It’s heresy to some, but I’ve never understood the distinction between “civil rights” and individual rights.
The recent verdict in the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case comes to mind.
Predictably, the NAACP and others have demanded that the federal government become involved to enforce the civil rights of the deceased victim and his family.
Yet George Zimmerman was acquitted under the same rules of law that apply to everyone else. A jury determined that Zimmerman could not be convicted as guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
If Trayvon Martin, a young black man, had killed someone white or Hispanic, and had been acquitted, nobody would be calling for new procedures of justice to enforce the victim’s civil rights. George Zimmerman was acquitted under our legal system, yet that’s somehow not good enough—because his victim was black, and he happened not to be.
I don’t understand the double standard. Yes, it seems like racism-in-reverse … another word for racism. But it’s more than that. It’s as if certain people are entitled not only to individual rights, but additional rights—usually called “civil rights”—when it’s convenient.
If black people—or certain black people—have civil rights, then doesn’t everyone have civil rights? If not, then why the double standard? And if so, then isn’t it redundant to claim that everyone has rights, while everyone also has civil rights?
It may seem like a purely academic or linguistic issue. But it’s not. The NAACP claims that the outcome of the Zimmerman trial is not valid because, it turns out, the issue of civil rights applies—because a non-black man killed a black man, which automatically must be racist.
If a loved one of mine was killed, I would certainly be profoundly unhappy if the person I believe to be guilty was unfairly acquitted. I understand the emotions. But even in the midst of grief, I don’t see how it’s tenable to suddenly declare, “I don’t like the outcome of this trial. I want a new one, because my civil rights have been violated.” As a white person, I would not be able to make such a claim.
Under our system of justice, nobody can be tried again for the same crime. Advocates of civil rights and other extra-Constitutional rights won’t necessarily go so far as to suggest we do so. But prosecuting or harassing someone under civil rights laws, when regular laws didn’t yield the result you wanted, is unfair if applied to some racial groups, but not to others.
Justice refers to giving people what they objectively, rationally deserve. It means setting them free, if there’s insufficient evidence to prove they did something wrong. Justice is supposed to be color-blind because it’s objective. We speak of “facts and evidence” when trying to determine guilt or innocence. Justice is the same concept when applied to anyone of any race.
Not so to some people. In their view, to consider a black man’s death anything other than racism is itself racist. The laws must be bent to fit with this perspective, and that’s why we need such concepts as civil rights to coexist in kind of a parallel universe with regular rights. All of us have regular rights, at least in theory; and some of us have civil rights. This is the contradiction none of us are supposed to mention. Doing so itself constitutes racism, it seems.
“The death of Trayvon Martin shows that we must all work harder to shed the dangerous stereotypes that can have devastating consequences for individuals, families and our society,” said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.
What dangerous stereotypes? One man shot another man in what he claimed was self-defense. The evidence supported his claims, based on the findings of a jury. You might not agree that the evidence supports his claims; but what does stereotyping have to do with it?
Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, NJ, tweeted, “We must mourn the unnecessary & unjust death of a child, but to honor him we must rededicate ourselves to the very ideals that were violated.”
Which ideals were violated? America, more or less, still operates under the concepts of due process, trial by jury and rules of law. Human beings are fallible, and it’s not always possible to be certain of what happened. Does somebody have a more ideal, more efficacious, solution than the notion that someone is innocent until or unless proven guilty?
No, but that doesn’t seem the point. The point in the Trayvon Martin case, as with so many others, appears to be that you may take only one position—the socially correct one, regardless of facts and evidence—lest you be deemed a racist. Political and racial correctness trumps all. Emotions and group pressure trump evidence.
Frankly, it’s getting tiresome.
Michael J Hurd
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