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    just not that simple

    In a black and white world, there is no color

    by | 8 | Jul 16, 2013

    George Zimmerman was found not guilty by a jury of his peers, our American justice system at work. The jury of six women — now that’s a travesty of justice, not that they were women but they were only six in number — looked at the preponderance of the evidence and found that the prosecution came up short.

    They were right. The prosecution presented one lousy case for second degree murder and upon realizing at the end of the trial it had presented a lousy case, said, oh yeah, you can consider manslaughter, too. That was a more reasonable charge — one the original investigating detective wanted to make, but when the local prosecutor declined to pursue any charges at all, an appointed special prosecutor, doing what prosecutors so often do, went for second degree murder rather than the more sensible manslaughter.

    cartoonThe state’s attorneys presented one atrocious second degree murder case that had practically no chance of succeeding because Florida’s “stand your ground” law is the perfect defense against such a charge. The jury believed that at the moment of the shooting, Zimmerman feared for his life. That is all that mattered. Had he been charged with manslaughter — and had the jury heard a case for manslaughter — then everything that happened up to that point would have mattered just as much.

    So George Zimmerman goes free and gets his gun back, and Trayvon Martin is still dead because George Zimmerman shot and killed him.

    As much as ideological extremists want to believe, this case isn’t black and white, nor should it be.

    Is George Zimmerman a racist ass? I don’t know. He fits my definition of ass, and Trayvon Martin was a black, teenaged boy. Did Zimmerman profile him? Almost definitely. We all do.

    Let me say that again. We all “profile” people we see every day. We make snap judgements on people based on what we see. It happens so fast we don’t even know we’re doing it. It feels perfectly natural to us. It felt perfectly natural to George Zimmerman. His neighborhood had some break-ins. Seeing a black guy in a dark hoodie made him suspicious.

    It felt perfectly natural, too, for Trayvon Martin to fear for his safety, if not his life, when he realized some white guy who looked to him like some kind of creepy pervert was following him around. That’s what he told his friend Rachel Jeantel on the phone. “Someone’s following me,” he said. “What’s he look like?” Rachel asked. “A creepy ass-cracker,” he answered. What’s a creepy ass-cracker? an attorney asked Rachel, on the stand. “A pervert,” she answered, looking down.

    Zimmerman was told by a police dispatcher that the police didn’t “need” him to follow Martin, but Zimmerman did anyway knowing the police were on the way. He told police he wasn’t following the teen and got out of the truck to get a plainly visible house number when he was attacked.

    In the fight, Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon. The original investigating detective, the one whose manslaughter recommendation was rejected by the local prosecutor, says he believes Zimmerman was following Trayvon and that Trayvon attacked him.

    Former US Attorney Roberto Martinez, after listening to the trial, wrote that he thinks Trayvon attacked Zimmerman, too, and for good reason.

    Perhaps I have a vantage point because I have teenage boys. I think of how our sons would react if they were being chased and pursued by a stranger at night. I have no doubt that if our sons felt the man was trying to hurt them and they could not flee, that they would confront the man, and, if they felt threatened, fight in self-defense.

    Zimmerman couldn’t have known that Trayvon was an honor student, clearly thought the kid was possibly up to no good.

    Trayvon couldn’t have known Zimmerman was a neighborhood watch captain and clearly thought the guy was a creepy pervert.

    Two people, both scared. Both profiling. Both making bad choices.

    But only one ends up dead, and the other one goes free.

    Now my Twitter timeline and my Facebook newsfeed alike are lit up with dueling rants, the gleeful celebration of the right and the outraged anger of the left, both because a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty.

    What I want to know now is this: How did a tragedy like this one become an ideological football? Why have we allowed this case to strengthen our convictions that there is an “us” and a “them” and “they” are forever out to get “us”? Why are we letting this case further separate us?

    Don’t get me wrong. George Zimmerman was acting as a vigilante, wannabe cop that night, one who should never have even been part of neighborhood watch, much less a captain. His actions led directly to Trayvon Martin’s death for nothing more than being a black, teenaged boy in Zimmerman’s headlights. But because they were both scared, neither took any sensible steps to defuse the situation. Two scared people, one armed. Nothing unexpected about the outcome. Tragic. But not unexpected.

    Nothing unexpected about the verdict either thanks to laws in Florida that give far too much weight to fear. Instead of encouraging people to think through their fear, Florida’s laws and others like them encourage people to react to fear, and if the results are deadly, so be it. Trayvon Martin was afraid, too, but he didn’t have a loaded gun.

    That does beg the question if Trayvon had killed Zimmerman before George pulled out the gun, would local prosecutors have declined to press charges and would a special prosecutor have brought second degree murder charges against him? Would the jury have been swayed by the “stand your ground” law?

    Trick question. We’ll never know since it didn’t happen. We do know this: George Zimmerman’s neighborhood made him Neighborhood Watch captain. Florida’s laws allowed  Zimmerman to carry a loaded gun around in his car as he “patrolled” his neighborhood. A prosecutor charged Zimmerman with second degree murder and not manslaughter, making it possible for more of Florida’s laws to let him off the hook. If there are ideological issues to tackle, this is where they are, not in the courtroom. They’re in the realm of not letting fear dictate our laws. Murder is not illegal because we’re afraid it will happen to us. It’s illegal because it’s wrong to take a life. In Florida, that’s amended to “unless you’re afraid.”

    Then again, we also know this: In May 2012, a Florida judge sentenced Marissa Alexander to a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison after a jury convicted her of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and discharging a firearm during the act. Marissa fired a warning shot in her home, attempting to get away from a brutal beating by her husband, against whom she had a protective order. The judge refused to consider the “stand your ground” law in her case. The prosecutor? Angela Corey, the state attorney who was appointed to investigate the Zimmerman case, the one who brought second degree murder charges against him.

    Something is broken, for sure, but the breakdown is rarely just black and white.

    ###
    KC Wildmoon

    KC Wildmoon

    KC Wildmoon is an accidental journalist who never even bothered to finish school since her accounting major was incredibly boring. Instead, she opted for being a minor rock star and annoying as many government officials as possible on a regular basis. After 16 years at CNN, she’s now doing forensic journalism for Ireland-based Storyful.

     

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    • PrincessPoetress

      Excellent and solid. Thank you for this.

      • KC Wildmoon

        Thank you. Very much.

    • hannah

      Prosecutors have absolute immunity because their function is supposedly merely ministerial — I.e. they transmit information from the executive to the judiciary. That they might be influenced by personal ambition isn’t considered, even when they are in elective positions.
      I think it makes them careless and superficial. Then the commonplace assumption that “everybody’s guilty of something” helps to put innocent people away and let the guilty go free.
      Yes, whoever let Zimmerman roam the neighborhood with two lethal weapons should be called to account. Ultimately, of course, it’s up to the citizens to enforce the law and, if they refuse to hire competent agents, then they’ll end up with a goofball like Zimmerman. I do hope the homeowners’ liability insurance is paid up.

    • E. P. Vaughn

      Well said.

    • Tom Poland

      Thank you for bringing a rational view to what has been made a racial divide and an attack on our justice system. Going forward who wants to be involved in any trial as a defendant, plaintiff, jury member, etc. if you know that whatever verdict people arrive at it will be assailed and a loophole found to get around double jeopardy and try the defendant again this time making sure another verdict is reached. All this smacks of the old Soviet Union.

    • Old White Woman

      Wasn’t Trayvon “standing his ground” when he turned and punched the stalking man who was so close behind him that he felt, rightly so, that his life was in danger?

    • Dennis McCarthy

      We’re a nation of ideologues, true believers in the Hoffer sense. I hadn’t realized how bad it was until the 2000 presidential election, when I couldn’t find a Democrat who
      would say anything other than that the Supreme Court had stolen the election or a Republican who would say anything other than the Court made a righteous decision. 



      We can say the Trayvon Martin case was a racial decision, but I think it is more the product of an us-versus-them mindset. Half a millennium ago, when Catholics were in power in much of Europe, they put the Protestants to the stake, and when the power base shifted, the Protestants did likewise to the Catholics. In our own time, the Hutu hacked up the Tutsi or vice-versa depending upon who had the political upper hand. In neither case, was the cause race. Races were indistinguishable or nonexistent. It was the otherness, the they-aren’t-like-us, the we-hate-them attitude that drove the killing. 



      Today, in our own country, despite having a black president, the whites are in power.
      Until we learn, at least here at home, that we are all brothers and sisters, whether we’re black or white, rich or poor, Republican or Democrat, popular or nerdy, Catholic or Protestant or Jew or Muslim or wiccan or atheist or adherents of any other religious tradition, we will hopelessly continue to devote weeks on end to debating the Trayvon Martin cases and their aftermath. 



      The us-versus-them mindset is likely a legacy of our tribal prehistory, perhaps even burnt into our genes. Someday, I’d like to think we will outgrow it or evolve out of it . . . if we don’t kill ourselves first.

    • TJSwift

      Couple of points.
      1. “Stand your ground” was not used by the defense.
      2. Zimmerman is not white. His skin color is light brown.
      3. Zimmerman was found not guilty of both 2nd degree murder AND manslaughter. (Maybe the prosecution should have gone for malicious neighborhood watching.)
      4. Martin had been suspended several times for truancy. Not sure where the bar is set for “honor student” in his school, but he’s the first serial truant honor student I’ve ever heard of.

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