It is not possible to consider the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman without taking race into account. The tragic story and the acquittal of Zimmerman has proven once again the danger of being young and black in America.

If George Zimmerman had been minding his own business and obeyed a police dispatcher instead of stalking a teenager he had racially profiled, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin would still be alive today.

It is not beyond belief that had Trayvon Martin been white, he would still be alive today. Moreover, if he had been white and shot dead, someone would have been in jail for his killing.

The message the Florida jury sent out with a not guilty verdict for Zimmerman was if you arm yourself, stalk a black kid, get into a confrontation and then shoot that kid dead in self defence, you are home free.

Heck you’ll more than likely get your gun back as you leave the court...if in fact you get to court.

The Zimmerman verdict of not guilty has to be respected as any jury verdict must be. 

That does not mean it is right or just. Many verdicts in the past have been lawful, but have still failed to deliver justice. That’s the system. The jury has spoken.

In this case the defence hinged on the application of the stand your ground law .

As US Attorney General Eric Holder pointed out after the verdict, this law seems to have eliminated the common sense and aged-old requirement that people who feel threatened outside their home have a duty to retreat if they can do so safely.

Stand your ground laws, according to Holder, fix something that was never broken - the right to use deadly force if no safe retreat is possible.

We await the outcome of the Department of Justice’s now year long inquiry into the Zimmerman/Martin case.

The outcome of that inquiry will determine whether the DoJ takes a federal case against Zimmerman for breach of Martin’s civil rights.

It could be a tough call and Holder is by no means committing to anything yet. But he is not ruling it out either.

The DoJ would have to at least be confident of proving, amongst other hurdles, that Zimmerman pulled the trigger and violated Martin’s civil rights because of his hate for Martin as a black man.

That’s a big call, but surely it has already been established that Zimmerman stalked Martin because of his race.

The wanna be cop who had been refused entry to the police force, decided this black kid was suspicious. It was to be neighbourhood watch ninja Zimmerman’s moment to rid the nice neighbourhood of another “fucking asshole” - as he described Martin to the police dispatcher, adding “these sorts always get away with it”.

By “these sorts” Zimmerman means young blacks.

Had Trayvon Martin been white, would Zimmerman have noticed him as out of place, followed him in his car and then on foot and instigated the fatal confrontation? Of course not. He wouldn’t have batted an eyelid.

The defence team successfully argued that Zimmerman had been scared for his life. Really? Then why did he leave the safety of his car?

Why did he not obey the police dispatcher who told him to stop following the hooded youth?

The whole saga has been tragic - from Martin’s death on February 26, 2012, through the 44 days it took for prosecutors to even consider charging his killer, to the glaring fact that the jury in this case had absolutely no idea, no empathy at all, with a 17-year-old black kid who was being followed by someone he told a friend on the phone was creeping him out.

Of course it is creepy to have someone stalk you. More so when they turn out to be armed and confrontational.

All Martin was doing was completely lawfully walking home from a store armed with Skittles and iced tea. Did he not have a right to defend himself against a creepy guy following him?

We will never know what actually happened during the confrontation as Trayvon Martin is dead. Zimmerman offered five or six stories to the authorities, before settling on the one presented to the court. 

It is impossible to take the race component out of this story. It is race that explains this case. It lies at the heart of it. 

Travyon Martin simply was not seen by Zimmerman or the justice system as a person with equal rights.

Was the confrontation with his stalker not Martin's right to defend himself, or did he forfeit that by virtue of being young and African American?

Least this seems too strong, it is important to remember that had there not been enormous political pressure and petitions to arrest Zimmerman, he would never have faced trial.

President Obama can take ‘credit’ for being part of that political process when he said at the outset that if he had a son he would look like Trayvon. That really personalised this story, and it politicised it. However race in America has a long history of politicization. 

Now Obama and other American leaders have to come up with something to assure the parents of young black kids that, in the 25 US states that have stand your ground laws, it is not open season on their kids.

When the lead prosecutor, District Attorney Angela Corey was asked after the verdict to describe in one word George Zimmerman, she said “murderer”. Her one word description of Trayvon Martin was “prey”...and spelt out the p-r-E-y to avoid any misunderstanding that she might have said pray.

Americans do pray in cases like this. Churches were full, sermons were forceful. But Trayvon Martin deserves more than prayers.

His death symbolises the loss of young African Americans to gun violence every day. Often they shoot each other, but that is irrelevant. Unnecessarily dead is still dead.

It will be tragic if after all the attention this case attracted, nothing more is done so it is to be hoped the DoJ gives it a really good shot, so to speak.

Given the massive defeat for Obama on gun control, despite public support topping 90%, Trayvon Martin will more than likely end up being just another black kid who was in the right place at the right time - or wrong place at the wrong time.

Therefore, beware the other George Zimmermans lurking out there.    

 

 


Comments (16)

by Ross on July 18, 2013
Ross

In this case the defence hinged on the application of the stand your ground law .

Zimmerman's defence hinged on his claim of self-defence, a defence which the jury seemed to accept. How did Zimmerman receive a bleeding nose and other injuries? Clearly, if his intention was to murder Martin, he could have done so from a distance without Martin being able to inflict injuries on the accused.

http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/05/16/report-details-zimmermans-injuries-on-night-of-trayvon-martin-shooting/

http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2013/06/10/2127201/how-george-zimmerman-could-be-acquitted-of-murder/?mobile=nc

If George Zimmerman had been minding his own business and obeyed a police dispatcher instead of stalking a teenager he had racially profiled, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin would still be alive today.

If Martin had been tucked up in bed that fateful evening, he would still be alive today.

by BeShakey on July 18, 2013
BeShakey

Pretty impressive powers of clairvoyance and mind reading on display in the article. Perhaps juries don't reach decisions you like because of their inferior powers.

by Ross on July 18, 2013
Ross

it is important to remember that had there not been enormous political pressure and petitions to arrest Zimmerman, he would never have faced trial

In other words, the only reason Zimmerman was charged was because of political pressure. I always get concerned when decisions to prosecute are dictated by politicians with an axe to grind. 

by Andrew Geddis on July 18, 2013
Andrew Geddis

If Martin had been tucked up in bed that fateful evening, he would still be alive today.

Given that Martin walked to a grocery store to buy a drink of iced tea, this is a pretty strong demand. What's the message - if you are a young, black man, don't go out on the streets after dark for any reason ... because if you do and you end up dead, then it's your own fault?

I also think we need a bit of perspective here. Let's accept that the jury's verdict was "right", in that Zimmerman acted in self defence as this is understood by Florida law.  This then means that the law in Florida says that it is OK for a person armed with a handgun (Zimmerman) to follow after another person he thinks simply looks suspicious (Martin), then use that handgun to kill Martin if Martin sees him as a threat and so attacks him.

That's a pretty fucked up law.

by Ross on July 18, 2013
Ross

This then means that the law in Florida says that it is OK for a person armed with a handgun (Zimmerman) to follow after another person he thinks simply looks suspicious (Martin), then use that handgun to kill Martin if Martin sees him as a threat and so attacks him.

Self-defence is also a legitimate defence in New Zealand. Several years ago, a burglar, armed with a videotape, attacked a neighbour of the burgled property after the neighbour confronted the burglar. The neighbour was armed with a gun. The burglar was shot and killed. The niehgbour's house was not being burgled at the time. The neighbour wasn't charged. From memory this took place in Auckland.

by Ross on July 18, 2013
Ross

President Obama said if he had a son, he would "look like Trayvon Martin". That might be true, but I doubt very much if Obama's son would behave like Martin.

http://theconservativetreehouse.com/2012/05/24/update-26-part-2-trayvon-martin-shooting-a-year-of-drug-use-culminates-in-predictable-violence/

by stuart munro on July 19, 2013
stuart munro

Curious to me was that it only required a six-strong all-white jury. But the stand-your-ground defence seems like it ought to need a better than reasonable doubt standard of proof, or anyone can gun anyone down anywhere.

Like OJ Simpson this case will divide America along its racial fault lines.

by Ross on July 19, 2013
Ross

Bob Dekle, a retired prosecutor who also teaches at UF Law, said, "'Stand your ground' turns out to have been a huge red herring [in the Zimmerman case]. The result very well could have been the same prior to enactment of the law."

Dekle, a critic of "stand your ground" provisions, said that even if a person initiates a fight, they always have had the right to defend themselves if they're in fear of death or great bodily harm. "You don't forfeit your right to do whatever you need to do to live simply because you've been a jerk," Dekle said.

"...While it is true that Martin would still be alive if Zimmerman had simply continued on his shopping trip to Target, it is also true, based on the story told by the defense, that Martin would still be alive if he had simply gone home instead of confronting and assaulting Zimmerman."

http://reason.com/blog/2013/07/18/stand-your-ground-critics-admit-it-was-a

by Andrew Geddis on July 19, 2013
Andrew Geddis

Ross,

Yes, self defence is a part of NZ law. But it would not apply in a situation analogous to the Zimmerman case. How do we know? Bruce Emery is how we know.

Florida law allows someone to arm themselves with a deadly weapon and patrol the streets looking for criminals - then to use that weapon if one of those "criminals" sees you as a threat and so attacks you. New Zealand law doesn't. That's a pretty key difference in how the law of "self defence" works in each place. The question then is, which is the better law? And I know which one I prefer.

by Colin Gavaghan on July 19, 2013
Colin Gavaghan

I'm not sure we can infer as much from the Emery decision. Of course, unlike Florida, we don't have interviews with jury members to gain insight into their deliberations (thank the gods!), but there are certainly differences bewtween the two cases that would give me pause to reach such a conclusion.

For one thing, Bruce Emery seems to have taken up the knife immediately before pursuing Messrs Cameron and Ringrose. George Zimmerman did not arm himself immediately before pursuing Trayvon Martin, but seems to have have been routinely armed.  Is this relevant? Well, it may be, if it goes to show something about the mindset with which the pursuit began. If I armed myself immediately before pursuing someone, it may be open to the jury to draw some inferences about what I intended, or at least foresaw as likely, to follow. I'm glad I don't live in a society where people go about routinely armed. But George Zimmerman does, and the jury probably didn't read as much into the fact as a NZ jury would.

Secondly, according to the sentencing notes of Hugh Williams J: 'it seems there was almost no physical contact beyond Mr Cameron and perhaps Mr Ringrose spray-painting or trying to spray-paint you [Emery] and then, secondly, when you [Emery] stabbed Mr Cameron in the right side of the chest.' This is certainly different from George Zimmerman's account of the circumstances in which he shot Trayvon Martin, i.e. when he was - or saw himself as being - fighting for his life. In short, Emery stabbed because (he claims) he thought he was about to be attacked. Zimmerman, in contrast, claims that he had already been attacked, and was being pummelled by Martin.

With regard to the widely misunderstood 'stand your ground' rule, this appears to apply in the circumstances where an attack is either imminent or has already commenced. But my understanding of Zimmerman's defence was that he had broken off his pursuit of Martin who then pounced on him 'out of the blue' and set about him with great ferocity. There was - on that version of events - no possibility for Z to flee after the attack began, and no point where he saw it as imminent and failed to escape. Merely putting onesself into a dangerous situation does not preclude use of self defence - not in Florida, not in New Zealand, not anywhere that I know of.

If the jury had disbelieved Z, and took the view that he had 'provoked' the fight, then he would not have been able to avail himself of the SYG law (2012 Florida Statues,
776.041)

I think there are serious questions about George Zimmerman's conduct that night. I think it was, at the very least, extremely ill-advised, and probably much worse then that. I have suspicions as to whether he did more to provoke the fight than merely follow Martin at a distance to keep tabs on his whereabouts. I have doubts as to whether it was reasonably necessary for a healthy, adult man to use a lethal weapon against an unarmed attacker; certainly in NZ law, there's a presumption against such being reasonable, and I would want to know that he had at least made some effort to fend him off before reaching for the gun. Overall, I think it's distinctly possible that Zimmerman went looking for a fight, and got exactly what he wanted.

But in the absence of any eye-witnesses to contradict it, we're stuck with Zimmerman's version of events. And on that version of events, I suspect he would have been entitled to use self defence here as well. This is not R v Emery. Following someone at a distance with a legal, concealed weapon isn't the same as chasing them while brandishing a knife. And who struck the first blow might well be of significance.

by stuart munro on July 20, 2013
stuart munro

Some discussion of the divergence of British & US understandings of self-defence. The Tonight Show had a nice juxtaposition, a black Florida woman who failed to satisfy the SYG...

by Andrew Geddis on July 20, 2013
Andrew Geddis

Following someone at a distance with a legal, concealed weapon isn't the same as chasing them while brandishing a knife.

Well, that summary overlooks a few relevant differences in the background legal assumptions. It isn't legal in NZ to conceal a weapon on your person (not a knife, and especially not a gun) and walk the streets looking out for "criminals" that you can then follow to see what they are up to ... and if they then attack you (or threaten to attack you), use that weapon to defend yourself even if they aren't themselves armed. Which is why these guys were charged for their actions (even if they subsequently got let off by a Judge).

So a person who ends up in Zimmerman's situation - in a confrontation with a person they'd chosen to follow after even thought the Police dispatcher had said not to - would face a pretty big uphill struggle to establish that it was objectively "reasonable" to defend yourself with a regularly carried illegal weapon (in the NZ context).

by Colin Gavaghan on July 20, 2013
Colin Gavaghan

@Stuart: interesting article, but I'm afraid Gopnik misrepresents the state of English (and NZ) law. In England

Failure to retreat when attacked and when it is possible and safe to do so, is not conclusive evidence that a person was not acting in self defence. It is simply a factor to be taken into account rather than as giving rise to a duty to retreat when deciding whether the degree of force was reasonable in the circumstances

NZ law is almost identical (R v Lindroos). This misconception of uniqueness has been at the heart of a lot of the media disparaging of Florida law. 

@Andrew:

'It isn't legal in NZ to conceal a weapon on your person (not a knife, and especially not a gun)' 

Indeed. That's why Vizor and Sullivan were convicted of possessing an offensive weapon. Regardless of how they used it, they shouldn't have had it in the first place. If your point is that NZ law is preferable to Florida law in that respect, you'll get no argument here.  

'and walk the streets looking out for "criminals" that you can then follow to see what they are up to ... and if they then attack you (or threaten to attack you), use that weapon to defend yourself even if they aren't themselves armed.'

I don't think you can say 'that isn't legal.' If we could say that with certainty, then the judge in Emery wouldn't have allowed self defence to go to the jury. Vizor and Sullivan seem to have struck some sort of deal to avoid facing more serious charges, so we can't say for sure whether S-D would have been successful in their case. Sure, it would have been risky for them to go down that road, but I don't think we can rule it out.  Ultimately, that would be a question for a jury on that particular set of facts.

Certainly, the fact that the defendant used a weapon against an unarmed assailant would be an indication unfavourable to his defence (R v Murray), but it wouldn't in itself be enough to rule out the defence. Likewise, the fact that he had followed the deceased. Even starting a fight - throwing the first punch - won't necessarily preclude the use of S-D, if the fight turns against you to the extent that your life ls imperilled, so it's hard to imagine that following someone at a distance would do so. 

What we do know is that you cannot contrive a situation wherein the other party will be goaded into throwing a punch, just so you can get stuck in under the spurious pretext of S-D; the court will certainly rule out the defence in that situation (R v Keane). Is that what Zimmerman did? Maybe - I think a lot of us harbour suspicions to that effect. But without any other evidence to contradict his own, I think a court would be reluctant to take that question away from a jury.

So a person who ends up in Zimmerman's situation - in a confrontation with a person they'd chosen to follow after even thought the Police dispatcher had said not to - would face a pretty big uphill struggle to establish that it was objectively "reasonable" to defend yourself with a regularly carried illegal weapon (in the NZ context). 

Face an uphill struggle? Yeah, I'd go along with that; for reasons I've identified, certain aspects would be indications unfavourable to such a defence. But I think the defence would be put to the jury, rather than excluded as a possibility. And if (a big 'if') the jury ended up accepting that the defendant did no more than follow at a distance, to report location to the police, whereupon he was ambushed by the deceased, who set about him with life-threatening force, affording him no opportunity to retreat and no reasonable alternative to using the weapon - if the jury accepted all of those things, I would feel reasonably confident about securing an acquittal. 

by Colin Gavaghan on July 20, 2013
Colin Gavaghan

One aspect of the 2012 Florida Statutes does concern me a bit. Chapter 776.032(2) specifically prohibits the police from detaining, arresting or charging a suspect for using force in putative self defence 'unless it determines that there is probable cause that the force that was used was unlawful.' Given that we might reasonably assume (or at least, hope!) that the police would never arrest anyone without such probable cause (yeah, I know, but still), one might reasonably question why there was a perceived need to add this to the law. Certainly, it could be seen as giving a bit of a green light to the more gung ho of its citizens, an indication that we won't look overly closely if you shout 'self defence'. 

by Graeme Edgeler on July 21, 2013
Graeme Edgeler

"If George Zimmerman had ... obeyed a police dispatcher"

The dispatcher did not tell Zimmerman to stay in the car, and did not tell Zimmerman that he shouldn't follow his 'suspect'. How could obey or disobey the dispatcher?

So a person who ends up in Zimmerman's situation - in a confrontation with a person they'd chosen to follow after even thought the Police dispatcher had said not to...


As above. The dispatcher only told Zimmerman that "we don't need you to do that".

Yes, self defence is a part of NZ law. But it would not apply in a situation analogous to the Zimmerman case. How do we know? Bruce Emery is how we know.

The evidence in the Emery case was that Emery chased after some people, who were running away from him. That was not the evidence in the Zimmerman case. If the evidence in Emery's case was that he he gone out to confront the people he considered suspicious, and Pihema Cameron had started beating him up (which was at the least a reasonable possibility in the Zimmerman case), I suspect we'd have had a different result.

And as far as our self-defence laws go, New Zealand's are pretty much the most defendant friendly. An actual fear, no matter how unreasonable (unless it's caused by a disease of the mind) is all that is needed in New Zealand. Stand your ground laws, albeit not used in this case, requires an objectively reasonable fear of danger to life (or of serious injury).

I agree that it is gun laws, and knife laws, which make the real difference.

by Ross on July 21, 2013
Ross

Ross,

Yes, self defence is a part of NZ law. But it would not apply in a situation analogous to the Zimmerman case

You ignored the analogus case I referred to earlier where a burglar was killed by an interfering neighbour who was being "attacked" with a videotape. The neighbour was not charged.

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