These Assholes Always Get Away … But Only For So Long | Opinion

As I write this column it is Bastille Day in France. Bastille Day is a celebration for anyone proud of the French Republic and what it stands for; or, more accurately, what the French Republic stands on, namely the dead bodies of kings and tyrants. After deliberative options had been exhausted, the common people stormed the Bastille Fortress to free political prisoners in an act of divine violence that marked the beginning of the new Republic.

In contrast, as I write this column, a large number of people in the United States are celebrating the death of a young, unarmed black teenager named Trayvon Martin. They are hailing his killer as a vigilante hero who “stood his ground” with a God-given right to carry a firearm. A man named George Zimmerman caught a whiff of suspicion about the young, black Trayvon, who was wearing a hoodie and was armed with a packet of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea, and started to follow him aggressively despite being told by emergency services he should stay in his car. Exactly what happened after this is uncertain enough that it can be debated endlessly: I begrudgingly admit there is enough doubt to justify a “not guilty” verdict for murder.

However, we know that Trayvon felt threatened by Zimmerman (who was, after all, following him) and the two engaged in fisticuffs. Zimmerman responded by pulling out a pistol and shooting Trayvon in the heart. Zimmerman will not be punished criminally in any way for this, and should much less be celebrated. It is a manifest injustice.

Zimmerman said “these assholes always get away” to the police dispatcher right before he got out of his car in order to follow Trayvon, and subsequently kill him. Zimmerman was right, but not in the way that he meant. Do not be so vain as to think this injustice is limited to America – in Auckland in 2008, Bruce Emery stabbed and killed a 15-year-old Maori child named Pihema Cameron because he was frustrated that Pihema was tagging a fence. Bruce Emery served less than a year in prison for this, and the head of the Sensible Sentencing Trust, Garth McVicar, said Bruce Emery was “a different kind of offender” who should not have gone to prison at all.

These assholes will always get away under our justice system – unless they fear the next Bastille Day, which you should be celebrating.
This article first appeared in Issue 16, 2013.
Posted 3:59pm Sunday 21st July 2013 by Jacobin.