Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman Tragedy Update

Over a year ago I expressed confidence that our judicial process and public good will would clarify the facts of the tragic shooting death of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman:  https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2012/04/01/the-trayvan-martin-tragedy/. Indeed, after carefully listening to and weighing the evidence presented to it the six women jury rendered its unanimous verdict a week ago that Zimmerman had lawfully, but no less tragically, shot and killed Martin in self-defense and was therefore not guilty of the charges against him. At the time a year ago, the failure of local Florida law enforcement officials to arrest Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, seemed to me and many others a potentially racially tinged judgment. I supported the call for his arrest. Once all of the obtainable facts had been presented and evaluated by the Jury that earlier decision turned out to be a sound professional judgment by the police. But I still think it was desirable to go through the process of this trial.

I did not follow the trial closely but have no reason to question the judgment of the jury. The utterly disgraceful misreporting and doctoring of the conversation between Zimmerman and the 911 dispatcher aired by NBC made it seem that Zimmerman might be racist in his reaction to Martin (a claim no one made during the trial because there is apparently no basis for it) tarnishing the professionalism of at least NBC. https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2012/04/03/the-trayvon-martin-tragedy-continues/.  Sadly the press has continued to reproduce the young, handsome picture of Martin and the thuggish picture of Zimmerman long after more neutral pictures became available.

The slanted reporting of the press is nothing, however, compared to the highly inappropriate statements from our increasingly discredited Attorney General, who suggested that the federal government was investigation the possibility of trying Zimmerman for civil rights violations for which no evidence was introduced in the just finished trail. But my heart stopped when President Obama chimed in that “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.” How could the President of the United States join the cheap political babbling of Attorney General Holder? And thus I started this blog.

This is an example of how fragments out of context can be totally misleading. The President’s full statement yesterday, when he joined the White House press briefing unannounced, was quite the opposite of my impression from the news headline. President Obama has disappointed me on many things (promoting bigger government generally, higher taxes, expanding snooping on Americans, drone assassinations of Americans without trial, and poor leadership in general), but I have always found him an honest and thoughtful commenter on race issues. His statements yesterday were no exception. Zimmerman’s trial produced no evidence of racism in anything that happened that tragic night in Florida, but the President rightly noted that each of us carries impressions (“priors”), often from personal experience, that frame our views of the world and events and that it is better that we acknowledge them and open ourselves to an examination of the role they play in our everyday judgments. This was exactly the point I was trying to make a year ago, though Obama said it better. The President is right on this issue and an excessive political correctness has stifled this discussion for too long.

About wcoats

I specialize in advising central banks on monetary policy and the development of the capacity to formulate and implement monetary policy.  I joined the International Monetary Fund in 1975 from which I retired in 2003 as Assistant Director of the Monetary and Financial Systems Department. While at the IMF I led or participated in missions to the central banks of over twenty countries (including Afghanistan, Bosnia, Croatia, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kosovo, Kyrgystan, Moldova, Serbia, Turkey, West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Zimbabwe) and was seconded as a visiting economist to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (1979-80), and to the World Bank's World Development Report team in 1989.  After retirement from the IMF I was a member of the Board of the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority from 2003-10 and of the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review from 2010-2017.  Prior to joining the IMF I was Assistant Prof of Economics at UVa from 1970-75.  I am currently a fellow of Johns Hopkins Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise.  In March 2019 Central Banking Journal awarded me for my “Outstanding Contribution for Capacity Building.”  My most recent book is One Currency for Bosnia: Creating the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I have a BA in Economics from the UC Berkeley and a PhD in Economics from the University of Chicago. My dissertation committee was chaired by Milton Friedman and included Robert J. Gordon.
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4 Responses to Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman Tragedy Update

  1. JanCorey says:

    It was great that Sybrina Fulton will use Trayvon’s name to expand his legacy, maybe with her own line of handgun-accessories like hollow-point-thug-bullets or perhaps some marijuana items like a Trayvon-brand-pot or maybe some bongs and roach clips or maybe some burglary tools like crow bars, lock-cutters, and glass cutters or maybe have a t-shirt with a gun-target on it with a picture of Trayvon inside the bullseye.

  2. JSR says:

    Warren, I agree with your evaluation of this matter (based on the limited knowledge I have of it), and particularly on the unreliability and irresponsibility of the media, a scourge in every country I’m familiar with. Concerning Obama, i agree with more of his policies than you do, but then I’m an European…

    • Jim R says:

      Warren,
      James Coleman, Duke Law School, argues as follows (in hindsight): If Zimmerman initially confronted Martin on the racial grounds that “he was up to no good,” and Martin reasonably perceived a threat of physical harm, then Martin but not Zimmerman had a right to stand his ground.
      Coleman argues that Florida made a mistake by ignoring this line of prosecution. The trouble is that the prosecution didn’t have solid evidence that Zimmerman’s confrontation was illegal.
      Jim

  3. Sergio says:

    Warren, this is an unfortunate event in the modern history of the US. It is disappointing but expected (without exaggeration) that the press may exploit this event to produce news and sales. Like you, I did not expect high members of the government to take parties in this tragic event. After all, the US has a judiciary system that applies to all of us in fair basis. Emotions are running high and would expect the intelligent member of society and government to be conciliatory, not to exacerbate citizens’ feelings. Let us hope that we learn something redeeming from this tragic event.

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