Edited by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld


Edited by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld

Monday, July 15, 2013

“What Ifs?" and the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman Case

Lots of the post-trial commentary on the Zimmerman acquittal has employed counterfactual reasoning to draw moral lessons from the trial, especially the miscarriage of justice.

From the blog, The Political Frekshow, comes the essay: “Race Reversal: A Hypothetical Scenario Of What Would Happen If Trayvon Martin Were White And George Zimmerman Were Black, And Why Race Has Everything To Do With The Case.”



It aptly notes that:
If Trayvon Martin had been white and George Zimmerman black, this would not have become a national story. If they had reported it at all, the right-wing media would have praised Martin for trying to stand his ground before a dangerous violent thug. It defies credulity to think they would be dismissing the killer's behavior, making despicable excuses, such as blaming the kid's clothing, or if— unthinkable in this reversing-the-races scenario—there had been no criminal charges filed against the killer, dismissing the story altogether.  The questions here don’t even need answers. The questions answer themselves.
Had Trayvon Martin been white and George Zimmerman black, Zimmerman would be headed for death row. Right-wing media would be hailing Martin as a hero. A martyr who had stood his ground against a dangerous predator. They would be saying that it’s too bad Martin hadn’t somehow fought back against Zimmerman, and that if he had somehow succeeded in fighting a man so much larger than him, it would have been justifiable if he had left Zimmerman dead.

These comments highlight how counterfactual thinking allows us to imagine alternate possibilities to real events, thereby providing us with the tools for ethically judging them.

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