Zimmerman: Be Wary of the Power of Belief to Shape Perception

October 12, 2012

Searching Mind and I have been arguing about why Jeralyn Merritt continues to support George Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense.

SM says her belief may be based in a psychosexual fascination or fatal attraction for George Zimmerman. I disagree.

I believe our disagreement provides one of those proverbial teaching moments, so I have decided to post my latest response to SM as a new article rather than a comment and solicit your views.

DISCLOSURE: I have known Jeralyn since 1995 when I met her at a conference of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. We were both members of the Board of Directors and got to know each other on a professional basis due to our work as directors. I characterize our relationship as professional acquaintances rather than friends because we have never shared any personal information.

This is my answer.

I strongly disagree with Jeralyn’s opinion about this case and I disagree with your opinion about why she holds that opinion.

I also believe that it’s sexist to attribute her belief in George Zimmerman’s innocence to a psychosexual fascination or fatal attraction to him. I regard your opinion as a form of demonization.

No one should make an accusation like that unless they can prove it and I seriously doubt you can prove it.

Do not make the mistake of underestimating a criminal defense attorney’s passionate embrace of the presumption of innocence in the face of overwhelming evidence of guilt. I spent most of my adult life looking at the world from that perspective and I can assure you that I did not regard it as a mere intellectual pretension to be uttered in social situations to politely remind people who we are and what we do. I lived it and breathed it into being. I walked my talk. A lot of people thought I was crazy to do that. Most people do not and cannot comprehend why anyone would be a criminal defense attorney. There were many times when I did not understand it either.

Jeralyn and everyone else I knew at NACDL is the same way. It was a great source of pride and an important part of our identity to speak for and defend the poor and the marginalized.

My unwavering support for Trayvon Martin in the face of some of the most vile and disgusting lies and criticism that I have ever encountered is born of my belief in and commitment to justice and ending racism. This belief and commitment is why I became a criminal defense attorney and you can see it in everything I say and do with this blog.

I believe Jeralyn’s unwavering support for George Zimmerman is born of her passionate and self-defining belief in the presumption of innocence.

Absent compelling evidence of some other motive behind her support for George Zimmerman, I am not going to assume that she is motivated by anything other than her desire that George Zimmerman be presumed innocent and found not guilty, unless the jury unanimously concludes that the prosecution proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he did not act in self-defense when he killed Trayvon Martin. He committed the crime of murder in the second degree.

The lesson in this teaching moment is to never underestimate the power of a belief to filter and shape human perception. Should you doubt its power, consider what it did to George Zimmerman.

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