Don’t listen to CAIR and the NAACP: due process is a good thing

Adam Bates Policy Analyst, Cato Institute Project on Criminal Justice
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Virtually every aspect of the George Zimmerman trial has been written into the ground already, but scant attention has been paid to the lunacy of minority advocacy organizations insisting that the Department of Justice intercede further in this dud of a case. Setting aside everything else that’s been said or screamed about it, the statements by organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Council on American-Islamic Relations are especially perverse.

Let’s start by acknowledging that, without question, there are institutional injustices in America’s legal system. From a drug war directed almost entirely at minority Americans, to overtly illegal, due process-free “stop and frisk” policies that target tens of thousands of black and Hispanic youths, to gun prohibitions that disproportionally affect low-income minorities who can’t afford the licensing poll tax, to what has become for all intents and purposes an entirely separate and utterly farcical legal system for any Muslim suspected of anything, all the way to Muslim Americans being assassinated by the President without so much as an indictment against them, the evidence of institutional racism and Islamophobia is simply unassailable.

No honest observer would dispute the existence of these injustices or deride the legitimacy of any protest they might engender. But the essential element of each injustice above is the partial or complete subversion of the right to due process.

Why is it wrong to stop and search people based on nothing but a policeman’s hunch that they “look suspicious?” Why is it wrong to hit an American citizen with a missile or detain him for decades on end without so much as a warrant or a charge? Because a free and just society committed to the rule of law places evidentiary burdens on the state that it must shoulder before it is allowed to project violence onto its citizens. The state doesn’t simply get to hurt people; it has to present evidence and prove its case.

No recent case better exemplified these protections than Zimmerman’s. Setting aside all the external opinions and emotions, one thing on which virtually everyone agrees is that the state did not make its case. And so Zimmerman walked. And now these “civil rights” organizations are pleading with the Obama Administration to set aside the fact that there is no case to be made and string up Zimmerman anyway. The NAACP called it a “modern day lynching,” and they were exactly right (though not in the way they meant).

No one should have to explain to the Council on American-Islamic Relations why the government should have to meet substantial evidentiary burdens before it gets to imprison — or drone — American citizens.

No one should have to explain to the NAACP why the government should have to prove criminality beyond a reasonable doubt before it’s allowed to imprison — or stop and frisk — American citizens. That these organizations are appealing to Eric Holder for intervention, who has never met a civil liberty he refused to subvert, is proof that they either do not understand or do not care about the difference.

If you want justice and respect for civil liberties, the Obama Administration is not where you will find them. CAIR and the NAACP may get their pound of flesh from George Zimmerman by selling out to the federal government, but at what cost?

By arguing for further intercession from the federal government, these groups are unwittingly justifying the very institutional injustices they claim to abhor. If people like George Zimmerman are not afforded due process, then targeted minority groups will never have a chance in this country. How many more black and Muslim Americans have to be persecuted or killed without charge or trial before these “civil rights” organizations remember what they’re supposed to be fighting for?

History has shown quite clearly what happens when due process burdens are eroded or absent. When the executive branch has free rein to persecute, torture, and kill anyone it dislikes, that’s exactly what it does. And ethnic and religious minorities like those represented by the NAACP and CAIR should not require any reminding which groups a boundless government is likely to start with.