Sunday, July 14, 2013

Until There Is Justice For Us All




"They did WHAT now?"
Last night I was on Twitter shortly after the news broke that George Zimmerman had been found not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. To say that people did not take this news well would be an understatement. Proclamations of "justice denied", "racism is alive and well", "it's OK to shoot black people" and more peppered Twitter feeds and other online social media. The intensity of the passion that people felt in the aftermath of this verdict is quite understandable.
 
Consider what we know:
 
  • George Zimmerman on neighborhood watch spotted Trayvon Martin in his neighborhood.
  • Zimmerman calls 911 and reports he is going to confront Martin.
  • The 911 operator tells Zimmerman not to confront Martin.
  • Zimmerman confronts Martin.
  • Martin, apparently feeling threatened by Zimmerman, physically lashes out at Zimmerman. 
  • Zimmerman, who is armed, shoots Martin who is not armed, resulting in Martin's death.
 
 Now there are a few things are that are unknown or unclear.

  • Screams recorded at the time of the confrontation were never definitively identified; the mothers of both George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin both testified the voice was that of her son. 

  • The lack of physical evidence was of particular consternation for both sides. Zimmerman said Martin was beating him, causing Zimmerman to fear for his life yet there was very little blood. The shooting occurred on a rainy evening; the rain diminished any physical evidence. 

And then there are the issues of law.

The prosecution may have aimed too high by charging Zimmerman with 2nd degree murder instead of manslaughter.

2nd degree murder is to take the life of someone with hatred or bad intent for that person even though the act was not premeditated. Given the paucity of evidence of what Zimmerman's intent was, it's hard to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Zimmerman acted with any kind of hatred or bad intent towards Martin. 

Zimmerman cited self-defense to justify his actions as allowed by Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law.

In most states, taking lethal action in self defense is a defense only if there is no other recourse. In other words, if there is no option to fight or disarm or run away or get help and there is no other option, you can take action to defend yourself.  But you will still need to justify that. Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law takes all of those considerations off the table. Lethal force is on the same level as fighting, disarming, feeling, etc. 

Now there is a good intent behind "Stand Your Ground". In a moment of crisis, perhaps you shouldn't be expected to think through and process all your options; if you do all that, you  
might be dead. The bad consequence of "Stand Your Ground" is that it allows for a "Shoot First, Maybe Ask Questions Later" mind set. In the case of George Zimmerman, it could be argued that "Stand Your Ground" gave him a shield against the consequences of whatever happened in his confrontation with Trayvon Martin.


So was the non-guilty verdict on behalf of George Zimmerman a "miscarriage of justice" as one person impetuously posted on Twitter?

OK, it was me who posted that. And yes, for whatever my opinion may count, it was a miscarriage of justice. Someone is dead and the person who directly caused that death is not to be held accountable for it in the eyes of the law. Trayvon Martin's death was not an accident; Martin may well be alive to day if Zimmerman had listened to the 911 operator and just backed off. But Zimmerman disregarded that counsel which was poor judgment on his part and started the chain of events that lead to Zimmerman shooting Martin. For that alone, Zimmerman should have answered for that.

But as a matter of law, the jury of the Zimmerman case may have had no choice to but to deliver the verdict they did. (For more on that, see this post from CNN.com.)The requirements to prosecute and convict under 2nd degree murder appear to be beyond the reach of the available evidence.

And as long as "Stand Your Ground" is the law of Florida, that lack of evidence was particularly not supportive of a guilty verdict.

But let me address one more thing that I've tap danced around in this discourse: the issue of race.

There's a lot open to speculation and precious little in the way of facts. But let's speculate for a bit:

  • Would Zimmerman have been equally suspicious if Trayvon Martin had been white?
  • Would there had been a successful invocation of self-defense if Zimmerman was black?

Of course, we can't know the answer to either of these because that's not how the terrible tragedy played out. To speculate on alternatives, isn't that being just a bit paranoid?

Maybe so but consider this:

In May of last year, Marissa Alexander of Jacksonville FL was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing warning shots against her allegedly abusive husband. The judge rejected a defense under Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law. (See here for the story,)

Mrs. Alexander is black.

George Zimmerman shoots and kills Trayvon Martin, a black teenager who had taken no action against Zimmerman until Zimmerman confronted him.  Zimmerman cites self-defense and he walked out of a court room last night a free man.

And these kinds of differences in legal outcomes still play out far to often in our courts. Yes, America has made great strides in racial equality and justice over the last half-century. But our work is not done. Not until there is justice for us all.

The same justice. For us all.

________________________


Dave-El can also be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DayWayLo

Illustration from Gorilla Rants at Ron Black Radio.com via Bing.com.

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