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. ••