Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Code Red

Lt. Kaffee:     Colonel, I have just one more question before I call Airman O’Malley and Airman Rodriguez.  If you gave an order that Santiago wasn’t to be touched, and your orders are always followed, then why would Santiago be in danger?  Why would it be necessary to transfer him off the base?
Col. Jessep:    Santiago was a substandard Marine.  He was being transferred . . .
Lt. Kaffee:     That’s not what you said.  You said he was transferred because he was in grave danger.
Col. Jessep:    That’s correct.
Lt. Kaffee:     You said he was in danger, and I said, “Grave danger?”  You said, “Is there any other kind?” 
Col. Jessep:    I recall what I said.
Lt. Kaffee:     I can have the court reporter read back to you . . .
Col. Jessep:    I know what I said!  I don’t have to have it read back to me like I’m . . .
Lt. Kaffee:     Why the two orders?  Colonel?
Col. Jessep:    Sometimes men take matters into their own hands.
Lt. Kaffee:     No, Sir.  You made it clear just a moment ago that your men never take matters in their own hands.  Your men follow orders or people die.  So Santiago shouldn’t have been in any danger at all, should he have, Colonel?
—Tom Cruise as Lieutenant Danny Kaffee, and Jack Nicholson as Colonel Nathan Jessep in A Few Good Men

I’m sure you’ll be as shocked as I was to learn that syndicated Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr., sees blatant racism in the Trayvon Martin case.

Writing on Sunday’s anniversary of the original Rodney King verdict Mr. Pitts tells us there’s a lesson for the Martin case to be learned in the orgy of burning, looting, and killing that followed the King verdict—a verdict, he’s quick to point out (incorrectly), that involved “a white jury” failing to convict “four white cops” (actually one of the jurors was Hispanic, and another was Asian, and one of the four police officers involved in the beating was Hispanic, but I guess in Pitts’ strictly dichromatic world, anybody who’s not black is white and therefore part of a monolithic problem).

A lesson for the Martin case we’re supposed to glean from the Rodney King riots?  Hmmm.

Now, Pitts isn’t condoning the riots, you see; he’s quick to tell us that: 

“[T]his is not to lionize the rioters.  You do not lionize 54 deaths and a billion dollars in property damage.  You do not lionize what almost killed Reginald Denny, beaten nearly to death for the ‘crime’ of being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong color skin.”

Nooooo.  Whatever you do, don’t lionize the rioters.

So—without celebrating or condoning them—what is the lesson for the Martin case Pitts would have us take from the King riots?  For Pitts, the Rodney King riots manifested “a certain frustration, a certain sickness at heart, a certain outrage at being betrayed by justice—again.”  Pitts purports to cast this “betrayal” in terms of justice delayed, reminding us that for blacks, “justice comes slowly, grudgingly and grumblingly, when it comes at all.” 

Having made his complaint about the speed of justice, however, Pitts then repeatedly returns to the King riots and the common protest chant “no justice, no peace,” and cautions that the lesson of “no justice, no peace” is “a certainty” that we must apply to the Trayvon Martin case.  This is the lesson he's urging us to learn.  Of course, he's careful once again to include a lip-service caveat that he’s not making a threat, or a prediction, or a warning.  Far be it from him to do something so base and vulgar.  

But my question is why tie the two together at all?  What is this justice that’s necessary in the Trayvon Martin case in order to ensure peace?

George Zimmerman, the undisputed shooter, has been arrested and charged with second-degree murder (albeit via a criminal complaint that has been widely panned as so weak that the special prosecutor should be sanctioned for even filing it).  Yes, it took six weeks to do it, but that’s been done now.  Presumably there will be a trial, and if found guilty Zimmerman will face a sentence in the Florida penal system.  Yet Pitts is still telling us that the process of justice in the Martin case has only just begun, and we need to keep the King riots in mind.

No justice, no peace.

What is Pitts really saying when he says we should learn something from the "no justice, no peace" idea in the King riots that's relevant to the Martin case?  Contrary to Pitts’ superficial suggestion, it’s not really about delay.  The delay in making an arrest and filing charges in the Martin case has already come and gone, so there’s no point in Pitts raising it at this stage.  And his justice delayed point is nonsense with respect to the Rodney King riots—no one was rioting because of how long the process took. 

And therein lies the rub.  The King riots weren’t about delay, but about the failure to convict, and this appears to be Pitts’ real point in tying them to the Martin case.  Although Pitts gives lip service to the “sage advice” not to rush to judgment, you get a good sense of where he’s coming from in his incomplete (to put it charitably) description of the event:

“[An] unarmed 17-year-old boy shot to death by a neighborhood watchman who thought him suspicious because he was dawdling and looking around.”

Pitts basically intimates that Zimmerman, from the safety and comfort of his truck, picked Martin off for twiddling his thumbs.  Pitts conveniently ignores the fact that Zimmerman has claimed that Martin had him on the ground and was beating his head on the concrete—a claim supported by physical evidence of injuries to the back of Zimmerman’s head.

It is plain that Pitts has, in his mind, already adjudged Zimmerman guilty of murder.  And so in pairing the Rodney King riots to the Martin case and telling us there's a lesson we'd better draw, his message is absolutely clear: 

Remember what happened when you white people didn’t convict the cops in the King case?  Zimmerman is guilty, and if there is anything less than a conviction, the black community will riot. 

His disingenuous disclaimers notwithstanding, this can only be understood as a threat, if not an outright incitement: convict George Zimmerman—regardless of the evidenceor suffer the consequences.

I’ve said before that I’m not here to defend George Zimmerman, and if he can’t prove up his self-defense claim, I think the State of Florida should throw the book at him.  But unlike the Rodney King case, there isn’t a videotape of the incident, and the physical evidence lends at least some support to Zimmerman’s claim of self defense.  “Justice” demands that he get an opportunity to make that case, rather than being tried to a predetermined conclusion in a court of public opinion being held hostage to a threat of mass rioting if the verdict is anything else.

Pitts says we shouldn’t “lionize” the Rodney King rioters.  He cautions against rushing to judgment.  And he swears he’s not threatening or even warning of new riots if “justice” isn’t done in the Trayvon Martin case.  No, really.

Methinks he doth protest too much. 

With public bounties put on Zimmerman’s head, and the tweet-o-sphere ablaze with individual death threats against him, it’s already unlikely that Zimmerman can get a fair trial anywhere in the U.S. (I question whether he can even continue to live in this country).  It is irresponsible, dangerous, and frankly counter-productive to race relations for someone in Pitts’ position deliberately to skew the process further by all but explicitly encouraging people to take to the streets in a violent rampage if the system fails to reach his pre-ordained result.  

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