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A Times Editorial

Let justice be done, and be seen to be done

The shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch coordinator George Zimmerman has raised legitimate concerns about racial profiling, flawed state law and equal justice. Now that special prosecutor Angela Corey has charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder, the criminal justice system has to be given a chance to work — and its work has to be transparent. A judge agreed Thursday to seal large portions of the court file from public view, and that will not help public confidence.

In six weeks, Martin's avoidable killing went from obscurity to national news. President Barack Obama noted that if he had a son he would look like Trayvon. The racial narratives of the case pushed it to the national consciousness: an unarmed African-American teen killed by a neighborhood watch Hispanic man who avoided arrest after shooting and killing the young man by claiming self-defense. Martin's parents and their supporters who demanded justice rightly refused to let the case end there.

Gov. Rick Scott responded appropriately by appointing a special prosecutor. Corey bypassed a grand jury and brought a second-degree murder charge against Zimmerman, which carries a life sentence. That charge requires the state to prove that Zimmerman shot Martin with a "depraved mind," a high bar given what is publicly known about the circumstances surrounding the shooting.

Florida's first-in-the-nation "stand your ground" law is expected to be at the center of Zimmerman's defense. Scott has appointed a task force to examine how that flawed law has been used since its adoption in 2005 at the behest of the gun lobby. The law has been invoked to justify killings in road rage incidents and gang fights. It gives unwarranted cover to people who carry guns and are prone to use them, and the sooner it is repealed the better. Despite following Martin against the direction of a 911 dispatcher, Zimmerman could be exonerated under that law if he convincingly feared for his life during his struggle with Martin and didn't initiate the physical assault.

Zimmerman, who will be arraigned May 29, is entitled to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence. With so much public interest, nothing should be held back from the public record. The court file, including evidence the prosecution provides the defense during discovery and the witness list, should be available to the public. A televised jury trial will give people assurances that a thorough investigation has been done and both Martin's and Zimmerman's interests ably represented.

The story of Martin's killing won't end with a verdict. The Justice Department is looking into possible civil rights violations. Scott's task force headed by Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll will convene to examine "stand your ground." And New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has launched a national campaign to repeal or reform "stand your ground" laws in the two dozen states that have adopted them. Regardless of the outcome of the criminal case, Martin's legacy would be well served by the elimination of these laws that make it too easy to take another life and get away with it.

Let justice be done, and be seen to be done 04/12/12 [Last modified: Thursday, April 12, 2012 6:41pm]
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