Deconstructing Reality and Zimmerman

Commentary magazine | Published on July 16, 2013

By Peter Wehner

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On Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder, in addressing the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, reiterated that the Department of Justice is considering filing federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman in the aftermath of his acquittal. Mr. Holder went on to say, “I want to assure you that the Department will continue to act in a manner that is consistent with the facts and the law. We are committed to standing with the people of Sanford, with the individuals and families affected by this incident, and with our state and local partners in order to alleviate tensions, address community concerns, and promote healing. We are determined to meet division and confusion with understanding and compassion – and also with truth… We will never stop working to ensure that – in every case, in every circumstance, and in every community – justice must be done.”

What an ironic formulation for Mr. Holder to use. Set aside the fact that Attorney General Holder, who considers America to be a “nation of cowards” on race, has done more than his fair share to divide us along racial lines. Set aside, too, the fact that Mr. Holder’s relationship to the truth is often tenuous, including when he’s testifying before Congress on matters ranging from the Fast and Furious gun-running program to the Department of Justice’s investigation of Fox’s James Rosen.

What I had in mind is that in this case the facts, the truth, and the law all point in the same direction: George Zimmerman was not guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter–and racism was not a factor in the death of Trayvon Martin. The prosecution team said as much. (Angela Corey, the special prosecutor in the case,conceded, “This case has never been about race.”) So did the jury. (One of the jurors in Zimmerman’s state trial told CNN on Monday that she did not think Zimmerman racially profiled Martin. “All of us thought race did not play a role,” said the juror.) And so did Chris Serino, the Sanford Police Department detective who headed the shooting probe. He said the fatal shooting was not based on Martin’s skin color, nor was Zimmerman considered to be a racist. That doesn’t mean what Zimmerman did wasn’t misguided or a tragic error (see William Saleton’s piece here). But it does mean that (a) he wasn’t guilty of a crime according to Florida law and (b) the Department of Justice needs to give up meddling in this case since there was not a shred of evidence presented in the trial showing Zimmerman is racist or that his shooting of Martin was driven by racial bigotry.

But that hardly seems to matter to some of those on the left and in the media, who are determined to turn this case into an example of a hate crime. Consider NBC News, whichdoctored recordings by Zimmerman in order to make him appear to be a racist. Here’s how NBC’s March 27, 2012 Today show’s abridged version of Zimmerman’s comments (made the evening of February 26, 2012) went: “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.” And here’s how the real conversation went:

Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.

Dispatcher: OK, and this guy — is he black, white or Hispanic? 

Zimmerman: He looks black.

So what’s going on here? Part of the answer is that liberals long to use a case like this to transport them to an Atticus Finch-Tom Robinson, Edmund Pettus Bridge moment. They want things like the Zimmerman trial to be at core about a great civil rights struggle, even if it’s actually not. Which leads to my second observation.

What we’re seeing from the left is post-modernism on full display. The facts, the truth and objective reality are subordinate to the progressive narrative. In this particular instance many liberals so want the killing of Trayvon Martin to be driven by bigotry–which would serve as both an indictment of racial attitudes in America and turn a horrible mistake into a “modern-day lynching”–that they will make it so, even if it requires twisting the truth into something unrecognizable. What matters, after all, is The Cause. And everything, including basic facts, must be bent to fit it. This kind of systematic deconstruction of truth is fairly common in college liberal arts courses all across America. But when it becomes the primary mode of interpretation in a murder trial, it is something else again.

Most of us, when we hear the words “justice must be done,” believe that what is right, reasonable, fair and in accordance with the facts be done. But some on the left have something else in mind. For them, justice is a tool in a larger political struggle, a means to an end. Justice can be at odds with reality if reality is at odds with liberalism. Which is why the efforts to turn the Zimmerman verdict into a racial miscarriage of justice is so discouraging and so damaging.

Peter Wehner is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.