On Zimmerman and Stand Your Ground [Updated]

If your Facebook wall looks anything like mine, yesterday was a big day for The Nation’s Aura Bogado, whose response to the George Zimmerman trial — headlined “White Supremacy Acquits George Zimmerman” —  went positively viral. Bogado’s piece deserves to be read in full, but here’s the gist:

When Zimmerman was acquitted today, it wasn’t because he’s a so-called white Hispanic. He’s not. It’s because he abides by the logic of white supremacy, and was supported by a defense team—and a swath of society—that supports the lingering idea that some black men must occasionally be killed with impunity in order to keep society-at-large safe.

Powerful stuff. In fact, Bogado’s piece was so successful as a piece of polemic, my regular nagging worry that things were more complicated or more prosaic than they seemed started acting up in full force. I began to wonder if the Zimmerman case wasn’t best understood as one of bad law — chiefly, the so-called Stand Your Ground law operational in Florida and elsewhere throughout the country.

My hope was that the problem made evidently plain through the Trayvon Martin tragedy would be something manageable, like changing the law, rather than something titanic and amorphous, like changing the way “society” views young men of color. Repealing Stand Your Ground laws obviously wouldn’t make right what went wrong in Sanford, but it would be a tangible, ameliorative step.

Sadly, here comes Scott Lemieux in The American Prospect, disabusing me of any such hopes. Because, assuming Lemieux is correct, it turns out the much-talked-about Stand Your Ground had nothing to do with the case:

Although some media reports continue to assert that Florida’s infamous “stand your ground” law was “central to Zimmerman’s defense” during the trial, the defendant’s team didn’t even invoke it; Zimmerman’s defense involved just standard self-defense. Under Florida law, the fact that Zimmerman initiated the conflict with Martin did not foreclose a self-defense claim if Zimmeran “reasonably believe[d] that he…[wa]s in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he…has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant.”

Rather than focus exclusively on Stand Your Ground, Lemieux proposes a more sweeping overhaul of self-defense laws, one that reflects the reality of an America where many, many people have conceal-carry licenses and more than a passing awareness of how to use firearms.

That doesn’t strike me as a bad idea, certainly. But if Stand Your Ground wasn’t the decisive factor in the trial, then the stubborn, lingering demon of racial sentiment moves again to the forefront. The fact that, in the eyes of many, Trayvon Martin, by his very being, was reasonably suspicious enough that Zimmerman had a right to initiate the whole affair — that becomes the central issue.

And that’s the kind of problem so big, so sweeping, and so hard to concretely define that the thought of tackling it can inspire apathy if not outright woe.

 

Update: Looks like SYG’s relationship with the case might be more complicated than Lemieux believes.

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497 thoughts on “On Zimmerman and Stand Your Ground [Updated]

  1. Southampton Hospital is about 30 miles from where we live and my wife and I waited a little longer than we should have to get on the road when she was in labor with our second child. By Bridgehampton (3AM) I started slow rolling red lights and figured if we got lit up I’d simply continue on to the hospital at the legal speed and hope the officer would figure it out. Emily was born within 5 minutes of my wife entering the hospital.

    Whenever I read about a black man getting into trouble for simply going about his business I recall that night.

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  2. NOTE: Zimmerman did not raise SYG as a defense. He argued straight up self-defense.

    The police used SYG at one point as a political defense for why they did not go after Zimmerman right away. They were wrong about the law & what it permitted them to do (& understanding the laws they are sworn to uphold is something the police get wrong with disturbing regularity), but that is how SYG got into the public consciousness. Zimmerman was pinned under Martin, he had no ability to retreat (& getting his bell rung against the concrete a few times – a fact that so many people seem to dismiss as trivial – would have made retreat difficult).

    As for race, I’m feeling like a lot of this is very much manufactured concern, people looking for some deeper truth, or some greater evidence of… something. How about it’s a tragic crap sandwich all around, Martin is dead, Zimmerman is a pariah who has to hide.

    If the shooting hadn’t occurred, Martin would still be in a whole world of trouble – at best he committed felony assault, which for a 17 year old is still prison time. At worst he may have been facing manslaughter charges himself (depending on how many times he smashed Zimmerman’s’ head into the pavement before the adrenaline wore down & he had control back). And all of this would have been a blip on the media radar – another young black man going to prison for violence, how sad, what’s Honey Boo Boo doing today?

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        • That is one of the things that bothered me the most. I get that given the way the laws are written and the evidence (or lackthereof) available to the prosecution that finding Zimmerman guilty was going to be difficult. But the contortions that various groups and people went through in order to find justification for Zimmerman not being arrested and charged immediately were troubling. Given what we see so often from police and prosecutors, especially when dealing with people of color and people of lesser means, and it was odd that it took so much work to get Zimmerman in front of a jury.

          If the police come upon a dead kid lying on the ground, shot, and the man who shot him standing nearby, an arrest should be forthcoming. Self defense claims ought to be made at trial, not in the back of a squad car.

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          • In most places, a claim of self-defense will give the police pause unless they have a strong reason to suspect otherwise. It’s then up to the DA to file charges or seek an indictment from a grand jury.

            An arrest is a not a simple formality, it’s a pretty involved & traumatic process. It is not something a person who has just successfully fought for their life should have to go through just because.

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          • So ruining a person’s life by arresting and trying them, when it is obvious that it was self defense, is your idea of a GOOD way to run the legal system?

            Being arrested and tried for a crime, they didn’t commit, will bankrupt the vast majority of people. Just as it has done Zimmerman.

            The evidence, that the police had from the very start, all points to zimmerman being attacked, in fear for his life, and he protected himself.

            If not for the nonsense from the media, and people like you, he would never have been arrested, or tried, and he would not be bankrupt and hiding because of all the death threats.

            That is what the self defense and stand your ground laws are there for. They are meant to protect an innocent victim from being victimized again by the legal system.

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        • That’s the whole point, Griff. If Trayvon had succeeded in defending himself against Zimmerman, the Stand You Ground law would have amounted to a rat’s fart in a hurricane. The only question would be (a) death, (b) life in prison or (c) take a plea bargain for 20 years.

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      • …Maybe? The thing is, Zimmerman did not (as far as we know) attack Martin or do anything illegal. There’s no duty to retreat if you’re attacked, but as far as I can tell there is one if you merely feel threatened. If Martin had been unable to retreat, then maybe he could have made the case for reasonable belief that he was in imminent danger, but my (admittedly incomplete) understanding is that the timeline of events was such that it would have been hard to claim inability to retreat.

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        • That’s interesting, because I can probably make an argument that the definitions contained therein of “threat” and “fear” are based on a certain context.

          In certain neighborhoods, a slowly driving car indicate someone is lost or looking for an address; it isn’t often considered a threat to life.
          In other neighborhoods, a slowly driving car indicates someone looking for someone, usually to do harm to them; it is often consider a threat to life.

          Which of those neighborhoods do the people who make laws tend to hail from?

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        • As far as we know? Of course it’s “as far as we know” – the only person that could rebut Zimmerman’s telling of the initial contact is long since dead and Zimmerman had no other reason to tell any other story if his primary interest was avoiding jail time, something we can safely assume.

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          • Do you feel better now?

            Kazzy’s question, as I understood it, was whether Martin could have argued self-defense based solely on the fact that Zimmerman had been following him. It goes without saying that he would have had a legitimate claim of self-defense if Zimmerman had attacked him.

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      • Not precisely for that, as I read the jury instructions, the cause of the altercation was not material… but yes, you could certainly envision a parallel story in which Martin is on trial saying “I was attempting to restrain this larger, older man who was following me when he reached for his gun… whereupon I feared for my life, grabbed a rock close at hand and struck him in the head.” Theorecticaly should return the same verdict [bracketing race]… That’s one of TNC’s points – in self-defense the living have the edge.

        Among the many things that make this case ugly is that usually there’s a clear sense of who is defending what, your home, your car, your family… that this happened on neutral ground absent witnesses confounds the issue. I’m not sure that changing self-defense laws will account for the complexities of self-defense. Seems rather that neighborhood watch/vigilante/untrained policing laws might target the root of this particular case. Something along the lines of a policy/best practice for what one can do as an untrained policing agent might have provided the necessary information to show that Zimmerman violated the regulations of what a citizen watch can do… leading to – at a minimum – a case for negligence or gross negligence.

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      • A) He had no idea Zimmerman was armed.

        B) He’s a 17 year old athlete being followed by an overweight 30 year old. Sure the truck is faster, but it’s confined to the road. Martin could have easily escaped Zimmerman, and since Zimmerman had not (to my knowledge) directly threatened Martin, Martin had no cause for his own SYG. It’s not illegal to be creepy & stupid (although a case could be made for stupid).

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          • I’m pretty sure if he knew that the “Creepy ass cracker” who was following him was armed, he probably would have mentioned it to the girl he was talking to at the time. From the accounts I read, the only time he would have been close enough to GZ to know GZ had a gun (as in, able to see the holster, or the print of it under clothes – a real trick in the dark), was right before he confronted him.

            And if the unarmed TM knowingly confronted an armed man in the dark, he is a much bigger fool than GZ ever was.

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            • 1) Even if he knew, he might or might not have mentioned it (meaning, he didn’t, but he needn’t have). It’s not evidence that he didn’t know Zimmerman was armed (much less that he had no ideas about that) that he didn’t mention it. A lot was going on for him in those moments.

              2) Saying that you read something that made you think it was a certain way is not the same as offering evidence that it was that way.

              3) It’s irrelevant to what I asked, whether Trayvon was foolish to have (maybe) attacked Zimmerman, whether or not Z was armed. But since you made that assertion, no it’s not foolish if you think you might get shot by an armed man to get closer and try to disarm him or neutralize him as a threat to yourself. It may have been unwise all things considered. But you have to make quick decisions in a situation like that. George Zimmerman obviously already thought he was suspicious; would it have been crazy for Martin to fear being shot in the back had he run when he saw that Z was armed?

              It’s just irrelevant to anything whether it was somewhat less wise to fight rather than run once Martin saw that Zimmerman was armed. He wasn’t fully trained in self-defense strategies. So what? At that point you’re in danger and you have to make decisions. What does it matter whether the decision he made was foolish?

              I do suspect it is salient to you, as I suspect that much of the point of your gun advocacy is to advance the doctrine that those who don’t arm themselves and don’t submit to those who do are foolish (and perhaps therefore deserve what comes to them).

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              • Right, a teenager is not going to mention to his friend that the guy following him has a gun? Seriously?

                TM had no idea what was going on in GZs head. Everyone needs to stop assuming that TM had any clue what GZ thought. Prior to the confrontation, they hadn’t been close enough (in the dark) for any meaningful communication.

                It is illegal to open carry in FL, it is illegal to flash your holster or brandish a firearm. No one presented any evidence that GZ did anything illegal. Stupid, yes – illegal, no. Not even the police or the DA put forth the theory that TM knew, or could have known GZ was armed, so why are so many here pushing that idea as a possible explanation for why TM initiated violence. How about he was a 17 year old kid who was a bit creeped out/spooked, & that led to some very normal teenage anger, which coupled with more testosterone than sense (a common combination in young men) led to a bad decision.

                Occams Razor.

                Now if you have evidence that TM had any possible knowledge that GZ was armed, feel free to present it, otherwise, you are wildly speculating in an effort to absolve Martin of being equally stupid in this incident.

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                • It’s reasonable to expect that he would, but not nearly so unthinkable that he wouldn’t that it actually constitutes evidence that he didn’t know. It’s just far too plausible that he would either mention it it or not to be evidence one way or the other.

                  Yes, I’m speculating about what might have happened had Trayvon seen at some point that he was armed. But then, clearly at some point he became aware of that. It’s just unknown when that was. I’m speculating, but that’s all the evidence allows us to do on this point. You, on the other han,d asserted flat out that he didn’t know. First of all, he did know at some point. Your point seems to be that it wasn’t until some time after the fight started. That’s speculation as well – an idea you are pushing. We don’t know when he knew.

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                    • For a person ripping others to shreds for speculation, your “seculation” quoted above sounds an awful lot like confident assertion to me.

                      And again, what evidence is it that you’re speculating upon?

                      Not mentioning it is not evidence that he didn’t know or knew.

                      Deciding that his best chance to survive was to attack is not evidence that he didn’t know or knew.

                      Not evidence that “says” he didn’t know. It’s consistent with him not knowing. It’s consistent with him knowing.

                      This is clearly an important peg in your constructed version of the events, but it’s not established in any way, nor does evidence “say” he knew about the gun when he heard the bang. It would change a lot about how you prefer to understand the events of the night if he knew earlier, so you’re just denying that he did. But we don’t know.

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        • When was the last time you heard of a black male teenager running from an unknown occupied vehicle where it turned out well for the teenager? Given what Mr. Zimmerman has said about the “resmeblence” of Mr. Martin to youths who were accused of breaking into home in the neighborhood, my read of the available information is that if Mr. Martin had run, he’d still be dead – since in Mr. Zimmerman’s mind that would likely have made Mr. Martin even more suspicious. And remember, Mr. Zimmerman exited his vehicle to confront Mr. martin AGAINST the instructions of police, whom he had called and who were enroute to the scene.

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          • . And remember, Mr. Zimmerman exited his vehicle to confront Mr. martin AGAINST the instructions of police,

            that’s not true for two reasons:

            1) the dispatcher didn’t say “don’t do that” he said “we don’t need you to do that”
            2) Zimmerman was already out of the car

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            • If a cop tells me “we don’t need you to do that, I’m not ego maniacal enough to go do it anyway. And whether he was in or out of the car is actually a disputed fact.

              But that’s not my point, and you know it. My point was that a man appointed himself judge of anothers intent, and ignored lawful instructions from law enforcement because he believed he knew better then others what the intent of the person he was “confronting” was. He then acted on his judgement instead of waiting for police to arrive and ascertain what was really going on. that sort of thing happens to young black males all the time, and had Mr. Martin decided to flee, he would most certainly have been chased and possible gunned down by Mr. Zimmerman. so the “need” fro Mr. Martin to try and fell – noble advice though it is – is deeply flawed, since Mr. Martin appears to have been headed toward a confrontation with Mr. Zimmerman regardless of his behavior.

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              • If a cop tells me “we don’t need you to do that, I’m not ego maniacal enough to go do it anyway.

                Irrelevant you made a false statement. and 911 dispatchers aren’t cops.

                And whether he was in or out of the car is actually a disputed fact.

                The prosecution stipulated that he was out of the car and on the recording of his 911 he can be heard getting out of his car before being told that he didn’t need to follow Martin.

                But that’s not my point, and you know it.

                If your misstatements of fact aren’t relevant to your point then why did you make them.

                My point was that a man appointed himself judge of anothers intent, and ignored lawful instructions from law enforcement

                1) it wasn’t an instruction it was a suggestion
                2) there is no evidence that he ignored it

                he believed he knew better then others what the intent of the person he was “confronting” was.

                there’s no evidence that he confronted Martin

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                • You’re even more of a literalist then I am – which I never thought possible.

                  First, in many jurisdictions – particularly small ones, 911 dispatchers are often cops – and even if not, legally they speak with the weight of the police force when they are on the phone. So a dispatchers telling someone not to do something is legally supposed to be the same things a a cop telling them not to do something.
                  Second, telling someone – even me – “we don’t need you to do that” is not a suggestion in any version of the English language I am familiar with.
                  Third., I put the word Confrontation in quotes because what happened after Mr. Zimmerman hung up on police and they arrived to find Mr. martin dead is, inspite of witness testimony, still in dispute. I was referring to the whole episode as a “confrontation” in that Mr. Zimmerman after making his initial call and giving the police Mr. martin’s description and where abouts escalated the situation by continuing to follow Mr. martin, and then leaving his vehicle against the request of police.

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                  • Second, telling someone – even me – “we don’t need you to do that” is not a suggestion in any version of the English language I am familiar with.

                    when i as an adult visit my parents and start doing the dishes they’ll say “you don’t need to do that”, it has very different meaning than when they said “don’t do that” to me growing up.

                    I was referring to the whole episode as a “confrontation” in that Mr. Zimmerman after making his initial call and giving the police Mr. martin’s description and where abouts escalated the situation by continuing to follow Mr. martin, and then leaving his vehicle against the request of police.

                    there’s no evidence that Zimmerman followed martin after the police told him he didn’t need to.

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                  • Zimmerman did not call 911. The neighbors called 911. Zimmerman called a non-emergency dispatcher. Sean Noffke is a civilian and testified at the trial that they do not order or instruct the public in these circumstances. Zimmerman was already out of his truck walking around the complex when Sean Noffke offered that ‘we don’t need you to do that’. In any case, the point was moot. Trayvon Martin was nowhere to be seen from the time he ran away to the end of the call.

                    Over the course of the two minutes which transpired after the call concluded, Zimmerman would have had time to walk about half-way down the block and back, either on ‘Retreat View Circle’, ‘Twin Trees Lane’, or along the alleyway between the two. It is a reasonable inference that the fight began near the point where the alleyway sidewalk meets a perpendicular sidewalk connecting the two streets, as that is where Zimmerman’s keys were found. He returned to that point or never left that point. His parked truck would have been about 30 yards away.

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                    • Yeah, Kazzy. I find it weird. That one’s been bugging me. Dude patrols so much he’s notorious with the dispatchers and he has to get out of his truck to see where he is. Having a hard time buying that.

                      And then there’s Zimmerman’s claim that Martin snuck up on him against the testimony of the girlfriend Martin was on the phone with that they exchanged words. The defense pretty much destroyed the girlfriend’s credibility so that one’s more of a toss-up. (I’ll bet someone at NSA has access to that conversation).

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    • Zimmerman was pinned under Martin, he had no ability to retreat (& getting his bell rung against the concrete a few times – a fact that so many people seem to dismiss as trivial – would have made retreat difficult).

      Facts in dispute, not merely “dismiss[ed] as trivial.” At the very least, the medical experts in the trial contradicted your “getting his bell rung against the concrete” part. The “pinned” part seems unlikely as well, though who was on top of whom at the time of the fatal shot remains in dispute, and we will likely never know the truth.

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    • The jury instructions disagree with that statement, “If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”

      http://www.scribd.com/doc/153354467/George-Zimmerman-Trial-Final-Jury-Instructions

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      • No, Zimmerman won’t go that route. He’s too wishy-washy to be a real heroic type. He got punked by a teen-ager, lied to his lawyers and the judge about bail, is just too flabby and unattractive to be seen on television screens regularly. You need a lot more in the personality department to go that career route. No, he’ll disappear and pop up in some where-are-they-now? article in 10 years or so.

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        • I am not 100% sure about this, MRS. I have also followed a suspicious person while calling the police.

          Short version:

          Nighttime, I see a man who is on my property and appears to be attempting to enter a locked gate to my side yard. I confront him, he mumbles that he thought it was his friend’s house. (It is entirely possible this is true; or he might have been a wino looking for a dark corner in which to pee/sleep; or a junkie looking for a place to shoot up; or a burglar/rapist casing the joint. Who knows?)

          He leaves my property, and I watch him go a few houses down the street and enter another side-yard. I grab my phone and call the cops, walking down the sidewalk to the property I saw him enter; while I am on the sidewalk on the phone, he comes out of the dark side-yard and pushes past me, telling me he’s gonna fish me up, and leaves the street entirely.

          I do not follow further, and he is never caught AFAIK.

          Let’s say instead of pushing past me, he’d swung at me and an altercation ensued in which I knocked him down, and he hit his head on the concrete sidewalk and died (or maybe he was on top of me, and I grabbed a loose piece of concrete and swung at him and killed him).

          Is it the consensus that I would have been clearly at fault?

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          • Let me clarify my account – when I say “appears to be attempting to enter a locked gate to my side yard.”, I could not clearly see what he was doing, it was dark. IOW, this was my best guess at the time, and I believed this guess to have been vindicated when I saw him enter the side-yard of another house.

            However, to be clear about the initial confrontation, he was on my property, next to a locked side gate. That is all I can say with certainty.

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          • Glyph, I’d like to address your first sentence, “I am not 100% sure about this, MRS. I have also followed a suspicious person while calling the police.”

            It’s perhaps unwise but not necessarily wrong to keep tabs on someone doing something suspicious in one’s neighbourhood, but to apply that to the case in hand, we would would have assume the Martin was doing something suspicious. If we’re to jump to that assumption (and I’m not saying you are), then we’re kind of getting into “walking while black” sort of territory, which just means we’ve circled back to Elias’s conclusion that ugly racism is at the heart of this case.

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            • The problem with that Jonathan, is that it fails to take into account the fact that “suspicious” is by necessity a highly-subjective term.

              In my case, the man’s excuse was at least nominally-plausible. People showing up at the wrong house address, esp. if drunk/high (or they are cops on a drug bust), is a time-honored tradition.

              Zimmermann was familiar with the neighborhood, in which there had been recent break-ins. He saw a figure on foot in the dark & rain (perhaps unusual in FL – an entire state in which, like LA, nobody walks, esp. in inclement weather; or perhaps it was at least unusual in that neighborhood) in an area which, to him, appeared not-readily explicable (that is, “suspicious”).

              Suspicion is by definition in the eye of the beholder and factors in their own experience and familiarity with the local surroundings.

              I am unaware of any evidence presented that Zimmerman’s suspicions were, on their face, clearly *un*reasonable, given what he knew at the time. That those suspicions led to tragedy is unfortunate, but I can’t clearly say that he was wrong be suspicious in the first place.

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            • It’s possible that Zimmerman based his suspicions on nothing but race, it’s also possible that Martin being new to the neighborhood did something that while legal was nonetheless highly unusual in that particular location; for example it could be that residents always walked on the paths and never on the roads.

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              • base on all the media accounts, he was walking in the rain after a rash of burglaries allegedly committed by young black men. So if you are looking fro young black men to do something that is “suspicious” then you key on “young black men” first regardless of where they are walking.

                And from what I understand Mr. Martin was walking on the sidewalk.

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          • Let me clarify, he should not have been following him as doggedly as he was.

            Granted, It’s a fuzzy line between keeping an eye on a suspicious character, and going to far.

            I’m not sure I would not have done something differently in my neighborhood.

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        • Okay everyone: dand has a real problem with people using the word “stalking” in anything but the strictly legal sense so let’s indulge him and use the phrase “doggedly following” instead. It doesn’t detract from the points people are making but it might make dand feel better.

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    • “The police used SYG at one point as a political defense for why they did not go after Zimmerman right away. ”

      From what I heard, the Sanford PD didn’t bother to break a sweat identifying the dead guy; they didn’t figure out what was going on until after his father came, 48 hours later (note – Trayvon had a cell phone, with recently-made calls).

      Perhaps that was SYG, as well.

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      • From what I heard, the Sanford PD didn’t bother to break a sweat identifying the dead guy; they didn’t figure out what was going on until after his father came, 48 hours later (note – Trayvon had a cell phone, with recently-made calls).

        Courtesy Cable News Network:

        February 27, 2012 – Martin’s father, Tracy Martin, files a missing persons report. Officers with the Sanford Police Department visit Tracy Martin. He is able to identify Trayvon Martin’s body using a photo.

        That would be the next day, < 24 hours later.

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  3. Self-Defense laws are a state by state issue. Unsurprisingly, Eastern and older states have much stricter self-defense laws than Southern, Western, and newer states. Though I don’t have a comprehensive study.

    In New York there is an “absolute duty to retreat” before anyone can evoke self-defense if I am remembering correctly from my bar studying. I don’t remember the specifics of California’s self-defense law but I do remember it is much more of a liberal standard.

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      • Oh, like laws that will help prosecutors throw extra charges at defendants, like laws that will limit the defenses that defendants will be able to mount for themselves, laws that will change what “reasonable doubt” means with regards to murder cases…

        Just off the top of my head.

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        • I mentioned elsewhere that my single experience being jury-empaneled on a self-defense case, was one thing that made me believe it highly likely Zimmermann would be acquitted.

          The trial I sat on, also resulted in the acquittal of the defendant.

          In that trial, I am sure some of the jury were worried that the shooter *might* be “getting away with it” – there were conflicting narratives and witness’ testimonies regarding who started/escalated the fight, and even what the fight was about. But in the end, the shooter’s claim of self-defense under the relevant law was not sufficiently discredited by the state.

          The case I sat on was similar in certain respects to the Martin case, and different in others.

          For one thing, the shooting victim lived (so the charge was attempted murder); for another, both shooter and victim were black.

          Did current self-defense law “work” the way it was supposed to in that case, allowing an individual reasonable latitude to protect his own life in the moment, and placing the burden on the state to prove otherwise? I’d personally say it probably did. And before we go changing the laws, we would want to consider these cases too.

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          • I think a lot of the outrage on the liberal/left side is how Stand Your Ground/Self-Defense seems to be a one way street.

            One of the prosecutor’s in the Zimmerman case successfully argued that Stand Your Ground did not apply in a previous case. The only issue is that in this case, the shoots were “warning shots” and no one was hurt. The defendant was a black woman (and a mom) trying to get a known abuser (her husband or ex-husband) to back off. And what happened, she got 20 years.

            There were a lot of stories like this during 2012 when the press was able to show that Stand Your Ground was not evenly applied and black defendants often had a hard time evoking the defense. Except when it seemed to be between gang members and drug dealers.

            This strikes a lot of people as being off. Very off. Maybe the sample size is wrong and maybe my general suspicion of the South is too strong but this seems to be saying to me that something is fishy in Florida.

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            • One of the prosecutor’s in the Zimmerman case successfully argued that Stand Your Ground did not apply in a previous case. The only issue is that in this case, the shoots were “warning shots” and no one was hurt. The defendant was a black woman (and a mom) trying to get a known abuser (her husband or ex-husband) to back off. And what happened, she got 20 years.

              I read about that case, in that case the women left the house, went to her car, got her gun, reentered the house then started firing. That is not permitted under stand your ground. The length of time she was sentenced to was much too long but to argue a self defense claim there is nonsense.

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            • As a general rule of thumb, “something is fishy in Florida” is not an entirely-unreasonable heuristic.

              But this particular case has nothing to do with SYG anymore, so my preference would be to debate SYG in cases in which it does apply.

              And like I said, the defendant in the self-defense case I sat on was black, and was able to successfully utilize old-fashioned self-defense to procure his acquittal.

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            • There were a lot of stories like this during 2012 when the press was able to show that Stand Your Ground was not evenly applied and black defendants often had a hard time evoking the defense. Except when it seemed to be between gang members and drug dealers.

              I have no idea how to deal with prosecutorial discretion. Maybe have prosecutors subject to regular recall elections.

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              • My ideal would to make prosecutors not be elected officials. I think having prosecutors be elected makes it much more likely for them to try for a high-conviction right. The election of judges and District Attorneys distorts the legal system in my mind.

                The counter-argument is that allowing for the election of DAs and prosecutorial discretion allows local polities to have their preferences. For example, it is impossible to get elected to DA in San Francisco or Manhattan without promising never to use the death penalty. And the DAs in both areas hold to that promise as far as I can tell.

                Perhaps the DA should be a civil servant appointed by a bi-partisan committee? Or by some kind of civil service test?

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            • I’ve heard some really bad shit come out of Florida.
              Stuff like a man shooting his neighbor (who had come up to
              his house to complain about foul, racist language), and not getting arrested.

              I’d be less troubled if I wasn’t hearing this from a lawyer.

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              • Fair enough.

                I, personally, am a fan of self-defense laws. My problem with the SYG laws as they exist in Florida is that they prevent trials in the first place.

                Now, I suppose I can understand including such a clause when it comes to Castle laws, but I don’t think it’s appropriate for public (neutral) territory.

                The problem with this case was not that Zimmerman wasn’t found guilty. It’s that it required marches for the trial to be held at all.

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                • “The problem with this case was not that Zimmerman wasn’t found guilty. It’s that it required marches for the trial to be held at all.”

                  Yeah, IIRC that was essentially Mike’s point from the beginning as well. And that is totally a fair point.

                  I am also a fan of self-defense laws – and though the defendant in my case might have “gotten away with it” (after all, it really wasn’t totally clear that he hadn’t started the whole mess – and the prosecution’s attempt to use the fact that he had been going around the party yelling “I’m The Biggest Boss Of Them All!” – which the defense pointed out is a Rick Ross lyric, and was therefore the sort of thing a person at a party MIGHT yell – was pretty golden), that’s the price we pay as a society for allowing individuals some latitude in self-defense.

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    • So what are changes that you would make that would potentially reverse this kind of situation while not hurting minorities.

      Note I do not consider inertia or not to do anything to be change. Maybe you are right but I don’t think the current situation helps much either. I agree with commentators who say this will embolden the Zimmermans of the world.

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      • Changes? What is my goal? To make it so that it’s harder for defendants to make affirmative defenses before juries?

        I’m one of those who thinks that the state saying “you can’t argue that!” to a defendant is a violation of “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”.

        It seems to me that the balance is between “do we want to make it so that fewer people are convicted, meaning that fewer innocent people get caught by the teeth of justice or do we want to make it so that more people are convicted, meaning that more guilty people go to jail, even if it means that (surely only a few!) innocent people are caught in the same net.”

        Looking at Zimmerman, I absolutely understand the whole “Surely he’s guilty of *SOMETHING*” attitude… but if we adopt that attitude across the board? (And I’m very skeptical of our ability to correctly pick and choose the circumstances under which we adopt a particular attitude… we either need to adopt it across the board or not adopt it at all.)

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        • Isn’t the easy option here to change the standard of proof for affirmative defenses? If, in future cases like this one, the state only needs to disprove the defense’s self-defense theory by a preponderance of the evidence, then we’ve still allowed the defendant to make that defense, but we haven’t erected an impenetrable barrier to the prosecution.

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          • The case I’m thinking of is a case from California where a guy who was licensed by the state of California to grow pot was arrested by the Feds and, in the trial, he was not allowed to mention that he was licensed by the state of California to grow pot.

            Now, of course, that is nowhere *NEAR* a murder trial but that’s one of those things that had the juries giving interviews after the trial where they were generally outraged and said “WE WEREN’T TOLD THAT!”

            Which do we want to do? Let more guilty people go free and have fewer innocents caught up in the net? Put more guilty people away and if innocent people are caught up then that’s the price we have to pay?

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            • If it’s the case I’m thinking of, he didn’t grow the pot himself. He was the city bureaucrat in charge of all the legal pot-growers, which let the prosecution say that the pot grown “under his control” had a street value of a gajillion dollars. It made him sound like the Scarface of the pot industry.

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  4. I’ve been pointing out pretty much since the story first broke that Stand Your Ground wasn’t relevant to Zimmerman’s defense. I’m not claiming any sort of special insight or legal expertise here—it was just really, really obvious. That people are still talking about SYG in relation to this case illustrates just how awful our media and punditry are.

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    • One of the things this case is done is shown how quickly people will form opinions about something while knowing jack shit about that thing. I’ve seen it from both people who think justice was done and people who think that Zimmerman got away with murder.

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    • One of the things this case is done is shown how quickly people will form opinions about something while knowing jack shit about that thing. I’ve seen it from both people who think justice was done and people who think that Zimmerman got away with murder.

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      • Indeed, as David Friedman pointed out we still have no idea who started the physical altercation. Given that it’s really difficult to make moral judgments about what happened in this case. Given the evidence I think the not guilty verdict is correct, but more because of reasonable doubt than anything else.

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        • Reasonable doubt is reversed, tho, in Florida self-defense law. The state has to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s claims are false. That’s pert-near impossible, it seems to me. One of the issues I have with the way the law appears to read is that merely claiming a psychological state of fearing for you life or bodily harm imposes a burden on the state, one which it may be impossible to meet in any event. How is the state supposed to show that a person didn’t legitimately fear for his life or safety?

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  5. This is one of those times when people in other countries look at America and think: “Well, they look human, I grant you, but any minute now they’re going to pull off their rubber masks and reveal themselves to be aliens from another planet.”

    I don’t know how anyone missed the defense team’s announcement months ago that they were not going to use the SYG defense. It got a wide coverage and a fair amount of comment re the pros and cons of the decision. I saw it and I was not following the event on a day-by-day basis.

    To a Canadian like me, this is the main take-away: in the state of Florida, which has a large population of non-residents at any given moment because of the strong tourism industry, you can be in danger of getting shot simply for walking down the street because some random stranger thinks you’re looking suspicious. I really don’t see how that is acceptable in a civilized society.

    I would also note that despite the frantic right-wing insistence that riots would result – none have. So maybe black people aren’t exactly animals, eh, Rush?

    Seriously – America, you’ve got a big problem here when a portion of your population feels that they are in danger of being prey because of someone else’s delusions. Are you happy about this?

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  6. The Stand Your Ground law did actually come up in the trial, and is in a way relevant. Zimmerman knew about the law, though he lied and said he didn’t (he’d learned about it in college courses he’d taken, as the instructor of that course testified), and I have little doubt that knowing that he had some legal protection made him much more comfortable taking a loaded gun into a confrontation with a stranger on that evening, knowing that he was prepared to use it.

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  7. The whole fracas-du-jour surrounding the Zimmerman / Trayvon Martin case is beneath contempt. I wish we’d just leave the topic alone here at League, but here we are, like so many haruspices, with our dirty little fingers in the bleeding guts of this dying creature, opining upon what we Know Naught Of.

    This nation does not trust our system of justice to render justice. A jury was empanelled, set to the task of sorting out the facts of this case and they rendered a verdict. Trying this case again in the Kangaroo Court of Public Opinion is a particularly disgusting instance of Double Jeopardy.

    Thornton Wilder: “If there were any plan in the universe at all, if there were any pattern in human life, surely it could be discovered mysteriously latent in those lives so suddenly cut off. Either we live by accident and die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan.” .

    Two men tangle on a Florida street, the one an officious little busybody, the other a suspended high school student. Two thoroughly dislikeable men are transmogrified, the one elevated to Gun Totin’ Racist Monster, the other becomes a Martyr. The reality of these two men’s lives is lost in their transformation into Symbols.

    We might have hoped a jury would have been sufficient audience for the sorting-out of the facts. Such hope denied, let others brandish these Symbolic Representations of two real men and one terrible incident about, gibbering and frothing and ranting. I will not. I am disgusted beyond words by everyone whose dirty little fingers simply must go digging about in Trayvon Martin’s guts.

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    • “…the other becomes a Martyr…”

      Part of becoming a martyr is, well, you know… dying. I’m sure Martin would have much desired to avoid becoming a martyr if it would have meant not, you know, dying.

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      • To make a Martyr, you have to dig him out of his grave, open his coffin and lash his corpse to a big old cross so you can parade him down Main Street. Merely dying is grossly insufficient to make a Martyr.

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            • Those are photographs. That is different than his corpse.

              Martin didn’t ask to become a martyr or a cause and I’m sure very much would have preferred to have never been put in the position to become either.

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              • Far be it from me to explain Metaphor to anyone around here. I swear, around here it’s like being nibbled to death by a goat. Trayvon Martin has become a Martyr, whether or not he asked for that status. His elevation to Martyr status serves the ends of the Cross Bearers. Again, that’s a Metaphor. But Trayvon Martin has become a Metaphor himself — a metaphor in service to the Cause.

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              • Not all martyrs seek/ask for the distinction. But, of course, they are dead, they don’t have a say in it.

                I’m sure Jesus would have much preferred to have avoided that distinction as well.

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                • As with Egyptian mummification, there’s a great deal of ritual which goes into the Making of Martyrs. Lots of mumbo-jumbo, paid mourners, and always the magic spells to guide the dead through their perilous journey to the Afterlife.

                  The Egyptians did have the good sense to include many obstacles to the Happy Afterlife, including the weighing of the soul against the Feather of Truth. Such is not the case for every Martyr. The Martyr, like some adolescent love fantasy, embodies all the virtues and none of the vices of the prospective candidate for martyrdom. Often, there’s often no truth at all, just some horrible circumstances.

                  I will stick with the justice rendered in courts: the Afterlife is its own problem. The Court of Public Opinion makes Martyrs aplenty for anyone (indeed everyone!) is a judge. All rise!

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      • Naturally, you have enough experience to tell us they are likeable men. I’ll work with what little evidence is at hand.

        I have no reason to like either of these men. I am not kindly disposed to suspended high school students. Zimmerman, to my way of looking at things, is an odious little gun-totin’ turd, an officious busybody, a Metaphor in service to the cause of numerous other similarly-disposed Gun Totin’ Turds in favour of Stand Your Ground laws.

        Perhaps you can give me a good reason to like either of these men. I’m sure, from your vast trove of experience, you can come up with some scrap of redeeming evidence for my benefit. Until then, I will remain of the same opinion. And I won’t hold my breath while you scurry about and find some, Chris.

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          • May I therefore presume you have no evidence to support anyone’s likeability in this sordid little episode? When it comes to Ignoring Points, may I reiterate my own point: trying this case in the Court of Public Opinion is a contemptible form of Double Jeopardy. A jury trial acquitted Zimmerman and neither of us were on it. We are working with Martyrs and Metaphors.

            For you to jump on your hind legs and observe I know how dislikeable they are on the basis of personal experience with these men is just more of the aforementioned Goat Nibbling. I have no reason to respect either man and enough working evidence from the facts to find them both contemptible. To make Martyrs and Metaphors of either or both of them is to Miss the Point. Granted, it’s only my point and you clearly don’t respect it, but really, why should I respect your point, either. Respect is earned.

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              • This is true. Your point was just some asinine snark about how my opinions were based on personal experience with both men. When you have a point to make, Chris, one which doesn’t veer off into intemperate idiocy and personal attacks, I’ll answer it.

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                • Blaise, I’ll I’m saying is that you have no idea whether they were likeable people, because you don’t know them. And in response to your replies, I’ve simply pointed that you have failed to realize that this was what I was saying, as evidenced by your demanding that I show you evidence of their likeability. I haven’t made any personal attacks whatsoever.

                  I wonder, if I made claims about your likeability, would you think that I, as someone who has interacted with you for years on this site, have sufficient knowledge to judge your likeability? Or would you suggest that I don’t know you well enough to make such a judgment. My suspicion is that it would be the latter. And I contend that I have a great deal more experience and knowledge of you than you have of either Martin or Zimmerman.

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                  • I would only repeat myself in observing neither man is likeable, based on the facts we know to be true at this point. At any rate, I do not like like either man and you have not furnished any good reason why I should. Spare me any further squirming.

                    As for likeability, don’t make me laugh. I’m not here to be liked. I’m kinda past all that, Chris. I’m a grown man, I’m not looking over my shoulder at everyone else, wringing my hands over what others think of me. You should evolve the same strategy and mindset, for it would keep you from saying some of the things you do. For I have watched you, too. Truth is, a man can’t be too careful in the enemies he makes. Your lack of affection and respect are hardly keeping me up of nights. Grow up.

                    Well, Judge Kazzy’s court is now in session. We should all wait in abeyance, waiting for him to assemble his papers. Lo, I see the court clerk approaching the bench! Surely some revelation is at hand.

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                    • That’s right. We’re done. I don’t know Trayvon Martin or George Zimmerman. Perversely, you seem to believe I do know these people. Stick your big head up again and say such a thing and you’ll only present me with a fine target, again. Sure wouldn’t be the first time.

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                    • Like talking to a brick wall…

                      I made this point, that you don’t know either of them at all, and therefore have no business determining their likeability, because as I said upthread somewhere, this case has presented us with multiple examples of people forming an opinion about Martin, about Zimmerman, and about the case itself, with no relevant knowledge. That you’ve chosen to demonstrate this phenomenon repeatedly in this little subthread only serves to reiterate that point.

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                    • Are you now attempting to say I should like Trayvon Martin, truant, thrice-suspended student? I will not like him on that basis. Or should I like George Zimmerman, a man who assaulted a police officer, a man whose girlfriend filed a restraining order against him, an officious jackass taking law enforcement into his own hands? I will not like him either.

                      My opinions are my own. They were formed on the basis of what is known to be true. Beyond that, I contend:

                      Two thoroughly dislikeable men are transmogrified, the one elevated to Gun Totin’ Racist Monster, the other becomes a Martyr. The reality of these two men’s lives is lost in their transformation into Symbols.

                      Are you denying these facts entirely? Is this your case, Chris? The reality of both men’s lives was thoroughly disagreeable, unless you’re now willing to say the allegations I’ve enumerated were chalk on the Positive Side.

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            • A Florida jury acquitted alleged child-killer Casey Anthony as well, despite outrage in the Court of Public Opinion. Outrage continued for two or three weeks, then the Media and the Court of Opinion moved on to the next scandal and Casey Anthony sank into oblivion.

              There is no double jeopardy here, even in the metaphorical sense. Zimmerman has his freedom and, in a month or two, will be all but forgotten.

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              • He could theoretically face federal civil rights charges and not have double jeopardy under the Dual Sovreignity doctrine but Obama’s statement makes me think that this will probably not happen. Or at least Obama does not want the specter of a federal trial to happen.

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              • There’s still plenty of outrage out there on the Casey Anthony front and no shortage of Goat Nibblers to forage a few leaves off that tree.

                Nowadays, we have three sorts of justice: the criminal trial, the civil trial and the Media Circus. Circus in the old sense of the word, where gladiators would get out there and recreate famous battles. “News” at 11.

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                • I haven’t seen Nancy Grace get up on her high horse since sometime after the trial ended. While I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who are still upset about the verdict, so what? I think O.J. got away with murder, but it doesn’t change the result of the trial.

                  Yes, there will be the ritual chest-beating on all sides that always happens after these kinds of trials. Yes, our 24-7-365 infotainment culture exacerbates the situation. But, well before the dawn of our media age, there were “trials of the century” that attracted undue press attention and were duly tried in the Court of Public Opinion. It’s nothing new.

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                  • If I ever see Nancy Grace again, it will be too soon. I see her face on the toob, I change the channel. My hatred for all this Ritual Chest-Beating and pontificating is visceral. It’s true, this sort of thing has been going on for a long time but it’s only getting worse and I’m growing ever more disgusted with it.

                    In the military, we used to call all such nonsense Barracks Lawyering. A bunch of goddamn know-it-alls, riding their little pygmy ponies into Dodge, whoopin’ and hollerin’ and shooting off their pop guns.

                    Firesign Theater: The click of an electric typewriter switch is heard as a man by the name of, uh, Clem boards a bus full of clueless clowns going to The Future Fair (“A fair for all and no fair to anybody!”) While the fair is a smooth-running machine spouting revisionist historical/political dogma and doing its best to maintain order on the fairgrounds, nothing is what it seems – and Clem has a hidden agenda. Or is it all just an eerily prescient dream?

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      • My husband’s response to the verdict was much the same as Blaise’s minus the overwrought poetics. Essentially, both Zimmerman and Martin were unsavory characters and the whole fiasco was a tragic accident. I bit my tongue to keep from pointing out that his own son was an unbearable douchebag at 17, who at 18 managed to get himself kicked out of the dorms before the end of his first semester of college for a variety of repeat offenses (it’s much easier to get suspended from public school than it is to get kicked out of a dorm). Plenty of 17-year old boys are insufferable dickheads; that’s why they’re often described as assoholescents. Most grow out of it.

        Of course, it’s not likely that my stepson, at 17 or 18, would have been profiled by some cop wannabe with a gun were my stepson walking home in the rain in his hoodie and baggy nylon gym shorts. Such is the nature of white privilege.

        Given the nature of Florida law, it’s not at all surprising the prosecution wasn’t able to prove requisite intent for second degree murder, or disprove Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense. But it’s no mystery why Martin has become something of a martyr. If he hadn’t been walking while black at the wrong time, he’d still be here.

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        • “Of course, it’s not likely that my stepson, at 17 or 18, would have been profiled by some cop wannabe with a gun were my stepson walking home in the rain in his hoodie and baggy nylon gym shorts. Such is the nature of white privilege.”

          … only because your son doesn’t go to black neighborhoods…

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    • Actually Blaise,

      . . . the reality of these two mens lives in NOT Lost in all this. Your officious, gun toting turd of a busy body did what MANY people – including some here – do every day. He looked at a young black man (whom he knew less about then you do), decided the young black man couldn’t possibly belong to his “tribe” (or whatever you want to call the group that Mr. Zimmerman claims for himself and no doubt believed he was protecting that day), followed the young black man for some length of time, saw him do nothing other then talk on his phone in the rain, call the cops, and then take the law into his own hands when the cops didn’t get there soon enough for his liking. The end result is that your thrice suspend black man is dead – which is a very common occurrence for young black men in America these days.

      Yes a jury has acquitted Mr. Zimmerman – which is a blatant case of prosecutorial misconduct if ever there was one – but that does not excuse us as citizens, or League members, or League fans from the duty to draw lessons from the event, and seek to make changes – whether in our own behavior or our laws – that prevent the event from occurring in the future. We can’t learn those lessons if we don’t discuss what happened.

      Unless you think gun toting officious busy-body turds should be allowed to indiscriminately kill young black men. in that case, you’re right – there’s nothing to see here.

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      • You are preaching to the choir, Philip. I do not know why Zimmerman decided he would take on the duties of a sworn officer of the law, as he’d done before. Neither do you and Zimmerman didn’t take the stand, so nobody does, really. This I do know: Zimmerman did exactly what he was told not to do.

        Are you an attorney? Can you speak to this blatant prosecutorial misconduct?

        It may well be that many young black men are murdered for the reasons you describe. I don’t pretend to have any insight into why each one dies, though Chris seems to think I do in this case. Is this your argument as well? I’ve said young black men end up in prison far out of proportion to their numbers but then, the correlation between poverty and incarceration is very good for both black and white: rich people can afford better lawyers than the poor, who end up stuck with public defenders. It just happens that lots more black people are poor than white people. I am not a lawyer but I do build rules systems. I can extrapolate that much from what I see in terms of incarceration statistics. It seems reasonable to infer the same is true for being the alleged victims of crime as well as alleged perpetrators. If there’s any misconduct going on in the justice system, it’s this: money will get you a better attorney.

        But I don’t see how this has any relevance to the point I’m making. Trayvon Martin has become a Martyr and Zimmerman a Metaphor. A host of stupid persons are projecting America’s continuing problems of Racism upon them both: Trayvon the Victim and Zimmerman the Perpetrator. It is all a crock of shit, this Making of Martyrs and Metaphors. This transmogrification removes what little humanity was left in them, saints and sinners alike. That much is indisputable. Trayvon Martin is no representative of anything. He was an individual and I have decided I don’t think he makes a particularly good martyr.

        On 22 Dec, 2011, 15 year old Carl Lee Martin was killed by a .40 calibre round accidentally fired by Demontray Lovett, 18, both of St. Petersburg Florida. Both were riding around inside a stolen van. Do you care to infer anything about how young black men are killed from this incident, any more than the Martin / Zimmerman incident? Any generalisations you’d care to make on this subject? I don’t generalise from specific incidents. It’s a systemic error in my line of work, which is rule set building. If there are any lesson to be learnt from this incident, it’s this: the plural of anecdote is not data.

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  8. Elias – nice thoughtful piece, thanks.

    In that vein I also really appreciated Obama’s words in the wake of the verdict; his appeals to cool-headedness and sober reflection, and an acknowledgement that the trial’s verdict should “settle” this specific incident – if we remain ultimately dissatisfied with the outcome, that now becomes separate from questions of whether or not Zimmermann “murdered” (in the legal sense of the term, and as best as we are able to tell) Martin under *current* law.

    IMO, from the beginning this case has brought out the emotional worst on all sides of the debate, even in people who are otherwise level-headed. It is entirely possible to construct a plausible narrative of that night’s events that requires casting neither Zimmermann as racist stalking vigilante, nor Martin as wannabe gangster thug; but rather as a pair of men (or a man, and an almost-man) who had an escalating and unfortunately ultimately-lethal series of misunderstandings of each other’s motives and capabilities on a dark rainy night.

    This series of misunderstandings could have occurred with *any* racial combination of players.

    This would have been a messy case to parse even without fanning the racial flames, which predictably generated more heat than light. Like perhaps one or both of the players that sparked this whole debate, we lost our heads when we most needed to keep them cool.

    It’s likely that had either Zimmermann or Martin done just one single small thing differently that night, Martin would be alive today. As much as that may be dissatisfying to us – more than dissatisfying, tragic – there is not always an unambiguous, easily-identifiable villain in every single horrible event that happens.

    Our understandable need to be able to clearly and correctly fix blame 100% of the time doesn’t always serve us in reality – which is why our “innocent-until” legal system is designed the way it is.

    A courtroom of course is only a simulacrum of reality: a sort of laboratory in which the players cooperatively attempt to mentally re-create an event; attempting to control for all confounding variables via rules of evidence, and credit (or discredit) of witness testimony; and a sort of peer reviewing in the form of a jury, so as to try to come up with the most likely explanation of that event beyond a reasonable doubt.

    But at best, it’s still only an imperfect model or simulation.

    Having been empaneled on a self-defense trial in the past, it seemed highly likely to me from almost the beginning that unless damning evidence (witnesses, or physical/forensic) contradicting Zimmermann’s account of events was produced, he’d probably walk. The judgement of those who initially declined to bring charges (because they felt the available evidence unlikely to result in a successful prosecution), appear to have been vindicated by the resulting inability to bring a successful prosecution.

    I have utmost respect for those who (like Mike) argued from the beginning that their main concern was “an unarmed kid got shot to death: there needs to be a proper, thorough investigation and legal process, so that all available evidence and facts can be evaluated by a jury, and not bypass that process entirely due to SYG laws”.

    I thought then, and think now, that this is an entirely reasonable view.

    That process ultimately happened, and none of us jabbering away on the internet were one of the jurors in that courtroom who saw all the available evidence and witnesses, and accordingly voted their conscience and best understanding of that night’s events and the pertinent law (the open question of the wisdom of SYG laws became largely separate, once Zimmermann was charged and chose to pursue a standard, old-fashioned FL self-defense claim).

    I think Zimmermann and Martin fundamentally misunderstood each other that night, each thinking the other was something he wasn’t, and it led to tragedy.

    As best we can, let’s not continue to misunderstand them, or each other.

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  9. A genuine question for gun rights advocates:

    Would you consider Zimmerman’s use of his gun that night responsible? Given what we do know about that night… not just the shooting but all the facts that came out about his carrying and handling of the weapon… would you call him a “responsible gun owner”?

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    • Given the facts that are in dispute I don’t think I can say, Zimmerman was foolish to get out of his car*, but I don’t think that makes him irresponsible. If Zimmerman’s story is completely accurate (and have very strong doubts that it is) then his actions very largely responsible. If his story isn’t accurate IE: he attempted to restrain Martin or pointed his gun at him and told him not to move (both strong possibilities) then his conduct was grossly irresponsible and illegal

      *contrary to the popular narrative he did not get out of his car against the suggestion of the 911 dispatcher, Zimmerman was already out of his car at the time of the suggestion and he claims that he was headed back to his car when the altercation started. There is reason to doubt the second part but the first is beyond dispute.

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      • Suppose a better way of phrasing would be to ask given what we DO know (and conceding there is a lot that we don’t know definitively), including that Zimmerman had a round chambered, etc…. where does he fall on the spectrum from “Responsible gun owner who should be trusted with a weapon to use in defense of himself and others” and “Irresponsible gun owner who should have his right to own guns legally restricted.”

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        • Based sole on facts that are not in dispute there’s no evidence that Zimmerman put anyone other than himself in danger so I’d say he was responsible. I want to emphasize that I have significant doubts that he is being completely truthful.

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        • My turn:

          Having a round chambered is not irresponsible IF the gun is in a holster that adequately covers the trigger. Semi-Automatics require two hands to work the slide & chamber a round, and since you may not be able to bring both hands together to work the slide, it is prudent to keep a round chambered. Consider that revolvers always have a round chambered unless you fail to fully load the gun. Police almost always carry with a round chambered.

          Otherwise dand is correct, as long as the gun stayed holstered until Zimmerman was under attack, from a gun safety perspective, he was fine.

          His decision to be a wanna-be cop, on the other hand…

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          • Thank you, MRS. As I said, my question was genuine: as someone who does not own or handle guns but generally believes in gun rights for responsible users, I wasn’t sure how typical GZ’s behavior vis a vis the gun itself was.

            Similar appreciation to Marchmaine below.

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    • As a gun owner, the head-scratcher for me is: Why exactly am I grabbing my firearm right here right now. Following a lone “suspicious” person in my own suburban neighborhood just doesn’t rise to that bar.

      Your secondary questions about rounds chambered and presumably how he was carrying his loaded firearm are openly discussed among conceal/carry folks, with what seems to be a majority favoring having the gun hot (I don’t have conceal carry, and when I have my firearms on me on my property they are unloaded until I need them – usually for hunting or processing or varmint work). So, therefore, yes, he was responsible. And, this might displease you, a potential use-case in the justification of why you carry hot.

      Unless, you go back to point #1 which seems to me the fateful decision… why go about your own neighborhood armed – you are in a controlled environment that you know well, with access to police and no need to put yourself in harms-way. So then, no, but that reasoning he was not responsible.

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      • Eh, I know people who carry as a matter of habit. They don’t want trouble, they don’t expect it, but they carry because they can & it’s a good idea to be in the habit.

        If he’d been an off-duty or retired cop, no one would ask why he was carrying.

        Why he was carrying matters less to me. If he’d had a knife (something I carry everyday, as a matter of course) & had gutted Martin instead of shooting him, the end result would probably still be the same.

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        • “responsible” when discussing gun ownership doesn’t just extend to how you carry (i.e. holster type, hot or cold round, etc). Responsible, particularly in a confrontation, rests on what did you do before you brought your weapon out and pulled the trigger. No less the the U.S. Concealed Carry Association teaches its members that pulling your weapon should be the last resort after a series of deescalation steps. Nothing in the media account of that day, or presented in Mr. Zimmerman’s trial demonstrate that he tried to deescalate anything.

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          • Hard to deescalate when you just got your nose busted & your head is getting bashed into the concrete. Yes, you should try to defuse a tense situation, but sometimes it gets away from you, or escalates faster than you can react (even police, who are supposed to have special training in this, fail to do it).

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  10. I’m sorry Zimmerman, the one with a weapon, stalked Martin first in a vehicle and then on foot; against the express recommendation of 911. I really don’t care exactly what happened once Zimmerman cornered Martin. Zimmerman initiated the whole mess, he is responsible for it’s outcome.

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    • Zimmerman didn’t stalk Martin, stalking is clearly defined in Florida law and Zimmerman’s actions don’t meet the definition. There’s also no evidence that Zimmerman ignored the 911 operators suggestion although there’s no evidence that he didn’t other than his word.

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      • The first suggestion not to follow him came while Zimmerman was in the truck. The “we don’t need you to do that.” In the tape, you can distinctly hear him getting out of the truck after the dispatcher says that. He even indicates to the dispatcher that he’s leaving the truck.

        What’s more, it seems reasonable to say that I guy who follows someone first in a vehicle, then on foot, is stalking that person, even if it doesn’t meet the legal definition of “stalking” that might accrue penalties.

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        • The “we don’t need you to do that.” In the tape, you can distinctly hear him getting out of the truck after the dispatcher says that. He even indicates to the dispatcher that he’s leaving the truck.

          that’s just not true and the state didn’t argue that at trail.

          http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/12/us/zimmerman-to-be-charged-in-trayvon-martin-shooting.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

          The dispatcher asked if Mr. Zimmerman was following him. “Yeah,” Mr. Zimmerman said.

          “O.K.., we don’t need you to do that,” the dispatcher said. Mr. Zimmerman said: “O.K.”

          http://www.talkleft.com/story/2013/6/21/15215/8596/crimenews/Zimmerman-Judge-No-Mention-of-Racial-Profiling

          The state agreed that GZ was already out of the car when the police call taker asked if he was following the suspicious person and said “We don’t need you to do that.” So there will be no reference to Zimmerman getting out of the car in disregard of what the call taker said.

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        • The “we don’t need you to do that.” In the tape, you can distinctly hear him getting out of the truck after the dispatcher says that. He even indicates to the dispatcher that he’s leaving the truck.

          that’s just not true and the state didn’t argue that at trail.

          http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/12/us/zimmerman-to-be-charged-in-trayvon-martin-shooting.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

          The dispatcher asked if Mr. Zimmerman was following him. “Yeah,” Mr. Zimmerman said.

          “O.K.., we don’t need you to do that,” the dispatcher said. Mr. Zimmerman said: “O.K.”

          http://www.talkleft.com/story/2013/6/21/15215/8596/crimenews/Zimmerman-Judge-No-Mention-of-Racial-Profiling

          The state agreed that GZ was already out of the car when the police call taker asked if he was following the suspicious person and said “We don’t need you to do that.” So there will be no reference to Zimmerman getting out of the car in disregard of what the call taker said.

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        • breaking this up into two posts so it doesn’t get stuck in moderation

          The “we don’t need you to do that.” In the tape, you can distinctly hear him getting out of the truck after the dispatcher says that. He even indicates to the dispatcher that he’s leaving the truck.

          that’s just not true and the state didn’t argue that at trail.

          http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/12/us/zimmerman-to-be-charged-in-trayvon-martin-shooting.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

          The dispatcher asked if Mr. Zimmerman was following him. “Yeah,” Mr. Zimmerman said.

          “O.K.., we don’t need you to do that,” the dispatcher said. Mr. Zimmerman said: “O.K.”

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          • Ah, you are right. I relistened to the tape. He tells Zimmerman not to follow him right after he gets out of the truck, which Zimmerman does when Martin starts to run away from him. This does not make Zimmerman look better.

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            • Zimmerman had already been following Martin before he was told that he didn’t need follow him, Zimmerman claims he stopped following him at that point and there’s no evidence otherwise although it’s not unreasonable to doubt his claims.

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                • he could have been walking back to his car.

                  http://www.talkleft.com/story/2012/5/27/44552/1872/crimenews/George-Zimmerman-The-Most-Likely-Scenario

                  GZ did not have TM in sight when the dispatcher told him they didn’t need him to follow TM. He responded OK. He didn’t follow him after that. He didn’t know where Trayvon was. He continued walking towards the front of the Retreat View Circle, where the first house is 2861, home to W-13 and W-12. He then turned around to walk back to his car. He just passed the T and the pet waste can when Travyon came up on his left. After a few brief vocal exchanges, which even according to Dee Dee were initiated by Trayvon, GZ got punched and fell down. This may have been at the T or in the grass right off the T, in the backyard of W-11 and W-20. After getting his nose broken is most likely when the sounds turned into cries and wails for help — by George Zimmerman.
                  George Zimmerman was walking back to his truck along this path, right about the T, when Trayvon popped out from somewhere and asked why he was following him. Within a minute, the encounter turned physical. The first sounds heard were scuffles and “arghs.” Not screams or cries for help. GZ was then on the ground with a broken nose. They were off the T, on the grass at the top of the path between the shared backyards. They continued grappling as they moved down the path to the back of John’s house, where they rolled onto the concrete, and GZ started crying out for help even louder, since now it was not just his nose, but the back of his head getting smacked. Trayvon was still on top of him.

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                    • since he ran after Martin until being told not to and was walking back it’s not unreasonable to think that it would take longer and the fight started with a minute or two of when he got off the phone.

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                    • He was running? Is there evidence of that? He had only been out of the car for a couple seconds when told not to follow him (he certainly wasn’t breathing heavy like someone running or who had just run, either). So, he either continued to follow him after being told not to or he ran at near the speed of sound without breaking a sweat or getting the least bit out of breath (and he was clearly not in great shape, a fact his defense used to their advantage in the trial).

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                    • Again, the dispatcher told him not to follow with in seconds, as in under 10 seconds, of him getting out of the car (the dispatcher clearly heard him exiting the car, as the sounds of the exit are very distinct). If he was running after Martin far enough to take minutes to walk back, then he must have followed him after the dispatcher told him not to. Zimmerman’s version contradicts the facts and basic logic.

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                    • Why are you wasting your breath? Dand has constructed an emotionally satisfactory narrative, and for him/her that’s that.

                      I’ve said throughout the thread that we don’t know what happened, I’ve never claimed Chris’s story is false just that there’s no evidence to support it. Read my all my posts I’ve objected to people from both side inventing facts that weren’t true. Use Ctrl+F to verify this.

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                    • Having done some headbutting with dand here and elsewhere, I will say that Will’s assessment is accurate here. I think sometimes his delivery of the message can be off putting but he has indeed been agnostic here.

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                    • The “he could have walked very slowly back to the car” bit is a rather ridiculous story line.

                      He certainly appears to be reaching to construct something.

                      I don’t think it’s the most likely scenario but it’s not out of the realm of possibility and I’m objecting to people that conjecture (such as the notion the Zimmerman followed martin after being told not to) as fact. If it had been stated as speculation I wouldn’t have objected.

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                    • Thanks James, the reason I’ve been pushing back so hard is that I lot of people (not so much here but elsewhere places) believe that this was racially based jury nullification of a homicide. If people were more aware of how little evidence there is in this case I think there’d be a lot less outrage directed at the jury (I don’t care about outrage directed a Zimmerman).

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                    • dand,

                      I’m in agreement. But everyone (well, not everyone, just too damned many) seems to just be falling back on their autowritten morality stories, whichever side they’re coming from. And so I interpreted you as doing that, too. I’m not trying excuse myself, though.

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  11. I think Scott Lemiuex is right. More focus should be paid on the sometimes ludicriously lenient standards for self-defense in many jurisdictions. We shouldn’t get away with the right to self-defense in its entirety but they need to updated because in most parts of the country, professsional law enforcement is readily available. Even in rural areas. People should only be allowed to kill in self-defense in very limited circumstances. I’m fond of New York’s absolute duty to retreat standard personally.

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    • Wrong

      LEO are available, but the time required to put them on scene could be minutes to hours. Not all SD cases give the person time to call, much less retreat to safety to wait.

      Also, the state should never have a lower burden of proof. As I said before, the whole point is a defendant must be PROVEN guilty.

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      • Also, the state should never have a lower burden of proof. As I said before, the whole point is a defendant must be PROVEN guilty.

        On the issue of self-defense, I can’t agree with this, and historically it was the case that the burden of proving self-defense was actually borne by the defendant. I think the historic rule on this point is correct. In effect, one who asserts self-defense is acknowledging guilt to the underlying crime, but then is asserting that they were privileged in some way that effectively permitted them to step into the shoes of the state’s monopoly on the legitimate use of force.

        At least conceptually, it’s an excuse for committing a crime, not a defense that no crime was committed in the first place. If you’re going to insist that you were privileged in this manner, then I don’t think it’s wrong to require that you bear the burden of establishing the existence of that privilege.

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          • There’s some dispute over those calculations from what I’ve seen (IIRC, it depends on how heavy the burden is), but it’s accurate enough for our purposes. My point is just that I nonetheless think the historical rule is superior on this front.

            There’s something particularly appalling that it’s easier to obtain a complete legal excuse for killing another human being than it is to obtain even a partial legal excuse for possessing a few grams of pot.

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          • I think Volokh is wrong here especially in states that make it very hard to present a self-defense argument. As we have discussed above, not all self-defense laws are lenient. New York and other North East states have stringent self-defense laws. Florida’s is quite loose.

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            • Volokh’s point isn’t about the circumstances in which self-defense may be asserterd, but rather about the burden of proof borne at trial once self-defense has been asserted. That stastistic is consistent with other sources I’ve seen, though it only discusses which side bears the burden, rather than the extent of that burden.

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        • Yes, self-defense was always a rebuttal to charges rather than something that the prosecutor had to disprove. It was the defendant’s burden to show that he or she acted in self-defense and since self-defense is basically the defendant arguing for his own version of the events than it should be the burden of the defendant to prove it.

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          • So self-defense is or is not an affirmative defense?

            Still, given the vast resources of the state, especially in this day & age, I think it is prudent to force the state to a greater burden of proof.

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            • MRS – what are your thoughts about my point that by admitting to the willful killing of another human, the defendant is effectively claiming that he possessed the state’s monopoly on the legitimate use of force? In other words, the defendant’s defense is that he effectively was the state.

              Let me put it this way: I have a strong suspicion that the change in the burden of proof was in part initiated by police officers.

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              • Ooooh, you crafty devil, pushing THAT button!

                My concern stems from the fact that the burden of proof is on the state that a wrong was committed. The fact that the defendant is admitting to the act, but claiming privilege should not make the DAs job easier, nor should it necessarily make it harder. True instances of lethal self-defense are chaotic, terrifying events where the total extent of the facts may never be known, even by the defendant. I don’t want people going to prison just because the DA, with the vast resources of the state, was able to muddy the self defense waters just enough.

                The whole point is that only the defense gets to muddy the waters just enough. Even if it means some murders walk.

                As for police officers, I’m less concerned with their potential influence in this trend than the fact that LEOs rarely ever worry over an indictment, much less stand trial for such uses of force.

                I do agree, we shouldn’t even need a legal defense for owning pot. I chaff at the idea of victimless crimes, where only the delicate sensibilities of the state are harmed, rather than an actual victim.

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                • I guess the point is that the burden of proof that the wrong was committed would still very much be on the state – it would still need to prove that the defendant committed the homicide with the requisite intention to kill or harm another human being.

                  My point about LEO likely having a major influence on the trend was to point out that they are the chief beneficiaries – it makes all homicide by a police officer impossible to prosecute. In other words, shifting the burden in this way ensures that all use of force is presumed justifiable as long as the user of that force claims to possess the legitimacy of the state, a presumption which must be disproven beyond a reasonable doubt.

                  Trying to persuade someone of a negative is hard enough; trying to prove that negative beyond a reasonable doubt is often damn near impossible.

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                  • Seems to me immunity & institutional back scratching (DAs declining to prosecute, police agencies covering for each other, etc.) is what makes prosecuting police so difficult.

                    My worry is that mens rea is becoming such a passe concept in our legal system that without strong self-defense protections, the act will be all the matters.

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          • Assuming that Volokh post is correct, is there any idea from the lawyer types when/why this common law precedent was changed in 98% of the nation’s states?

            FWIW, the defense in my case did show evidence that the defendant acted in self-defense (defendant claimed he was returning fire, even though no weapon was found on the shooting victim – but the EMT’s who came to the shooting victim’s aid testified that when they picked the victim up off the concrete, there were spent shells underneath him; the implication, to me, was that it was clearly at least possible he or someone in his near vicinity had been firing at the defendant, prior to his getting shot and falling to the ground).

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        • Just because the cops may be a while doesn’t mean you don’t call them if you have time. I am assuming TM had the time. Maybe I assume too much, but he sure was chatty with his friend for something like 20 minutes. I think he had time.

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  12. I think another issue is that the law and society has a hard time deciding what is an appropriate response when some is being harassed and the harasser won’t back away.

    There was a story about this in NY over the weekend. A black couple was eating at a Burrito joint in the Village. A white guy came over and was very drunk. He began hurling racial insults and saying that (insert word I won’t type) cost him his job and is wife. He was an ex-Goldman Sachs employee. I don’t know why the guy lost his job or not but he seemed to blame black people. The staff of the restaurant tried to haul the white Goldman guy away but were unsuccessful.

    Eventually the boyfriend in the couple punched Goldman-dude across the face and he stumbled. Goldman dude’s head hit the sidewalk and he is now in critical condition. The puncher was booked on assault charges IIRC.

    Should the puncher be charged? What is the proper response when you are enjoying a meal and getting accosted by a drunk and the drunk does not seem to go away. I am not sure punching the drunk is a good idea (even if he is being an unbearable and racist asshole) but the couple was enjoying the meal at the restaurant and had a right not to be chewed out by a racist drunk ex-Goldman douchebag.

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    • ND,

      As I mention above, our sense of “appropriate” is highly contextual. It is easy for white lawmakers to trot out, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”-type logic when they don’t have to face words with the history of indignity like “Nigger”.

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      • Its really hard, maybe even impossible, for the law to take all contexts into consideration though. Thats why the law has to often ignore some really significant past evils like the treatment of African-Americans past, present, and future or the subjecation of women throughout history in order to be theoretically equitable. The law can’t say in X situation Class Y is allowed to do Action Z but in all situations Class B can never do Action Z. Thats even worse than some or many prosecutions that seem egregious. Trying to put morality or historical contexts into the law is not going to work.

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