Wednesday, March 28, 2012

As the Trayvon Martin case proves, the court of public opinion is easily swayed

Posted by Chris Haire on Wed, Mar 28, 2012 at 4:55 PM

If there is one thing that is clear about the death of Trayvon Martin, it's that we don't yet know all the facts. And with each new report, the court of public opinion is sent reeling, with many completely changing their feelings about the causes of the tragedy.

The initial report of Martin's death painted a portrait of an all-American teen gunned down by one of the modern world's more despicable villains, the racist white cop, except in this case the officer in question wasn't a cop at all. He was something even worse: a wannabe. That Martin was shot dead by George Zimmerman shortly after the teen purchased a bag of candy, in this case Skittles, only added to his childlike innocence.

But that image of Martin began to change as other reports surfaced. Trayvon had been suspended from school three times — one time for possessing a baggie with trace amounts of marijuana, another time for carrying a backpack containing several women's rings. And most devastating of all were the leaked police reports in which several eyewitnesses claimed that Martin at some point in the tragic encounter was seen beating Zimmerman. That Martin was 6'1" at the time of the tragedy only further changed the picture of the young teen that had previously emerged.

And then today, the court of public opinion stumbled back the other way, thanks to another leak, this one indicating that the lead officer on the case wanted to arrest Zimmerman but the state attorney's office said no.

Throughout all of this, tears have been shed, protests have been held, angry words have been said, and a dead young man has been turned into the latest Facebook cause célèbre.

Now, the more sensible among us will say that this incident is a clear example of why we must wait until all the facts are out there until we come to an opinion, but the truth is, all the facts will never come out. This is not a court of law. This is the court of public opinion, and we are a caring but easily swayed lot. More often than not, we view tragedies like the death of Trayvon Martin as our own. It's personal. And as such, our judgment is too often clouded by our emotions.

In the end, sometimes our emotions lead us astray. Sometimes our feelings are right on. But even when we are wrong, it's hard to find fault with those who are compassionate enough to give a damn about a stranger hundreds of miles away.

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