The Zimmerman Verdict

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The trial of the decade (so far) has ended and George Zimmerman is a free man. What are the important points we should take from this?

First, it’s clear that the system worked. Zimmerman received a fair trial. A jury of his peers found him innocent based on the law and the evidence presented at trial. Obviously, Zimmerman was foolish to ignore police advice and continue following poor Trayvon Martin. But he committed no crime in doing so. His actions provoked the confrontation that ended in Martin’s death, but again, under Florida law he was justified in shooting Martin in self-defense. The jury believed that Zimmerman feared for his life, and that’s enough in Florida to justify taking a life, even if the killer instigated the events that led up to the killing.

This trial was not a repeat of the first Rodney King trial, in which a jury consisting of ten whites, one Hispanic, and one Asian was almost certainly blinded by a conscious or unconscious fear of blacks. Nor was it OJ all over again, with a panel practicing jury nullification in support of the defendant. It did, however, resemble the OJ case in that the prosecution was quite inept. The prosecutors were ineffective in all phases of the trial, possibly because they had a weak case to begin with. The defense on the other hand hardly put a foot wrong, aside from the unfortunate knock-knock joke in its opening statement. The authorities also overcharged the case — there was never any prospect of finding Zimmerman guilty of second-degree murder. (Overcharging, by the way, is a tactic used by prosecutors all over the country as a means to get defendants to plead instead of going to trial. As such, it represents a major perversion of our justice system.)

We all should have the absolute right to defend our homes and families from aggression. But public spaces are a different matter.

We can be thankful that the verdict did not lead to major violence. The small-scale thuggery seen in Oakland and L.A. does not compare to the barbarism displayed in South Central L.A. after the King verdict. President Obama, who seems increasingly irrelevant both at home and abroad, performed a useful service by urging calm. On the other hand, the lack of a video in the Zimmerman case may have had as much to do with the absence of major violence as the measured words of America’s mixed-race chief executive.

Millions of people, both black and white, are deeply dissatisfied with the verdict. Many are urging the Justice Department to bring a civil rights case against Zimmerman. Such a case would be very hard if not impossible to prove. This analyst believes Attorney General Holder will decide not to bring a civil rights case against Zimmerman, for the simple reason that it would probably fall apart in court, embarrassing both the Justice Department and the president. That the Attorney General is an African-American probably makes it easier to resist the temptation to file federal charges against Zimmerman. An administration in which all the key players are white might very well feel compelled to do so.

Holder, like the president, has been a moderating voice in the wake of the verdict. This has been his finest hour — or rather, his first fine hour after four-plus years in office. In a recent speech he questioned the concept of Stand Your Ground laws, maintaining that people have a duty to retreat if they can safely do so — but adding the important qualifier, when outside their home. There needs to be a serious debate nationally about the concept of Stand Your Ground. In Vermont, where I live, the law says I should retreat even if a criminal comes onto my property or enters my home. This, to me, is crazy. The idea that I must flee from my home rather than subdue or kill someone coming onto my property with criminal intent repels me. But then Vermont is a crazy place.

In my view we all should have the absolute right to defend our homes and families from aggression. But public spaces are a different matter. It’s true that Zimmerman’s defense team never invoked Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. Nevertheless, that law hung like a storm cloud over the proceedings. The principle of stand your ground as applied to public spaces has led, in this case, to the death of a young man who was simply returning from a trip to the store. A cop wannabe decides to follow a teenage boy (whom he may or may not have racially profiled) despite police advice to desist, and thereby provokes a fight that leads to his shooting the kid to death. Despite these circumstances, the wannabe is innocent in the eyes of the law. The kid is dead; the wannabe walks. Surely in this case the law is an ass.




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Comments

Richard Garyson

For a better, fact-based and libertarian assessment of this whole affair, I suggest you watch Stefan Molyneux's YouTube broadcast.

Visitor

Someone should get the President and the Courts to use The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in this case.

Charles Goines

Jon Harrison is struggling to be politically correct in "The Zimmerman Verdict. Why. Because he wants the facts to somehow be negated. Why does anyone want the bad guys to win? Fear, fear of not being on the popular side. "Hitler was nice to animals and children"--a fact. Does that make people angry? Yes, lots of people, especially Jews get angry at that fact. Trayvon Martin was clearly the aggressor and fully deserved exactly what he got. Does that make people angry? Sure it does, especially those who can't stand the truth. Libertarians however should always be expected to tell the truth and deal with the truth, not massage or slant it to be politically correct. Jon Harrison violated the first rule of writing for Liberty--tell the honest, unvarnished truth and then deal with it! Jon did not come to bury Caesar.

Jon Harrison

I just today came across the last two comments as I printed out a copy of this article. For Mr. Goines: I wasn't trying to be politically correct or massage the truth. I wrote an article based on my analysis of the case. You're entitled to your opinion on both the case and my writing, but from my perspective your conclusions are bullshit. I'm sorry I wasn't able to persuade you to my view, but that's okay. However, please don't characterize my motives for writing what I put in the article. You have no idea what goes on in my mind.

N. Joseph Potts

Jon Harrison does not hesitate to impute motives to writers of articles if you disagree with him. Here's a case in point concerning an article I wrote.

Charles Goines

My conclusions are bullshit? Wow! "Me thinks the lady doth protest to loud." Your motives when you write are exposed. I read Liberty for a more accurate exposure. I observe what is going through your mind by what you provide in your articles. I will keep my money on my comment. As a professional writer, your response tells a lot that I as a humble reader need to consider. You have convinced me, but not necessarily the way you intended.

Roger Collins

You used the wrong case to make your point about SYG when you leap from "It’s true that Zimmerman’s defense team never invoked Florida’s Stand Your Ground law" to "led, in this case, to the death of a young man who was simply returning from a trip to the store." That's a bull shit leap, aka a blatantly unsupported conclusion, if not a just-contradicted conclusion. Just poor writing in my opinion. You had it right in the first. The defense team never invoked SYG, and for good reason, and opinion writers use poor judgement when they invoke it in this case too.

Jon Harrison

Mr. Collins, the leap you see doesn't appear to me. We have a differing view of the case, obviously. That my view deviates from yours doesn't mean you're right. I admit I can't prove that Zimmerman acted as he did because of Florida's law, but it's my belief that it had to affect his thinking as he profiled, approached, and confronted Martin. Sometimes opinion writers include their opinions in their writing -- if they didn't opinion writing would be a very boring business indeed.

That Zimmerman's defense team didn't use SYG was a tactical decision on their part. That proves nothing about Zimmerman's thinking on the night he killed Martin.

B Hill

As a matter of law, the assertion in this article that "Zimmerman feared for his life, and that’s enough in Florida to justify taking a life ..." is wrong. It is NOT enough that he feared for his life. Besides this subjective belief, there is an objective standard, set forth in the following excerpt from the Zimmerman trial's jury instructions:

"[T]o justify the use of deadly force, the appearance of danger must have been so real that a reasonably cautious and prudent person under the same circumstances would have believed that the danger could be avoided only through the use of that force." (George Zimmerman Trial: Final Jury Instructions, http://www.scribd.com/doc/153354467/George-Zimmerman-Trial-Final-Jury-Instructions (last visited July 24, 2013).

The author by misunderstanding this rule of law completely misses the issue. Given that Zimmerman genuinely did believe that he was in the requisite danger, would the generic reasonable person have reached the same conclusion? That six Floridians did apparently, is what troubles many Americans. The lesson is that the "objective" component of complete self-defense is not much of hurdle when jurors see a defendant who seems familiar to them. When a defendant seems foreign, however, well, then good luck with self-defense. That was the President's correct point. (Hey, even a broken clock is right once day.)

Jon Harrison

You're really nit-picking there, pal. I wrote an article, not a legal brief. The jury found not guilty with the instructions they were given. You appear to be assuming that they judged Zimmerman based on his appearance rather than the evidence. Of course, there's no way you can know that. You're actually doing what you've accused the jurors of doing. Can't you see that?

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