Monday, July 29, 2013

Obama Denies Knowledge of Federal Law

A few days ago, Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report wrote a scathing review of President Obama's response to the Zimmerman acquittal (which you should go read in full right now).  I hadn't listened to Obama's speech yet, and so was unaware of the breathtakingly absurd claims made therein.  Here is Mr. Ford's summary: 

Beginning his performance with “Once the jury’s spoken, that’s how our system works,” and an endorsement of the propriety of the trial, Obama half-mumbled 2,100 words designed to indicate that he is aware of “a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws, everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws” – and then almost immediately washed his hands of the matter with the caveat: “The criminal code and law enforcement is traditionally done at the state and local levels, not at the federal levels.”

 Astounding, isn't it?  The President of the United States, the head of the Federal government, is claiming that the Feds don't do criminal law enforcement!  Does Mr. Obama think, perhaps, that his audience will have forgotten about such institutions as the Department of Justice and the FBI?  While it is indeed true that most criminal law enforcement is done at the local level, to claim that it is simply not done by the Feds ("traditionally," whatever that means) is simply ludicrous.

But perhaps I am being too hard on the President, perhaps there is simply no Federal criminal statute under which Zimmerman could be prosecuted.  Actually, there is.  And one must assume that Mr. Obama is aware of it, since he signed a portion of it into law only four years ago.

The law is 18 U.S.C. § 245, commonly known as the Civil Rights act of 1968.  The act permits federal prosecution of anyone who "willingly injures, intimidates or interferes with another person, or attempts to do so, by force because of the other person's race, color, religion or national origin"  when they are engaged in any "protected" activity (like attending school or voting, for instance).  In 2009, President Obama signed off on an expansion of the Civil Rights Act to include protections based on gender, disability, sexual identity and gender expression, as well as removing the requirement that the victim be engaging in protected activity.  Thanks to Obama, Trayvon was covered by the Civil Rights Act even while walking back from the convenience store. (For the record, that law is known as the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and is one of the few good things to come out of the National Defence Authorization Act of 2010)

I believe, along with many other people, that the murder of Trayvon Martin would never have happened if Trayvon had been white.  If Zimmerman followed and then confronted Trayvon even in part because of his skin color, he could be prosecuted under federal hate-crimes statutes

Not sure if Trayvon's murder qualifies as a hate crime?  Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Rehnquist said that "bias-motivated crimes are more likely to provoke retaliatory crimes, inflict distinct emotional harms on their victims, and incite community unrest."  The victims in Trayvon's murder include not only Martin himself, but also his parents, friends, siblings and community.  I think it's safe to say that they have incurred "distinct emotional harm" as a result of Zimmerman's actions; and those actions have certainly led to "community unrest" all across the country.  So while one may debate how much racism was involved in Zimmerman's actions (as opposed to undifferentiated stupidity), the results of his actions bear all the hallmarks of a hate-crime.

The truth is that while Mr. Obama claims (with no hint of shame) that the federal government simply doesn't do criminal law enforcement, the President could easily have directed Attorney General Holder to charge Zimmerman under federal hate-crime statutes.  The truth is that the President doesn't particularly care about endemic racism in our society and our justice system, and is definitely not concerned enough to try to do anything about it.  The truth is, as Glen Ford's article proclaims, Obama supports the racial surveillance that killed Trayvon.

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