. As Byers points out, on a day when the country was transfixed by the debate over the acquittal of George Zimmerman on a charge of murdering Trayvon Martin, no one from Telemundo or Univision even mentioned the case.

In and of itself it’s curious that any presidential interview this week would not contain at least one question about the case. But even Byers didn’t mention the irony here. While the prevailing narrative of the case has been to portray the tragic death of Martin as a symbol if not a practical example of white racism against African-Americans, Zimmerman isn’t white. He’s Hispanic. So it is telling that not only have none of the leading lights of the Latino media claimed him as a member of their community, but in doing so have consciously abstained from dealing with the issue of race relations in America that has become the primary topic of political discussion since Saturday night. At least as far as these interviews were concerned, the Hispanic media seems determined to do nothing to alter the prevailing narrative in which Zimmerman is stripped of his own identity as a minority in order to make the point about racist America in a way that allows the left to wave the bloody banner of Jim Crow unimpeded by concern for the sensitivities of Hispanics.

Let’s concede that the Hispanic journalists are entitled to determine their own priorities and that immigration reform and the status of illegals is not only the topic they are most interested in but also the one their viewers care most about. They are also within their rights to deplore Zimmerman’s actions and to reject his acquittal if they think it was unjust. But the complete absence of interest on their part in bringing up the case this week in what was a unique opportunity to get the president speak to the issue provides us with a fascinating commentary on their frame of reference.

Though race was not part of the actual trial that hinged on the facts of the case and the details of the confrontation between Zimmerman and Martin, since the verdict was handed down the discussion in the country about it has focused almost entirely on identity politics and race. Martin has been transformed in much of this discussion from a youth with a mixed record who got into a fight with an armed man into a martyr who was murdered because he was black. But in order to make that narrative persuasive, Zimmerman must be viewed as a “creepy ass cracker”—Martin’s description of Zimmerman according to Rachel Jeantel—and not the son of a woman from South America whose Hispanic appearance doesn’t exactly make him a likely recruit for the Ku Klux Klan. But in order to really think of Zimmerman that way, we must forget his origins and his looks and focus only on his German-sounding last name.

One needn’t agree with the verdict in order to understand that stripping Zimmerman of his Hispanic identity and making him an honorary member of the white supremacist conspiracy against minorities has been an integral element in the process by which he has been demonized and the case has been inflated into the new paradigm of American racism. Those who only concentrated on the facts of the case rather than the politicized agitation that accompanied it—a group that includes the jurors that acquitted Zimmerman—found it to be a complex and confusing incident that told us little, if anything, about racism in America. But eliminating the defendant’s background makes it easier to think of it as a morality play about racism.

Perhaps it’s understandable that Hispanic journalists wouldn’t want to risk upsetting their liberal colleagues by disrupting this rhetorical formulation by pointing out Zimmerman’s background or even raising questions about assumptions about race. But their failure to do so is playing a part in perpetuating a distorted discussion that has done more to obscure the truth about race in America than to shed light on it.

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Deconstructing Reality and Zimmerman

On Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder, in addressing the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, reiterated that the Department of Justice is considering filing federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman in the aftermath of his acquittal. Mr. Holder went on to say, “I want to assure you that the Department will continue to act in a manner that is consistent with the facts and the law. We are committed to standing with the people of Sanford, with the individuals and families affected by this incident, and with our state and local partners in order to alleviate tensions, address community concerns, and promote healing. We are determined to meet division and confusion with understanding and compassion – and also with truth… We will never stop working to ensure that – in every case, in every circumstance, and in every community – justice must be done.”

What an ironic formulation for Mr. Holder to use. Set aside the fact that Attorney General Holder, who considers America to be a “nation of cowards” on race, has done more than his fair share to divide us along racial lines. Set aside, too, the fact that Mr. Holder’s relationship to the truth is often tenuous, including when he’s testifying before Congress on matters ranging from the Fast and Furious gun-running program to the Department of Justice’s investigation of Fox’s James Rosen.

What I had in mind is that in this case the facts, the truth, and the law all point in the same direction: George Zimmerman was not guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter–and racism was not a factor in the death of Trayvon Martin. The prosecution team said as much. (Angela Corey, the special prosecutor in the case, conceded, “This case has never been about race.”) So did the jury. (One of the jurors in Zimmerman’s state trial told CNN on Monday that she did not think Zimmerman racially profiled Martin. “All of us thought race did not play a role,” said the juror.) And so did Chris Serino, the Sanford Police Department detective who headed the shooting probe. He said the fatal shooting was not based on Martin’s skin color, nor was Zimmerman considered to be a racist. That doesn’t mean what Zimmerman did wasn’t misguided or a tragic error (see William Saleton’s piece here). But it does mean that (a) he wasn’t guilty of a crime according to Florida law and (b) the Department of Justice needs to give up meddling in this case since there was not a shred of evidence presented in the trial showing Zimmerman is racist or that his shooting of Martin was driven by racial bigotry.

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On Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder, in addressing the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, reiterated that the Department of Justice is considering filing federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman in the aftermath of his acquittal. Mr. Holder went on to say, “I want to assure you that the Department will continue to act in a manner that is consistent with the facts and the law. We are committed to standing with the people of Sanford, with the individuals and families affected by this incident, and with our state and local partners in order to alleviate tensions, address community concerns, and promote healing. We are determined to meet division and confusion with understanding and compassion – and also with truth… We will never stop working to ensure that – in every case, in every circumstance, and in every community – justice must be done.”

What an ironic formulation for Mr. Holder to use. Set aside the fact that Attorney General Holder, who considers America to be a “nation of cowards” on race, has done more than his fair share to divide us along racial lines. Set aside, too, the fact that Mr. Holder’s relationship to the truth is often tenuous, including when he’s testifying before Congress on matters ranging from the Fast and Furious gun-running program to the Department of Justice’s investigation of Fox’s James Rosen.

What I had in mind is that in this case the facts, the truth, and the law all point in the same direction: George Zimmerman was not guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter–and racism was not a factor in the death of Trayvon Martin. The prosecution team said as much. (Angela Corey, the special prosecutor in the case, conceded, “This case has never been about race.”) So did the jury. (One of the jurors in Zimmerman’s state trial told CNN on Monday that she did not think Zimmerman racially profiled Martin. “All of us thought race did not play a role,” said the juror.) And so did Chris Serino, the Sanford Police Department detective who headed the shooting probe. He said the fatal shooting was not based on Martin’s skin color, nor was Zimmerman considered to be a racist. That doesn’t mean what Zimmerman did wasn’t misguided or a tragic error (see William Saleton’s piece here). But it does mean that (a) he wasn’t guilty of a crime according to Florida law and (b) the Department of Justice needs to give up meddling in this case since there was not a shred of evidence presented in the trial showing Zimmerman is racist or that his shooting of Martin was driven by racial bigotry.

But that hardly seems to matter to some of those on the left and in the media, who are determined to turn this case into an example of a hate crime. Consider NBC News, which doctored recordings by Zimmerman in order to make him appear to be a racist. Here’s how NBC’s March 27, 2012 Today show’s abridged version of Zimmerman’s comments (made the evening of February 26, 2012) went: “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.” And here’s how the real conversation went:

Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.

Dispatcher: OK, and this guy — is he black, white or Hispanic?

Zimmerman: He looks black.

So what’s going on here? Part of the answer is that liberals long to use a case like this to transport them to an Atticus Finch-Tom Robinson, Edmund Pettus Bridge moment. They want things like the Zimmerman trial to be at core about a great civil rights struggle, even if it’s actually not. Which leads to my second observation.

What we’re seeing from the left is post-modernism on full display. The facts, the truth and objective reality are subordinate to the progressive narrative. In this particular instance many liberals so want the killing of Trayvon Martin to be driven by bigotry–which would serve as both an indictment of racial attitudes in America and turn a horrible mistake into a “modern-day lynching”–that they will make it so, even if it requires twisting the truth into something unrecognizable. What matters, after all, is The Cause. And everything, including basic facts, must be bent to fit it. This kind of systematic deconstruction of truth is fairly common in college liberal arts courses all across America. But when it becomes the primary mode of interpretation in a murder trial, it is something else again.

Most of us, when we hear the words “justice must be done,” believe that what is right, reasonable, fair and in accordance with the facts be done. But some on the left have something else in mind. For them, justice is a tool in a larger political struggle, a means to an end. Justice can be at odds with reality if reality is at odds with liberalism. Which is why the efforts to turn the Zimmerman verdict into a racial miscarriage of justice is so discouraging and so damaging.

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Juror B37 Gets a Lesson in Race Incitement

After two days of silence on the part of the jurors in the George Zimmerman murder trial, one member of the panel that voted to acquit him emerged last night in a fascinating interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. But if she was thinking that her account of the deliberations wouldn’t be greeted with derision and abuse, she was soon sadly better informed. After a day of non-stop incitement about the verdict, B37’s words were seized upon by the army of racial hucksters shuttling in and out of the studios at CNN and MSNBC as further proof of what they claimed was the unjustness of the outcome as well as the flaws in the trial.

By the time the interview was aired, not only had her plans to write a book about the experience been shelved, but the juror was given a sharp reminder that anyone who dissents from liberal orthodoxy on both the case and the idea that race explains everything that happens is subjected to ridicule and shunning. Rather than listening to her story about the reasoning of the jury, all her critics heard was someone who accepted the defendant’s account of the incident and the claim of self-defense. Like Zimmerman, B37 and the other five jurors—who will probably prefer to keep silent as well as anonymous after this example—are all now marked for life as characters in a morality play in which Trayvon Martin is a martyr to racism and all those who played a part in Zimmerman’s acquittal are the architects of a new era of Jim Crow. Like the willingness to demonize Zimmerman, the smearing of B37 tells us a lot about the desire of the left to trap America in its racial past rather than help the country move on.

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After two days of silence on the part of the jurors in the George Zimmerman murder trial, one member of the panel that voted to acquit him emerged last night in a fascinating interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. But if she was thinking that her account of the deliberations wouldn’t be greeted with derision and abuse, she was soon sadly better informed. After a day of non-stop incitement about the verdict, B37’s words were seized upon by the army of racial hucksters shuttling in and out of the studios at CNN and MSNBC as further proof of what they claimed was the unjustness of the outcome as well as the flaws in the trial.

By the time the interview was aired, not only had her plans to write a book about the experience been shelved, but the juror was given a sharp reminder that anyone who dissents from liberal orthodoxy on both the case and the idea that race explains everything that happens is subjected to ridicule and shunning. Rather than listening to her story about the reasoning of the jury, all her critics heard was someone who accepted the defendant’s account of the incident and the claim of self-defense. Like Zimmerman, B37 and the other five jurors—who will probably prefer to keep silent as well as anonymous after this example—are all now marked for life as characters in a morality play in which Trayvon Martin is a martyr to racism and all those who played a part in Zimmerman’s acquittal are the architects of a new era of Jim Crow. Like the willingness to demonize Zimmerman, the smearing of B37 tells us a lot about the desire of the left to trap America in its racial past rather than help the country move on.

The CNN interview told us a number of things about the verdict. The most important nugget of information was the fact that the jury was initially split when they began deliberating and then only achieved unanimity within a day after reviewing the evidence and the law, both of which told them they had no choice but to acquit Zimmerman.

But if you turned on CNN or MSNBC since the interview aired all you heard was that B37’s attitudes about Zimmerman (she was considered too sympathetic to him), prosecution witness Rachel Jeantel (she was too dismissive of her credibility) and her belief that the defendant hadn’t racially profiled Trayvon Martin proved she was hopelessly prejudiced and that the jury had effectively decided the case on race rather than on facts or the law. But the reaction to the juror illustrated just the opposite.

The chorus of liberal pundits and race hucksters like Al Sharpton and others heard on the networks weren’t interested in the law or the facts of the case. They are so eager to make Trayvon Martin a martyr to racial intolerance that they won’t consider—as the jury was forced to do by its obligation to decide the case on the merits—that he may have initiated the fight or that, as the facts indicate, he beat up Zimmerman prior to being shot. Rather than understand that Martin seemed to resemble all those who had committed crimes in the area that Zimmerman was eager to prevent, they choose to treat him as the moral equivalent of Rosa Parks. The comparisons to genuine victims of racial intolerance like Emmett Till are not only inexact; they are redolent of desire to keep race consciousness alive even after much of the country that has already elected and reelected an African American to the presidency has demonstrated that it has changed.

The race hucksters need to demonize Zimmerman and B37 because without marking them down as inhuman racists, the country will see the case for what it is rather than the tale of revived Jim Crow that the left is so desirous of promoting. Zimmerman is no hero. He behaved foolishly and found himself in a fight that led to tragedy. But the defendant, who is as much a member of a minority group as the president, isn’t the villain in a morality play about racism. He’s the excuse that liberals wanting to wave the bloody shirt of race needed to prop up their false theories about America.

The mere fact that Trayvon Martin was black does not make the muddled scuffle that led to his death another milestone in the history of racial intolerance. Justice required the jury to weigh the evidence in the case, not to make a political statement that might mollify those who have used it as a false symbol of hate. The vilification of Juror B37 and the demonstrations about the case that turned violent last night are a reminder to all who find themselves involved in such cases that the left takes no prisoners in their campaign to impose their views on the country. Public figures dissent from the narrative of Martin as martyr at their peril. 

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The Media’s Irresponsible Reaction to the Zimmerman Verdict

Monday’s New York Times editorial on the case of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman is a sorry piece of work.

The editorial board says that the case is all about race: “ask any black man, up to and including President Obama, and he will tell you a few stories that sound eerily like what happened that rainy winter night in Sanford, Fla.”

I have no reason to doubt that most black men in America have a true story to tell about being unjustly suspected of wrongdoing. But the story of race in America has never cast Hispanics like George Zimmerman in a leading role. And we still don’t know what happened that night. My guess is that the stories to which the Times refers foreclose the possibility that the storyteller knocked down the unjustly suspicious person and slammed his head repeatedly into the concrete. Yet the prosecutors never came close to discrediting that part of Zimmerman’s story, much less proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman committed second degree murder or manslaughter.

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Monday’s New York Times editorial on the case of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman is a sorry piece of work.

The editorial board says that the case is all about race: “ask any black man, up to and including President Obama, and he will tell you a few stories that sound eerily like what happened that rainy winter night in Sanford, Fla.”

I have no reason to doubt that most black men in America have a true story to tell about being unjustly suspected of wrongdoing. But the story of race in America has never cast Hispanics like George Zimmerman in a leading role. And we still don’t know what happened that night. My guess is that the stories to which the Times refers foreclose the possibility that the storyteller knocked down the unjustly suspicious person and slammed his head repeatedly into the concrete. Yet the prosecutors never came close to discrediting that part of Zimmerman’s story, much less proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman committed second degree murder or manslaughter.

From the beginning, politicians have attempted to turn State of Florida v. Zimmerman into an advertisement. The Times has now joined in. The case proves that it was “sanguine” of the Supreme Court to say that things have changed dramatically in America since 1965. Shelby v. Holder may be open to criticism, but is the Times really on record as proposing that race relations have not changed dramatically since 1965? And are they really on record proposing George Zimmerman as an exemplar of Southern white racism?

The Times, like the rest of us, does not know much about George Zimmerman. But the editorial board feels free to discount the testimony of neighbors and its own story on the FBI’s “wide-ranging investigation,” which “found a man not prone to violence or prejudice and who moved easily between racial and ethnic groups — a ‘decent guy,’ ‘a good human being.’” Never mind all that. What is “most frightening is that there are many people with guns who are like George Zimmerman” (my emphasis). And of course, the “Justice Department is right to continue its investigation into whether George Zimmerman may still be prosecuted under federal civil rights laws.”

And like many commentators, the Times insists on treating the case as an indictment of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, even though the defense did not invoke it during the trial. To repeat, the prosecution was never able to cast serious doubt on Zimmerman’s contention that, at the time of the shooting, he was pinned to the ground and had had his head slammed into the ground repeatedly. Under such circumstances, there is no state in the union in which there is a “duty to retreat.”

The prosecution was more successful casting doubt on Zimmerman’s denial that he set out to follow Martin that night. But even if it could be shown beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman followed Martin, the rest of the story, in which Martin becomes the aggressor, breaks Zimmerman’s nose, bashes his head into the concrete, and reaches for Zimmerman’s gun, would be sufficient to make out a case for self-defense not just in Florida but in any state.

That is not to say that Zimmerman’s story is true, that every jury would have acquitted Zimmerman, that it is as hard to prove self-defense in Florida as it is elsewhere, or that Zimmerman bears no responsibility for Martin’s death. But it is disingenuous to make State of Florida v. Zimmerman a commentary on recent Supreme Court decisions or on gun control. The Times even says that what may well have been a case of justified self-defense “should be as troubling as . . . mass killings” like Columbine and Sandy Hook. While I understand that day-to-day killings and policies to prevent them deserve as much or more attention than rare mass murders receive, the Times has no way of knowing whether it was fortunate or unfortunate that Zimmerman was armed.

Now that the case is over, Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for the Martin family, compares Martin’s case to that of Medgar Evers, a civil rights activist deliberately shot in the back outside his home by a member of a White Citizen’s Council. While no one expects the Martin family to accept George Zimmerman’s acquittal, it is up to observers like the New York Times editorial board to attend to the cases that the defense and prosecution put on, to take account of how little we know about what happened between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, and to resist the urge to turn the living or the dead into cartoon heroes and villains in a story about civil rights.

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Back to Full-Time Racial Incitement

One of the remarkable elements of the coverage of the George Zimmerman murder trial is the way things have come full circle in the last month. Prior to the televised legal proceedings, there was only one narrative about the case that came through in most of the mainstream media: George Zimmerman, a racist bully, shot down an innocent black teenager in cold blood who came to symbolize every young member of a minority group. But once the country started to watch the trial as ratings-obsessed cable networks prioritized the case above all other news stories, a different story began to impinge on that simple morality tale of good and evil.

Televised trials sensationalize the judicial system and turn lawyers, judges and other assorted courthouse kibitzers into the legal equivalent of sports talk radio. But the one thing that we must acknowledge about the broadcasting of the proceedings is that it made it clear that this was a complicated case that bore little resemblance to the invective and cant about it that was so common among those who spoke about it in the mainstream press prior to the trial. Thus, when the jury acquitted Zimmerman of all charges against him, no one who actually watched much of the trial could have been surprised. Though no one other than Zimmerman knows for sure what happened, the evidence seemed to support his claim of self-defense and established clear reasonable doubt about any of the prosecution’s accusations.

Yet now that the trial is over, much of the media seems to have reverted to its previous pattern of treating Zimmerman’s racism and guilt as givens. In much of the mainstream media today, but especially on MSNBC, the verdict has been treated as a green light not only for recriminations about the verdict but an excuse for an all-out, nonstop stream of racial incitement. Where last week it seemed most Americans were rightly trying to assess the virtues of the two sides’ arguments in a hard-fought case, today many liberals among the chattering classes in the media, pop culture and politics have regressed to stereotypes and mindless assumptions that tell us more about their own prejudices than about the supposedly racist state of American justice.

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One of the remarkable elements of the coverage of the George Zimmerman murder trial is the way things have come full circle in the last month. Prior to the televised legal proceedings, there was only one narrative about the case that came through in most of the mainstream media: George Zimmerman, a racist bully, shot down an innocent black teenager in cold blood who came to symbolize every young member of a minority group. But once the country started to watch the trial as ratings-obsessed cable networks prioritized the case above all other news stories, a different story began to impinge on that simple morality tale of good and evil.

Televised trials sensationalize the judicial system and turn lawyers, judges and other assorted courthouse kibitzers into the legal equivalent of sports talk radio. But the one thing that we must acknowledge about the broadcasting of the proceedings is that it made it clear that this was a complicated case that bore little resemblance to the invective and cant about it that was so common among those who spoke about it in the mainstream press prior to the trial. Thus, when the jury acquitted Zimmerman of all charges against him, no one who actually watched much of the trial could have been surprised. Though no one other than Zimmerman knows for sure what happened, the evidence seemed to support his claim of self-defense and established clear reasonable doubt about any of the prosecution’s accusations.

Yet now that the trial is over, much of the media seems to have reverted to its previous pattern of treating Zimmerman’s racism and guilt as givens. In much of the mainstream media today, but especially on MSNBC, the verdict has been treated as a green light not only for recriminations about the verdict but an excuse for an all-out, nonstop stream of racial incitement. Where last week it seemed most Americans were rightly trying to assess the virtues of the two sides’ arguments in a hard-fought case, today many liberals among the chattering classes in the media, pop culture and politics have regressed to stereotypes and mindless assumptions that tell us more about their own prejudices than about the supposedly racist state of American justice.

It must be re-stated that the death of Martin was a tragedy. Zimmerman is no hero for having killed an unarmed youth, even if the truth about Martin (that was not heard in court) is that he was not a choir boy. Even though the evidence made a not-guilty verdict inevitable, his behavior was at best questionable and at worst irresponsible. But the problem here was always that the facts of what was a confusing case, in which a Hispanic man who had been beat up killed his assailant in what both police and prosecutors saw as a case of self-defense, simply didn’t fit into the narrative about racism that so many on the left insisted must be the only possible way to interpret the incident.

Yet now that they are freed from the necessity of having to react to the defense’s case and the almost comical weakness of the prosecution’s argument, the liberal media has thrown off all constraints and reverted to the narrative about racial profiling and a martyred victim.

Today on MSNBC, numerous commentators have insisted that the prosecution pulled its punches instead of actually doing all in its power to convict Zimmerman even to the point of tricks in which they sought to withhold evidence. The jury is now denounced as an “all-white” southern panel that is no different from those of the Jim Crow past that tilted the justice system against blacks. Worst of all, professional racial hucksters like MSNBC’s Al Sharpton have been unleashed to treat weeks of evidence and argument about the truth of the accusations against Zimmerman as if they never happened and to gin up protests that will do nothing but enhance the profile of “activists” such as himself. Since the only verdict the left would have accepted is a guilty one, the failure of the prosecution, the behavior of the judge and the judgment of the jury are now being treated as an extension of American’s history of racism. The result is a wave of incitement about race that is painting the same country that just reelected an African-American to the presidency as if it were the segregated and intolerant nation of a century ago.

This is slander, but if much of the media (especially MSNBC, a network that faces a lawsuit for editing of the tape of Zimmerman’s 911 call that made him appear a racist and whose in-house token conservative Joe Scarborough called Zimmerman a “murderer”) really thinks the problem with the trial is that there wasn’t enough race baiting, it is a sign we are in for a new wave of hateful and dangerous invective streaming forth from these outlets that could have incalculable costs.

The reaction of most of the public to the case in the past few weeks while the trial was being televised was testimony to a new maturity about the discussion of race. 

The viewers understood that the tragic death of Martin was the product of a complex set of circumstances and not a morality play. Yet what some in the liberal media—and virtually everyone blathering on MSNBC today—are desperate to do is to ignore the evidence and try to transform it into a discussion of white supremacy or their politicized efforts to ban guns or amend laws that enable people to defend themselves against assailants.

Should President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder heed these voices of incitement and plunge the country into more months or even years of racial arguments by pursuing a foolish effort to charge Zimmerman with civil rights violations, the big loser isn’t so much the man who was acquitted on Saturday night as it is the country. America has come a long way since the days of Jim Crow and made too much progress to allow the likes of Sharpton and the rest of the MSNBC crew to emphasize and exploit racial divisions in order to advance their own radical political agenda at the expense of building understanding between groups and individuals.

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Where Is Silent Cal When We Need Him?

As Roger L. Simon points out, among the big losers in the George Zimmerman trial is Barack Obama. He injected utterly gratuitous emotion into the affair at an early point by saying that had he had a son, he would have looked like Trayvon Martin. This, in turn, empowered race baiters like Al Sharpton to stir up trouble and turn a fairly routine homicide case into a national circus. The case against Zimmerman was so weak that the local police chief and district attorney, who thought Zimmerman’s actions had been justified, had to be fired in order to obtain an indictment that should never have been brought in the first case. Fortunately, the jury did its duty and thus, as one of the defense attorneys said, a tragedy was not turned into a travesty.

Obama has a history of shooting his mouth off and getting himself—and often a lot of other people—into trouble. When Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates got into an altercation with a Cambridge, Massachusetts, policeman, the president, ignorant of the facts, said that the policeman had “acted stupidly.” It turned out that the policeman had acted strictly by the book and it was Gates who had acted stupidly.

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As Roger L. Simon points out, among the big losers in the George Zimmerman trial is Barack Obama. He injected utterly gratuitous emotion into the affair at an early point by saying that had he had a son, he would have looked like Trayvon Martin. This, in turn, empowered race baiters like Al Sharpton to stir up trouble and turn a fairly routine homicide case into a national circus. The case against Zimmerman was so weak that the local police chief and district attorney, who thought Zimmerman’s actions had been justified, had to be fired in order to obtain an indictment that should never have been brought in the first case. Fortunately, the jury did its duty and thus, as one of the defense attorneys said, a tragedy was not turned into a travesty.

Obama has a history of shooting his mouth off and getting himself—and often a lot of other people—into trouble. When Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates got into an altercation with a Cambridge, Massachusetts, policeman, the president, ignorant of the facts, said that the policeman had “acted stupidly.” It turned out that the policeman had acted strictly by the book and it was Gates who had acted stupidly.

Now it is being reported, by the New York Times no less–and on the front page–that an off-hand remark by the president has severely complicated military sexual assault cases. Obama said that those who commit sexual assault in the military should be “prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged.” Few people, I imagine, would disagree with that. But Obama is not just an individual expressing an opinion at a cocktail party. He is president of the United States and thus commander in chief of the armed forces. Every word he says in public is reported. As the Times explains:

In at least a dozen sexual assault cases since the president’s remarks at the White House in May, judges and defense lawyers have said that Mr. Obama’s words as commander in chief amounted to “unlawful command influence,” tainting trials as a result. Military law experts said that those cases were only the beginning and that the president’s remarks were certain to complicate almost all prosecutions for sexual assault.

“Unlawful command influence” refers to actions of commanders that could be interpreted by jurors as an attempt to influence a court-martial, in effect ordering a specific outcome. Mr. Obama, as commander in chief of the armed forces, is considered the most powerful person to wield such influence.

Perhaps the 44th president should do himself—and the country—a favor by taking a few minutes to go stand in front of the White House portrait of the 30th president, and absorb some of Calvin Coolidge’s wisdom regarding the value of silence.

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Feds Should Stay Out of Zimmerman Case

The “not guilty” verdict handed down on Saturday night in the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman murder trial in Florida may not have ended the case that has fascinated the cable news stations and engendered furious discussions about race in America. While the relatively quick decision by the jury seems not to have provoked the widespread and violent civil disturbances that many doomsayers predicted should Zimmerman not be convicted of the murder of Trayvon Martin, it has inspired a second round of political interference in the case from Washington. Just as political pressure from the highest office in the land as well as the threats of the Department of Justice to involve itself in the matter led the State of Florida to overturn the sensible decision of local police and prosecutors not to prosecute Zimmerman, the jury’s decision to reject the charges has prompted another threat of federal intervention.

Today, as much of the country determined to make their peace with a decision that brought a conclusion to what can only be fairly described as a tragedy, once again the Department of Justice is threatening to roil the waters anew. While the president issued an extraordinary statement urging the country to accept the jury’s verdict—a strange statement made necessary by the president’s unfortunate comments last year in which he seemed to heighten the pressure on authorities to prosecute by claiming that Martin might have been his son—the DOJ issued the following comments:

“Experienced federal prosecutors will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation of any of the limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction, and whether federal prosecution is appropriate in accordance with the department’s policy governing successive federal prosecution following a state trial,” a department spokesman said.

While it is to be hoped this statement is a pro forma pronouncement intended merely to signal the president’s supporters that he shares their umbrage at the verdict, it is still a shocking and unjustified threat that ought to be withdrawn immediately.

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The “not guilty” verdict handed down on Saturday night in the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman murder trial in Florida may not have ended the case that has fascinated the cable news stations and engendered furious discussions about race in America. While the relatively quick decision by the jury seems not to have provoked the widespread and violent civil disturbances that many doomsayers predicted should Zimmerman not be convicted of the murder of Trayvon Martin, it has inspired a second round of political interference in the case from Washington. Just as political pressure from the highest office in the land as well as the threats of the Department of Justice to involve itself in the matter led the State of Florida to overturn the sensible decision of local police and prosecutors not to prosecute Zimmerman, the jury’s decision to reject the charges has prompted another threat of federal intervention.

Today, as much of the country determined to make their peace with a decision that brought a conclusion to what can only be fairly described as a tragedy, once again the Department of Justice is threatening to roil the waters anew. While the president issued an extraordinary statement urging the country to accept the jury’s verdict—a strange statement made necessary by the president’s unfortunate comments last year in which he seemed to heighten the pressure on authorities to prosecute by claiming that Martin might have been his son—the DOJ issued the following comments:

“Experienced federal prosecutors will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation of any of the limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction, and whether federal prosecution is appropriate in accordance with the department’s policy governing successive federal prosecution following a state trial,” a department spokesman said.

While it is to be hoped this statement is a pro forma pronouncement intended merely to signal the president’s supporters that he shares their umbrage at the verdict, it is still a shocking and unjustified threat that ought to be withdrawn immediately.

There is no doubt that what happened that night in February 2012 as a result of the scuffle between Zimmerman and Martin was a tragedy. The jury seems to have accepted that what Zimmerman did was a matter of self-defense. But the death of a 17-year-old boy under such circumstances should grieve us all even if there was insufficient proof that Zimmerman’s actions were illegal and much reason to believe that he might well have had reason to believe he was in danger during the fight.

Given the lack of evidence and the quick manner with which the jury dispatched their duties after such a lengthy trial, the decision by the authorities to overrule the original decision not to prosecute what appeared to be a matter of self-defense seems to be spectacularly ill judged. In retrospect, the decision was clearly a matter of political pressure rather than based on the merits.

But any decision to pursue the matter as a civil rights violation in which the federal government will attempt to retry the case is outrageous.

Since a local prosecution in which the government failed in a spectacular manner to establish that what happened was murder, what possible hope can the DOJ have that a federal trial, in which they would be faced with an even higher burden of proof, would yield a different result?

The one good thing about the trial, whose televised sessions seemed to transfix the country and pre-empt almost all other news during the last few weeks, was that both sides seemed to agree the incident was not driven by race. Zimmerman is Hispanic and there is no evidence that what he did was motivated by racial sentiments even if he may have shown poor judgment as a neighborhood watch volunteer. But the only possible reason for the Obama administration’s decision to consider another effort to prosecute Zimmerman is an attempt to retry the case as a matter of race.

This is unfortunate for two reasons.

The slender prosecution case that failed to convict Zimmerman was weak enough. But if the government decides to retry the case in this manner it will be so transparently political in nature as to make it border on misconduct more than bad judgment.

Moreover, to force the nation to undergo yet another round of recriminations over this case with the added pain of racial overtones that would be caused by the civil rights charge would go beyond irresponsibility. It would be a blatant instance of race baiting that would give the lie to the president’s attempt to walk back his own intervention.

Americans are right to deplore Martin’s death no matter what the circumstances—the truth of which is something that no living person other than Zimmerman can know with certitude—and are free to disagree with the verdict if they like. But if the administration chooses to fan the flames of racial resentment like this it will have undone any little good that might have come from this awful event. Another prosecution is unlikely to prevail. But if it is undertaken, it may well do as much or more to worsen race relations than anything George Zimmerman might have done.

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Putting the NRA on Trial With Zimmerman

Yesterday’s decision by Florida prosecutors to put George Zimmerman on trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin may serve to calm some of the racially charged anger about the incident in which an unarmed African-American youth was killed. Though some are already claiming the Zimmerman case will resemble the O.J. Simpson murder trial in the way it divides the public, it’s clear most Americans are content to let the justice system sift through the evidence and hope that justice will be done. Outside of the usual suspects seeking to inflame racial tensions (i.e., Al Sharpton, a veteran huckster whose efforts along these lines received the bizarre praise of Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday), there is another political agenda that is being pushed forward by the Martin killing: derailing efforts of the National Rifle Association and other conservative groups to enhance the right of self-defense via “Stand Your Ground” statutes or the “Castle Doctrine.”

Though we have yet to learn the full account of what happened between Zimmerman and Martin on the night of the latter’s death, it’s fairly clear that neither of those legal principles had much to do with the neighborhood watch volunteer’s shooting of the young man in the hoodie except in the most general sense, as the shooter asserted he was attacked first. But the effort to associate laws that back up citizens’ rights to defend themselves on their own property with Martin’s killing is becoming a touchstone of liberal rhetoric and reportage, as today’s New York Times feature on the subject illustrates. The conceit of the piece is to pin the nationwide drive to enact such legislation on the NRA and along with it the responsibility for any innocent blood shed because of these measures. Yet, what the Times and liberal critics of the laws fail to understand is that the popularity of such laws has to do with what most Americans believe is the defense of their liberty and safety and not race.

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Yesterday’s decision by Florida prosecutors to put George Zimmerman on trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin may serve to calm some of the racially charged anger about the incident in which an unarmed African-American youth was killed. Though some are already claiming the Zimmerman case will resemble the O.J. Simpson murder trial in the way it divides the public, it’s clear most Americans are content to let the justice system sift through the evidence and hope that justice will be done. Outside of the usual suspects seeking to inflame racial tensions (i.e., Al Sharpton, a veteran huckster whose efforts along these lines received the bizarre praise of Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday), there is another political agenda that is being pushed forward by the Martin killing: derailing efforts of the National Rifle Association and other conservative groups to enhance the right of self-defense via “Stand Your Ground” statutes or the “Castle Doctrine.”

Though we have yet to learn the full account of what happened between Zimmerman and Martin on the night of the latter’s death, it’s fairly clear that neither of those legal principles had much to do with the neighborhood watch volunteer’s shooting of the young man in the hoodie except in the most general sense, as the shooter asserted he was attacked first. But the effort to associate laws that back up citizens’ rights to defend themselves on their own property with Martin’s killing is becoming a touchstone of liberal rhetoric and reportage, as today’s New York Times feature on the subject illustrates. The conceit of the piece is to pin the nationwide drive to enact such legislation on the NRA and along with it the responsibility for any innocent blood shed because of these measures. Yet, what the Times and liberal critics of the laws fail to understand is that the popularity of such laws has to do with what most Americans believe is the defense of their liberty and safety and not race.

It needs to be understood that nothing in the “Castle Doctrine” or the “Stand Your Ground” statutes that have been passed in Florida and many other states would make it permissible for a person to seek out a suspected intruder and shoot him as it is alleged is the case with Zimmerman. But though liberals look askance at the laws, the reason why they have been passed with such ease has more to do with the fact that a majority thinks it is reasonable that citizens have the right to use force to defend themselves in their homes, backyards or even inside their cars.

The left-right ideological divide over gun rights in this country is fairly clear. Conservatives feel Americans have a constitutional right to bear arms and to use them in self-defense. By contrast, most liberals disagree with the Supreme Court about the meaning of the Second Amendment and would like to see gun rights severely restricted if not functionally eliminated, as is the case with some cities where regulations make it difficult if not impossible for most citizens to legally own a weapon. This is an ongoing debate in which both sides often talk past each other and feed into each other’s worst fears. Indeed, some of the NRA’s efforts to derail even the most sensible efforts at controlling the use of guns that are not necessary for either sport or self-defense — such as assault weapons — stems from a not entirely unfounded belief that the ultimate goal of any such measure is the banning of all guns.

This is, at best, a divisive debate, but it needn’t be exacerbated by the injection of race into the discussion. The attempt to brand self-defense laws or gun rights as a function of racism does nothing to advance racial harmony or a sensible resolution of issues arising from the use of weapons. Most Americans are satisfied with letting the courts deal with George Zimmerman. Liberal ideologues would be well advised to let the case resolve itself without attempting to turn it into a referendum on gun control or seeking to demonize the NRA.

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Trayvon Martin Case Highlights Why Americans Distrust Media

When Americans first heard the story of the death of Trayvon Martin, many in the public and in the media decided on a narrative for why George Zimmerman killed the unarmed black teenager in Florida on the night of February 26. It was decided that Zimmerman, a “white-Hispanic” (should we now start classifying President Obama as the first white-African American president?) pursued and shot an innocent unarmed black teen in cold blood, because of his own racial bias. Over time, details available to the public have come to light as the narrative on the night changed. Many of the new details have emerged because eyewitnesses have come forward and police reports have come to light. There are a significant number of details, however, that have been shaped and then changed by the media and the biased lens they used to frame the case.

One of the key ways in which the media portrayed the story as one driven by racial violence was by playing the audio of the 9-1-1 call Zimmerman placed the night Martin died. While covering the case, NBC played excerpts of the call which made Zimmerman sound like nothing less than an armed member of the KKK. From the call NBC played the audio:

Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.

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When Americans first heard the story of the death of Trayvon Martin, many in the public and in the media decided on a narrative for why George Zimmerman killed the unarmed black teenager in Florida on the night of February 26. It was decided that Zimmerman, a “white-Hispanic” (should we now start classifying President Obama as the first white-African American president?) pursued and shot an innocent unarmed black teen in cold blood, because of his own racial bias. Over time, details available to the public have come to light as the narrative on the night changed. Many of the new details have emerged because eyewitnesses have come forward and police reports have come to light. There are a significant number of details, however, that have been shaped and then changed by the media and the biased lens they used to frame the case.

One of the key ways in which the media portrayed the story as one driven by racial violence was by playing the audio of the 9-1-1 call Zimmerman placed the night Martin died. While covering the case, NBC played excerpts of the call which made Zimmerman sound like nothing less than an armed member of the KKK. From the call NBC played the audio:

Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.

After playing that phrase on-air multiple times, NBC issued an apology (of sorts). They have now admitted the audio they played to millions of Americans was edited, and the full context of the conversation between Zimmerman and the  9-1-1 operator was this:

Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.

Dispatcher: OK, and this guy — is he black, white or Hispanic?

Zimmerman: He looks black.

A blog post on the Washington Post website articulated what was wrong with the statement issued by NBC:

Does the statement adequately address those concerns? On the good front, it acknowledges the mistake and apologizes to viewers for the bad editing. It’s a forthright correction and spares us any excuses about the faulty portrayal. On the bad front, the statement is skimpy on the details on just how the mistake unfolded. Nor does it articulate an apology directly to George Zimmerman, the “viewer” who is most aggrieved by the screw-up. In light of all that’s happened, Zimmerman may be a tough person for a news network to apologize to, but that’s just the point: Apologies are hard.

The fact that this news broke on a Washington Post blog, and on a low traffic one at that, speaks volumes about how the Post views the NBC error as well.

Many proponents of the racial motivation theory pointed to another aspect of the 9-1-1 tape to prove that Zimmerman’s pursuit and shooting of Martin was due to Zimmerman’s bias. CNN was particularly enthusiastic about playing a segment of the 9-1-1 tape’s audio over and over and over, while trying to discern what was being said over background noise and labored breathing. In the segment, a CNN reporter asserted that he was fairly sure he heard Zimmerman mutter a racial slur while chasing after Martin. Now CNN has enhanced the audio even further, and the reporter who claimed Zimmerman used a slur is now suggesting that instead of Zimmerman complaining about “coons,” he was actually probably using the word “cold.” The likelihood of CNN playing the segment on this correction as many times as it played the alleged remarks is pretty slim.

A crucial part of the case which could establish Zimmerman’s claim that shooting Martin was in self-defense revolves around the moments before the gun went off. Was Martin being chased by Zimmerman, as his family claims, or was he pummeling Zimmerman on the ground, as Zimmerman claims? ABC released a video of Zimmerman’s arrest on the night of Martin’s death, hyping up the claim the video didn’t show any signs of injury on Zimmerman’s part, thereby invalidating his claim that Martin slammed his head against the sidewalk multiple times. Later, ABC broke the story that they themselves had edited the tape, eliminating pictures that proved Zimmerman walked into the police station with fresh head wounds. The Daily Caller remarked,

Now ABC News has reversed itself, and somehow it’s an “exclusive.” Not a correction. Not a retraction. An “exclusive.” Their big scoop is that their previous big scoop was wrong.

As with the CNN and NBC “corrections,” this reversal has received a fraction of the airtime that the original inflammatory accusations against Zimmerman received. As the case unfolds and new details emerge in the mainstream media, my immediate reaction has become: “Interesting. I wonder if it’s true.”

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Barack Obama, Trayvon Martin, and “All of Us”

This morning, the president of the United States overshadowed his own introduction of the new World Bank president by making remarks about the shocking case of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed 17 year-old shot to death in a Florida town by a wannabe cop who claimed self-defense and was not charged with a crime. The Justice Department is looking at the case, a grand jury has been convened to consider the case, and the nation is in an uproar about the case—all signs that, with the exception of some extremists who crawl out of their repugnant redoubts, everybody is able to see the horror in a story like this and has a gut reaction that something profoundly wrong must have taken place here. The president said some moving words—”when I think about this boy, I think of my own kids…If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon—and some not-so-moving things. Particularly this: “I think all of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how does something like this happen. And that means we examine the laws, the context for what happened, as well as the specifics of the incident.”

Hey, wait a minute. What soul-searching exactly is it “all of us have to do” here? A black kid was shot by a Hispanic adult apparently besotted with law enforcement whose volunteer work for neighborhood watch had him calling the cops in his Orlando suburb nearly 50 times in a year to report on his suspicions. That adult lives in a state where a “Stand Your Ground” law does not require people to retreat in the face of a threat outside their homes. A police chief where he lives decided that owing to the Stand Your Ground law, he had no grounds on which to arrest George Zimmerman for the shooting death—who claims he was attacked by Martin—and let him go. This is a very, very, very specific case—involving a podunk PD, an evidently problematic individual who had been slightly empowered by a private watch system, and a teenage kid in a hoodie on his way to buy candy for his brother. It took place in a state where 19 million people live. The circumstances may not be duplicable. Ever. Even so, the leading officials in the state—its governor, Rick Scott, and its superstar young senator, Marco Rubio—have already said the Stand Your Ground law may need revision in the wake of the case. The response has been overwhelming, and all in one direction.

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This morning, the president of the United States overshadowed his own introduction of the new World Bank president by making remarks about the shocking case of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed 17 year-old shot to death in a Florida town by a wannabe cop who claimed self-defense and was not charged with a crime. The Justice Department is looking at the case, a grand jury has been convened to consider the case, and the nation is in an uproar about the case—all signs that, with the exception of some extremists who crawl out of their repugnant redoubts, everybody is able to see the horror in a story like this and has a gut reaction that something profoundly wrong must have taken place here. The president said some moving words—”when I think about this boy, I think of my own kids…If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon—and some not-so-moving things. Particularly this: “I think all of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how does something like this happen. And that means we examine the laws, the context for what happened, as well as the specifics of the incident.”

Hey, wait a minute. What soul-searching exactly is it “all of us have to do” here? A black kid was shot by a Hispanic adult apparently besotted with law enforcement whose volunteer work for neighborhood watch had him calling the cops in his Orlando suburb nearly 50 times in a year to report on his suspicions. That adult lives in a state where a “Stand Your Ground” law does not require people to retreat in the face of a threat outside their homes. A police chief where he lives decided that owing to the Stand Your Ground law, he had no grounds on which to arrest George Zimmerman for the shooting death—who claims he was attacked by Martin—and let him go. This is a very, very, very specific case—involving a podunk PD, an evidently problematic individual who had been slightly empowered by a private watch system, and a teenage kid in a hoodie on his way to buy candy for his brother. It took place in a state where 19 million people live. The circumstances may not be duplicable. Ever. Even so, the leading officials in the state—its governor, Rick Scott, and its superstar young senator, Marco Rubio—have already said the Stand Your Ground law may need revision in the wake of the case. The response has been overwhelming, and all in one direction.

What President Obama here is doing is suggesting this is not enough that even his own Justice Department’s involvement is not enough—that there is some kind of collective guilt in the United States responsible for George Zimmerman pulling the trigger. One can presume that collective guilt involves, in the president’s mind, the unjust stigmatization of teenaged black youths that owes a debt to the historical legacy of racism and the workings of racism in the present day. Take this argument to its logical conclusion and George Zimmerman is some kind of monster of the American Racialist Id, not a man who did something apparently very wrong but a manifestation of all American hostility toward black people.

Sorry, but I’m not responsible for George Zimmerman, and neither is anybody else save George Zimmerman. I’m not even responsible for the Stewart, Fla., police chief, whom I neither hired nor put on leave. When the president says, “all of us have to do some soul searching,” you can bet he doesn’t for one second actually include himself in that “us.” What he means is “you.”

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