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

Jon Harrison

You're relying partly on legalisms, which is justifiable, I grant. You're also relying on hearsay and bullshit ("I heard Trayvon was walking very close to homes" [even if he was, and I know of no evidence that it was so, so what?] "I don't know if there is evidence that Trayvon was looking into windows and moving his hands towards doors" [if you don't know, why are you mentioning it? -- that's part of your nonsense right there]).

I freely admit that Zimmerman acted legally. But as I said elsewhere, I'm convinced he racially profiled Martin, i.e., followed him because he was black and wearing a hoodie. There is in fact absolutely no evidence that Martin was actually doing anything that warranted his being followed. And we know for a fact that he simply went to the store and was returning home.

You're a polite guy, and so I did you the courtesy of re-reading your original comment. And I don't mind in the least that you're wordy. But your words are still nonsense, I'm afraid.

Scott Robinson

Dear Jon,

I know that my warranted suspicion is based on speculation and hearsay (or third person, not bullshit :)). But what are your conclusions based on? Unfortunately, the news media only tells us a fraction of the facts (selectively editted) leaving us the need to speculate to fill in the blanks. I saw no evidence in support George Zimmerman racially profiling Travon Martin. If he did racially profile, why didn't he approach Travon with his gun drawn and shoot Travon when Travon first assaulted George, instead of taking the beating?

Scott

Brendant

I agree with commentators that "Stand your Ground" laws had nothing to do with this case, jury instructions or no. The Jury did not consider stand your ground. The defense did not ask for a hearing on it.
If you review the audio tapes, the dispatcher, AFTER he told Zimmerman he didn't need to follow, then contradicted himself and asked where the suspect was. Zimmerman himself said he got out of the car to find an address, not so much to follow TM.
Furthermore, the suspect was not at first identified as black by GZ to the dispatcher, the race was at first not known. Only after TM approached the car was he identified as black.
The fact is that young black males had committed property crimes, and even an aborted home invasion, recently in his neighborhood.
The SYG laws make sense to me. The "duty to retreat" means the duty to abandon a right to be someplace where you have a right to be. That sounds like a codification of always turning the other cheek. In fact, you still have to fear for your life or great bodily harm to use deadly force.
The inability to even defend your home against invasion in Vermont seems particulary contrary to our traditions, such as the Castle doctrine. What are you supposed to do, dial 9-11? (the government's version of DIAL A PRAYER)
This was a tragedy of circumstances, but I do not see it as racial. Zimmerman was of mixed race himself, and had a history of mentoring black kids. The stories about him phoning in reports previously re suspicious blacks in fact do not stand up to analysis: he phoned in rougly equally about suspicious whites.
AS to speculation as to what would have happened if GZ was black and TM was white, I can only point out that under STAND YOUR GROUND laws, the number of blacks that were vindicated are about equal to the number of whites in Florida. Surely under normal self defense rules the outcomes would be similar, although I have no information, as the focus, as this author unfortunately shows again, has been on STAND YOUR GROUND.

Jon Harrison

If the stand your ground law makes sense to you, fine. What makes sense to you really doesn't affect my thinking one way or another. In my opinion, one can have a right to be in a public space but still be required to safely retreat (if one can actually do so) rather than contribute to or inflame a situation that may escalate into deadly violence. That seems sensible and prudent to me, with respect to public spaces. I'm not going to change my mind because you disagree with that view.

On SYG and the jury instructions, read the words the judge spoke to the jury just before deliberations began (quoted in my reply to another commenter).

Technomad

The problem with the above is that, as the case wore on, more and more evidence surfaced that Trayvon Martin was a hoodlum (his posts on social media are all over the Internet) and that the news media had deliberately manipulated their coverage to try to gin up racial conflict (as by, for example, publishing pictures of Trayvon taken several years ago, when he was much more innocent-looking, next to pictures of Zimmerman in "county orange"). From what I can tell, Zimmerman did nothing he did not have a perfect right to do, and Martin was the instigator of the conflict that killed him. No sympathy from me!

Jon Harrison

Whether Martin was a hoodlum or not, he was doing nothing wrong or even suspicious during the evening in question. Had he been white, I seriously doubt Zimmerman would have followed him. Had he been white and Zimmerman black, many of those who feel as you do would instead be outraged at the shooter's actions.

When I was seventeen, I smoked reefer. I had long hair at a time when it was still considered more than a fashion statement. Back then there were schmucks who had come of age in the Fifties and early Sixties who viewed me and my kind as "hoodlums" (or whatever term was used back then). Had I, at seventeen, been returning home from a trip to the store and been followed and harassed by a jerk like Zimmerman, I would have beat him up for sure. And perhaps he would have shot me. Although my killer might have shot me in self-defense (in fact, I wouldn't have killed him even if I could have done so), he would have had absolutely no business bothering me in the first place. No one should be profiled, stopped, harassed for taking a trip to the store and back.

Jardinero1

"Had I, at seventeen, been returning home from a trip to the store and been followed and harassed by a jerk like Zimmerman, I would have beat him up for sure".

It is completely lawful to follow someone and even call the police because you don't like the way they look. It is not lawful, not to say completely immoral, to beat someone up because they followed you or called the police. Wow. That's all I can say, just wow.

Jon Harrison

I didn't say it was lawful or morally right. I said that a 17-year-old brimming with testosterone would likely beat up a jerk who followed him because he (the jerk) didn't like the 17-year-old's looks. Obviously, as a middle-aged man, I wouldn't exercise such poor judgment -- even though I am still very physically fit.

Scott Robinson

I can see the argument for reasonable response. I saw the protestors carrying signs in the Florida state building to protest the verdict and "stand your ground". It would have been fitting if a janitor had come into the hallway with a push broom and started sweeping the protestors out. According to their argument, they should then retreat out of the building until the janitor was no longer pushing up against them. What about all of the draft dodgers or million man marchers? When the firedepartment comes out and sprays them with the firehose, they should retreat back where they came from until the water is no longer spraying on them.
As you can probably guess, I think, "hell no, we won't go". Look at history if you don't understand that reference. You may think that George should have just stayed in his car and not cared about his neighbors. However, I think he was perfectly fine following Trayvon, to see if he was going to break and enter into any house, and then responding to getting beaten with lethal force, instead of waiting to see if help comes or he dies, even in public.

Scott

Jon Harrison

You're certainly entitled to your opinion, although I think your view is complete nonsense. But thanks for commenting.

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