Friday, March 30, 2012

Getting carried away by the mob

I think we can all agree that the death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy that could have been prevented. We know that George Zimmerman shot and killed Mr. Martin back on February 26 in a gated community in Sanford, Florida.

But beyond that we don't know much at all. There are only two people who know what happened that night and, unfortunately, one of them is dead. Did Mr. Zimmerman act in self-defense? Maybe he did and maybe he didn't. Did Mr. Martin play any role in escalating the situation? Maybe he did and maybe he didn't. Was Mr. Martin shot because he was a black teen in a predominantly white neighborhood? Maybe he was and maybe he wasn't. Did the police give Mr. Zimmerman a pass because Mr. Martin was black? Maybe they did and maybe they didn't. Did the district attorney's office refuse to accept charges against Mr. Zimmerman? Maybe, maybe not.

Rallies have been held across the country demanding that the police arrest Mr. Zimmerman and charge him with manslaughter. On a local defense attorney listserv plenty of folks have lent their voices to the shouts of the mob.

The mob doesn't act reasonably. The mob doesn't think logically. The mob feeds on its own rage.

Now it's time to step back, take a deep breath and clear our minds.

I don't know everything that happened on the night of February 26. I know that Mr. Zimmerman called the police to report a suspicious person and that the police told Mr. Zimmerman not to follow him.

I deal with folks who get arrested all the time. Getting arrested is not cheap. You've got to arrange bail. You've got to hire an attorney. If the police towed your car, you've got to pay the storage fee to get it back. You've also got to deal with missed time from work.

Sure, that pales in comparison with being dead.

The police came out that night and investigated the shooting. The case was referred to the district attorney to determine whether charges would be filed. Mr. Zimmerman was then allowed to leave the scene without being arrested.

In the next couple of weeks the case will be presented to a grand jury. The grand jury system was created to protect the privacy of people accused of breaking the law. The grand jury meets in secret, considers the evidence presented and then decides whether or not to indict the good citizen. If they chose not to issue an indictment, the citizen accused was free to go on with his life without anyone knowing what happened.

So here's an idea. Let's all just sit and let a grand jury consider the evidence the district attorney presents. Let the grand jurors deliberate and determine whether they think there is enough evidence to proceed to trial. If they indict Mr. Zimmerman, then the police can go and arrest him and allow him to have his day in court.

Whether we like it or not, Mr. Zimmerman is innocent unless proven otherwise. That presumption protects the unpopular as much as it protects the popular. In fact, our system was designed to protect the unpopular.

Let's not get carried away by the mob.

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