Sunday, July 14, 2013

Zimmerman and logical fallacies


George Zimmerman is a free man today, after a jury of six women found him not guilty of shooting Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black boy who 'looked suspicious.' My first reaction to this verdict was outrage; America's criminal justice system already discriminates against blacks, after all, and in this case, an African American was clearly the victim! Then I realised something - I know very little about the case.

To claim that the verdict was due to racism is a logical fallacy, an appeal to probability. We know that blacks are discriminated against in the US, and that this case was in Florida, a state with a racist history. Yet that does not automatically mean that the Zimmerman verdict was about racism. The defense team may have been amazing, the prosecution may have been crap, or both. Perhaps there was insufficient evidence to convict Zimmerman. The presumption of guilt before a verdict is rendered is an impassioned attitude that should be restrained by reason.

That being said, we should be concerned about US institutional racism. America incarcerates too many of its black citizens, while denying black children a decent education. Some authors call this a 'New Jim Crow.' These are facts. However, it undermines our argument when we point fingers without a shrapnel of proof. This is why quantitative data is so important; institutional racism only uncovers its gross nakedness in statistics.

Perhaps the verdict was due to racism, but I do not know. If I wanted to, I could read into the details - but who has the time? Law professors do, and they believe the verdict was due to poor prosecution. This in turn could be due to racism (the prosecution may have lumbered along), and the law itself could be racist - but again, who knows? Judge not, lest ye be judged.

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