Justice and Compensation

In the book of Genesis, Jacob and his family are making their way back to their homeland, when they stop and buy some land near the city of Shechem. Shechem himself sees Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, is attracted to her, and rapes her. Then, he visits Jacob and his sons with his own father, Hamor, and asks for Dinah’s hand in marriage. He even offers to let the two peoples intermarry over time.

Taking after their father’s tricky ways, Jacob’s sons insist that all of the men of the city be circumcised, to be like them, before anything else can happen. Then, a few days later, after all of the men of Shechem have gone under the knife, and are recovering, Simeon and Levi, two of Jacob’s sons, slaughtered all of the men in town, looted their homes, and made off with their women and children.

Revenge? Yes. Compensation? Yes. Enough compensation for Dinah? Justice? What if you were one of the women in the city, and you had just seen your husband killed, and you were kidnapped by a foreign band of men? Would you think that justice had been served?

The truth is that there is no way to make up to Dinah for what has happened. The damage that occurred cannot be undone. Jacob could kill everyone in the region, and it would not turn back time.

It is also true that nothing will bring Trayvon Martin back from the grave. The remedies that our legal system provides to his family involve an attempt to punish the man who killed him.

The first attempt will involve trying to send George Zimmermann to prison. However, the fact remains that there are no witnesses to the events that happened. The pictures of blood on George Zimmermann appear to support, at least in some way, his account of being attacked. No matter how deep the news may have hidden these pictures, they will come out at trial. The law in Florida allows for self-defense when being attacked. As has been well covered in the media, the special prosecutor has laid charges that will be just about impossible to prove beyond reasonable doubt.

Which brings us to the question of what a jury would decide. In Florida, we just saw last summer how unreliable jury verdicts can be. Of course, Caylee Anthony doesn’t have Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson in her corner, and now her mother is biding her time until the public forgets that it was angry and decides that it is time to start buying the book that someone will ghostwrite for her.

Afterward, according to attorneys for Trayvon Martin’s family, a civil suit will follow. Even if George Zimmermann is acquitted, he can still be sued for wrongful death, and in civil court, the burden of proof is less. If enough people on THAT jury decide that he just should not have been carrying that gun, even though it was licensed to him, he could lose everything.

But will that be enough? A verdict of millions that would bankrupt the person who, according to Trayvon Martin’s mother, committed an accident? Of course, she retracted that statement after someone probably told her the right words to use in order to prepare for that civil suit, or convict George Zimmermann in court, or do whatever else will help her attorneys.

Here, it’s an accident.

Here, it was cold blood.

This is why it was so right for George Zimmermann to apologize in the first public forum in which he could safely appear — his first court hearing. Whatever happened that night was a tragic mistake that could have been avoided in so many different ways.

It feeds the needs of the media, and the prosecution, to have this be a racist hate crime. However, as with most stories, it will not fit neatly into a box. Instead, it seems to be a messy accident. The “depravity” that goes along with second-degree murder might sound good on television, and it might ring true to Trayvon Martin’s parents, but the truth is that if both men had been of the same ethnic background, this case would have ended when George Zimmermann was sent home by the police, for lack of evidence.

So how can we compensate the Martin family for the tragic loss of their son? I hope that we will not do it by engineering the same sort of ridiculously flawed verdicts that made the American court system look like it was run by clowns in the decades before the civil rights movement. We will not have become an equal society until the same standards of the law apply to everyone, in every situation.

Somewhere, Mike Nifong is laughing. Or maybe not.

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