I am no legal expert. Nor, one gathers, are the many people who tweeted their rage over the Innocent verdict in the Florida case of the Neighborhood Watch Volunteer, George Zimmerman. A normally sentient person could not help but get some information on Florida vs. George Zimmerman, but our (relatively) new 24 hour news cycle distorts information for ratings as often as it delivers meaningful journalism. What I mean there is more pointed than nuanced; you can actuall know less about the facts after listening to some news programs than you did before you listened to them.
And, therein exists the rub, as we used to say, Bill Shakespeare and I, back in the olden days. If we are to say the Florida case reveals the deep schism in American culture, we state the obvious, which “oft inflameth the passions,” being common, after all. The contemporary news delivery system is dramatic, theatrical even, replete with this capacity: to deliver information (news) as entertainment, the better to drive ratings and so attract advertisers. The news purveyors can do this without enlightenment, either for themselves or for their audience.
And, of course, the audience is the real problem. The Florida case neither caused the racial schism in this nation nor (particularly) deepened it. What the catastrophic events of February, 2012, and the subsequent legal proceedings (along with the aftermath) did do was give focus to the racial divide we all know exists, some half century after the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Bill. During that period, the late ’50s and ’60s, blacks and their white sympathizers were more routinely victimized, murdered, lynched, across our continent, with the predictable result of local acquittal for the most heinous crimes.
Journalists were often in the midst of the local debacles. More than one reporter was beaten, many were threatened, some died, in reporting the Civil Rights Struggle. Accurate information was hard to come by in many cases, as the residents of balmy climes tended to “fort up” against any outsiders at all, let alone Revenooers and Reporters, Hoover-men and the like. The Fourth Estate (the press) often risked greatly to find and disseminate as much truth as it could get. And, as ever, when something valuable was found rarely, its scarcity increased its value.
Truth mattered then, matters now. I don’t know what the prosecution in the Florida case did to explain its befuddlement as to how the assailant came to be protecting his life against the dusky, hooded stranger in the first place, but, apparently, twelve fair minded people found the presentation of fact(s) less than compelling. If, from this one case, anyone acts as if it is acceptable to accost black teenagers in hoodies and inspire anger in them such as to lead to a fight and ultimate death, that is a dated message in this world. My family and I participated in the upbringing of a young black man. I would be devastated to find he could not walk down the street of our neighborhood in the cool of the evening without any more risk than the occasional mosquito bite.
Let us no longer appoint ourselves to watch over any process where our emotions can be inflamed. If you know you have a problem, hurt no one, seek healing, avoid the actions that result from prejudice against a person, race or class. We all have them, red and yellow, black and white. Religion, morals, civility, once united us and might have saved us but those things got distorted in defense of evil and we lost trust. Journalism still helps in this one way; no one escapes scrutiny any more, not without the most stringent efforts and a bit of luck (ask the NSA) but, as often as it reveals, modern journalism obscures again with inflamed emotions, the better to get us to buy their advertiser’s soap. Nothing is free, not finally, and the hidden costs may be the steepest of all.