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Politics of Justice [OPINION]

George Zimmerman, OJ Simpson
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There have been a number of big criminal cases since the advent of the 24 news cycle that has turned them into media circuses, but the only real comparison to the George Zimmerman trial is the O.J. Simpson verdict. If the O.J. trial opened our eyes to the realities of the American system of justice, the Zimmerman episode makes it clear that things haven’t improved, they have only gotten worse.

Some of the similarities are striking. In both cases, everyone had an opinion as to whether the defendant was guilty and there were significant differences along racial lines. Then and now, a well-funded defense team made the prosecution look inept. Most importantly, in each instance “reasonable doubt” allowed a man to walk free who very likely committed the crime of which they were accused. One other similarity may also develop if the family of Trayvon Martin decide to pursue a civil case. The defendant, now cleared of any crime, may very well end up owing the family of the victim an awful lot of money.

The idea that a different sort of justice is available to those who can afford high priced lawyers is old hat. O.J. clearly taught us that. What Zimmerman shows us is a problem that goes even deeper. George Zimmerman was no millionaire, his high priced defense team was paid for with donations; donations that came his way because of the politics his case came to represent.

The case was political almost from the start. When charges were not immediately filed against George Zimmerman, when they did a toxicology screen on the victim and not the shooter, it was clear that the authorities were going to just let this one slip into obscurity. Leaders of the African-American community cried foul, and people who hate everything about those leaders (you know there are such people) immediately rallied to the other side. This wasn’t simply a racial divide though. By the time that the involvement of the Justice Department and the President prompted the local authorities to finally arrest George Zimmerman, the split had clearly become a left/right issue.

Fox News and MSNBC gave polar opposite takes on the controversy and trial. That might not sound terribly surprising, but can you think of another media frenzy court case where that was so? Politics are always treated differently by the cable outlets, but trials, hurricanes and the like are not. This was not an ordinary criminal trial; this was politics by another name.

The politics of what you ask? The racial component is obviously there, but something more subtle is the real driver here. Where was the NRA on this one? They were surprisingly quiet. We didn’t see them come out and say something like “Trayvon Martin would be alive today if he had been packing heat”, like they did with the Aurora shootings and the Sandy Hook massacre. Why do you think that is?

The gun manufacturing lobby had nothing to say, because their bread is buttered by the Zimmermans of this country. Not that they would turn down the money of the Trayvon Martin types if they were to walk through the gun shop doors, but rather that the story that wannabe Robo-Cops, like George Zimmerman, tell themselves is a steady income stream that the NRA can’t afford to have dispelled.

You can imagine the story. Fear grips the victims. They are going to be burglarized, tortured, raped and killed. Worse still it is happening in their own home. Just in time though, the hero arrives with his gun. He kills the drug-crazed, bad guy and saves the day. And you know as well as I do that the villain cooked up in almost all of these paranoid delusional fantasies is a big, bad, black man.

The money flowed into the defense fund as the exploits of George Zimmerman embodied the fear that drives so many to build mini arsenals in the panic rooms of their gated-community homes. The fear that boosts gun manufacturers’ profits and keeps the membership dues rolling into the NRA. The same fear that crafted the very concealed carry and “shoot first and the other guy won’t be answering any questions later” stand your ground laws that emboldened George Zimmerman to get out of car and try to play hero.

The right needs this fear to be perpetuated. They need as many voters as possible to be scared because without that overriding sense of dread, a bunch of people who are currently voting Republican might be clear-headed enough to notice that they are not voting in their own economic interests.

The verdict of this trial was a big win for the NRA. It encouraged all the millions of George Zimmermans and Trayvon Martins to get a gun, load it up, and swagger out onto the street. It was no win for the safety of the American people though, because it also told those same people to shoot to kill if they ever happen to get into a fight and receive a bloody nose. As it always is with the NRA, a victory for the narrow interests that they represent results in putting the rest of us at greater risk.

If the sad truth of the O.J. Simpson trial was that our Justice system is for sale, the reality of the Zimmerman trial is something a whole lot worse. Once bought, the justice system can be used as a political ad.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Gossom and do not reflect Results Radio, Townsquare Media, its sponsors or subsidiaries.

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