The Treyvon Martin verdict proves that the American system of justice works, but it also proves that the system is not necessarily just.
Truth has little place in our courtrooms. Trials are jousting contests, where each side tries to score points through procedural means and debating tactics. In this instance, for example, the defense succeeded in convincing the judge to exclude crucial technical evidence from the FBI’s crime lab, the kind of evidence other judges in other courtrooms may have allowed.
In trial after trial, judges have refused to admit prosecution evidence they deemed “prejudicial to the jury,” such as whether a defendant has a history of criminal behavior similar to that with which he or she is charged in the specific instance. Judges also have excluded potentially exculpatory defense evidence on somewhat similar tenuous technicalities.
Only two men know the truth of what happened the night George Zimmerman and Treyvon Martin faced each other. One is dead. One is free. And our country is diminished because procedure seemingly took priority over truth.
As Jews, we understand only too well – or we should- the hurt, anger, disappointment, and fear that African Americans feel in the verdict’s wake. We have been there. We both sympathize and empathize – or we should.
There now are calls for a “national dialogue” (whatever that means, the term is so overused) about race relations in the United States. We agree that such discussion is critical. Just as critical, however, is engaging in a dialogue about how to put truth ahead of procedure in our courtrooms.
The justice system in our country is arguably the best in the world. It is not perfect, however. Yet it must work toward perfection, especially when people’s lives are on the line.
Various conservative politicians and action committees actively promote displaying the Ten Commandments in our courtrooms. We suggest another, briefer, more to the point biblical text:
Justice justice shall you pursue.