George Zimmerman was a good neighbor who wanted to serve and protect his community. Instead his life has been ruined by a teenage thug, a liberal media, and a malicious prosecutor … if you’re a conservative. (More)

Red Letter Law, Part II: Liberty, Loyalty, and Authority

This week Morning Feature revisits Jonathan Haidt’s 2012 book The Righteous Mind by focusing on the death of Trayvon Martin and the George Zimmerman murder trial. Yesterday we looked at harm and fairness, the two of Dr. Haidt’s six moral foundations that progressives hold paramount. Today we examine liberty, the libertarian touchstone, and the conservative core values of loyalty and authority. Saturday we’ll see how our moral values steer our intuitive reasoning, and fragment the public dialogue, in the Martin-Zimmerman case.

“If [police] ignore race, they are fools”

According to a family friend in Virginia, George Zimmerman had long wanted to become a police officer. In fact, prosecutors proffered evidence that Zimmerman applied for a job with the Prince William County Police Department in Maryland. He had almost completed an associates’ degree in criminal justice at Seminole State College, including classes in police procedure and self-defense law. He wanted to serve and protect his community, and did so as a neighborhood watch volunteer.

And his community needed him. A crime wave was sweeping through the Twin Lakes townhouse subdivision where Zimmerman lived. This “had created an atmosphere of growing fear in the neighborhood,” Rich Lowry wrote in Politico, and in his closing argument Zimmerman’s attorney reminded jurors that the suspects in those crimes were black males. Indeed “blacks commit an astoundingly disproportionate number of crimes,” Jason Riley wrote this week in the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen wrote that “if [police] ignore race, then they are fools and ought to go into another line of work.”

“Martin could have walked away and gone home”

So of course Zimmerman was suspicious when he saw a young black man slinking around his neighborhood in a hoodie. Zimmerman was never ordered to stay in his car and Martin had no right to privacy, to not be followed, while walking through the neighborhood. Zimmerman also had a Second Amendment right to carry a gun for self-defense.

Instead of respecting Zimmerman’s authority, the teen who may have committed arson, aggravated assault, armed robbery, and even murder, and who had sent angry texts about losing a fight, “viciously attacked” Zimmerman and paid for it with his life. “When George confronted him, [Martin] could have walked away and gone home,” one juror said after the trial, explaining why she blamed Martin for his own death.

Then “the liberal media conducted a vicious, months-long campaign of divisive race-baiting,” wrote Brent Bozell (who also wrote a book arguing that the media stole the 2012 election for Mitt Romney). That sparked what Zimmerman’s father, a former Virginia magistrate, called a “malicious prosecution,” for which the prosecutor should be disbarred.

Liberty, Loyalty, Authority

At least that’s the story if you’re a libertarian or a conservative. As Dr. Haidt found, libertarians’ core moral value is liberty, so it’s hardly surprising that libertarians focus on what Zimmerman was free to do and why Martin should have respected Zimmerman’s freedom.

In-group loyalty is one of conservatives’ core moral values, and the stories above scream of Martin as one of a dangerous Them. Data showing that 86% of white murder victims are killed by whites is irrelevant, as is data showing that blacks are no more likely to use drugs than any other racial group, but they are far more likely to be arrested and convicted on drug charges. Our moral judgments begin with feelings, and we find data and tell ourselves stories to fit those feelings. Conservatives fear blacks, thus only data about high black crime rates will fit that worldview.

Authority is another core conservative value, and you can see that in arguments that Martin should have been more respectful and polite when Zimmerman confronted him. Martin was a teenager, after all, and Zimmerman was an adult. Another white Florida man told police he shot a black teenager because the teen refused to turn down his car stereo.

“A kind of racist public safety tax”

As Ta-Nehisi Coates writes:

Richard Cohen concedes that this is a violation, but it is one he believes black people, for the good of their country, must learn to live with. Effectively he is arguing for a kind of racist public safety tax. The tax may, or may not, end with a frisking. More contact with the police, and people who want to be police, necessarily means more deadly tragedy. Thus Cohen is not simply calling for my son and I to bear the brunt of “violation,” he is calling for us to run a higher risk of death and serious injury at the hands of the state. Effectively he is calling for Sean Bell’s fianceé, Trayvon Martin’s parents, Amadou Diallo’s mother, Prince Jones’ daughter, the relatives of Kathryn Johnston to accept the deaths of their love ones as the price of doing business in America.

But that’s only “unfair” if you’re a progressive. For conservatives, “fairness” is grounded in proportionality: society should respect and reward you in proportion to what you contribute. Blacks are society’s takers. They caused the 2008 economic collapse. And studies show people report higher local crime rates if blacks live in their neighborhoods.

So from a conservative view – treating fairness as proportionality – it makes sense to treat every young black man as a criminal. That’s why New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the NYPD should stop more blacks and fewer whites.

Of course, none of that is “racism.” George Zimmerman’s father wrote that blacks are the true racists, and his attorney said Zimmerman would never have been charged if he were black. Anyone who disagrees is playing the race card.

And as we’ll see tomorrow, all of that makes perfect sense … depending on your core moral values.


Happy Friday!