The Daily Kos vs. Jeralyn Merritt

Ben Cohen
Talkleft, a website calling itself "the online magazine with liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news," drew the ire of posters at the Daily Kos for their fact-based legal analysis of the Zimmerman trial. Posters accused the proprietor, Jeralyn Merritt, of being a stealth conservative or a racist angry that Obama is president. Despite what the Daily Kos believes, Jeralyn Merritt is neither a conservative nor a racist but a liberal genuinelycommitted to civil rights. Following the trial she made a plea to separate the Trayvon Martin shooting from questions of racial disparities in the criminal justice system. She even offered her own list of proposed reforms,

• outlawing racial profiling practices by police;
• strengthening civilian review and control of local police departments;
• reforming bail policies to make release for non-violent offenders the default, and reducing or eliminating the requirement of cash bail;
• bringing transparency and accountability to prosecutorial decisions, especially charging and plea bargains;
• decriminalizing more non-violent drug offenses;
• ending the practice of adjudicating juveniles in adult courts;
• repealing mandatory minimum sentencing schemes;
• repealing zero-tolerance school discipline policies that funnel youth into the criminal justice system;
• reforming "truth-in-sentencing" laws that prevent or delay the consideration of parole;
• repealing post-conviction consequences that impede the successful
re-entry of those with criminal histories; and
• assessing the impact of political fund-raising and corporate contributions on sentencing.

The above is clearly not the policy agenda of a conservative, let alone a racist. Liberals interested in protecting civil liberties take it as a given that the political right poses the greatest threat to them, but this case suggests otherwise. Conservatives weren't the ones demanding that the jury ignore the facts and the law and convict Zimmerman. Indeed as Merritt herself notes the attacks on the rights of defendants have come from those outraged by the verdict,

"What's no so easily overlooked or brushed off are the number stupid tweets calling for throwing the Bill of Rights out the window because of the verdict in this case. There were calls to reduce the burden of proof in criminal cases. Calls to change the law so that the state could appeal a not guilty verdict.Calls to repeal the privilege against self-incrimination so that a defendant could be forced to testify against himself.Calls to end the requirement that a verdict be unanimous.Calls to do away with expert testimony. Calls to change the rules of evidence so that negative character evidence as to the defendant (only) could be introduced."

It seems a safe bet that those "stupid tweets," didn't come from conservatives. At some point liberals concerned with civil liberties may have to reconsider their belief that conservatives pose the biggest threat. Even if liberals disagree with the conservative approach to terrorism, (treating terrorists as enemy combatants rather than criminal defendants), it should at least be understandable. Terrorists pose a threat many orders of magnitude greater than overzealous neighborhood watch captains. Calls to throw out the normal protections for defendants because of the Zimmerman verdict can only reflect basic contempt for those protections.

Talkleft, a website calling itself "the online magazine with liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news," drew the ire of posters at the Daily Kos for their fact-based legal analysis of the Zimmerman trial. Posters accused the proprietor, Jeralyn Merritt, of being a stealth conservative or a racist angry that Obama is president. Despite what the Daily Kos believes, Jeralyn Merritt is neither a conservative nor a racist but a liberal genuinelycommitted to civil rights. Following the trial she made a plea to separate the Trayvon Martin shooting from questions of racial disparities in the criminal justice system. She even offered her own list of proposed reforms,

• outlawing racial profiling practices by police;
• strengthening civilian review and control of local police departments;
• reforming bail policies to make release for non-violent offenders the default, and reducing or eliminating the requirement of cash bail;
• bringing transparency and accountability to prosecutorial decisions, especially charging and plea bargains;
• decriminalizing more non-violent drug offenses;
• ending the practice of adjudicating juveniles in adult courts;
• repealing mandatory minimum sentencing schemes;
• repealing zero-tolerance school discipline policies that funnel youth into the criminal justice system;
• reforming "truth-in-sentencing" laws that prevent or delay the consideration of parole;
• repealing post-conviction consequences that impede the successful
re-entry of those with criminal histories; and
• assessing the impact of political fund-raising and corporate contributions on sentencing.

The above is clearly not the policy agenda of a conservative, let alone a racist. Liberals interested in protecting civil liberties take it as a given that the political right poses the greatest threat to them, but this case suggests otherwise. Conservatives weren't the ones demanding that the jury ignore the facts and the law and convict Zimmerman. Indeed as Merritt herself notes the attacks on the rights of defendants have come from those outraged by the verdict,

"What's no so easily overlooked or brushed off are the number stupid tweets calling for throwing the Bill of Rights out the window because of the verdict in this case. There were calls to reduce the burden of proof in criminal cases. Calls to change the law so that the state could appeal a not guilty verdict.Calls to repeal the privilege against self-incrimination so that a defendant could be forced to testify against himself.Calls to end the requirement that a verdict be unanimous.Calls to do away with expert testimony. Calls to change the rules of evidence so that negative character evidence as to the defendant (only) could be introduced."

It seems a safe bet that those "stupid tweets," didn't come from conservatives. At some point liberals concerned with civil liberties may have to reconsider their belief that conservatives pose the biggest threat. Even if liberals disagree with the conservative approach to terrorism, (treating terrorists as enemy combatants rather than criminal defendants), it should at least be understandable. Terrorists pose a threat many orders of magnitude greater than overzealous neighborhood watch captains. Calls to throw out the normal protections for defendants because of the Zimmerman verdict can only reflect basic contempt for those protections.