Monday, July 15, 2013

The Zimmerman verdict

As we all know by now, George Zimmerman has been acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin. There's been a massive outpouring of disgust over this, and it seems entirely justified. Apparently in the US, if you stalk a kid around your neighbourhood then gun him down in cold blood, its not a crime if the kid is black. So much for equality under the law.

There are obvious parallels with the New Zealand case of Bruce Emery, the angry old white guy who chased a poor brown kid down and stabbed him to death for tagging his garage door. In both cases, we have people deliberately arming themselves and hunting down their victim - something which should void any claim of "self-defence" - before killing them. Our courts failed there too, but they at least managed manslaughter. The US couldn't even do that.

And the US's bias is systematic. PBS crunched the numbers on race and "justified homicide", and found the results were appalling:


("SYG" means "stand your ground", the law Zimmerman was acquitted under).

Yes, if a black person kills a white person, they are approximately four times less likely to have it ruled "self-defence" than if the killer was white. If the gun is in the other hand, however, then the killer is 2.5 times more likely to be acquitted - and 3.5 times more likely in a "stand your ground" state. Assuming you ever get to trial, of course - because as the article notes, there are multiple opportunities for authorities to excuse a killer before they even reach a courtroom (as we saw in Zimmerman's case).

The article has some caveats around this for small data sets (because most white-on-black killings never see a courtroom) and the possibility that the circumstances of the types of killings are very different (maybe blacks kill whites only in their own homes, while whites only kill blacks when stalking them through the streets?), but from this end of the world, it looks like just another example of the pervasive, structural racism in US society - and how, despite Obama, nothing has really changed.