And yet, realistically speaking, we really have no choice but to do so. I understand well just how frustrating and unsatisfying it can be to hear people suggest that they believe that George Zimmerman acted stupidly and that they do not know whether his account was true, but that he nonetheless had to walk free. But I cannot see any tolerable alternative. Unless we wish to abolish all that we hold dear — for everyone, remember, not just white cops from Missouri — we cannot summarily convict suspects because the world seems unfair, nor can we somehow exempt the difficult cases. The sad truth is that if you have a system in which innocence is presumed and the state’s burden of proof is high, you are always going to get anomalies. That is the nature of negative rights. Do privacy protections sometimes help criminals? Of course. Have double-jeopardy prohibitions allowed the guilty to walk? Naturally. Does a preference for human liberty in an imperfect world yield unfortunate, even tragic outcomes from time to time? Indeed so. Should we give that preference up in consequence? Absolutely not.
Which is to say that when grieving and angry protesters complain that Officer Wilson will now be treated to all of the benefits of the doubt that he did not give Michael Brown, they are, in a sense, correct. If Wilson is self-evidently guilty — as that gripe unfailingly and unjustly implies — he will be accorded opportunities that he declined to accord to his victim. Moreover, he will be given a reasonably good shot at getting away with his crime. Can this be avoided? To a small extent, certainly. The introduction of cameras into all policing situations would certainly circumscribe reasonable doubt. But most murder trials do not involve the authorities, but private citizens. What can we do about those? The answer, probably, is “very little.” Sometimes, men will do terrible things to one another, and sometimes they will walk free. That is the nature of things. It is all well and good to argue that the state cannot be relied upon to come to a fair conclusion, but it does not solve the initial problem, which is “what should we do instead?” Would those who believe that there is no chance of a fair trial hang Wilson up themselves?