Sunday, July 14, 2013

Standing Your Ground...Against The Zimmerman Verdict

  To start, I'd like to carefully point out my nearly unilateral support for the concept behind Stand Your Ground laws nationwide. Too often we've heard of the victim of a break-in or an attack being charged and tried for acting their own defense. Many states have grown weary of having no legal recourse but to pursue the letter of the law, even when the spirit and intent of same are being stretched beyond the believable.

  It should be unquestionably true that people have an inborn right to defend themselves, their loved ones, and their homes and possessions when necessary. Sometimes the force used may be excessive, but as terrible as it may sound to some...I have no empathy for a robber or rapist who unexpectedly winds up the victim of an ironic turn of circumstance. Crawling in a window or creeping up another person's stairwell pretty much clears the victim of the break-in of any obligation to be reasonable or merciful. It is safer to assume the ill-intent of an intruding stranger suddenly found in your home. If someone dislikes being shot at...then they should probably consider looking into a career that doesn't involve home invasion or assaulting strangers.

  Stand your ground laws came into being to prevent people who had survived a criminal assault or intrusion (by exercising the right to defend themselves) from being incarcerated or prosecuted  for an act of very clear self defense. Such laws have a worthwhile place in the world, and are founded on common sense...something too often lacking in our highly politicized legal system. It doesn't help that the act of creating a new precedent regarding an existing law is considered a career building exercise for lawyers and judges. This process actually lends itself to wild stretches of existing law.

  I support the right to own firearms, even a wide variety of firearms, since different purposes call for different firearms. I cannot accept any claim that standard shotguns, rifles or pistols should be banned for any reason. I do believe in registration...and tracking of manufacturers shipments...because what constitutes a genuine 'ban' begins when someone cannot gain access to a gun...not, as some would claim, when they had to sign for it so that, if they kill another person with it, they can be traced and arrested. If you kill someone with it, either you have a reason worth explaining and should report yourself...or you should be arrested period. Registration is actually a more powerful deterrent than death penalties...and is measurably less fatal.

  Having said all this, and having spelled out that I still support the concept of stand your ground laws, we must inevitably move toward the sad drama of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. The basic facts, even the ones spelled out by Zimmerman in police reports, cry out for an arrest...not for a stand your ground claim. Zimmerman was making his rounds as neighborhood watch, which trains all participants to observe and report...not intervene, when he saw Trayvon hop a fence on the way home. Zimmerman observed a black youth in a hoodie walk down a street after dark. He did not observe a crime in progress. He still called the police as he followed by car, and was instructed to wait while police were dispatched and keep watching.

  Sometime during that conversation Trayvon seems to have noticed that a man in a car was slowly following him down the street, which is something most of us would find creepy even in daylight, much less at night. When Trayvon hurried to get to safety, Zimmerman appeared to become convinced that the 'suspect' (again...the suspect of nothing but walking) was 'getting away'. Having duly convinced himself that a criminal was clearly escaping, Zimmerman left the car and physically assaulted Trayvon Martin, resulting in a scuffle or brawl. Frankly speaking, Zimmerman was fortunate he didn't attack a legally armed adult...because assaulting a person pretty much at random as they hurry for home is pretty much grounds for a self defense claim.

  Trayvon seems to have defended himself well...assuming that Zimmerman, the only survivor, is being accurate and truthful about the injuries he sustained. We'll assume that he was honest about it, because it's still not relevant. This is because when attacked by a strange man at night, everyone has the right to defend themselves, perhaps even excessively, because the fault lies with the aggressor, not the victim. Zimmerman's role as the aggressor is unquestionable, because his own explanation of events very clearly spells out that he was in no danger when he chose to leave his car and 'detain' (read that as physically assault an innocent person) Trayvon Martin.

  Now we come to the ugliest parts. Zimmerman, apparently bleeding and bruised after losing a brawl with a frightened and angry teenager roughly less than 75% his own weight, breaks off the fight and flees to the car, claiming that he was in fear of his life. Again, frankly, he deserved to be in fear for his life, because he'd decided to attack a stranger without even marginally real justification, just his own questionable mental state guiding him to 'be a hero'...if being a hero means attacking strangers at the drop of a hat. Still threatened by the angry victim of his assault, Zimmerman gets his gun from the car...and his defense now includes the claim that Martin nearly took the gun from him. Once again, we return to the other perspective: Trayvon's. The crazed assailant that stalked and attacked you has drawn a weapon...and wrestling it away from him is an act of desperate self defense in an attempt to keep a madman from taking your life. These would be the acts of a person defending their life and person within the boundaries of the law.

  And then we come to the end of Trayvon's life. He fails to wrestle the gun away...and makes a break for it in a last ditch attempt to save his own life. He runs...and out of five shots three manage to hit him in the back as he flees for safety. By the time police arrive Zimmerman is the only survivor and witness to the entire ordeal, and we have only his word and the police reports to draw from, so the whole truth cannot be known. A 17 year old is dead and the police inexplicably invoke stand your ground laws immediately...suggesting that an unarmed teen who bought snacks after dark was so dangerous that he deserved to be stalked, harassed, assaulted and then fatally shot while fleeing his own attacker.

  The entire case only became national because family members saw the horrible flaw in the reasoning of the police: you cannot "stand your ground" against an innocent person you stalked and attacked, then shot after taking a well deserved beating. The police exercised 'stand your ground' completely out of its context, stretching its definition to include vigilantes who disobey clear police directives, because any loosening of stand your ground laws is so unacceptable that even terrible injustices somehow became unimportant.

  People have made much of the dead kid's internet life...a 17 year old who had occasionally used marijuana and profanity (and yet maintained a superb grade point average and avoided actual trouble). I cannot recall a male teenager in the course of my entire life whose image wouldn't be tarnished by a thorough search of every deed and spoken word, because teenage boys seek out every opportunity to show themselves off in front of peers, to act tough or cool, to seem confident when they aren't. Marijuana was suddenly treated as a violence-inducing drug...despite the fact that marijuana has only ever induced violence against snack foods...not people. There's been much made of the wearing of a hoodie, much the way trenchcoats were made suspect in the wake of if clothes determine or indicate criminal intent (they assuredly do not, or at least play so slender a role that no serious attention can be given to these claims, especially regarding trenchcoats and hoodies, which are ubiqitous.)

  In the end, the diversions all come down to attempts to assassinate Trayvon Martin twice...once in life and again in death, to somehow make his death acceptable. The idea that 'stand your ground' laws might be jeopardized by a lone gunman vigilante who attacked an unarmed student walking too much weight for minds to bear...and so they take the easy route to safer grounds...and blame the victim.

  To my mind, the only person who had a right to stand their ground, was Trayvon Martin, and despite making every attempt to get away first, he wound up forced into a confrontation and barely fought off his assailant...and paid for his courage and success with his life, only to have that life slandered in acts of naked partisan bigotry.

  Zimmerman's trial was so pathetic that I am forced to assume that the prosecution actually planned to fail...intentionally. It was a trial in name only, devoid of facts, full of theatrics, and empty of justice. Murder 2 was non-provable. In truth, Zimmerman was not guilty...because Murder in the second degree would have had to show planning instead of desperate reaction to a crisis (even a self created crisis.) The prosecution MUST have known this to be true...and so I presume that their overreaching was entirely deliberate. Manslaughter would have been an accurate charge, since it doesn't imply planning or intent to kill, just responsibility for the fatal ending of that encounter. Manslaughter could have proven beyond reasonable doubt, and yet it wasn't chosen as a charge, and the wildly improbably Murder 2 was chosen instead.

  Given the conduct of the officers on that initial night, and their rush to attribute the well-connected Zimmerman son's conduct to a stand your ground defense, it's actually safe to say that Sanford's law enforcement and judicial community are now suspect of not just incompetence, but actual conspiracy to obstruct justice. The appropriate act would be a federal intervention and investigation, to determine if the prosecutor, judge or any other local officials colluded to build a severely flawed case against Zimmerman, one which they were sure would fail in court and leave Zimmerman a free man.

  However much I like stand your ground laws, and I really do, I deeply despise unequal treatment under the law. The backbone of a free republic is a legal system that struggles constantly to avoid bias and prejudice. Our courts should let the actual events speak for themselves...not the pocketbooks or skin colors or accents of the defendants decide the outcomes. The fact that our legal system is such a shamble of patchwork local evasions and racially motivated exceptions should rightly be offensive to us all, because it stand in direct contradiction to everything that the earliest Americans were striving to prevent from recurring after the end of British rule and the imperious and unjust conduct of Crown courts. Knowing that a man or woman's life or freedom is at stake means that legal proceedings should be undertaken with great seriousness, and that innocence is assumed until guilt is proven beyond reasonable doubt. Unfortunately for Trayvon, guilt was assumed on sight, the sentence was death, and there was no trial to clear him...just a fraudulent show of legal trickery to ensure the freedom of his killer, while for the killer no expense was spared, innocence was assumed despite a confession that contradicted even that generous assumtion, and no serious charges were filed against him...just a laughably inept attempt to press an improbable claim of Murder 2.

  My condolences go not just to the family of Trayvon Martin, but to the people of an entire country who watched their legal system fail, and watched crowds of violent, slanderous bigots cheer for a gross miscarriage of justice. Nearly as culpable as George Zimmerman is our culture of partisan obligations...which induces normally sane people to bend their minds in every possible way to avoid ugly truths. We encourage a culture of frightened sheep to clutch their firearms to the breasts and sleep lightly, ready to open fire at a moment's notice. This sad attitude has even penetrated police departments, until officers that once would have responded with calm assurance and minimal force, now open fire almost at random, or make use of tasers and tear gas when dealing with small children and elderly persons. The inherent cowardice in this is a reflection of a society losing its intestinal fortitude but unwilling to acknowledge that painful reality. If you live in fear, you will be ruled by it and act on it, and you do not have the 'right' to call those actions 'reason'. Cowardice is not courage, failure is not success, and feelings are not substitutes for facts. The world is a dangerous place...and it's made that way mostly by kidding ourselves about our own fears and their influence over us not only won't make us puts us all at greater risk than ever before. Let's hope Trayvon's legacy, if he can be said to have one despite a life cut short, is a wake up call to the fearful who let their fear give birth to the kind of madness that took a young man's life without cause.

No comments:

Post a Comment