It was about 2 a.m. when I read the NPR update on my FB Wall. I dragged myself out to the front porch and smoked a cigarette, staring into the dark forest across the street and listening to the chirp and squeak and trill of night insects. I felt sick and angry and powerless and sad.
After a restless night of shallow sleep, my heart still hurts and my mind is racing. I am thinking about "justice" and "crime" and "legal system" and, as is my way, I'm plunging into the dictionary. My gut says justice was not served in this case...but perhaps my understanding of terms is off. My mind and my gut say some kind of punishment should appear as the final coda in a story where an armed person disregards the counsel of an officer of the law, engages in physical combat with an unarmed person, and discharges their weapon resulting in the death of the unarmed person. But, as I say, maybe there's an error in my understanding of terms.
Following are the terms I looked up with key words and phrases relevant to the current discussion underlined.
1. the moral principle determining just conduct
2. conformity to this principle, as manifested in conduct3. the administering of deserved punishment or reward.
1. the quality or face of being unjust; inequity.
2. violation of the rights of others; unjust or unfair action or treatment.
3. an unjust or unfair act; wrong.
1. an action or instance of negligence that is deemed injurious to the public welfare or morals or to the legally prohibited
2. any offense, serious wrongdoing, or sin
3. a foolish, senseless, or shameful act
legal system (noun)
a system for interpreting and enforcing law
1. an ordered and comprehensive assemblage of facts, principles,doctrines, or the like in a particular field of knowledge or thought: a system of philosophy.
2. a coordinated body of methods or a scheme or plan of procedure; organizational scheme: a system of government.
3. any formulated, regular, or special method or plan of procedure:a system of marking, numbering, or measuring; a winning system at bridge.
1. the principles and regulations established in a community by some authority and applicable to its people, whether in the form of legislation or of custom and policies recognized and enforced by judicial decision.
2. any written or positive rule or collection of rules prescribed under the authority of the state or nation, as by the people in its constitution.
3. the controlling influence of such rules; the condition of society brought about by their observance: maintaining law and order.
a penalty inflicted for an offense, fault, etc.
Note: There's more but I'll stop with this short list of terms.
I am in over my head. My survey raises more questions:
- To what extent can a moral principle be legislated and codified into a legal system?
- What kind of an entity would be qualified to monitor conformity of a legal system to moral principle? Does such an entity exist in America?
- Is there also an entity established to oversee the legal system's interpretations of law? Just as it is commonplace to seek a second opinion for medical diagnoses (interpretation of symptoms), would it not be a good idea to have a second opinion for legal interpretations?
- How is it possible to not view the killing of another human as morally wrong and offensive?
- Is the current legal system sufficiently comprehensive, i.e., does it recognize both injustice and transgressions against moral principles and provide for punishment of both?
|"The Remorse of Orestes" (1862)|
Artist: William-Adolphe Bouguereau
Before the trial, addressing the family of Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman said, "I am sorry for the loss of your son, I did not know how old he was. I thought he was a little bit younger than I am, and I did not know if he was armed or not."
Given the pervasive linguistic laxity these days, questions and issues that arise from this statement include:
- 1. Trayvon Martin was not "lost." He was killed.
- 2. Is Mr. Zimmerman expressing condolences for the death of a young son? Or an apology for killing the young man? There is a difference, for me, between "I empathize with your pain on the death of your son" and "I am sorry for killing your son. I will regret my actions for the rest of my life."
- What significance, on the night of the killing and the day he made this statement, did Mr. Zimmerman attach to the difference between his age and Trayvon Martin's age? Why did he mention the age difference?
- So...if he'd known for certain that Trayvon was unarmed, he would not have fired his gun? Is his logic if armed, fire; if not armed, don't fire; if uncertain, fire?
- The statement reads more like an explanation or justification than an apology. "I killed your son because I was confused about his age and possession of a weapon." Was that Mr. Zimmerman's intent? If someone he loved died under similar circumstances, what would he make of being offered this statement from the killer?
I read somewhere that the Prosecution in this trial failed to make its case. So the legal proceedings were a contest, a competition between legal teams and the Home Team lost. Do we care about moral principles? Do we care enough to do the hard work of either retooling our legal system (if that's possible) to make it less of a sporting event or creating a new protocol for addressing moral transgressions?
I do not support capital punishment. I believe it is immoral to kill. I also believe it is immoral to commit an unjust act (speaking now of both George Zimmerman's killing of an unarmed person as well as the Florida court that found him innocent of all charges). If no punishment is meted out, I believe everyone --George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin, the family and friends of both men, and all of us witnessing, in America and around the globe -- is done a serious disservice. The public welfare and morals are injured as the acknowledged authority proclaims "There is no penalty required for killing out of confusion."