Why Obama's Remarks on the Zimmerman Case Are a Failure of Leadership
In the minutes after Texas passed HB 2, the law that bans abortions after 20 weeks and raises standards at abortion clinics to protect women's health, Barack Obama through Twitter signaled his support for those who were protesting against the law. The fact that many of those protesters had engaged in outrageous, even disgusting, behavior did not slow the president down. He was eager to go on the record that he rejected what the people's representatives had done.
That speed of opinion contrasts with another local case. During the trial of late-term abortionist Dr. Kermit Gosnell in Pennsylvania, Obama flatly refused to comment on it at all. To this day he has not weighed in on the trial of a man who was convicted of serial infanticide. If Obama has an opinion on that trial, the media have not asked for it and he has not tweeted or taken to any nearby microphone to offer it.
After the verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman, Obama struck a middle ground. In the minutes after the verdict came down, his twitter feed fell silent. He eventually offered a text statement but did not come out to speak directly on the matter.
That changed today, when President Obama delivered unannounced remarks on the Zimmerman verdict.
Passions have been running high in the black community in the wake of Zimmerman's acquittal. Jesse Jackson has called for the United Nations to investigate American jurisprudence, and has called Florida, which prosecuted Zimmerman, an "apartheid state." Al Sharpton is calling for demonstrations in 100 U.S. cities, after some demonstrations have already turned violent. Obama's attorney general, Eric Holder, is evidently intent on pressing for federal hate crime charges against Zimmerman despite a couple facts: The FBI investigated and found no evidence of racism in him, and the shooting itself does not appear to have been motivated by race. On what might be considered the other side of the black community, Charles Barkley and Bill Cosby have come out agreeing with the verdict and halting calls to keep race at the center of the controversy. Both have assailed the media's role in using the shooting to inflame racial tensions. Obama is surely aware of what NBC, ABC and the New York Times have done to put race into this story by now. If he is not aware, then he is ill-informed to the point of negligence.
Barack Obama had a choice, and today, he cast his lot with Jackson, Sharpton, and Holder.
In one remark, he injected race and himself directly back into the story.
Obama grew up in privileged circumstances in Hawaii, after his own father abandoned him.
In another statement, he clearly sided with Martin's family and against Zimmerman's.
“I want to make sure that once again I send my thoughts and prayers, as well as Michelle’s, to the family of Trayvon Martin."
Sympathy for Martin's family is warranted, surely. But the Zimmerman family is facing death threats in the verdict's wake, including a bounty put on George's head by the New Black Panthers. Obama has nothing to say about that.
Obama went on to accept and then reject the jury's verdict. He seemed to accept it when he said "The judge conducted the trial in a professional manner. The prosecution and the defense made their arguments. The juries were properly instructed that in a -- in a case such as this, reasonable doubt was relevant, and they rendered a verdict. And once the jury’s spoken, that’s how our system works."
Actually, reasonable doubt is warranted in every criminal case. Defendants are innocent until proven guilty, not the other way around.