In a few days, this nation will again be faced with the challenge of living up to or abandoning its lofty claim that it is “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.” A select group of Americans will be called upon to represent that proudly proclaimed creed. Will they?
As a disclaimer, I must state outright that I am not a lawyer. I am merely an 81-year-old retired social worker. However, one does not have to be either an attorney or social worker to understand that the cornerstone of justice is fairness and to know that our legal system is based on equal justice.
In fact, we have created symbols to dramatize these points, pictures of balanced scales to represent equal justice and pictures of a blindfolded woman to represent that justice is immune from being persuaded by appearance.
Typically, the burden of proof is on the state – the prosecution team. It seems to me that this is not the case here. If the defendant, George Zimmerman, is claiming “self-defense,” he has shifted the burden of proof.
Mr. Zimmerman should be made to show how stalking an unarmed teenager, or anyone, for that matter, causes him to “fear” for his life. He should be made to explain why he willfully defied a direct order from police not to follow
Trayvon Martin. He should have to explain how the “stand your ground” law applies to killing a person who is merely walking on a sidewalk and not molesting you by any stretch of the imagination.
Undoubtedly, these and even more salient observations will guide the prosecution. Will they be enough to keep the scale in balance and to keep Lady Justice from peeking under her blindfold? American history has taught us not to be too hopeful.
There can never be any criminal incident more graphically and universally displayed as the feral beating of Rodney King. Yet, there was no conviction.
Unarmed 33-year-old insurance executive Arthur McDuffie was handcuffed and beaten to death by Miami-Dade police officers and there was no conviction.
While riding his motorcycle in Overtown, 23-year-old Clement Lloyd was shot to death by a policeman.
In all three instances, the juries bought the “self-defense” claim and brought back “not guilty” verdicts. These incidents tend to send the message that whiteness grants immunity against prosecution for crimes committed against black people.
In the Trayvon Martin case, try to imagine what it would be like if Mr. Zimmerman were black and Trayvon were white – or even if they were both white. Mr. Zimmerman would already be serving time. Still, it is going to be interesting to see how he convinces oath-swearing peers that he was merely acting in self-defense.
Gilbert L. Raiford is a retired social worker who has had a long career in teaching and working for the U.S. Department of State. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org