THE SCOTTISH VERDICT

Posted in Rants on July 15th, 2013 by Ed

The Scottish legal system is unique in that it offers juries three verdicts: guilty, not guilty, and not proven. The third, often referred to in legal circles as a "Scottish verdict", implies that judge and jury are not convinced that the accused is not guilty but there is insufficient evidence to prove guilt. Given the paucity of eyewitnesses and the disputed nature of what little evidence existed aside from the defendant's statement, the Zimmerman trial appeared from the very beginning to be headed for a Scottish verdict. The state simply was unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the confrontation was initiated by Zimmerman and not Martin. In that sense, the verdict is unsurprising.

A great many proud centrists, Very Serious People, and secretly-elated observers on the right have sought refuge in the argument that "Everybody lost." While it is true that Mr. Zimmerman will suffer extrajudicial consequences, this statement is as insulting as it is facile. It is hardly splitting hairs to note that while everybody lost, the person who died lost quite a bit more than the one currently at home on his sofa.

In the larger sense this incident and trial are a glimpse into the endgame of the last four decades of gun politics, the logical result of a mindset that sees threats everywhere and believes that the Constitution guarantees each individual the right to respond to those threats, real or perceived, in any manner he sees fit. We insist not only that we have the right to be armed at all times in whatever manner we choose, but also, with the proliferation of "Stand Your Ground" laws, to be the sole judges of when using our arms is appropriate. In other words, the death of Trayvon Martin is exactly what is to be expected from a culture that arms every numbnuts who can afford a pawn shop pistol and believes that those same people are qualified as judges, juries, and executioners. "Feeling threatened" is the only requirement that must be met to justify a death sentence; if one happens to feel threatened whenever a black male is within 50 feet, so be it. We must allow each armed would-be vigilante to make that choice, because Freedom.

That, really, is at the heart of this incident: would a jury agree that being black, male, and hooded is sufficient to arouse suspicion? Even if that suspicion initiates a sequence of events that ends in death? If you weren't sure if the (all-white) jury would buy that argument, a refresher on the American judicial system might be in order. This has long been a society – including the courts – that considers some lives more valuable than others. The right to feel safe and secure in one's person and property has been particularly sensitive to the rankings of the social hierarchy over time.

That is why we create an ever-larger class of people walking around with guns – because our (mostly white, mostly male) courts and legislatures recognize how important it is for this (mostly white, mostly male) group to feel safe. If it so happens to make everyone else – black males, women, etc. – feel less safe, so be it. Every black male in America leaving his house wondering, "Is today the day I get shot for having my hand in my pocket?" is, legally and socially, a small and justified price to pay for the greater sense of security that carrying a concealed weapon provides insecure white people.

The biases of the legal system, like the society it reflects, are deeply ingrained. No one sits around rubbing his hands and chuckling, "Let's kill us some black guys!" like a Hanna-Barbera cartoon villain. It is a quiet, persistent, passive bias that enables things like this to continue to happen. It is every judge and jury that accepts without question that black male, especially when dressed In a Certain Way, is suspicious and threatening. It is every example of the benefit of doubt being given to the shooter in instances of self-defense, as though "self defense" is a well-defined concept independent of the judgment, prejudices, and irrationality of the shooter. It is everyone who insists that "It's not about race" to assuage their own guilt, irrespective of the fact that a similar verdict with the racial roles reversed could scarcely be imagined.