The principal takeaway from the Zimmerman trial and verdict is that the greatness of America and its people still vastly exceeds the corruption and in many respects, the outright evil of its justice system. More important by far were the dignity and stoicism of the defendant and the eloquence and simply hewn moral strength of his counsel, than the mealy-mouthed pieties of the egregious state attorney general and the sanctimony of the defeated prosecutors. More eloquent than all, perhaps, was the silence of the jury after each had confirmed the verdict: “Not guilty.” It was an inexpressible relief to find anyone associated with an American trial, in particular those most importantly involved in it apart from the defendant, whose chief purpose did not appear to be garrulously to inflict upon the parched and biased media their vapid expatiations on everything.
In this case, the judge, like most American judges in criminal cases, was an ex-prosecutor and acted effectively as part of the prosecution. She was biased in her rulings and abusive and injudiciously rude in her manner, and she did her best to salvage something for the prosecution by giving the jury the right to find guilty on a lesser charge at the very end of the trial. Prosecutors win 99.5 percent of their cases in the United States, an unheard of figure in the democratic world (about 60 percent in Canada and just over 50 percent in Great Britain are convicted, and in both countries the procedural rules are equal, the media are discouraged from poisoning the wells of the jury pools and lynching the defendants before the trial begins, and the defense speaks last to the jury). Of these 99.5 percent, 97 percent are without trial, after prosecution manipulation of the plea bargain so that everyone who has ever met the target can be given immunity from perjury prosecution and told that if their memories do not produce something useful to the government they will be charged as co-conspirators with the defendant. In the countries mentioned, and many others, prosecutors would be disbarred for what is routine in the United States.
So those who go to trial in the U.S. have about a one in six chance of not being convicted: grim, but not hopeless odds. In the Zimmerman case, there were no witnesses to the fatal and tragic encounter between the defendant and the deceased, Trayvon Martin, so the abuse of the plea bargain could not thicken and serry the ranks of prosecution stooges repeating their rehearsed lines like parrots reciting the catechism extracted from them by prosecutors as the condition for not prosecuting them, the lugubrious farce featured in most American criminal trials. The Sanford police did not want to charge Zimmerman, because there was no evidence, from witnesses or forensic analysis, to contradict his story that it was a case of self-defense. So there would be no men in blue testifying under oath to his guilt and no chance for a cops-are-tops Manichaean bout between the Society of Laws and the Forces of Darkness. (The problem with American justice is not and never was that the country is a police state. If anything, it is still under-policed, and though there are many imperfections in the constabulary, the police in general are competent if given the right orders. The problem is the prosecutors, who are out of control policemen in suits performing in front of judges who are prosecutors in robes, for the benefit of jurors an inordinate number of whom are the dregs of society.)
Deprived of the usual stacked deck, the prosecution, roused to action by that ineffable pillar of popular theology and racial harmony, the Reverend Al Sharpton, relied not just on playing the race card and, as Johnnie Cochrane’s co-counsel said of him in the O. J. Simpson case, dealing it “off the bottom of the deck.” It emulated the opening of My Little Chickadee, where W. C. Fields, faced with a hand of four aces, put down five aces and claimed the pot. The attorney general, Eric Holder, urged pro-Trayvon demonstrations, presumably because he prejudged Zimmerman to be guilty, and the president, in the most distressingly novel aspect of the case, averred that if he had had a son, he would look like the deceased. No previous U.S. president had so prejudicially inserted himself in a criminal proceeding. And the national media, showing again why they are distrusted by most and why the following of the main traditional television networks and periodicals has shriveled for decades, joined the liberal political establishment in trying to make the case a watershed against racial profiling and the full panoply of minority grievances. George Zimmerman was to be a symbol, a metaphor turned on the spit over the fire of racial bigotry. The New York Times invented the term “white Hispanic” to deprive the target of minority sympathy, but at least that newspaper, whose controlling shareholders would probably not like to be described as “Anglo-Saxonoid Jews,” stopped short of inciting the inference, as some of the African-American media allegedly did, that he was a Jew. The CNN legal correspondent, an attractive and articulate ex-prosecutor, Sunny Hostin, was rabidly partisan and commented at the merciful end that “Justice has taken a holiday.” I think not, but any sense of professionalism she may have, did.
Every informed person in the Western world knows that African Americans and other minorities have many grievances, and no reasonable person would make light of them. But acting on them to demand a murder trial of someone against whom there is no evidence, and attempting to compensate for the absence of evidence with a hysterical smear campaign to which most of the traditional media subscribed, and for which the great offices of president and attorney general of the United States were willfully degraded by their occupants is, as defense co-counsel Don West said, “disgraceful.” When pressed, Mr. West expressed the wish to retain his license to practice law, indicating how disrespectful his candid comments on the Florida prosecutorial establishment and the local bench would be. Withal, the deliberate decision of the jury, delivered without elaboration, the unpretentious and very dignified remarks of the defense counsel, and the sober operation of the system of justice as it is supposed to operate, made it a great hour for America. The hour is made more gratifying and majestic, not sullied, by the hyena-calls for a civil-rights prosecution, and the inevitable fatuities and fictions of the humiliated prosecutors that America, despite the verdict, has “the best justice system in the world,” meaning the one that allows them to conduct such a mockery as they did in this case.
President Obama’s concluding comments were unexceptionable: “The jury has spoken . . . ” etc. It has, against him. Apart from the outrage of his intervention in the case, the whole misconceived and over-heated drama highlights the danger of the Obama policy. It need not be so, but there is some truth to the familiar concern that once voters realize that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury, democracy is on the skids. Politicians pander to the redistributive instinct. Franklin D. Roosevelt is unjustly reviled by enemies of the present welfare state, but he opposed the dole and would not pay able-bodied people to be idle. On everything he said that is recorded, he would be appalled at the abuses of the system that now exist in most Western countries for taking money from those who have earned it and giving it out on an unrigorous basis to those who have not, in presumed exchange for the votes of the recipients. The exact figures are disputed, but there is no doubt that the president’s section of the voters in last year’s election has a lower standard of living, higher unemployment, crime, and welfare-dependency rates, and the great majority of public-sector employees. It was a fair election. A candidate has to pitch to his base; Mr. Obama was better organized, and the winning candidate, unless it is a landslide, always to some degree games the system. There is nothing wrong with any of that. But this administration has aggravated the divisions in the country, not only as an electoral tactic; there is plenty of precedent for that, including from some distinguished presidents; but as premeditated policy. This is unnecessary, dangerous, and bad. The optimists will hope that the president has burned his fingers in the Zimmerman case and will try, for the balance of his term, to maintain the dignity of the highest office within the gift of the American people. If it happens, to quote Dr. Johnson, I would not only be surprised, I would be astonished.
— Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom,Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, A Matter of Principle, and the recently published Flight of the Eagle: The Grand Strategies That Brought America from Colonial Dependence to World Leadership. He can be reached at [email protected].