Mitchell: Zimmerman verdict will linger just like O.J.’s has
BY MARY MITCHELL July 15, 2013 10:34PM
F. Lee Bailey, O.J. Simpson, Johnnie Cochran at Simpson's acquittal on Oct. 3, 1995 | AP
Updated: August 17, 2013 6:42AM
It should be over but it is not over.
Just as O.J. Simpson’s acquittal on double murder charges did not settle the issue of his guilt for many Americans, neither will the acquittal of George Zimmerman.
Should the U.S. Justice Department now intervene by bringing a federal civil rights lawsuit against Zimmerman?
There are too many questions still hanging over this case for the Justice Department to consider the matter closed.
Even if Trayvon’s parents prevail in a civil suit against Zimmerman, there is little satisfaction in secondhand justice.
Trayvon’s supporters wanted to believe that America’s criminal justice system had moved well beyond the notorious Dred Scott decision that found black people “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”
Frankly, I am astounded that, except for an isolated incident, young people were able to express their anger without resorting to riotous behavior.
Many of us old heads have been around long enough not to have high hopes. But at the very least, we expected Zimmerman to be convicted of manslaughter simply because he had no right to trail Trayvon in the first place.
In fact, the argument that the unarmed teenager should have called the police if he felt threatened by Zimmerman is insulting. This is not 1955. Young black males don’t have to answer to every white man who thinks it is their duty to question unfamiliar black men that happen to be in their neighborhoods.
As President Obama pointed out in the statement that was released after the verdict, “We are a nation of laws and a jury has spoken.”
Obviously, this jury didn’t take its duty lightly. Most of us caught snatches of the trial on TV, but they were there day after day listening to the witnesses and lawyers in this case, and deliberated for more than 16 hours.
But I am mindful that hundreds of aging black men from across this country have walked out of prisons after serving decades behind bars for crimes they didn’t commit.
So juries are not infallible.
That is why the U.S. Justice Department should review the evidence and decide whether federal civil rights charges are warranted.
But I am conflicted.
For instance, I’ve received a lot of emails taunting me about the O.J. Simpson acquittal. For some white people, the Zimmerman verdict amounts to payback.
“Anybody who applauded the acquittal of O.J. Simpson yet gets upset about this verdict is the definition of a hypocrite,” said Tom McClelland.
“Now you know how whitey felt when O.J. killed two unarmed white people,” wrote James Keefe. That’s just sad.
Frankly, if this case did not involve racial profiling, I would just as soon see Zimmerman get on with his life.
When O.J. Simpson was acquitted, I was appalled that he was hounded by the media and dragged into civil court by the victims’ families as if the jury’s verdict in the criminal case were irrelevant.
The explosive murder case exposed the nation’s old racial scars and created new ones.
But the Trayvon Martin case was about something bigger than a 17-year-old black teenager getting shot to death while walking home from the store.
Tragically, that happens every day in urban areas across America.
This case was about the rights of young black men to be free to walk the streets in America without being profiled as criminals.
As for those who think Simpson got away with murder, think again.
Although he was exonerated on charges that he murdered his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Lyle Goldman in 1994, the charges ruined his life.
The victims’ families were awarded $33.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages. Every money scheme that Simpson got involved in thereafter failed. In 2006, reacting to a public outcry, the publisher of the infamous “If I Did It,” a supposedly hypothetical account of the murders, was forced to pull the plug on the book and a corresponding TV interview.
In 2008, Simpson was convicted on kidnapping and armed robbery charges. He was sentenced to nine to 33 years in prison, where he now sits getting fat and old.
Zimmerman may be a free man today. But the universe has a way of settling scores.