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.
Obama then rejected the verdict when he said “So -- so folks understand the challenges that exist for African- American boys, but they get frustrated, I think, if they feel that there’s no context for it or -- and that context is being denied. And -- and that all contributes, I think, to a sense that if a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario, that, from top to bottom, both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different."
So the jury got it right, except that in another universe with different facts, they got it wrong.
He attacked a law that did not come up in the case, but has become the left's current target of rage, when he said "I just ask people to consider, if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk?"
Depending on the circumstances, of course he could have. Circumstances are always relevant. In Florida, blacks benefit from "stand your ground" laws more often than whites do. Despite that fact, which Obama could have taken time to enunciate to cool tempers, the president went on to acknowledge that while "stand your ground" was not invoked in Zimmerman's defense, we should re-examine such laws anyway. Logically, why?
The president who once said that "there is not a black America and a white America and a Latino America and an Asian America" spent the bulk of his comments only speaking to and about the black American experience. He is half white, and was raised by his white grandparents. Notably, Latino America has not heard from Obama about the case at all despite the fact that George Zimmerman is every bit as Hispanic as Obama is black. Has he thrown a Hispanic man under the bus to appease the radical black left?
Throughout his remarks, Obama went to his "on the one hand, on the other hand" style in which he appears to be a moderate, but ultimately what he did was fail to lead. The tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin is becoming a cause, or an excuse, for some to commit violence against their fellow Americans. Rioters have committed numerous acts of violence, including attacking a Hispanic man in Baltimore and assaulting a white grandmother in Houston. This is unacceptable. Unrest has been encouraged by the New Black Panthers, by Sharpton and the refrain "No justice, no peace."
Obama's answer to violence? More talk: "If I see any violence, then I will remind folks that that dishonors what happened to Trayvon Martin and his family." There has already been violence. Has he not seen it?
It may not have occurred to the president, but people who have already resorted to violence are not likely to listen to anyone remind them of anything. How about warning them that the criminal justice system stands ready to deal with anyone who breaks the law ahead of any violence? Obama did not issue such a warning.
That, and his entire tone, constitute a glaring failure of leadership. Barack Obama had a moment when he could have stood above all the factions in the black community, indeed all the factions arguing over the verdict in that trial. He could have spoken to and for more than just one American community. He chose instead to insert himself and race into the story from the world's largest bully pulpit, while refusing to use that bully pulpit to stand up forcefully for the rule of law.
No fair-minded person will reject the fact that blacks have faced extraordinary mistreatment and racism through American history, from slavery to Jim Crow to backward attitudes that continue to persist. But race played no role in this specific case, according to the prosecution's case, according to the jury that reached the verdict, and according to Trayvon Martin's own mother. The president owes the American people a basic, factual accounting, not a third autobiography. By insisting on injecting himself and race into the case, Obama risks inflaming passions when he could have quieted them.