March 23rd, 2012
08:34 PM ET

Letters to the President #1159: 'A shooting in Florida'

Reporter's Note: I write a letter a day to President Obama.

Dear Mr. President,

I thought your team was taking the right approach a few days back when you were steering clear of any comment about that shooting in Florida which left that unarmed, young man dead. Certainly it is a serious incident, and of course it has inflamed some very strong feelings. Still, as you know from some of my past letters, I think presidents must tread very carefully about weighing in on such local matters.

Sure, people want justice…or at least their idea of it…immediately, and hearing the president on their side may be encouraging. But justice is an imperfect thing, and often it becomes more so when it is rushed too much by public outcry or political pressure. The authorities in Florida may or may not be correct in their course of action so far. We don’t know, and frankly we can’t know until all the facts have been thoroughly investigated. A grand jury is set to consider the evidence. A variety of investigations have been launched.

None of that seems to have satisfied the crowds who are outraged over this young man’s death, and any reasonable person can understand why such measures may fall short in this atmosphere. But it seems to me that people must also consider the alternative. I’ve seen the converse; situations in which local authorities act swiftly and rashly to file charges, only to face humiliating reversals later…or to find that their quick action brought quick mistakes that made a conviction impossible.

In any event, I suspect that when a President of the United States starts talking about an event in your town…wherever it may be…with a firm implication that he sees justice going awry, it does not clarify matters. Rather, I fear that the arrival of such influence and power creates more confusion, more panic, and a greater tendency for people to make rash decisions…which, I am sure, is not what you would wish.

So, like I said, I think you were following a better course when you were not commenting on those sad events. At least, it was a better course, in terms of ultimately allowing pressure that is already at work…to work to its best effect.

We’ll see. Perhaps I am mistaken.

I hope your weekend is off to a good start, and that your travels abroad go well.


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