Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Stand your ground on media ignorance

The current hot-button story is the case of George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida, who--while engaged in a "neighborhood watch"--shot and killed an unarmed teenager named Trayvon Martin. The case has received national attention--and deservedly so--partly because of an apparent racist element: Zimmerman is white, Martin is black, and in one of the 911 calls made by Zimmerman, he identifies Martin's race in a way that suggests it makes Martin somehow more likely to be up to no good, as it were. But there's much more to it than that.

The shooting occurred on February 26th--almost a month ago--and as of now, Zimmerman has not been charged with any crime or even arrested. The Sanford police department's "investigation" determined there was no basis to charge Zimmerman, that his actions fell under the umbrella of justifiable use of force for self-defense:
“Mr. Zimmerman’s claim is that the confrontation was initiated by Trayvon,” Police Chief Bill Lee said in an interview. “I am not going into specifics of what led to the violent physical encounter witnessed by residents. All the physical evidence and testimony we have independent of what Mr. Zimmerman provides corroborates this claim to self-defense.”
But apparently, the police never spoke to Martin's girlfriend, with whom he was on the phone at the time of the incident. Her account makes it seem pretty clear that Zimmerman was actively pursuing Martin, even though a 911 operator had instructed Zimmerman not to do that:

The lawyer, who took an affidavit from the girl, quotes her as saying that Trayvon was walking home from the store Feb. 26 and had temporarily taken refuge from the rain. He then began walking again, when he tells her, according to Crump, "I think this dude is following me."
According to the girl, Trayvon says, "I think I lost him" then moments later says, "He is right behind me again. I'm not going to run, I'm going to walk fast."
The idea that Zimmerman used deadly force because he was in mortal fear just doesn't work, based on the available evidence. The willingness of the Stanford police to cover this up is troubling, to say the least. But no less troubling is the proliferation of stories citing the Florida "Stand Your Ground" law as somehow causal in this incident. That law--passed in 2005--reads as follows:
776.012 Use of force in defense of person.—A person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other's imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if:

(1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony; or

(2) Under those circumstances permitted pursuant to s. 776.013.
Section (2) refers to situations in one's home and is not relevant here. Section (1) requires something from the person using deadly force, as opposed to simply retreating: a reasonable belief that such force is the only way to prevent imminent death (or great bodily harm) to someone, themselves or another, or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony. In this particular situation--given the details above, the instructions of the 911 operator, and the fact that Martin was unarmed, Zimmerman has no clear justification to use deadly force. He need not have confronted Martin at all, much less engaged him in a physical altercation. Martin was not threatening anyone and there is no evidence that he was about to commit a crime, much less a "forcible felony."

So why all the talk in the media about the "Stand Your Ground" law in this case? Laziness? Look what CNN Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Tobin had to say:
"I think the law is basically an invitation to use deadly force under basically any circumstance," [Tobin] said on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" on Monday.
Wait, what? Under any circumstance? And this turkey is a legal analyst? One can't help but wonder if he has even read the relevant statutes. The actual authors of the 2005 legislation have weighed in on the issue:
“They got the goods on him. They need to prosecute whoever shot the kid,” said Peaden, a Crestview Republican who sponsored the deadly force law in 2005. “He has no protection under my law.”

Said Baxley: “There’s nothing in this statute that authorizes you to pursue and confront people, particularly if law enforcement has told you to stay put. I don’t see why this statute is being challenged in this case. That is to prevent you from being attacked by other people.”
Right. It's obvious...to everyone except for the Stanford police chief and most media pundits. For the later group, it's just another ginned up cause célèbre.

Cheers, all.


  1. Nicely done. The best commentary I've seen on the case; as you point out, the rest are off on a witch hunt against "stand your ground."

  2. In my state young black men kill each other with dreary regularity, and I don't hear one peep about it from the left. But the Martin shooting is blowing up like Emmett Till. If op-ed commenters are to be believed, black folks are scared to walk the streets for fear of being set upon by rich, white, republicans who will go largely unpunished. Zimmerman is a cop wanna-be who was obviously desirous to put himself in a situation to kill someone "lawfully." Unfortunately the craven authorities of Sanford, Fl have so far been willing to oblige.

  3. I think you have the right of it, Leaker.