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George Zimmerman is not guilty under the laws of this country or the state of Florida. Note that I do not say “he was found not guilty.” He is not guilty under the law. And that’s because the law is inadequate.

The problem, ultimately, was not the controversial “Stand Your Ground” law. While that law is insane and should be repealed as soon as possible, and while it certainly didn’t help matters, it was not what allowed Zimmerman to get away with killing a child. What did? The simple fact that there were no eyewitnesses and no physical evidence conclusive enough, to the jury, to convict a man of murder, or even manslaughter. We live in a nation of laws and some of the most important ones establish very high standards for criminal convictions. It is right that this is the case.

But while George Zimmerman is not guilty, he is obviously not innocent either. That can hardly be disputed, and anyone who does so needs to seriously re-examine his or her personal prejudices and biases. And I don’t just mean about race. I mean about age. I mean about gun rights and gun control. I mean about various subcultural differences. If you don’t think George Zimmerman and his profoundly stupid choices are the direct and sole cause of the death of Trayvon Martin, you are wrong and you need to take a look inside yourself.

The reason this is true does not even have to be about race. There are, of course, racial dimensions to this crime, but if you don’t buy that, you don’t have to. Let’s pretend that George Zimmerman did not have a track record of using offensive language to refer to young black men, including on the phone, referring to Martin, with the police, the very night the young man was killed. Let’s ignore that. Let’s pretend that he had every legitimate reason to be suspicious of Martin. For the sake of argument, we’ll concede all of that.

Why didn’t he stop following the kid when the police told him to?

Zimmerman claims he had turned around to go back to his vehicle, but even the defense’s own experts ultimately admitted that this part of his story was basically impossible, based on the location of the struggle and various other elements of the crime scene. The facts on the ground, whatever else they may say, clearly prove that Zimmerman kept following Martin after the police told him to stop and wait. He decided to be a macho cowboy.

If Zimmerman stops following Martin, nobody dies that night. And isn’t that the best possible outcome? If this unidentified young man does turn out to be some kind of criminal, the cops will find him–if he even sticks around, which is unlikely, because he clearly knew he was being followed–and if he doesn’t turn out to be a criminal, no harm no foul.

Again: If Zimmerman stops following Martin, nobody dies that night.

That is responsibility. That is causation. And Zimmerman, carrying a loaded firearm as he was, had to be aware that choosing to disobey a direct instruction from the police and pursuing a confrontation carried with it the risk of a death, either his own or his quarry’s. So if I decide to run through the house with scissors, knowing full well I may stumble and seriously injure myself if I do, how can I not be responsible for an injury if it occurs? Obviously it might not occur, just as Zimmerman’s actions could conceivably not have ended with him shooting a child to death. But if it does, I have no one to blame but myself. I entered into a situation I knew could cause a certain outcome, and that outcome occurred. My fault.

The problem is that the law does not agree with me here, at least not clearly enough. A case could conceivably have been made for involuntary manslaughter or reckless endangerment, but such a case would have been a bit of a stretch and would presumably have ruled out a case for murder or voluntary manslaughter.

The law does not work. It is not broken, but it has a serious deficiency. George Zimmerman got away with killing a child. It doesn’t matter if Martin struck first. It doesn’t matter if Zimmerman truly believed he was in danger and therefore fired his weapon in self-defense. These things do not matter because the situation only presented itself as a result of Zimmerman’s stupid cowboy machismo. If you create a situation where a death is not only possible but highly so, to the point of almost being probable, there must be some kind of accountability. In the laws presently on the books, there is not enough such accountability.

“Stand Your Ground” is a terrible idea. It can, should, and will be repealed. “The Castle Doctrine” will probably follow it sometime in the next decade or two, as will the law that allowed a Texas man to murder a woman for not having sex with him. But those laws do not cause the toxic, dangerous, and deadly cowboy culture that leads people to do something like what Zimmerman did. They exist because of that culture. They validate and justify it. Simply getting rid of them will not stop future George Zimmermans, nor will they close the current hole in the law.

We must not merely seek to eliminate the legal structures that protect the cowboy culture. We must also seek to create new legal structures that punish it. There should have been a law in place that would have punished Zimmerman for pursuing Martin with a loaded firearm even if he hadn’t ended up killing the kid. The very act of creating that situation should have been a crime.

We, as Americans, don’t like to think this way. We don’t like to think that actions have consequences, that nothing happens in a vacuum. We don’t like to think that a small business goes under because Wal-Mart came into town and lowballed their prices. We don’t like to think that people lose their jobs and homes and assets because of something someone on Wall Street did. We don’t like to think that people turn to a life of crime because of circumstances they couldn’t control. We don’t like to think that most criminals are not evil but desperate. And while we like to think that everything happens for a reason, we do not like to think that the reason might be someone else’s wickedness or stupidity.

We are afraid to confront the real world. The real world is one in which things are so messed up because we keep allowing them to be messed up, because we are allowed to do every cruel, evil, foolish thing we want to do, all in the name of freedom and liberty, and if it causes something bad to happen, whether to ourselves or to others, it’s not our fault.

But we need to move past that. We cannot fail to learn a lesson from this tragedy. Every action has many consequences. It is time that the people who commit those actions are held accountable for the consequences. If you wreak havoc on the environment, you pay for every bad thing that happens due to global warming. If your company does business with factories in the developing world that don’t pay their workers a living wage or guarantee their safety, you get prosecuted in this country.

And if you follow a kid into the dark night, armed with a loaded firearm, having been told by the police not to do so, you pay the price for shooting him dead.

Other commentators can talk and have talked about the race issues in this case. That’s not what’s on my mind. All I can think of is that I live in a culture which believes a person should be able to do whatever he or she wants to do, damn the consequences until someone gets hurt or killed, but never mind that those consequences could easily have been avoided. I live in a nation in which every single state allows people to walk around carrying loaded weapons. I live in a society which values the right of those gun owners to follow anyone they deem suspicious enough to warrant it.

I’m not black. I’m not brown. I’m a straight white male in my twenties. But I am afraid for my life.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I disagree with one key point (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    General Goose, VClib
    There should have been a law in place that would have punished Zimmerman for pursuing Martin with a loaded firearm even if he hadn’t ended up killing the kid. The very act of creating that situation should have been a crime.
    This is the same type of logic that ultimately led to Marissa Alexander getting 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot, and I don't think many people here feel that's fair, either.

    I also feel that the castle doctrine should stand, at least with cases that can be shown to be self-defense (i.e., there is some evidence that the victim is either armed or was in the act of committing a crime).

    We don't want our country back, we want our country FORWARD. --Eclectablog

    by Samer on Mon Jul 22, 2013 at 09:56:02 AM PDT

  •  If Obama says the stand your ground law is at faul (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Tonedevil, politicalceci

    at fault, then I believe Obama.

    SYG and George Zimmerman white racism are the reasons why Trayvon is dead.

  •  asdf (3+ / 0-)
    Let’s pretend that George Zimmerman did not have a track record of using offensive language to refer to young black men, including on the phone
    We don't have to pretend; he didn't.
  •  I can only recommend this once, sadly. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    a2nite, Jocelyn9596

    Far too few people understand cause and effect.

    GZ was not using the reasonable prudence the law requires of us in all other situations, and what happened next was the result.

    I've invited the lawyers here to explain why the law shouldn't recognize that, but can't remember ever getting an answer.

    Freedom isn't free. Patriots pay taxes.

    by Dogs are fuzzy on Mon Jul 22, 2013 at 02:05:24 PM PDT

  •  Created a situation where death is highly likely?? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Victor Ward

    You have got to be kidding. He gets out of his car and looks for TM, that makes death highly likely?  

    •  He was carrying a hollow point loaded pistol which (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Jocelyn9596

      had no safety. How safe is that?

      To0 bad he didn't put a round thru his own ass as he was getting out of his truck.

      Everybody wins and a kid doesn't get dead for walking.

      •  Then talk about carrying a gun (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Victor Ward

        Not getting out of his car.  I agree that Florida gives out carry permits like party favors and that's a problem, but that's what the diarist was talking about.  He said getting out of the car to look for TM was creating a risk of death.  How about a situation where there was some kind of criminal in your neighborhood?  Does everyone stay in their cars and hide?  The diarist should think through the ramifications of what he is suggesting.

        •  It is pretty clear in this particular incident (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Jocelyn9596

          that had GZ stayed in his truck nobody dies. That he violates every protocol of the neighborhood watch organization proves how these simple rules protect watchers and people that a watch might think is up to no good, who turn out to be somebody walking home from a store.

          No harm is done by calling the non emergency dispatcher at the cop shop. Chasing after Martin on foot while armed and not identifying himself to Trayvon and telling him the cops are on the way, ends up with an innocent minor shot dead.

        •  I did. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Grabber by the Heel
          And Zimmerman, carrying a loaded firearm as he was, had to be aware that choosing to disobey a direct instruction from the police and pursuing a confrontation carried with it the risk of a death, either his own or his quarry’s.
          Also, I didn't think I had to belabor the point since we all know we're talking about a "shooting death." The vast majority of those involve a firearm.
  •  He killed the only other witness, the victim of (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Grabber by the Heel

    murder, TRAYVON MARTIN

    nosotros no somos estúpidos

    by a2nite on Mon Jul 22, 2013 at 03:11:15 PM PDT

  •  Oh, tipped and rec'ed completely agree about (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Grabber by the Heel

    being afraid of all of these people carrying guns in public.

    We aren't safer.

    nosotros no somos estúpidos

    by a2nite on Mon Jul 22, 2013 at 03:17:05 PM PDT

  •  Diary based on a lie. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Victor Ward
    Why didn’t he stop following the kid when the police told him to?
    Dispatcher didn't tell zimm to stop following.
    Dispatcher ON THE STAND told the court that they do not give orders or commands because they become directly liable for what happens after a person follows such a command or order.

    THIS is the dispatcher telling you that what I say is the truth.

    http://www.youtube.com/...

    http://youtu.be/...

    I have no idea why it doesn't look like it is embedding in the comment preview, so there are the direct links.

    Now get yourself a song to sing, and sing it till you're done.

    by JayFromPA on Mon Jul 22, 2013 at 04:56:05 PM PDT

    •  Oh you're just precious. (0+ / 0-)

      If you look into the context of neighborhood watch programs, what the dispatcher said was unequivocal.

      •  Are you pulling some obi wan kenobi shit? (0+ / 0-)

        "From a certain point of view, darth vader killed anakin skywalker. From a certain point of view..."

        Are you really going to pull an obi wan kenobi song and dance in order to uphold a claim that words came from the dispatcher that were not recorded?

        Are you going to come out with something like "From a certain point of view, the dispatcher told zimmerman to halt where he was. From a certain point of view...."

        Oh bless your heart, you obi wan kenobi wannabe!

        Now get yourself a song to sing, and sing it till you're done.

        by JayFromPA on Mon Jul 22, 2013 at 07:45:40 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Neighborhood watch programs explicitly tell (0+ / 0-)

          volunteers not to confront anyone. The program Zimmerman was a part of was no different. (They also tell volunteers not to carry weapons.) In that context, "We don't need you to do that" is a clear reminder of that instruction.

          •  Neighboorhood Watch is not a patrol... (0+ / 0-)

            People are assuming that it was Zimmerman's job to patrol the neighborhood.  Neighborhood watch is a program that only requires residents to be more alert in their everyday activities.  If you see something out of the ordinary, call the cops.  That's it.  

            If you feel the need to patrol your neighborhood, then you are paranoid, sick in the head, and need to get a life.

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