Two voices of calm and dignity have surfaced in the emotional case of George Zimmerman, accused of shooting an African-American teenager. And what's remarkable is that the voices of sanity will be sitting at opposing tables in the courtroom.
Florida prosecutor Angela B. Corey charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder for a shooting Zimmerman says was in self defense. She calmly stated the facts: They had examined the evidence, they were committed to achieving justice for the slain teen, Trayvon Martin, and Zimmerman had turned himself in. She did not accuse Zimmerman of being a racist on a mission to clear the neighborhood of black people. She just announced that she was doing her job.
Then, Zimmerman's new attorney, Mark O'Mara, spoke to reporters. He didn't say much, correctly noting that it is never in the interests of the defense to discuss details of the case before it goes before a judge. He noted that he had just taken on the case (he had not sought out Zimmerman, since that would have been unethical, O'Mara noted) and probably didn't know much more about it than the reporters shouting questions at him. Was Zimmerman scared? Of course, O'Mara replied—the man was facing second-degree murder charges. Anyone would be frightened under such circumstances. O'Mara didn't get on a soapbox about the right to bear arms or "stand your ground," and he didn't besmirch the victim in any way. He was respectful and professional and uttered none of the inflammatory comments heard from both sides of the case by activists.
The respite from rhetoric is especially important in the Zimmerman-Martin case, because it is the first time the institutions that apply in this case have worked well. Presumably, we will find out what really happened on the day of the shooting. But what we do know is that the tragedy came out of a series of decisions and events that reveal a distrust of public institutions.
Zimmerman was carrying a gun. Why, when we have armed law enforcement assigned to protect us? He was captain of a "neighborhood watch" program—a citizens group which can be useful, but which indicates that neighbors aren't confident they will be kept safe by police. Local police failed to arrest Zimmerman or even test him for alcohol or drugs, furthering distrust of the criminal justice system by Martin's advocates. And when the case dragged on for weeks with no arrest, the resentment—and the distrust—understandably grew. Unfortunately, it also fostered a lynch-mob mentality that put Zimmerman in some danger. He failed to keep in contact with his first lawyers, perhaps worrying that the legal institution would not serve him well. And then he skipped town, indicating he didn't think authorities could protect him, either.
The case is sure to resonate for many months or longer, as locals and observers contemplate what led Zimmerman to shoot Martin. But at least, the story is in steadier hands now.