Editorial: Boiling over

Is­sues of race, which al­ways sim­mer right be­low the sur­face in Amer­ica, have boiled over twice in the long days of this hot and hu­mid sum­mer.

Paula Deen’s food em­pire came tum­bling down after she ad­mit­ted in a de­pos­ition that she had used the N-word “a very long time ago.” She was be­ing ques­tioned by a law­yer for a former em­ploy­ee who had filed a law­suit against her. It ac­cused Deen of pro­mot­ing a ra­cist and sex­ist en­vir­on­ment at her Sa­van­nah, Ga., res­taur­ants.

Even though Deen went on to say “but that’s not a word we use as time has gone on” and noted “things have changed since the ’60s in the South,” you could stick a fork in her. She was done. The Food Net­work, which aired her but­ter-up cook­ing show, was the first to pull the plug. 

Then, late Sat­urday night, a jury re­turned a ver­dict ac­quit­ting George Zi­m­mer­man, 29, of second-de­gree murder and man­slaughter in the slay­ing of Trayvon Mar­tin, 17, in Feb­ru­ary 2012. Since the be­gin­ning, the case has been a na­tion­al flash­point for those who in­sisted Zi­m­mer­man, a Town Watch vo­lun­teer, was mo­tiv­ated by ra­cial pro­fil­ing.

We think the role of Town Watch vo­lun­teers is to be the eyes and ears of the po­lice. When they see something sus­pi­cious, their job is to call in the pros, and not to try to go out and fol­low or stop them. Testi­mony shows that Zi­m­mer­man called a po­lice dis­patch­er about a sus­pi­cious-look­ing per­son, and then dis­obeyed in­struc­tions to stay in his vehicle. Wheth­er he fol­lowed the teen­ager or wheth­er Mar­tin circled back and con­fron­ted Zi­m­mer­man is not known. Only two people know what happened that dread­ful night, and one of them is in his grave.

The jury that listened to all the testi­mony ruled that the pro­sec­u­tion had failed to prove bey­ond a reas­on­able doubt that Zi­m­mer­man had not ac­ted in self de­fense. Bey­ond a reas­on­able doubt is a high bar, and we sup­port that as the stand­ard of justice in our crim­in­al courts. 

Be­ing pre­sumed in­no­cent should also be the stand­ard on the street, where every­one, es­pe­cially our chil­dren, should feel safe from harm.

We de­plore the im­pact of the me­dia frenzy that ad­ded fuel in both of these sens­it­ive cases. Did rat­ings-hungry CNN need to broad­cast wall to wall cov­er­age? Did all of Deen’s de­pos­ition get ex­amined? 

Fi­nally, we of­fer our deep­est sym­pathy to Trayvon Mar­tin’s fam­ily, and wish them the peace of God, the peace that sur­passes all un­der­stand­ing. •• 

You can reach at lswanson@bsmphilly.com.

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