WASHINGTON – Just after World War II the Japanese produced a classic film that mirrored their national dejection and confusion. It centered on a rape and murder in the woods, and the wildly different versions witnesses gave of the crime. It was called “Rashomon.” The Trayvon Martin killing is America's Rashomon. Not only did the witnesses radically vary in their versions of what the killer George Zimmerman did and why in that gated Florida community. The post mortems by media figures, politicians and other opportunists are even worse, leaving fresh wounds that will take decades to heal. The acquittal is the event, not the slaying.
Unlike the Rashomon witnesses – the samurai, the bandit, the wife, the woodcutter – Americans must deal not only with the crime itself but the unending emotional responses to Zimmerman's acquittal. Because of the widening racial and political divide that is being promoted by people who should know better, these reactions more than ever depend on who you are and what you know.
To many, the promise of Al Sharpton to have Trayvon Martin rallies in 100 cities seems perfectly reasonable, as is the charge of Jesse Jackson that Florida is an “apartheid” state, referring to the former racial repression of South Africa. To some, these are cries for justice, but to others they are pleas for money and attention.
In a long-scheduled speech before a national African-American sorority, presidential prospect Hillary Rodham Clinton was probably constrained to speak of her “deep heartache” for the Martin family. Some might have hoped she would call for national reconciliation, and not made an endorsement there of the post-acquittal agenda of Attorney General Eric Holder.
President Obama reacted wisely, saying, “A jury has spoken.” Then he embellished by using the occasion to make an indirect plea for gun control. In March 2012, the president was forced by circumstance to comment on the suppressed prosecution of Zimmerman. But only history can judge whether the president needed to add that if he had a son, he would “look like Trayvon.” Two days later, the Justice Department dispatched Community Relations Service workers to campaign in Florida against Zimmerman. This high-powered heat prompted a clumsy Florida prosecutor to accuse him of murder, a charge nearly impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Would the president and Holder have voiced any interest in the epidemic of murders in Chicago, where three quarters of the victims and perpetrators were African-Americans?
There are intrepid souls urging calm. Former President Jimmy Carter opined the verdict was just. Actor Bill Cosby and retired NBA star Charles Barkley commented the verdict was inevitable under miserable circumstances. Both Barkley and Cosby roundly condemned media exploitation of the events.
“It gives every black and white person who is racist a platform to vent their ignorance,” Barkley said.
Holder won't let go. His agenda includes crafting a new charge against Zimmerman for violating Martin's civil rights – a long shot in view of FBI reports saying race was not involved in the killing. Holder also announced a national campaign against the “stand your ground” laws in largely pro-gun or Dixie states. Reasonable enough. These codes encourage persons threatened with violence to shoot first and ask questions later.
The trouble is that Holder did it in a divisive way – at a conference of the NAACP, a partisan capital D, for a black Democratic group. In his speech he said twice, to cheers, applause and music, “We must stand OUR ground,…we must stand our ground to ensure” these laws are repealed. As the top law enforcement officer for all the people, Holder could have found another way to say it.