We’ve all heard about the Trayvon Martin shooting. The 17 year-old kid was shot by a 28 year-old man named George Zimmerman. What is unfortunate is the fact that this case has turned into a circus of accusations of racism. I say this is unfortunate not because I don’t believe racism has played a part in how this case has been handled so far (I’m withholding judgement at this time) but because it has injected strong emotions into this case making it impossible to determine what actually happened. I’ve already been accused of being a racist because I asked what evidence exists at this point instead of mindlessly marching along with the crown yelling, “RACISM!”
From what I’ve been able to gather so far Zimmerman was the captain of his local neighborhood watch group. Upon seeing Martin running in the rain Zimmerman called 911 and reported the apparently suspicious kid, then pursued the kid even when told by the 911 operator to not do so:
It has emerged that Mr Zimmerman, acting as a neighbourhood watch volunteer, had called police several times in the months before the shooting to report incidents.
Call logs and recordings show that Mr Zimmerman called police on 26 February, reporting there had been break-ins in the community.
He told police there was “a real suspicious guy” who “looks like he’s up to no good”.
When he said he was following the person he had identified as suspicious, the dispatcher said: “We don’t need you to do that.”
Using a expletive, Mr Zimmerman expressed his frustration, saying “these assholes always get away”.
Zimmerman wasn’t held, a fact that is being blamed on Florida’s “stand your ground” law:
The incident sheds light on Florida’s seven-year-old self-defence law, which critics say is too lenient.
The law, nicknamed a “stand your ground” or “shoot first” statute, gives protection from criminal prosecution or civil liability to people who claim self-defence after a shooting or violent incident.
One of the most expansive such laws in the US, it states that people have no duty to retreat from a place they are legally allowed to be, and have the right to use deadly force if they “reasonably” believe they or another person are threatened with death or serious harm.
Before 2005, deadly force was only allowed if the perpetrator had shown that he or she had tried to avoid confrontation.
Needless to say I had to look up the language of Florida’s law:
(3) A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
Those criticizing Florida’s “stand your ground” law haven’t been very forthcoming with details. They blame the law for Zimmerman’s current state as a free person. The first question I had to ask was whether or not the police department had any evidence that doubting Zimmerman’s story about the case being one of self-defense. All I found out is that asking this will get you labeled a racist, but the question is of the utmost importance. Did the police who freed Zimmerman review the 911 recording? If not what other evidence existed that countered Zimmerman’s story?
After review of the 911 call and other evidence it seems likely that Zimmerman was the aggressor in this case. The 911 operator told Zimmerman to cease is pursuit and an affidavit from one of Martin’s friends further adds to the pile of evidence against Zimmerman:
Mr Crump played a recorded affidavit from the young woman in which she describes Martin’s last phone call. She spoke with him repeatedly while he visited Sanford, the Orlando suburb where he died.
According to the affidavit, Martin was walking back from a shop with his phone in his pocket connected to a headset earphone.
He ran to a nearby building to take shelter from the rain and then pulled up his hoodie before he walked the rest of the way back. He then realised that someone was following him.
“I asked Trayvon to run, and he said he was going to walk fast. I told him to run, but he said he was not going to run,” ABC News quoted the 16-year-old as saying.
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He eventually ran, but Mr Zimmerman caught up with him.
The young woman heard Martin ask Mr Zimmerman repeatedly why he was following him and then heard his headset falling, losing contact with him.
Martin was fleeing a potential aggressor, and likely made no threatening move against Zimmerman until Zimmerman initiated the encounter. Since Florida’s law states “A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be” the question about Zimmerman’s initiation of contact after pursuing Martin constitutes unlawful activity. If Zimmerman did chase down Martin and engage in physical restraint I would call that an unlawful initiation of force, but I’m also not a lawyer and I don’t have all the facts.
The other part of the law that states “any other place where he or she has a right to be” brings up a question of property rights. Did Zimmerman pursue Martin across private property? If so did the property owner give prior permission for Zimmerman to enter his or her property? The question I’m raising is whether or not the property owner recognized the neighborhood watch detachment and whether or not he or she was OK with members of the neighborhood watch entering the property. Unless given permission you have no right to be on another’s property.
I believe answers to these questions are necessary before one begins blaming the “stand your ground” law. Truthfully I doubt these questions will be answered because the case has become about racism, and therefore all other questions are being entirely tossed to the wayside.
From the evidence we have available now I would say Zimmerman suffered from a hero complex. He wanted to be a hero and saw an opportunity, in his mind, to claim his status by apprehending a suspect. Most people would be unwilling to pursue somebody unless they had real cause to do so. Pursuing or otherwise engaging somebody you suspect to be guilty of a crime is a risky proposition because you’re putting yourself into a situation that can escalate into violence very quickly.
Another question I raise is whether or not a recent crime had been reported to Zimmerman. Was a home in the neighborhood broken into within hours of Zimmerman’s contact with Martin? If not what ground did Zimmerman have to suspect Martin of wrongdoing? If it was merely the other break-ins that the neighborhood experience in days gone by there was no reason to believe Martin was the suspect. Simply walking in the rain while wearing a hoodie doesn’t make one suspicious of crimes occurring in the past, if such evidence did qualify I’d say a good portion of the neighborhood I live in would be labeled criminal suspects. It seems Martin may have simply been a target of convenience for Zimmerman, a person who could be detained to elevate his status from lowly unknown neighborhood watch captain to the hero of the community.
What I worry about now is whether or not a fair trial will occur. The case has devolved into a racist witch hunt, meaning people are demanding somebody be punished and that somebody is Zimmerman. Police in that region are going to be under heavy pressure to make themselves look like they’re fighting racism and thus will be motivated to prove Zimmerman guilty whether or he is. A jury ruling Zimmerman innocent at this point could lead its members being accused of racism and therefore hunted down after the trail, it would be easier for them to simply rule Zimmerman guilty regardless of the evidence. If the grand jury currently decided if this case will go to trail say no I fear for the members of that jury.
Witch hunts are never good because those hunting for witches will find them. If the witch they find isn’t actually a witch they won’t care, in their eyes somebody must be burned at the stake for witchcraft. What I’ve said isn’t a call for finding Zimmerman innocent, nor a call for finding Zimmerman guilty, that is for a jury to decide in my opinion. Racism is an ugly thing because it creates strong emotional hatred in people, hatred that can only be satisfied through physical punishment of somebody. Once racism enters the field it’s impossible for everybody to walk away unscathed. In this case the police department that didn’t detain Zimmerman, the grand jury, and the jury involved if the case goes to trail are all facing potential accusations of racism and their only way out is to rule Zimmerman guilty. This doesn’t set a good foundation for a fair trial, a tragedy because trails should be used to rule innocence or guilt based on objective evidence. If Zimmerman is guilty of murder he should be convicted of such, if he is innocent of murder he should be allowed to walk free. Sadly the mere act of brining up Zimmerman’s potential innocence gets you labeled a racist so it’s not even an easy case to talk about.