COMMENTARY | The Associated Press has reported that Spike Lee has apologized for retweeting the address of an elderly couple. Lee tweeted the address in response to the killing of Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman. But the address he tweeted did not belong to that George Zimmerman. It belonged to Elaine and David McClain, who have a son named William George Zimmerman, a completely different George Zimmerman than the alleged killer. Lee, though, has only apologized for the mistaken address, not for the intent behind it. The real George Zimmerman is in hiding, fearful for his life, and had Lee managed to tweet the correct address to where he is hiding, it is conceivable that he would be dead by now.
That is not a good thing.
I have no way of knowing yet whether George Zimmerman is guilty of murder, guilty of some lesser charge, or innocent by reason of self-defense. Neither does Spike Lee, nor anyone else at this point. If he is guilty, Lady Justice, blindfolded to color, creed, and social station, should have a chance to prove it and mete out appropriate punishment, even if that means the death penalty. If he is innocent, neither the Black Panthers nor Spike Lee nor anyone else should have a chance to railroad him without due process. The problems with vigilante justice are many, and large.
If vigilante justice gets it wrong, there is no recourse to set it right.
Spike Lee should consider that if George Zimmerman is killed in retribution, as Lee apparently intends, there will be no way to bring him back if facts ultimately prove him innocent.
If vigilante justice is meted out by one group, opposing groups will likely do the same.
The leader of the Black Panthers has placed a bounty of $10,000 on Zimmerman. If it succeeds, what is to stop the KKK from putting a bounty on the head of African Americans whom they believe have been guilty of murdering whites? What is to stop any group from killing a member of any other group rather than letting the justice system do its job?
If vigilante justice is used by adults, how will we tell our children to behave differently?
As a father, I know that my children will do as I do, not as I say. Mr. Lee is looked to as a popular figure by many youth. What message is he sending?
Mr. Lee is not wrong because he got the wrong address, he is wrong because he tried to facilitate vigilante justice in the first place. That is what he should apologize for.