Posts Tagged ‘Trayvon Martin’


Just a few thoughts on the recently concluded George Zimmerman trial:

  • I agree with those that have said that the legal system makes for a lousy forum to discuss broad societal issues.  The focus of a legal trial is just so narrow.  (For instance, the words ‘racial profiling’ could not be used during the trial.  For the broad question of why what happened that day happened, this certainly appeared to have been a factor.  But on the narrow question of whether a crime was committed, it was irrelevant.  One citizen racially profiling another is not illegal.  It’s just wrong.)
  • The bar for using deadly force in self-defense has been set too low in too many states.  For instance, in Florida, self-defense does not turn on what is reasonable but on what the shooter can reasonable believe.  So it matter not if Zimmerman reasonably needed to use deadly force to protect himself.  It only matter if he could reasonably believe that he needed to use deadly force.  That’s a much lower standard.
  • Also, even though you wouldn’t have known it from many of the articles regarding this case that were out there, the matter of who started the fight was irrelevant as a legal matter in Florida.  As long as the above standard was met (that Zimmerman believed he needed to use deadly force to protect himself), it matters not if he was the one who may have started the fight in the first place.
  • Now add the ‘beyond the reasonable doubt’ standard.  So to convict, the jury had to believe beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman could not have reasonable believed that he could be caused great bodily harm without the use of deadly force.  Now add that Zimmerman clearly had lacerations and a broken nose from the altercation.  Given all that, at least I can understand how a jury could have reached the conclusion that they did.
  • However, given these laws, it looks like if you want to get away with murder, a pretty good way to try is to start a fight with an unarmed man.
  • Regardless of what your opinion of the trial’s outcome, I don’t see how you can look at the events starting on that tragic day all the way up to now and not think as a society we don’t have some large issues we need to work out.

This article from the American Prospect’s Scott Lemiux makes the points I am trying to better than I.


First, I want to be as fair as possible as I write this.  I believe the media, as they are apt to do these days, is doing more story-telling than pure reporting, and may well be misleading in order to fit a predefined narrative.  Trayvon was probably not a perfect little saint.  He was not the kid that he was in most of the pictures we are seeing (these pictures are a younger Trayvon).  He was on 5-day suspension from school.  Of course, this is not to say he’s bad either.  Just that he’s not perfect.  Like all of us, he is flawed.  But like most of us, from all accounts he is decent.

George Zimmerman is probably not pure evil reincarnated either.  He wanted to be a cop.  True, it seems he was overzealous in that pursuit.  But digging deeper to find articles, his neighbors didn’t seem to mind.  In fact, they seem to pretty much view him as an asset toward keeping their neighborhood safe.  A black friend of his as come forward to say he is not a racist.  And what originally sounded like perhaps a racial slur on the 9-1-1 tape was revealed to actually be “punks” by an expert.  Of course, this is not to say he’s perfect either.  He (unlike Trayvon) had been arrested previously (battery of an officer and resisting arrest) and also his former wife filed a restraining order against him.  He calls 9-1-1 a LOT, it apparently does not take much for someone to appear suspicious to him.  So definitely flawed.  But probably more decent than not.

That said, this incident should have never happened.  The moment Zimmerman says on the 9-1-1 call “yes” in response to the 9-1-1 operator’s question asking if he was following Trayvon, this became clearly wrong.  That’s when it is clear that Zimmerman crossed an ethical line between concerned (if not also paranoid) citizen to a man getting involved in somebody else’s business without justification.  He had already called 9-1-1, there was no good reason to do anything further (it’s not a crime to “look suspicious” and no one has ever been hurt by how somebody looked).  He should have gone about his day, then Trayvon would have gone home to watch the rest of the NBA All-Star game and George will go on to continue trying to be a police man.  Unfortunately that didn’t happen and we have a senseless death.

But ethically wrong and legally wrong is not always the same thing.  It is not clear whether what Zimmerman did was legally wrong due to what is known as the “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida.  In most states, you have a legal duty to retreat when possible before being legally clear to use lethal force in self-defense (unless you are inside your home).  Clearly Zimmerman could have avoided this situation if he had retreated.  However, some states have reduced or eliminated this duty to retreat, and in Florida you pretty much have no duty to retreat whatsoever.  As wrong as it may seem, Zimmerman may not have been in violation of the law.

I was not a fan of “Stand Your Ground” laws even before this incident.  There just seem to be too much of a potential to use this defense as a loophole around murder.  This is such a scenario, where really all you have Zimmerman’s side of the story.  You may have a witness who saw some of it.  But really you only have the full story from Zimmerman.  I think Trayvon would have had a different view of Zimmerman’s self-defense claim, but we will never hear that side with him being dead and all.  Who knows what happened?  I mean, Trayvon may have been punching Zimmerman just has he said, but couldn’t he have ALSO just been “standing his ground”?  Or maybe Trayvon just got pissed off that this Hispanic guy just wouldn’t leave him alone.  But regardless, had Zimmerman just retreated in the first place, no one gets hurt, that I am convinced of.

I really think “Stand Your Ground” laws need to be looked at again.  Don’t we want to encourage the avoidance of confrontations?  Don’t we want to discourage vigilante justice?  Doesn’t everyone deserve due process?  Does this law increase the likelihood that misunderstandings lead to violent consequences?  Did Zimmerman know that he had no duty to retreat under Florida law and did that impact his decision to follow Trayvon?  Is that what we really want for our society?

I also think the police was much too willing to accept George Zimmerman’s version of events.  They seem to just wanted to get the case wrapped up with as little effort as possible.  When somebody is shot, the police have an extra responsibility to be thorough in my opinion.  It’s not like the dead person can advocate for him/herself, so the police need to do so.  It looks like instead the police just check the angles from Zimmerman’s perspective (a good example is they tested Trayvon for drugs but did not do the same for Zimmerman).  That’s certainly easier, but it’s not justice.

I hope some form of justice can come out of this.  But I fear that with Florida’s very broad allowance for “self-defense” (there is even a provision that allows for “self-defense” when you were the one who provoked the other person to use force in the first place, how can that be right?) combined with the lack of eyewitnesses plus the initial local police’s willingness just to buy Zimmerman’s story without much scrutiny may make prosecution of this case very tough.