Telling It Like It Is

From “The Truth About Trayvon,” Ekow N. Yankah*, NYT:

“The Trayvon Martin verdict is frustrating, fracturing, angering and predictable.  More than anything, for many of us, it is exhausting.  Exhausting because nothing could bring back our lost child, exhausting because the verdict, which should have felt shocking, arrived with the inevitability that black Americans know too well when criminal law announces that they are worth less than other Americans.

“The anger felt by so many African-Americans speaks to the simplest of truths:  that race and law cannot be cleanly separated. … We are tired of pretending that ‘reasonable doubt’ is not, in every sense of the word, colored.

“I do not have to believe that Mr. Zimmerman is a hate-filled racist to recognize that he would probably not even have noticed Mr. Martin if he had been a casually dressed white teenager.

“Imagine that a militant black man, with a history of race-based suspicion and a loaded gun, followed an unarmed white teenager around his neighborhood.  The young man is scared, and runs through the streets trying to get away.  Unable to elude his black stalker and, perhaps, feeling cornered, he finally holds his ground — only to be shot at point-blank range after a confrontation.

“A young, white Trayvon Martin would unquestionably be said to have behaved reasonably, while it is unimaginable that a militant black George Zimmerman would not be viewed as the legal aggressor, and thus guilty of at least manslaughter.”

 

*  Yankah is a law professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University

Something To Think About

From “What If Zimmerman Had Been Indigent,” Matthew Yglesias, Slate:

“What if George Zimmerman had been poor?  What if his legal case hadn’t attracted national attention and raised over $300,000?

What if Zimmerman, like most criminal defendants in the United States, was relying on a public defender with little emotional or financial investment in winning the case and no resources with which to pursue a robust defense even if he’s been inclined to do so.  Wouldn’t that defender have told Zimmerman that the smart way to avoid a second-degree murder sentence was to plead guilty to manslaughter and work out terms of incarceration that would be less onerous than what he’d end up with if he fought and lost?

“Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is a very difficult evidentiary burden to meet if the state is facing off against a competent, well-financed, and highly motivated defense team.  But all these people sitting in America’s prisons…aren’t losing at trial.  Instead 97 percent of federal cases and 94 percent of  state ones end in plea bargains.  People ask me sometimes why nobody’s gone to jail for crimes related to the financial crisis.  It’s a complicated question, but  obviously part of the answer is that you’re not going to resolve a criminal fraud case against a multi-millionaire by railroading him into a plea agreement.”

Not-So-Smart ALEC

Paul Krugman places Florida’s Stand Your Ground law in the broader context of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and its adverse effect on our society*:

“And if there is any silver lining to Trayvon Martin’s killing, it is that it might finally place a spotlight on what ALEC is doing to our society — and our democracy.

“What is ALEC?  Despite claims that it’s nonpartisan, it’s very much a movement-conservative organization, funded by the usual suspects:  the Kochs, Exxon Mobil, and so on.  Unlike other such groups, however, it doesn’t just influence laws, it literally writes them, supplying fully drafted bills to state legislators.

“Many ALEC-drafted bills pursue standard conservative goals:  union-busting, undermining environmental protection, tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy.   ALEC seems, however to have a special interest in privatization — that is, on turning the provision of public services, from schools to prisons, over to for-profit corporations.

“ALEC’s claim to stand for limited government and free markets is deeply misleading.  To a large extent the organization seeks not limited government but privatized government, in which corporations get their profits from taxpayer dollars, dollars steered their way by friendly politicians. In short, ALEC isn’t so much about promoting free markets as it is about expanding crony capitalism.”  Emphasis added.

*  “Lobbyists, Guns and Money,” NYT