George Zimmerman is a bullying, bigoted ass who did exactly what police had told him not to do in performing neighborhood watch duty in Sanford, Fla. — confront people who seemed suspicious. But that alone isn’t a felony or even a misdemeanor.
Trayvon Martin is dead because of Zimmerman, who turns out to have been the “punk” he stereotyped Martin as being just for being a young black man wearing a hooded sweatshirt.
But the most proximate cause of Martin’s death well may have been his own decision to confront or sustain a confrontation with the bigoted, bullying ass who was stalking him.
Martin well could have figured that he didn’t deserve the harassment when he was minding his own business walking home — and that he didn’t have to be intimidated, because he was bigger and stronger than his stalker and could fight him. But Martin didn’t account for the pistol Zimmerman was carrying — and used when he apparently began losing the fight.
At least that seems to be what the jury in Florida concluded Saturday night, and the evidence presented at trial easily can be construed that way. It simply wasn’t probable that Zimmerman set out to commit murder, the charge against him, and he had injuries to his face and back of his head, supporting his assertion that Martin assaulted him.
Declining to charge Zimmerman after their investigation, the Sanford police reached the conclusion the jury eventually did, but national political clamor about the death of a young man who was doing nothing wrong except “walking while black” induced Florida state government to bring a prosecution outside normal channels. The evidence of murder was no stronger.
After the jury ruled for acquittal, one of his lawyers asserted that Zimmerman never would have been prosecuted had the races of the protagonists in the case been reversed, since clamor for prosecution came only from people seeking protection of the civil rights of black people. That’s probably true, but people of all races were and remain rightfully outraged that a young man is dead because he was picked on by Zimmerman and acted on his fair resentment of it.
That’s why there now is clamor for the federal government to take up the case by prosecuting Zimmerman federally for violating Martin’s civil rights. But federal prosecution in such cases is proper only when state authorities have failed to do their duty or when courts have rendered a judgment grossly against the evidence.
That’s not what happened here. Everyone in the criminal-justice system did his conscientious best. Zimmerman is hardly innocent in the general sense, but murder is a specific charge. It was not proved. As it was obliged to do, the jury went by the law, and the law is not a popularity contest.
Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families is now in its 22nd year of a sort of receivership in federal court, whereby an appointee of the court monitors the agency and points out failures potentially requiring the court to tell the agency what to do. The monitor’s latest report seems to leave the agency no closer to getting out from under court supervision.
Insofar as this receivership has become the ordinary way of DCF’s doing business, maybe the humiliation of the situation has worn off. Indeed, maybe the humiliation should begin to attach to the court itself.
During all this time Connecticut’s governors and legislatures have seemed beyond humiliation for almost any policy failure. But after 22 years they should reconsider DCF’s premises. If state government never will be able to manage very well the consequences of child abuse and neglect, how about addressing the causes?
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Conn.