Maybe there’s a little bit of Edward Snowden in George Zimmerman, and vice versa. Some of my progressive friends may not agree, especially those progressives who praise Snowden as a whistle blower who has exposed the evil intrusion of big government into our private affairs but who see Zimmerman as a premeditated murderer who got away with the cold blooded killing of Trayvon Martin.
Some of those characterizations may be true. But what I see, above all, are two 29-year-old know-it-alls whose word should be questioned at every step along the way.
Take Ed Snowden (a big request, I know, since he has filed for asylum with 21 countries and no one yet — not even Russia — has agreed to take him). Here is a former technical contractor for the National Security Agency who leaked details of top-secret U.S. and British government mass surveillance programs while he was employed as an “infrastructure analyst” by NSA contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.
I was struck by something Snowden said in his YouTube interview with Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian newspaper. “Any analyst can target anyone anywhere,” he said, describing the breadth and depth of the telephone and Internet surveillance programs. “I sitting at my desk had the authority to wiretap anyone — you, your accountant, a federal judge, even the president.”
Really, I thought, even the president? To me it sounded like 29-year-olds I have interviewed for jobs, who self-assuredly explain how they can save your business singlehandedly. Or a 29-year-old at a bar, trying to impress any babes within earshot. In short if a kid right out of college doesn’t yet fully know exactly what he doesn’t know, then a kid at 29 may have an even greater gap between what he thinks he knows and what he really knows.
In the YouTube interview, Snowden declares that “you don’t have to have done anything wrong. You could just make a wrong call” and that brief connection could target you for an investigation that could reach back to every call you made since this Orwellian snooping began.
That was June 9. On June 11 operators at Princeton University received a telephone call declaring that there were bombs in campus buildings. The entire campus was evacuated, no bombs were found, and the hunt began for a culprit. To date no arrests have been made — where was Ed Snowden’s surveillance program when someone actually needed it?
More recently, a blog on TechCrunch.com noted that progressives are split over whether Snowden has told too much or too little. Noting that Glenn Greenwald claimed that Snowden was still withholding “blueprints” about the internal workings of the NSA, political blogger Andrew Sullivan wrote: “If Snowden and Greenwald want to expose what they regard as illicit programs, why not just expose them? Bragging about their capacity to blackmail or terrify their own government seems, well, at best hyperbolic.” To which I might add: “Or, at worst, a bad pick-up line at closing time.”
Now for George Zimmerman. Before we put him in front of that same lens we use for self-righteous 29-year-olds, let’s consider the storm of controversy surrounding his acquittal. While I thought that President Obama fairly characterized the still-imperfect state of race relation in the country in his remarks last Friday, July 19, at the White House, I don’t extrapolate from there and say that the Zimmerman verdict was an act of racial discrimination.
But what if the race cards had been flipped, and Zimmerman were black and Trayvon were white? That was the case in the trial of OJ Simpson, and he was acquitted — by a jury that took four hours compared to more than 11 hours over two days in the Zimmerman trial.
The fact is it’s difficult to convict anyone in a jury trial, which is why they say “if you’re innocent, get a trial in front of a judge. If you’re guilty get a jury.” I sat on a jury once in Trenton for a trial that lasted three weeks. It was a fairly complicated white collar crime case that involved insurance fraud, and three separate charges, each carrying a different degree of punishment.
When we jurors began to deliberate it was clear that lots of jurors had doubts — but the doubts had more to do with what the defendant was guilty of rather than whether or not he was guilty. On top of that no one wanted to hurt someone else. A total acquittal was possible but I finally suggested we all agree on one charge (the one with the most severe penalty) and acquit him on the other two. That carried the day and the guy spent a year in jail.
If I were to protest anything about the Zimmerman case, it would be the bizarre stand-your-ground law and the consequences it can produce in a trigger-happy environment. Even though it wasn’t invoked in the Zimmerman trial, it seems to me the law is one step away from a license to kill: Hound your quarry, provoke him until he finally turns on you, and then “stand your ground” and pull your weapon (before he pulls his). Conflict resolution.
As for Zimmerman, was he a racist? Probably. A racial profiler? For sure. But more than that, he was that obnoxious 29-year-old know-it-all: The wanna-be police officer who, at the age of 21, was charged with shoving a police officer while a friend was being questioned about underage drinking. The smart aleck who participated in a town forum in 2011 to protest the beating of a black man by the son of a white police officer — Zimmerman not only called the behavior of officers on duty “disgusting” but also charged them with napping while on duty.
Are we surprised that, when Zimmerman called 911 as he stalked Martin and was told by the dispatcher not to continue following him, that he instead got out of his car and began his fatal pursuit? Of course not. As the world-wise 29-year-old told the 911 dispatcher: “F-ing punks. These assholes, they always get away.”
Zimmerman, the cool hand on the neighborhood watch committee. Snowden, the one visionary in the national intelligence community who could foresee the brave new world of our future were it not for his intervention. Since I began thinking about these 29-year-old whiz kids, Snowden turned 30. Maybe I should temper my views. But I’m not so sure. I think back to when I was 29 and what we all knew to be true: “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”