The formula is painfully obvious by now: Fear that a crime had been committed and the police were going to be of no help, combined with feeling of individual empowerment led to action before all the facts were known. I’m speaking, of course, of the rallies calling for George Zimmerman’s arrest and conviction.
Zimmerman is likely guilty of manslaughter, if not murder. I am NOT arguing that he is innocent. Nor am I arguing that he is guilty. Zimmerman killed because he believed that he was right and didn’t need to wait for the authorities to do what was needed. This is a form of vigilantism. But many in the nationwide rallies are doing the same thing.
I am not surprised that there are people like George Zimmerman around. That’s not the issue in this case; the issue is the failure of a police department to act in a responsible manner, and the drumbeat for Zimmerman’s “arrest and conviction” at rallies around the United States. Calling for arrest, while premature, is understandable. Calling for a conviction is vigilantism. The facts are simply not known. As an FBI agent, even when I knew every fact there was to know; the court still decided whether the person was guilty; not me. This case has become tragically polarizing. It’s like the O.J. Simpson case, where evidence inexplicably appeared to break on lines of race. Both sides are suffering from extremism at their fringes. This case pushes all the standard liberal v. conservative buttons: Guns, race, the South, police, and prejudice. It's an absolute goldmine for people like Al Sharpton and Rush Limbaugh.
While it APPEARS to me that Zimmerman killed Trayvon without any real legal justification, I am troubled by the calls (from people like Al Sharpton) for Zimmerman's conviction and punishment. There is one incontrovertible, undeniable and obvious fact when any person calls for Zimmerman's "conviction": The person who uttered those words has prejudged the case. Prejudge is, of course, the root word for prejudice.
From a law enforcement point of view, it is hard to argue self-defense when Zimmerman appears to have chased down an unarmed man and confronted him in what appears from the phone tapes to be a very aggressive manner. Why he was allowed to possess a concealed weapon after an arrest for assaulting an officer, why he could carry a gun after domestic violence allegations is incomprehensible to me. If I had to make an educated guess, I'd say he's guilty of at least manslaughter and possibly 2nd degree murder. But that's why we have courts and juries. All the facts are not in yet, it has not been before a judge or a jury (all of the things we fight and die for), and nothing is certain. O.J. Simpson was exonerated on much more substantial evidence of his guilt than exists for Zimmerman's guilt.
The point is this: WE JUST DON'T KNOW ALL THE FACTS YET! Even if we did, we're not the jury.
That said, it would be hard to mismanage a case worse than the Sanford Police Department has this one. A man was killed; and there is ample evidence that Zimmerman may have committed a crime, yet nothing was done--not even a cursory investigation, it appears. Even if the police had been pursuing an indictment or arrest, they told nobody. When a case begins to have a life of its own and the public has been given enough facts to feel resentment (justified or not), it is incumbent upon the authorities to completely inform the public on their actions and the reasons for their actions, if for no other reason than to prevent frustration, outrage and mass demonstrations.
However, with the exception of the shooting itself, there is nothing more troubling about this case than the demands from some immoderate people (e.g. Al Sharpton) for Zimmerman's "arrest" and "conviction." Not a thorough investigation; an "arrest and conviction." In the late 1800's and early 1900's, some white Americans in the south, with some regularity, decided that a certain person was guilty of a crime because of half-truths, rumor and skin color. If the police didn't do anything about it, they went out and lynched "the guilty party." These are some of the darkest and most repulsive acts in American history. And they all started with someone deciding on guilt before the courts had a chance to.
If you are right now searching for a label with which to brand me in order to marginalize the value of my words and are considering "racist," let me remind you that I spent nearly half my investigative career on civil rights and hate crimes squads. I was for several years the Los Angeles FBI coordinator for all white supremacist crimes. I was for many months the acting supervisor of all white supremacist investigations in Los Angeles. I lived among the Aryan Nations in Idaho and Washington in the mid-80's during a particularly violent period in their existence.
If you think my rhetoric hyperbolic; know that today, March 27, 2012, the New Black Panther Party has offered a $10,000 reward for the “capture and citizen’s arrest," of George Zimmerman, "dead or alive." Mikhail Muhammad, Southern Regional Director of the New Black Panther Party said today; “It’s time for us as black men to take justice in our own hands,” said the voice of moderation, “You kill mine god-damn it I got to kill yours.” Don't forget the rope, Muhammad.
The NBPP are sick, hateful people. But when people like Al Sharpton call for Zimmerman's conviction, he has in my humble opinion crossed a line into the very reasoning that was so prevalent in the south at the turn of the last century. The formula is the same: You have at least half the facts, a crime was committed wherein a person of your race is the victim and a person of another race is the perpetrator; therefore the alleged perpetrator is convicted in your mind. What else do you need? With few exceptions, the raising of a lynch mob certainly started with the phrase: "We all know he's guilty!" Al Sharpton says all he wants is "justice," which he defines as Zimmerman's conviction. This is frightening to me, but not surprising, as I have long been convinced that Sharpton a racist and an opportunist.
I do not think the rallies per se are problematic. When they simply demand a full and complete investigation they are in the greatest tradition of America. But there is a fine line between a 'rally' and a 'mob.' And it is this: When the rally demands an arrest, they presume to know all the facts. When they demand a conviction, they presume to be judge and jury. Sharpton has called the crime "murder," a legal term which presumes Zimmerman's guilt, and when asked to define what he means by "justice," he said that it included, "arrest," "a fair trial," "conviction," and "punishment" for Zimmerman. Calling for a "fair trial then sentencing" is a self-contradicting statement that originated in the days of the gulags.
In reality, Sharpton has shown himself to be a clone of Zimmerman. Zimmerman made assumptions based on race. Sharpton is making assumptions based on race. Zimmerman may have believed in his mind that he was doing what was best for society, that he was an avenging hero, and that he was ensuring justice. Sharpton seems to believe the same thing about himself. The allegations against Zimmerman are that he thought he knew all the facts he needed to make a life and death decision, that he was a person who had the delusional believe that he was the final arbiter of "justice," and because of that, acted before he really understood the truth.
Who does that sound like to you?