July 8, 2013

The Zimmerman trial needs to be more about race! Quick, call the sociologist!

The NYT frontpages this execrable article by Lizette Alvarez, titled "Zimmerman Case Has Race as a Backdrop, but You Won’t Hear It in Court." She begins with the assumption that the case is supposed to be about race. After all, that's the way it looked in the press when it was first reported.
But in the courtroom where George Zimmerman is on trial for second-degree murder, race lingers awkwardly on the sidelines, scarcely mentioned but impossible to ignore.
What does that look like — race lingering awkwardly and impossible to ignore?

It's a trial! There are rules of evidence, and there's the whole concept of criminal justice, which involves an accusation, based on specific law, about a specific incident and exactly what this particular defendant did.

It's not about larger narratives and how this might fit into a template that we think explains some larger social scheme. To suggest that it should and that something's wrong with the trial if it does not is to get it exactly backwards.
For African-Americans here and across the country, the killing of Mr. Martin, 17, black and unarmed, was resonant with a back story steeped in layers of American history and the abiding conviction that justice serves only some of the people.
Seeing one event steeping in layers of history and within the context of abiding convictions is the very mechanism of prejudice. But the NYT is, apparently, sorry the trial isn't a festival of prejudicial thinking! How to write that up into an article? Call in the sociologist:
“For members of the African-American community, it’s a here-we-go-again moment,” said JeffriAnne Wilder, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of North Florida. “We want to get away from these things, but this did not happen in a vacuum. It happened against the backdrop of all the other things that have happened before.”
It's not awkward to shunt the backdrop of all the other things that have happened before to the sidelines during a trial. Rather, it's precisely what the judge and lawyers and jurors are required to do.
Yet inside a Seminole County courtroom, with the prosecution’s case against Mr. Zimmerman now over, race only occasionally punctuated the proceedings. 
Yet?! No! Race should not be put where it isn't relevant under the rules of evidence. Punctuation like that would violate the norms of a criminal trial. The backdrop of all the other things that have happened before is reason for Americans — especially black Americans — to care about these norms.
For supporters of the Martin family, Mr. Martin’s death was part of a more complex tale of profiling and injustice. 
But trials are not to be transformed into a "more complex tale." They are to be kept focused on the specific incident under consideration. And those who care about the more complex tale ought see the connection between their concern and the law's insistence on that focus.
... The charge is second-degree murder, inflicting death with spite, hatred or ill will. But no one in the courtroom is saying outright that race or racial hatred entered into the shooting.
They're not saying it outright because witnesses have to testify about what they actually heard and saw on this occasion. It's not as if something is being suppressed and hidden. Talking only about the evidence is the way to shed light and bring clarity to the task of deciding what happened.
In the cocoon of the courthouse, even Mr. Martin’s bullet-scarred hooded sweatshirt, positioned for jurors in a clear plastic frame, appeared less a poignant symbol for the thousands who marched in his name than a lamentable but necessary piece of evidence.
For the NYT, the courtroom is a "cocoon," and somehow reality resides in the minds of the throngs who feel the poignancy.
Still, black pastors, sociologists and community leaders said in interviews that they feared that Mr. Martin’s death would be a story of justice denied, an all-too common insult that to them places Trayvon Martin’s name next to those of Rodney King, Amadou Diallo and other black men who were abused, beaten or killed by police officers.
This suggests that Zimmerman should be convicted because of the poignant feelings about all these other people.
“[Rachel Jeantel] was mammyfied,” said Ms. Wilder, the sociology professor, expressing disappointment over the reaction. “She has this riveting testimony, then she became, overnight, the teenage mammy: for not being smart and using these racial slurs and not being the best witness. A lot of people in the African-American community came out against her.”
I guess I need to look up the race-studies technical term "mammyfied." I don't remember Mammy — in "Gone With The Wind," for example — being dumb.* Interesting that it's the sociology professor promoting the use of stereotypes. We should be rising above the stereotypes and treating people as individuals, and trials are designed to do that. This resistance to the workings of the criminal trial are truly deplorable, and it almost seems intended to exacerbate the terribly sad feelings of grievance that come from the larger historical context. Fair trials should be understood as a remedy for all the other things that have happened before. To present the fair trial as additional wounding is truly execrable.

* "[T]he mammy was often illiterate though intelligent in her own sense. Among many of the slaves, there could have been a mammy who possessed the abilities to read and write, often taught to her by the children of the family for whom she worked.... [M]ost of her intelligence was a result of past experiences and conflicts. In particular, a mammy of an aristocratic family could be identified by her air of refinement."


Meade said...

from Matthew Sablan:

Wasn't Mammy, in Gone With the Wind, one of the few, 100 percent sympathetic characters? Even though her dialect makes her sound dumb, she has insight and actually cares about Scarlett and the others. It seems a weird contrast to make; sort of like how the original Uncle Tom was beaten to death for NOT being an obedient slave, it reeks of not just racial insensitivity, but a lack of literary knowledge.

Meade said...

email from MartyH:

I think Lizette has been watching too much Law and Order, where Jack McCoy
KNOWS that defendant is guilty, but just can't make the obvious charges
stick with the evidence on hand. He (or the lovely assistant DA that he may
be screwing) finds some obscure statute to charge the guilty party with.
Barring that, he browbeats or blackmails anyone standing between him and his
conviction. All in the name of justice, of course. Why isn't Jack McCoy
prosecuting the Zimmerman trial?

Meade said...

from Richard Dolan:

Ann helpfully (and expertly) deconstructs the bizarre article about the Zimmerman trial in the NYTimes today. The NYT article’s strange focus on the “larger narrative,” which it laments has been missing in the courtroom, inadvertently highlights a different point than its author intended. There was a time when journalism too, at least the kind that was fit to print, treated the facts as the essential element of every story, the one element that had to be nailed down before the story was even printed. While journalism has evidently changed its focus, trials have not. The point of the trial, as Ann so nicely explains, is to eliminate the noise so that the truth (and nothing but the truth!) will finally emerge, and a fair and accurate verdict can then be rendered. Sadly journalism’s “larger narrative” is now based on something other than the truth, and the facts are definitely no longer the one element it is essential to get right. As used in this article, the “larger narrative” is the latest incarnation of fake-but-accurate journalism, the “narrative” being NYT-speak for the political agenda of the day. Unfortunately, fake-but-accurate is a standard that many journalists for other news bureaus subscribe to. Fortunately, fake-but-accurate hasn’t yet made its way into the rules of evidence.

Meade said...

from The Godfather:

Two points:

1. Race did appear in the trial when Zimmerman's mother testified. By her appearance the phantom of the "white Hispanic" was exorcised.

2. What would it mean for race to have become a presence in the trial? Would the prosecutors have had to claim that the tape of Zimmerman's call to the police had him saying "f***ing coons", when it's clear from analysis that he said punks? Would the prosecutors have had to doctor the tape, the way one of TV nets did, to have Zimmerman say "He looks suspicious; he looks black."? If this crime happened the way Zimmerman said it happened, it doesn't teach the lesson about race that the race-mongers want us to learn. The lesson it teaches is, Don't assume because you're young and tough and brave you can always come out on top. The death of Martin teaches that, as does the agony that Zimmerman has been going through.

The Godfather

Sent from my iPad

Meade said...

from Jason:

The trial's regrettable, relentless focus on establishing facts has caused the whole endeavor to have a disturbing lack of truthiness.

Meade said...

from CWJ:

If people had not been intent upon superimposing a "larger narrative" over and indeed beyond the facts, there would have been no trial.

Meade said...

from David:

If you want a racial narrative, you could come up with this:

"A trial is being held in Florida. A white man killed a black man and claimed self defense. Initially he was not charged, because the police were not sure whether they had the evidence to prosecute. Unlike in past times in Florida, there is no evidence that the police decision was motivated by any racial animosity or prejudice. Nevertheless, because there was a possible inference that race played a role in the police decision, the conservative governor of the state took the unusual step of appointing a special prosecutor to determine whether the state should prosecute. This step by a white governor with respect to the killing of a young black man by a white man would have been unimaginable in the fairly recent past, when white segregationist democrats had a firm grip on the politics of the state.

The white special prosecutor determined that the white man should stand trial. The county of the trial is 86% white, but there has been no significant local protest about the decision to prosecute, though some from outside the community have suggested that race politics may have played an improper role in the decision. The trial has proceeded without white protests or demonstrations, and there has been little suggestion that whites in the community will not accept the verdict. The white prosecutor appears to have been zealous. The white judge has been fair and evenhanded in her rulings. The all white jurors all seem to be paying close attention to the evidence.

The outcome of the trial is still unknown. Some commentators believe that the state's case is weak, but the jury will decide. These events represent a significant change for a state and community where, within the memory of many still alive, the prosecution of this alleged crime would have been highly unlikely, and the white community would have raised its voices loudly if the prosecution had occurred.

Indeed Florida may be playing out Dr. Martin Luther King's dream that men should be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Meade said...

from DD:

I searched the NYT article for the word "verdict"; it does not appear. This is not surprising; the word means "speak truth", which the likes of NYT and other post-modern idiots hold (along with Pilot, judge in another famous trial) does not exist. Therefore, the trial as leading to a verdict, that is, as seeking truth, also cannot exist.

Meade said...

email from Insufficiently Sensitive:

My ‘Insufficiently Sensitive’ handle is rejected. This is what he’d have said:

Very good response to that despicable article.

It looks like the NYT is frothing at the mouth to see a verdict commensurate with the months of trial-by-media which deliberately excluded nearly all facts which might contradict Zimmerman-as-evil-racist out on a coon hunt.

The public was never shown a photo of Martin as a 17-year-old, and never shown a photo of Zimmerman wearing the blood and marks of the savage beating he received from the dominating Martin.

To this day the media are still slanting their stories in conformance with their early impressions thrown onto screens and pages as a cut-and-dried morality play with Zimmerman the villain. Nowhere since the trial began have I seen any sort of media hesitation, of reappraisal of that morality play in the face of the courtroom evidence which appears daily.

It's all too likely that the media is too deeply fixed on that same morality play, and that in case of an acquittal they'll just unleash the maximum incitement for enraged mobs to override any sort of reasoned verdict.

Insufficiently Sensitive

Meade said...

email from G. Roesch:

The truth of the larger narrative was that race was a factor from the beginning, and to understand just how much of a factor one only has to imagine what would have happened if Zimmerman had been shot by Martin as the NYT points out.-

Meade said...

email from CP:

There is an interesting post about race, culture, and education by someone who taught in GA schools HERE. This is the worldview of "Mister" Martin, and the next Martin, and the one after that. This is the discussion about race that white liberals refuse to have.

Meade said...

from Jack:

"It's a trial! There are rules of evidence, and there's the whole concept of criminal justice, which involves an accusation, based on specific law, about a specific incident and exactly what this particular defendant did."

If that were true, there would be no Zimmerman trial because to date all the evidence - both forensic and otherwise - are consistent with a legitimate self-defense shooting. That's why the original police investigation recommended no charges be brought and why the original prosecutor declined to bring a case. It was only political pressure - from the usual suspects - that lead to the present pathetic attempt to prove Zimmerman guilty of something.

Meade said...

from hoyden:

Regarding the Zimmerman trial, this looks like the perfect storm of "social justice." Zimmerman is guilty because the Liberals feel he is guilty and Liberals need the guilty verdict to exonerate their feelings.

Ann Althouse said...

Email from Sgt Ted:


The trial is about self defense.

The Press and Activist Narrative was about RACE and it was partially successful, until the shooter turned out to be Hispanic.

The reporter wants it to be about race, she NEEDS it to be about race, otherwise it's just a garden variety shooting.




Interestingly, when the NYT refers to the Z's mother, they say she's "Peruvian."

Meade said...

from Neutral Observer:

"The truth of the larger narrative was that race was a factor from the beginning, and to understand just how much of a factor one only has to imagine what would have happened if Zimmerman had been shot by Martin as the NYT points out."

Actually, one need not imagine at all: It actually happened, and the black shooter was not charged: