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There is an African proverb that goes something like this: Until the lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter.
  That line jumped out at me as I read the column Charles M. Blow has up for the Thursday New York Times.  It is titled Beyond the Courtroom, and should provoke some thinking.

I said he had some questions for us to consider.  He suggests that the trial of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin - for it is not in doubt that Zimmerman did kill Martin -

has produced a valuable and profound dialogue in America about some important issues surrounding race and justice, fear and aggression, and legal guilt and moral culpability.
And we can only examine those issue by asking questions.   Perhaps we might consider matters of race, of gender, of age.   For example, consider this from the op-ed:
...as a thought experiment, reverse the race and ethnicities of Trayvon Martin and Zimmerman and see if that has any effect on your view of the night’s events. Now, go one step further and imagine that the teenager who was shot through the heart was not male but female and ask yourself again: does it have any effect on how you view the facts of this case?

Are we acculturated to grant some citizens the right to feel fear while systematically denying that right to others?

I have a few thoughts of my own...

When I was much younger, it used to be normal to attack a girl or woman who filed complaint about rape to attack her on the basis of her sexual history.   Over time, despite the protestations of some, we as a society have largely come to accept the notion that a woman has the right to say no, even to her husband, that she can withdraw consent previously given.  To say that once she says yes she cannot say stop is to say as a man that one is not capable of controlling one's own urges and therefore has some theoretical right to impose his will upon her.  I don't buy that.  I suspect few women would.

We have learned that the law is not always what we think it is, that some people have advantages within the law.  This applies in civil law, as we see the right to sue corporations being taken away and aggrieved customers being forced to abide by binding arbitration with no voice in the selection of the arbiter.

If the notion that fear justifies the use of deadly force, even if the situation in which I experience that fear is the direct result of my own improper actions, is not that a rationale to provoke others to justify my use of deadly force against them?

Blow raises question about how Martin's view of the events does not carry equal weight with that of Zimmerman's.  It cannot.  Martin is not here to speak for himself.

But if the police failed to check Zimmerman for drugs and alcohol, why should a test for the same on Martin be admissible?  So what if he had THC in his blood.  What was in Zimmerman's blood?  Could his behavior, including that of disregarding the instruction not to follow Martin have been the result of being under the influence?

Or to put it another way, perhaps more bluntly, note again the last words I quoted from Blow above the fold:

Are we acculturated to grant some citizens the right to feel fear while systematically denying that right to others?

Let me rephrase that in the bluntest way I can -  do we consider some lives more valuable than others, based on race, or gender, or religion, or national origin, or sexual orientation?

I agree with Blow that the Martin case provides a real occasion for soul searching - for individuals, for our society.  

On the one hand, as a matter of law, Zimmerman is innocent until found guilty beyond  a reasonable doubt by a jury or had he chosen a judge. Regardless of facts in evidence, if he is not granted the presumption of innocence, then our entire legal system fails.

On the other hand, there can be no doubt that had Zimmerman simply followed the instructions that the dispatcher gave, that the police did not need him to follow Martin, the events leading to this trial, that is, the killing of Trayvon Martin, would not have happened.

There is another paragraph from Blow that caught my eye:  

Should “not guilty” as charged (if that were to be the verdict) be read the same as “without guilt” in general? Is there some moral space in which Martin can, as the defense contends, be solely responsible for his own death?
As a matter of law, Zimmerman can be found not guilty of 2nd degree murder, perhaps even of manslaughter.  That does not mean that one agrees with the defense contention that Martin was solely responsible for his own death.  After all, had Zimmerman stayed in his car, or not had a gun, there likely would have been no death.

If Martin did see the gun, as Zimmerman contends, and given that Zimmerman had not identified himself as neighborhood watch, could not Martin have felt in imminent threat for his own life and been justified in using violent force?  How would you react were you in Martin's position?  

There are larger issues that Blow does not address.  Most neighborhood watch organizations do not let their participants carry firearms.  The neighborhood watch patrols of which I have any experience have visible identification - a placard on a car, a jacket with identification.

How would you feel if an SUV was following you on a dark night?    How might you react?  If you had a weapon, would you draw it?

Should you have a weapon?  Should Zimmerman, given his history, have had a weapon?

You see, I have questions beyond those asked by Blow.

I still think you should read his column.

I fear that if Zimmerman is fully acquitted, it will be seen by many on both sides as legitimizing the use of force on behalf of racial prejudice.  That will inevitably have tragic consequences, possibly immediately, certainly over time.

We have people determined to criminalize behavior with which they disagree - Indiana wanting to make it a class 6 felony for a same sex couple to file an application for a marriage license, for example.

We have those who are willing to abuse the law to achieve personal, political, financial, or other ends.

Not everyone has an equal ability to turn the law against those they oppose.

That creates a sense of injustice.

Those who feel the system of justice is biased against them have no reason to trust it.

That leads to anarchy and violence.

When a black teenager is presumed to have the right to beat to death if necessary a non-black adult following him and carrying a gun, then maybe I will believe that Stand Your Ground is not something intended to justify violence against minorities and outcasts.

Unless and until we value all lives fully. . .

Unless and until we hold people to account not for their prejudices but for when they act on those prejudices and biases . . .

then we will have case like this, where perhaps all we can do is to raise the questions that should have been asked a long time ago.

Read Blow's column.

Perhaps you will have some questions of your own.

Peace?

Originally posted to teacherken on Wed Jul 10, 2013 at 08:22 PM PDT.

Also republished by Trial Watch.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (34+ / 0-)

    "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

    by teacherken on Wed Jul 10, 2013 at 08:22:17 PM PDT

  •  There wasn't even going to be a trial (12+ / 0-)

    We have to remember that.

    It was only the protests by the citizenry that made the difference.

    www.tapestryofbronze.com

    by chloris creator on Wed Jul 10, 2013 at 08:40:24 PM PDT

  •  Great questions. (10+ / 0-)

    Although I think it is beyond the ability of many Americans to be able to consider such probing questions much less honestly answer them. I also think the state of journalism in the country is so poor as to make it impossible for the MSM to so much as conceive of asking them.

    Time makes more converts than reason. Thomas Paine, Common Sense

    by VTCC73 on Wed Jul 10, 2013 at 08:40:51 PM PDT

  •  Perhaps we can call this the Obama Gambit. (2+ / 0-)

    If the law, as written, is too hard to comply with, we can just suspend enforcing those parts of it that lead to socially or politically unsatisfactory results. Pragmatics, you know.

    Problem is, it's not new. Many have tried. Some succeeded, for lengthy periods. Until, of course, folk realized that, eventually, everything was suspended, in favor of the arbitrary. And when arbitrariness rules, there is no safety, no matter what credentials one possesses.

  •  Yeah. That happens a lot. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Judge Moonbox
    ...a valuable and profound dialogue in America about some important issues surrounding race and justice, fear and aggression, and legal guilt and moral culpability.
    A lot.

    Doesn't it?

    No disrespect teacherken - truly - but as a clarion call for real change, it does wear a bit thin.

    It ain't called paranoia - when they're really out to get you. 6 points.

    by Jaime Frontero on Wed Jul 10, 2013 at 09:30:55 PM PDT

  •  Misrepresenting what happened.... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    freegeorge
    Could his behavior, including that of disregarding the instruction not to follow Martin have been the result of being under the influence?
    It has been well established that the dispatcher did not instruct him to not follow Martin.  You should clarify that point as it is obviously wrong.  
    •  How is, "We don't need you to do that" (7+ / 0-)

      (follow Martin) not saying that?

      Racial hostility, homophobia and misogyny are braided together like strands of the same rope. When we fight one, we fight them all. - Charles M. Blow

      by blueoregon on Wed Jul 10, 2013 at 10:09:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It is not an instruction... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Sparhawk, WillR

        Read the diaries, this has been broadly discussed, including in the context that 911 operators cannot issue instructions due to their potential legal liability if things go wrong.  I don't think this is under any dispute, except in the reality free zone here.

        •  Similar to "Don't swim in the shark tank." (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Judge Moonbox, JVolvo

          I'm glad you feel the question has been settled in "the diaries."

          Time makes more converts than reason. Thomas Paine, Common Sense

          by VTCC73 on Thu Jul 11, 2013 at 12:08:35 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  sorry but I have been instructed when calling 9-11 (8+ / 0-)

          in two different circumstances

          in the first, i saw people get out of an unmarked truck, wall around my neighbor's house, go back to the truck then go into her house.  The dispatcher told me to stay where I was (inside my own house), wait for the officers to arrive and then go out and meet them.

          In the second, when I called in a vehicle that was driving erratically that had just gone off the road, I was asked if I were still on site.  When I said that I was, I was told to remain in my car, that officers would respond within 2 two minutes.  

          The first took place in Arlington VA in 1984.

          The second took place in Pennsylvania, in Chester County, last year.

          "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

          by teacherken on Thu Jul 11, 2013 at 05:33:33 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Absolutely, it is quite common (6+ / 0-)

            for a 911 operator to give instructions. If it involves a potential crime, they will commonly tell the caller not to get directly involved, police are on the way.

            They'll give medical instructions- from basic first aid to telling people to perform CPR while they wait for EMS to arrive. They'll even walk you through delivering a baby in an emergency.

            •  According... (0+ / 0-)

              ...to the sworn testimony of the very dispatcher who made the "we don't need you do that" comment, it was not an order because dispatchers are not allowed to give orders in their jobs. I would assume policies and training for dispatchers would vary area by area (and, maybe, even by "emergency" vs. "non-emergency" calls -- of which this was the latter).

  •  Gist... (11+ / 0-)
    When a black teenager is presumed to have the right to beat to death if necessary a non-black adult following him and carrying a gun, then maybe I will believe that Stand Your Ground is not something intended to justify violence against minorities and outcasts.
    I agree. Thanks for the post.

    "Corruptio Optimi Pessima" (Corruption of the best is the worst)

    by zenox on Wed Jul 10, 2013 at 10:24:30 PM PDT

    •  How would Martin... (0+ / 0-)

      ...have known that Zimmerman had a gun? If he didn't, that couldn't possibly have contributed to him feeling threatened. There has been not ONE shred of evidence, admitted or not, that Zimmerman was brandishing his gun (or that it was even visible) at any time except when Zimmerman claims it became visible after Zimmerman was on the ground under Martin.

      Zimmerman could have been brandishing his gun, he could have been beamed down by space aliens -- the evidence for both is about the same.

      Even the prosecution agrees that following someone is not illegal. They even praise people who keep an eye out on their neighborhoods.

      So, I sure hope we never get to the point where a "a black teenager is presumed to have the right to beat to death if necessary a non-black adult following him and carrying a gun" -- any more than I hope we ever get to the point where "a white teenager is presumed to have the right to beat to death if necessary a non-white adult following him and carrying a gun".

      Remember, as of yesterday, EVERY state in the US allows concealed carry in some form, and the vast majority are "shall issue" (i.e., anyone who isn't excluded due to, for example, a felony conviction, can get a permit - no reason to get one is required) and several don't even require a permit at all. So, one should assume that everyone is carrying a gun in most states in the union.

      •  aren't you leaving out part of what Zimmerman said (0+ / 0-)

        that Trayvon saw his gun and then started to beat him which is why he felt in fear of his life?  

        Is not at least one of Zimmerman's public statements at least implicitly the fear that Martin would get his gun?

        "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

        by teacherken on Thu Jul 11, 2013 at 03:01:49 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  That's a version of... (0+ / 0-)

          ...Zimmerman's story I've not heard - any pointers? Are you referring to something on the Hannity interview, which I've not seen (and assign much less weight to than I do interviews done under oath or to government investigators)?

          The only claim I heard from Zimmerman interviews/walk-through with the police is that Zimmerman was on his back with Martin beating him. Zimmerman was squirming to get his head off the concrete. Then (while on the ground) Zimmerman's jacket lifted up and Martin saw the firearm (and, IIRC, made a comment) and reached or grabbed for the firearm. At that point Zimmerman got to it first and shot Martin -- all apparently very quickly (I don't think Zimmerman ever estimated how long it was from Martin seeing the firearm to the shooting, but from his description it seems it must have been a very few seconds).

          Don't confuse the walk-through where Zimmerman motioned several things while standing up with no pretense this was a detailed re-creation (obviously it was not as during the walk-through, Zimmerman described being on the ground, but never got on the ground nor was he asked to by the detectives). There, while standing and describing/motioning what happened on the ground, he referred to Martin seeing his firearm but Zimmerman certainly didn't assert or imply that he was standing when that happened.

          •  don't remember where specifically (0+ / 0-)

            but i believe that led them to test gun for Martin's dna on it, and it wasn't

            "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

            by teacherken on Thu Jul 11, 2013 at 04:23:33 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  They did test for DNA on the gun... (0+ / 0-)

              ...and Martin's was not found. Indeed that's what led to one of the experts testifying as to how a hard surface such as a gun was not very good at capturing touch DNA and that porous materials such as cloth were better at capturing touch DNA (I don't think the prosecution refuted that at all -- but I missed some testimony here and there).

              But, the only "Martin saw gun and grabbed for it" I've heard in any evidence remains that of Zimmerman's statements (of which I may have missed some -- in particular the Hannity appearance) where Martin only saw the gun after allegedly having punched Zimmerman and allegedly begun to beat Zimmerman's head into the concrete. In that story, Martin grabbed for the gun within a moment of seeing it. Thus, it's hard to see how Martin thought he was being followed by an armed man before he had allegedly already punched Zimmerman and gotten and begun to beat him.

              If we dismiss all of Zimmerman's story because we assume it's completely unreliable, we are then left with no evidence about when the gun was first seen by Martin so can't conclude that Martin felt he was in danger due to Zimmerman's firearm.

              •  it doesn't matter what you can or can't conclude (0+ / 0-)

                the issue before the jury is that if they do not accept that Zimmerman is offering a credible story of self-defense then it is pretty easy to convict him of manslaughter because in following and then by leaving his car he was responsible for initiating the confrontation that lead to Martin's death.

                When defense closes tomorrow, they will try to narrow the focus to the 40 seconds or so of struggle to try to preserve a basis for self-defense.

                They get two hours.

                Prosecution gets last word, up to an hour to rebut defense closing.  And I expect they will remind the jury that had Zimmerman not followed, had Zimmerman not gotten out of his car, no confrontation between the two would have happened.

                And given the contradictory statements Zimmerman has offered, and how some of his statements conflict with evidence, does the jury want to accept his statement that it was self defense, that his actions had nothing to do with Martin attacking him . . .  "f*&ing &*^$s - they always get away"  is by itself sufficiently damning.

                "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

                by teacherken on Thu Jul 11, 2013 at 07:12:47 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  In Florida on these charges, (0+ / 0-)

                  it's my understanding that self-defense (unlike SYG) is not an affirmative defense -- so the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that it wasn't self-defense -- Zimmerman doesn't have to prove anything or offer any credible story. The jury doesn't have to accept Zimmerman's story on anything to acquit, instead they must look at the prosecution's case, taking into account rebuttal from the defense's case, and decide that the prosecution didn't prove it wasn't self defense.

                  Both M2 and manslaughter have the same requirement that the prosecution prove that it wasn't self-defense so if the jury decides the prosecution didn't meet their burden on this one aspect, they are done and can send the Not Guilty verdict to the judge and don't even have to think about other elements of either M2 or manslaughter.

                  The burden is pretty high for the prosecution and you are obviously confident they have met it -- I'm not, but then I may just be more "pro defendant" than you (much to the chagrin of prosecutors when I've been on a jury).

                  The prosecution has put on a very strange case - but I guess if you've got nothing and you're forced to prosecute w/o sufficient evidence, that's what you do as it beats getting fired.

                  Of course, one can never tell what a jury will do regardless of the facts or evidence -- the prosecutor is obviously hoping they convict on emotion because that's really his best shot -- I'm betting at least one of six will not fall for it.

      •  Everyone should really think carefully about this: (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        a2nite
        Remember, as of yesterday, EVERY state in the US allows concealed carry in some form, and the vast majority are "shall issue" (i.e., anyone who isn't excluded due to, for example, a felony conviction, can get a permit - no reason to get one is required) and several don't even require a permit at all. So, one should assume that everyone is carrying a gun in most states in the union.
        Feeling safer now?
        •  Agreed, but careful thought suggests... (0+ / 0-)

          ...that this may be a good thing.

          I realize it's "scary" to some, just as flying in commercial aircraft is scary to some and they instead chose more dangerous forms of transport such as private vehicles, but that's emotion driven rather than data driven and has no more place in public policy than teaching that the Earth is 6000 years old does.

          The shift in CCW laws has been dramatic over the past 25+ years. In 1986, only nine states had permissive "shall issue" or "unrestricted" (no permit required) for CCW while now only about eight states don't have such permissive CCW laws.

          If this shift were a problem, there should be plenty of convincing statistical evidence that it substantially increases crime, or violent crime, or firearms deaths, or even just firearms deaths due to CCW. However, that's not the case.

          Personally, if I lived in a neighborhood where .5% of the residents were criminals with a violent past, I'd feel quite a bit safer in a "shall issue" or "unrestricted" state than in a "may issue" or "no issue" state. I feel completely comfortable in a public place where I may be surrounded by people carrying concealed weapons legally -- indeed more comfortable than if there were none carrying legally concealed weapons around me (because I know there are some irresponsible criminals who are carrying illegal concealed weapons).

          I would agree if one is an arrogant asshole who picks fights with people and beats them up just to be a "bad ass" they might be concerned about the populace carrying concealed weapons. Since I don't fit in that category, it doesn't bother me (yes, I know, elitist of me).

          •  Good for you. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            IreGyre

            I happen to be a licensed gun owner, with a NYS "License to Carry Pistol" issued over four decades ago --- after having  passed a very extensive background check by state and federal authorities, in addition to (incidentally) having my application endorsed by my (then) county chief of detectives.

            I would only ask that others permitted to carry arms would be required to pass similar scrutiny, similar to what is called for here:

            NY SAFE Act

            Any problem with that?

            •  I favor objective, achievable requirements. (0+ / 0-)

              Although I'm comfortable with "unrestricted" carry (i.e., no permit required, although felons and other excluded parties may be banned from carrying), I favor reasonable permitting requirements.

              These requirements should/could:

              • Include reasonable training requirements. Both theoretical (laws, responsibility, safe operation of firearms in defense situations) and practical applied training. A person of average capabilities with a little prior experience with handguns should be able to complete this with perhaps 30 hours of effort.
              • Fees that no more than cover the cost of processing the application, are capped at a reasonable level (perhaps $250 in 2013 dollars), and with a subsidy for very low income individuals.
              • Periodic (perhaps every three to five years) renewal requirements that have require only nominal fees (perhaps $50) and require no more than one hour for the average person.
              • Training and testing requirements include reasonable accommodations for those with disabilities where those disabilities, mental or physical, do not prevent safe handling and use of a firearm.
              • Excludes those who fail reasonable objective criteria such as having a violent felony conviction or having been adjudged to be mentally incompetent. Such restrictions should not exclude a significant percentage of the population.

              Obviously, the minutia is open to discussion -- I just picked some numbers for "scope" purposes. However, overall, the process should be, at worst, only slightly more difficult and costly then getting and maintaining a driver's license (note most states make it too easy to get a driver's license - ref. over 30K traffic deaths a year in the US vs. only a tiny number of deaths resulting from unjustified use of CCW although there are about 8 million CCW permits - not counting states where NO permit is required).

              I do not support anything that requires the subjective approval of any person, including employees, elected or not, of the government. Unfortunately that results in only wealthy and politically connected individual being able to get CCW permits in some areas (including areas I have lived in).

              As far as the link you provided, I have no opinion as I can't quickly find any reference to CCW permits on there.

  •  Reposted to 'Trial Watch', GZ is 100% responsible (6+ / 0-)

    Whether the evil racist criminal injustice system makes him pay for his evil actions, well see.

    Tipped & rec'ed

    nosotros no somos estúpidos

    by a2nite on Thu Jul 11, 2013 at 06:42:19 AM PDT

  •  I was wondering if the prosecution would use... (0+ / 0-)

    the "Time to Kill" defense by asking the jury to imagine Trayvon as being a white female teenager.

    I think it would be perfect.  I cannot imagine this not being murder 1 if the victim was a young blonde pretty white girl and the shooter was a black male adult.  

    They would be demanding the death penalty.

    "Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not YET sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favour..."

    by Buckeye Nut Schell on Thu Jul 11, 2013 at 09:10:55 AM PDT

    •  Umm... (0+ / 0-)

      ...that's a bit of a loaded comparison as the "young pretty white girl" implies smaller and not as strong to most people (it may be an inaccurate characterization in any particular case, but it's statistically accurate).

      A better comparison would be to assume that Martin was white but identical to Martin in all other ways and Zimmerman was black but identical in all other ways to Zimmerman. Otherwise, we are mixing gender issues into the discussion.

      But, in neither case, would there be enough evidence to convict of Murder 1. I can't say for sure if the Sanford police would have handled it differently but sadly I suspect there would have been some differences. At the end of the day though, given the non-emergency dispatch call and the history provided by that, I don't think a prosecution would have happened as it did here -- there just isn't enough evidence to convict of Murder 1 or Murder 2. The prosecution happened in the end because Zimmerman is white and Martin was black.

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