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

What you're quoting is little more than teenage jivin' and braggadocio. It doesn't constitute evidence that he went around beating up people. Nor is it even prima facie evidence that he assaulted Zimmerman unprovoked.

Jardinero1

In your last paragraph, you state, "it is true that Zimmerman’s defense team never invoked Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. Then you say that stand your ground, "has led to the death of a young man who was simply returning from a trip to the store." How do you get from point A to point B? I do not see any connection. There was no direct or indirect evidence presented at trial that would make any connection between Stand your Ground and the circumstances which led to Martin's death.

Jon Harrison

Well, I said in the piece that Stand Your Ground hung over the proceedings. Anyone involved in or paying attention to the case had to have Stand Your Ground in mind as the trial proceeded. Also, although I didn't mention this specifically, the jury instructions included language from the statute.

Had there been no Stand Your Ground law in Florida, would Zimmerman have acted as he did? We can't know of course, but it's hard to believe it didn't play a part in his decision to ignore police advice and initiate contact, and then not to retreat when he probably still had the opportunity to do so. We'll never know, but I think it's a reasonable supposition.

Jardinero1

Had there been no Stand your ground law, yes, he would most likely acted as he did. There was no direct evidence presented at trial which suggested that Zimmerman initiated contact. There was also no evidence that Zimmerman refused police advice. The actual 911 call contained no imperatives to Zimmerman. The 911 dispatcher also testified that dispatchers are prohibited from giving commands to callers. Zimmerman had no duty to retreat because there was nothing to retreat from until he was battered.

Ultimately, the problem I have with the fallacious and factually inaccurate critiques of Zimmermans behavior is that they apply equally to Martin. This is lost on the critics of Zimmerman and Stand you ground. I will restate your questions with only two tiny edits.

"If there had been no stand your ground law would Martin have acted as he did? It's hard to believe it didn't play a part in his refusal to heed his girlfriend's advice and initiate contact, and then not to retreat when he probably still had the opportunity to do so."

Jon Harrison

Zimmerman did not initiate contact? Of course he did. Contact only occurred because he got out of his car and followed Martin. No evidence that Zimmerman refused police advice? The dispatcher indicated that Zimmerman should not follow Martin -- it's on tape. (By the way, I said advice; you said command.)

The combination of selective reasoning, slanted opinion, and pure bunkum in your comments makes me wonder why I'm dignifying them with responses. As I said to someone else, I'm incurably argumentative. I simply must learn to let commenters of your ilk wallow in their self-deception.

Jonathan B. Howard

This is a pretty confused analysis. First, there was no evidence of ANY wrongdoing by Zimmerman--there is no evidence that he initiated the physical confrontation with Martin. Once the fight started, there is no evidence of anything other than a self-defense shooting. For these reasons, Zimmerman was not immediately arrested. There should have been no prosecution at all.

Secondly, the Stand Your Ground doctrine had no relevance at all to this case. If you are on your back with an assailant on top of you, threatening life and limb, you are justified in shooting under all self-defense doctrines.

Holder, who you praise, has done little but showboat on this verdict. He has held open the (ridiculous) possibility of a civil rights case against Zimmerman, stuck his federal nose into a purely state matter (self-defense is defined by the states--we don't need Harrison's "national debate"), and now told Sanford police they can't return Zimmerman's gun to him yet--depriving an innocent person of his property for no legal or practical reason. We're still waiting for Holder's "fine hour".

Jon Harrison

It's only confused in your own mind. I made the point of saying the verdict was reasonable. The jury made the correct decision based on the evidence available. However, exactly what happened in the confrontation is unknown to anyone alive except Zimmerman. In any case, Zimmerman, although he was not acting illegally, ought not to have followed and initiated contact with someone who had done absolutely nothing except go to the store and then head back home. The police advised Zimmerman not to follow Martin, yet he did so anyway. My own opinion is that Zimmerman racially profiled Martin and then went into Dragnet mode, like the cop wannabe he obviously is. It's also my opinion that Martin was beating the crap out of him when Zimmerman fired the fatal shot. A 17-year old kid who has done nothing to warrant being accosted by a "neighborhood watch" guy is quite likely to get hot about it — I know I would've when I was that age.

Although the defense team did not use Stand Your Ground, the jury instructions incorporated the language of the statute. So I'm afraid your view on that aspect is not quite correct. I personally object to Stand Your Ground in public spaces when one can safely retreat, and I wanted to discuss that in the reflection as well. If that's too off-topic for you, or if you're just confused again, well, that's unfortunate.

There is a certain amount of dissonance here, in that Zimmerman was indeed innocent of the charges against him, yet responsible for initiating a situation in which a young man who was just walking home from the store got killed. That you apparently can't see the tragic irony of this is probably what's befuddled you.

Personally, if I were black, given the history of the past 400-odd years, I'd be out for blood. Holder and Obama have performed a service by speaking moderately about the larger issues involved.

I happen to agree with you that Zimmerman should get his gun back. But the rest of your rant really wasn't worth a reply. Unfortunately, I tend to be argumentative. I waste a lot of time as a result.

Fred Mangels

I'll disagree, at least in part. While I'm sure Zimmerman himself now wishes he hadn't followed Martin, did he really do anything wrong in doing so?

What's wrong with following someone in your neighborhood you deem suspicious? And what's wrong, when confronted by the person you're following, to ask what they're doing? I've done similar things myself.

As far as being a wanna be cop, who knows, but if that were the case I would have expected him to pull his gun out earlier and perhaps avoiding the conflict entirely (should Martin run off after seeing the gun). As it was he waited until his head was being pounded on the ground before defending himself.

We all have different levels of courage and few would likely be as proactive as Zimmerman was in keeping an eye on what he felt might be an intruder in his neighborhood. I might not have gone to the length Zimmerman did, but I won't fault him for doing so.

Visitor

"what is wrong with following someone in your neighborhood you deem suspicious?"

So, I take it Mr. Mangels is in full support of having drones buzz over our neighborhoods following the suspicious? After all what are the police, but our neighbors, and friends? They are only, honestly, trying to make our neighborhoods safer. Seems pretty reasonable to target libertarians, they do have a history of non-conformism. And that is dangerous to the neighborhood. Many of them carry weapons. Much more suspicious than Martin, who carried no weapon.

I have to thank Mr. Harrison for bravely showing some libertarian ideals regarding this case. It is extremely sad to see the responses to honest individualism on here. If the fight that Zimmerman initiated had gone the other way, with a teenage black person shooting Zimmerman in self-defense with a lawful gun, what would these detractors say then? They wouldn't say anything, because he would be in prison for the rest of his life.

Jon Harrison

"What's wrong with following someone in your neighborhood you deem suspicious?" Depends on what grounds you so deem them. Being black and wearing a hoodie qualifies? What sort of libertarianism is this, in which it's okay, in effect, to harass someone based on their looks and not their actions?

I live in a village of about 3.500 people. We don't have a police force. Incomes vary widely, but the average household income for the village is barely over $30,000. There is very little violent crime, but a fair amount of property crime. This mainly consists of people entering homes (usually of people they know) during the day and stealing change, electronics, and any jewelry that might be there. The crimes are committed when people aren't home, because the criminals know most of us are armed. Few want to take the chance of getting shot while committing a burglary in the middle of the night.

Since I work mainly from my home, I serve as a sort of daytime neighborhood watch on my street. There's been only one incident (of vandalism) in my years living on this street. Neither I nor my neighbors pack heat and go out on the streets looking for "suspicious" individuals. The very idea is absurd. If somebody wants to rob any of us, we have the means to prevent it. And we've had no robberies on my street in my nine years here. We've also had no 17-year-olds shot and killed while returning from a trip to the convenience store.

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