Tahlequah Daily Press

July 24, 2013

Look at the facts of the case before making judgment


TAHLEQUAH — Online and Facebook polling in the wake of the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the February killing of Trayvon Martin reveal two clear facts about this tragic case. The first: Even as far removed as Tahlequah is from Florida, local residents are passionately divided on the issue.

They’re not the only ones. Even former Sen. Durrell Peaden, a key author of the controversial “stand your ground” law used by the defense, is surprised by how the situation transpired. Peaden believes that when Zimmerman disregarded a 911 operator’s admonishment against following Martin, he relinquished his protection under the law.

The jury did not agree, but that’s not the end of the story for Floridians, or Cherokee Countians. Perhaps surprisingly, a majority of those involved in discussion on the Press Facebook page (facebook.com/tdpress) seemed to think Zimmerman should have been guilty of some crime, even if not second-degree murder. Many were mothers, who may have been thinking, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Anyone who has a teenager can understand how that child could easily be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and inclined to posture and bluster when challenged. Should that child, these moms wonder, pay with his life for a few moments of stupidity?

A number of people were adamant that Zimmerman did the right thing. Some, basing their opinions on the letter of the law, offered analytical comments, and suggested the law be reworked in the wake of lessons learned in the Zimmerman case. For a few commenters, however, the case seemed radically personal. Though they were quick to blame the media for imbuing the case with a racial tinge, it was obvious that they, themselves, viewed it that way.

Which brings us to the second observation about local opinion on the Zimmerman case: Many local residents aren’t familiar enough about the facts of the case to be rendering judgment on its outcome. A number of comments – both for and against Zimmerman – were based on a one-sided understanding of the details, and these almost always fell along ideological lines. What this suggests is that conservatives turned to extremely conservative sources for their slant on the case, and progressives picked up their threads from liberal outlets.

Several folks on both sides of the “political” spectrum seemed not to realize they were presenting opinion as fact. The scariest part about that is some people can no longer tell the difference.

It’s incumbent upon all of us to first seek an unbiased presentation of the news – something admittedly difficult to find in today’s world of amateur bloggers and politically-motivated websites. Then if we want to, we can look at the opinions media outlets are publishing and posting. But we’d be better informed if we look at opinions from all sides, rather than sticking with the ones with which we agree ourselves.

As for Florida’s “stand your ground” law, perhaps Gov. Rick Scott, instead of steadfastly defending his measure, should look at how other states – like Oklahoma – do business.