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Race and politics trump gun control in George Zimmerman case

July 16, 2013

By William Marsden

Residents of Sanford, Florida attend a prayer vigil Monday, July 15 to promote peace and unity in the community in the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict. On Saturday a jury found Zimmerman not-guilty in the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Photograph by: Scott Olson/Getty Images , Postmedia News

Residents of Sanford, Florida attend a prayer vigil Monday, July 15 to promote peace and unity in the community in the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict. On Saturday a jury found Zimmerman not-guilty in the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Photograph by: Scott Olson/Getty Images , Postmedia News

WASHINGTON – The moment neighbourhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old white Latino, shot black teenager Trayvon Martin dead in February 2012 as he walked innocently to his father’s home in Sanford, Fla., race and politics took centre stage.

The killing reverberated throughout the nation’s black communities, whose members know only too well the harsh reality of racial profiling and that the justice system is rife with racial bias, as many studies have shown.

While these two ingredients were mixed into the judicial process, two other elements in the case retreated into the shadows. Those ingredients, however, would prove pivotal: gun control and Florida’s so-called “Stand Your Ground” law plus its related statutes on self-defence.

Essentially, Zimmerman was able to shoot Martin because Florida law – and the law in most states – permits him to carry a concealed weapon and gave him the right to use that weapon to defend himself against grave bodily harm.

The problem, however, is people can get it wrong. They can misinterpret the danger. Luckily for these shooters, the law also protects against that eventuality.

“The chaos of such defensive-force situations means that people commonly make mistakes,” Paul Robinson, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “The law does not require that a person get it exactly right. It may be enough that the person honestly believed his force was necessary.”

Zimmerman said he followed Martin because he thought he was a robber. When an angry Martin turned on him and began beating him up, Zimmerman shot him in self-defence. That’s his story.

When police declared the shooting was indeed self-defence, civil rights activists organized mass protests. The dark hoodie Martin wore that fateful night became a civil rights emblem. Federal and state politicians met with prosecutors and urged Zimmerman’s arrest and prosecution.

The killing was hashed out in America’s newsrooms. Al Sharpton, a civil rights activist and MSNBC host, travelled to Florida where he lead protest marches. CNN and MSNBC claimed the tape of a 911 call made by Zimmerman “clearly” recorded him calling Martin a “coon.” NBC host Joe O’Donnell said the tape “constitutes obvious evidence of hateful intent.” CNN later retracted its statement admitting that the tape did not contain any racial slur but rather the word “cold.” O’Donnell said nothing.

Even U.S. President Barack Obama joined the fray. He announced to the nation, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”

The U.S. Justice Department sent FBI investigators to gather evidence for possible prosecution of Zimmerman for federal civil rights violations. No case was filed. Read the rest of the story in the Calgary Herald.

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From → Analysis

One Comment
  1. “The law does not require that a person get it exactly right. It may be enough that the person honestly believed his force was necessary.”

    I don’t believe that is entirely correct. The person has to believe force was necessary, but if there is sufficient reason to take it to trial the jury must be convinced that a _reasonable_ person would believe the same thing in the same situation.

    So it is not a license to kill anyone you feel threatened by. You may very well have to defend that decision to a jury and convince them that was not just your feeling, but that a reasonable person would see it the same way.

    Stand Your Ground and Self Defense
    http://free2beinamerica2.wordpress.com/2013/07/15/stand-your-ground-and-self-defense/

    Stand Your Ground corrects some problems with reasonable self defense. Previously you were required to “retreat” if possible, but that can be dangerous in itself, and it opens up people to prosecution where a prosecutor is an “arm chair quarterback” coming up with scenarios that he imagines you could have done instead. Also retreat can psychologically trigger an attacker to kill where they might not have if you hadn’t retreated. You will have to read my article above to get details on that.

    lwk

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