by Christopher Paslay
Teachers can use the George Zimmerman trial as a way to discuss the differences between factual evidence and emotional appeals.
“Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.”
This line by Mark Twain summarizes the State of Florida’s closing arguments in the George Zimmerman trial, which I’ve watched religiously for the past three weeks.
On Friday, John Guy did tell an inspiring story to the jury during his closing statement:
The human heart, it has a great many functions . . . it moves us, it motivates us, it inspires us, it leads us, and it guides us, our hearts. . . . So if we really want to know what happened out there behind those homes on that dark, rainy night, should we not look into the heart of the grown man and the heart of that child? What will that tell us about what really happened out there?
An impassioned story indeed. Inspiring and in no way bound by facts or evidence. Twain would be pleased. The tragedy, of course, is that John Guy is not a fiction writer but a prosecutor, and he doesn’t work for a New York publishing house but the State of Florida. It is Guy’s job to follow the law and present the facts of the case—all the applicable evidence—while trying George Zimmerman, a Hispanic, for the murder of Trayvon Martin, an African American. Amazingly, Guy’s entire closing argument was virtually one long appeal to emotion. The fact that he asked jurors to “look into the heart” of George Zimmerman as opposed to the evidence, and to “use common sense” as a guide as opposed to established facts, was mindboggling.
Guy is an agent of the State of Florida and has the responsibility to uphold the Constitution. Yet Guy’s closing argument (which ironically referenced Hollywood make-believe) basically asked jurors to forget all the things they’d seen over the last three weeks, all the testimonies from witnesses that supported Zimmerman’s self defense claim, the bloody pictures of Zimmerman’s head and broken nose, the angle of the bullet wound in Martin’s chest which indicated he was on top of Zimmerman, and to use their imaginations. “What if it was Trayvon Martin who shot and killed George Zimmerman?” he asked. “What would your verdict be?”
The notion that the state can build a case on questionable evidence (and name-calling: liar, liar, liar) and ask a jury of six woman to use emotion and speculation to arrive at a verdict is outrageous. Guy very well knows that jurors cannot use emotion, sympathy, or race when arriving at a verdict, that they can only consider the evidence presented before them, which means absolutely no speculation. Today, however, we live in a bizarro world where emotion trumps the law, where social justice and a person’s unique definition of “goodness” can override the Constitution.
As Jonah Goldberg writes in The Tyranny of clichés:
A cry for social justice is usually little more than an assertion “for goodness.” “Progressive” has become a euphemism for “all good things.” But sometimes the p-word is too vague. So if you press a self-declared progressive — “What does that mean?” — they’ll respond, eventually, with something like, “It means fighting for social justice.” If you ask, “What does social justice mean?” you are likely to get an exasperated eye roll, because you just don’t get it.
Progressives are indeed changing America from a land of structured laws into a world governed by an abstract, warm and fuzzy “goodness”. A brand of goodness, interestingly, that applies only to certain groups and changes as the wind blows. This “goodness” doesn’t have to be universal or consistent because to try to define this goodness or track it’s application is to limit it, to suffocate it. Like when trying to define “art,” rules, structure, and man-made definitions are insufficient and don’t apply.
This new warm and fuzzy land of social justice with its formless existence of goodness is, for progressives, the highest, most enlightened state of being on earth. It’s what all humanity should strive for. It’s so sacred and cherished that it can be sought after by any means necessary — its ends always justify its means. You are allowed to discriminate against people to achieve it (affirmative action), and you can lie (Benghazi), cheat (IRS), murder (drones attacks on Americans), steal (Solyndra), and spy on them (NSA). Destroying an innocent person’s life in the process of seeking this higher goodness (George Zimmerman) is mere collateral damage.
You can change the rules or make them up as you go along, or disregard the law altogether, like the State of Florida asked jurors to do with their case against Zimmerman. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, really. Our president, the man who said that if he had a son he’d look like Taryvon Martin, the man who had the Department of Justice use taxpayer dollars to organize anti-Zimmerman rallies, does it all the time. Want to give amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants? Forget Congress and the law. Bam, just do it. Spy on American citizens and perhaps use this data for political reasons? Done. Use the IRS to go after political enemies? Why not. Have the DOJ tap reporters’ phones and then have the U.S. Attorney General lie about it later under oath? Got it covered. Ram universal health care down the country’s throat and then circumvent congress by picking-and-choosing which parts to enforce for political reasons? Been there, done that.
What is the law? The Constitution? We live in 21st century, post-modern America. Truth is relative. No, strike that. Truth is simply a social construct and doesn’t exist. Just like the state’s case against George Zimmerman doesn’t exist. But why should this stop progressives from wanting to send Zimmerman to prison for the rest of his life? Forget the law, and rules, and the Constitution.
What matters is social justice. That abstract, indefinable, fuzzy goodness we can all experience if we just use our imaginations.