Why George Zimmerman should not be 'crucified' for killing Trayvon Martin
Passionate citizens and leaders have no right to declare neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin. Due process in the legal system determines that guilt or innocence. Equating justice with imprisoning Zimmerman or firing officials is premature.
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At a time like this, leaders and politicians should be the calm heads of reason and demand that justice be served in the only way it can be served, by a strict adherence to the rule of law and the procedures mandated by the Constitution.Skip to next paragraph
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When passions dictate our actions, we can mistake vengeance for justice. If one of my children were shot I would not be willing to wait for a trial nor care a wit about the rule of law. I would want to see the perpetrator suffer. But that is also why I shouldn’t be allowed to decide the shooter’s fate.
Government and the American legal system are set up for this due process, because people cannot act as impartial judges in their own cases. When people are left to be judge and executioner, their emotions will likely guide their reason, and society’s bonds will break.
If the initial media accounts of that tragic night in Sanford are correct, Zimmerman did just this – let emotion guide reason – when he pursued and possibly when he shot Trayvon. But we cannot know the truth of that night, nor can we consider ourselves morally superior to Zimmerman, if we don’t aspire to a higher standard of justice.
I believe Zimmerman should be arrested, and if indicted, tried in a court of law. But he should not be found guilty or innocent by public opinion. Cries for street justice should go unheeded.
Our legal system is not perfect. It has made wrong decisions and will do so again. But it is a system that limits the number of wrong decisions and the effect a wrong decision has. To do this, the government must adhere to a strict set of standards in trying to prove guilt.
The mark of a just government, and of a people truly committed to the idea of liberty and equality, is the degree to which they abide by those legal standards, chief among them due process. This must be true when we sympathize with the accused just as much as when find the accused repugnant.
Kyle Scott teaches American politics and constitutional law at Duke University. His commentary has appeared in Forbes, Reuters.com, The Christian Science Monitor, Foxnews.com, and dozens of regional outlets including the Philadelphia Inquirer and Baltimore Sun.