Saturday, July 20, 2013

Martin and Zimmermann: The Anarchist Alternative

Even given (what I take to be) the preponderance of evidence in favor of George Zimmermann’s story, it is not impossible that he was indeed guilty of murder. Certainly thousands of people in the US today believe that he was, and they’re hoping the civil suit will cause him to pay as much as possible for his crime. I should point out that those who protest the court’s decision the loudest have good reason for distrusting the system. While it is true that the modern welfare system, including affirmative action, has been a conscious attempt by the white powers that be to offer blacks restitution for slavery, Jim Crow, lynching with impunity, and other injustices, it has been a dismal failure. More blacks are in poverty today than ever before, the black family has been all but destroyed, the war on drugs punishes blacks more than whites, and affirmative action is simply an admission that blacks can compete with whites only in athletics and entertainment.

As Sojourners’ Jim Wallis asks, “If black youth in America can’t rely on the police, the law, or their own neighborhood for protection—where can they go?” Let me suggest that the police and the law—the government, “the very institutions created to protect our own wellbeing,” in Wallis’ words—is precisely the wrong place to look for justice. It is voluntary institutions that will prevent incidents like this in the future and resolve in a just manner those that come up anyway.

The most important thing about the violence, verbal and otherwise, that has followed the announcement of the Zimmermann verdict is so obvious that no one seems to notice it—certainly Wallis doesn’t: those most in need of justice in this country, poor blacks, do not trust the system.
The rioters are disproportionately poor and black; the protesting word-slingers tend to be better off, but blacks are overrepresented there also. After 237 years to work on the system, after decades of preferential treatment from at least the most visible agents of government, and even with a “black” president at the top of the pile, blacks still do not trust the system.[1] And I don’t blame them: even though I agree with the acquittal, I consider the system evil.

Let’s back up and assume that Mr. Zimmermann is indeed guilty. How can any sane person regard the system that failed to convict him as anything other than a total failure? In a high-profile case with race at the center, the prosecutor couldn’t be bothered to seat even one black on the jury. Furthermore, I assume the resources available for the prosecution would have been essentially endless, and a conviction would have looked good on her curriculum vitae. And yet a guilty man walked. No wonder Wallis claims that “12-year-old black boys … asked to sleep in bed with their parents because they were afraid” after the conviction: the mockingbird is killed once again.

The system is broken. It cannot be fixed. We need an alternative. Here it is: an anarchic system of private arbitration or adjudication.

The first advantage an anarchic system would have had for Mr. Martin’s loved ones would have been that they (or their hired agents) would have had final say in who adjudicated the trial. As it was, they were stuck with a prosecutor who was content to allow an all-white jury to decide the case and a white judge to preside over it. Given the central place of race in the matter, this was insane. In private arbitration they could have chosen their own prosecutor and insisted that at least some members of the adjudication team be black: both they and Mr. Zimmermann’s side would have been able to put forth candidates black and otherwise to be “judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

If the two sides had been unable to agree on the adjudicators, the trial would not have gone forward, but the innocent party would have had great incentive to have the proceedings public outsiders could hear and judge the objections to the adjudicators offered by the other side. Surely the guilty party’s agents would want to avoid charges of stonewalling, lest their other clients be considered outlaws—“We don’t want clients of XYZ living in this neighborhood because it’s impossible to deal with them when they misbehave.”—so any deadlock would likely have been short lived.
The matter might even have been settled within the guilty party’s agency, with the agency buying off the offended party without a public hearing ever taking place. Think about it: Are you better off because you know about the shooting, or would your life be just as good if you didn’t? Is it possible that you—and the Martins and the Zimmermanns—would be just as well off if they had settled the matter just between them?

No small benefit of anarchy here would have been to allow the Martins’ and Zimmermanns’ business to remain theirs and kept the rest of the world from taking a dog by the ears (Prov. 26:17).
As for the stigma attached to “buying off” the victim: Who would have been better off if Mr. Zimmermann had gone to jail? Who would be better off if he is bankrupted by the civil suit? Would the Martins get their son back? Can any amount of money compensate for the loss of a son? Would white people who agree with the verdict as it stands be more or less likely to welcome blacks into their neighborhoods, workplaces, and social networks? Would blacks who agree with the verdict be more or less likely to achieve their economic and social goals? I see no benefit to anyone from the matter having become public.

A second advantage to an anarchic system is that those accused are treated as innocent until they are convicted. Where under the current system those accused of crimes are incarcerated (or forced to pay interest on bail loans) and forced to bear the cost of hiring lawyers while still legally innocent, under an anarchic system the accused’s agency would be responsible and motivated both to keep track of him and to make sure that he was treated well so he was could get on with his life. Mr. Zimmermann would not have had to incur inconvenience and expense before he was convicted.  Furthermore, after the trial the guilty party and his agents would have had to compensate the innocent party for the expenses of the proceedings, so they would want the matter cleared up as cheaply as possible.

As it is, of course, even though Mr. Zimmermann has been exonerated, he is out the time he spent incarcerated, the expense of his lawyers, his public reputation, and his safety from vengeful outsiders. The government, meanwhile, has lost nothing and has nothing to lose from future such incidents. And again, if Mr. Zimmermann is guilty, the present system has failed totally yet lost nothing. Either way, it deserves not a penny more of our money.

By contrast, agents in an anarchic system would have had every incentive to resolve this situation to the greatest possible satisfaction of both the Martins and the Zimmermanns. No resolution could have perfectly satisfied both parties, but an anarchic system could have done no worse than the present system which, judging by the ubiquity of Yankee flags wherever one looks, is as good as any government system can be.

[1]  I will leave it to others to argue that the protesters could see a video from God’s point of view that clearly showed Mr. Martin’s guilt and still want Mr. Zimmermann hanged.