Column, 687 words

There Ought to Be a Better Law

The Trayvon Martin verdict shows that with "Stand Your Ground" laws, it's your word against theirs and they're dead.

Donald Kaul

I wasn’t too surprised when do-it-yourself vigilante George Zimmerman was found not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin. The trial took place in Florida, after all.

You have to be pretty stupid or reckless or both to be found guilty of murder in Florida.

If you want to kill someone in the Sunshine State, all you have to do is get him or her alone and then provoke them into threatening you. At that point, you can pull out a gun and shoot them dead, later saying that you felt your life was in danger.

Zimmerman's Smoking Gun, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Zimmerman’s Smoking Gun, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

And if you get them really alone, you don’t even have to provoke a threat. You can just say you were threatened. It’s your word against theirs and they’re dead. Perfect crime.

Remember Columbo, the quirky and long-running TV mystery series starring Peter Falk? Columbo would have been out of a job if he tried to exercise his funky detective skills in Florida.

Only two people know what really went down that night, and one of them is unable to tell his version of the events. Zimmerman made sure of that.

His story is that he saw Martin, a black teenager, acting suspiciously in a community where Zimmerman was trolling for miscreants. He followed the kid for a while, reporting the youngster to the 911 operator. Then, acting against the advice of the operator, he got out of his car and started to follow the young man on foot.

Eventually, Zimmerman said, he stopped and began walking back to his car. At which point, the defendant claimed, Martin jumped out from some bushes and attacked him, knocking him down and repeatedly beating Zimmerman’s head against the sidewalk. Fearing for his life, Zimmerman pulled out a gun he’d been carrying all this time and shot Martin, killing him.

That was his story. The jury bought it, though I can’t imagine why. (Actually, I can imagine why, but I’m not going to say it. It might start a riot.)

This is a cockamamie story from start to finish.

In the first place, Martin was a skinny kid and Zimmerman’s an older, burly guy. If they got in a fight, you’d bet on the bigger fellow, particularly if he fancied himself a kind of cop.

In the second place, there were no bushes for Martin to jump out of. Pictures show the site to be clear of foliage.

In the third place, an examining doctor said that Zimmerman’s head wound looked as though it were the result of a single blow, not repeated bashing.

In other words, at every point that could be checked, Zimmerman lied. In addition, he lied to the judge about his resources at his bail hearing, for which he was jailed again.

Yet the jury seemed to believe him.

This is what I think happened: Zimmerman got out of his car to follow Martin more closely and, perhaps, harass him. Martin, nervous (wouldn’t you be?), turned to confront him. Maybe Zimmerman accosted the young man, maybe he didn’t.

In any case, thinking he was acting in self-defense, Martin popped the bigger man, knocking him down, all the while yelling for help.

Zimmerman, panicked now, pulled out his gun and shot his assailant. Then he called the cops again.

I think that plays.

However, it’s no more than a fiction, a work of the imagination. Were I a juror, I would not act on the assumptions I made there.

As a matter of fact, I would not vote for a guilty verdict on the charge of murder. By Florida law, the evidence did not prove “beyond the shadow of a doubt” that Zimmerman murdered Martin.

It’s a really stupid law.

Given the opportunity, I might vote for a manslaughter verdict (getting out of the car against expert advice puts him somewhat at blame for what happened later). But the prosecution was so lame I doubt I’d get the opportunity.

As President Barack Obama pointed out, we are a nation of laws.

Justice has nothing to do with it.

OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. OtherWords.org

  • wayne from sheboygan

    Well put, Donald. This shooting was practically inevitable; all the necessary ingredients were there. You had the wannabe cop with a gun (and an attitude) walking up on a stranger in the dark. It’s only a matter of time until he shoots someone. The guy shouldn’t even have been allowed to have a toy gun. A neighborhood watch guy carrying a gun – what’s wrong with that picture?

    • JaylahP

      rtdrury, that’s a lovely sentiment, but I’m really not sure what your point is concerning the Martin/Zimmerman case.

      There is no question that Zimmerman shot Martin and killed him. Zimmerman himself admitted that.

      The question is, did he really do it in justifiable “self-defense” (as he claimed), or did he just kill a kid in cold blood (as the evidence suggests). And I’m not sure how you can get those two polar opposite viewpoints to come together and start singing Kumbayah.

      And is not thinking it’s a good idea to allow Rambo wannabe vigilantes out on the street with loaded weapons really a “liberal” or “conservative” issue?

      • whatsername

        you call GZ that until someone in your neighborhood gets robbed by a gangbanger in a hoodie or YOU want someone to be zealously watching YOUR hood for strangers. Another poster got it right when they said TM could have called police instead of a chick that didn’t even go to his funeral……and testified against TM and helped GZ’s case. duuuh.

  • RAGBRAI 5

    Yet many states are now allowing people to carry a concealed weapon – even in a bar while consuming alcohol. The next time I go into a bar I will make sure that I stare into my glass and not look at anyone for being perceived as a threat. I imagine the insurance sector is loving it. Your liability insurance rates are going up because your clients are packing heat. Friendly client or robber?

    • olwhat’sername

      They can also open carry. I.E. Iowa. But businesses have the option of not allowing any weapons in their business. Of which I agree with.

  • rtdrury

    I’m eternally grateful that there is a third way. I like to call it the people’s view/philosophy/agenda. As opposed to the liberal and the conservative. By the people’s philosophy, we home in on the essence of the issue considering both sides instead of fan flames of conflict, competition, and ego domination. But it’s a lonely task because it’s outside to the two herds, the two feedlots.

    Now it’s a very interesting process. It’s actually a very beautiful process. When we home in, you can watch how trust builds and mistrust diminishes. You can watch how the process coaxes the goodwill in people. You can see with your own eyes the end point of the process, a win-win resolution for everyone. This is how the people’s movement works, in general. So it’s very exciting, I think.

    In the case of Zimmerman we first present the facts in a way that both sides can accept without storming out the door, i.e. we first establish an inclusive environment. Remember, this is the people’s movement with an ultimate agenda to send both liberal/conservative “leaders” out the door and replace elite rule with the people’s self-rule. Quite an agenda, eh? Harder than diamonds, our agenda.

    So in this inclusive environment we’ve established, it’s very easy to see who shares the people’s agenda and who doesn’t. Those who don’t will storm out of the room. Now you see already how the people are able to focus our energy to achieve the results we need. And so those who stay in the room continue to get to the bottom of the issue at hand.

    The judge’s role is to limit the sensationalism, manipulations and distortion created by the defense/prosecution lawyers. If the judge fails in this role, the people will halt the proceedings, achieving the judge’s submission to the will of the people. The people will require that the judge summarize the case after the attorneys finish. The summary will be in the people’s frame so that the people can easily relate the issue with our agenda to secure self-rule. If there is a hidden agenda to inflame a gun/violence cult in order to divide the people to force their submission to elite rule, the people will see it very quickly and easily. So the liberal/conservative theater will be quickly exposed, and extinguished, and the people will remain united to keep elite sociopaths in their little cages where they belong. The people’s self-rule will be preserved, strengthened.

    • JaylahP

      rtdrury, that’s a lovely sentiment, but I’m really not sure what your point is concerning the Martin/Zimmerman case.

      There is no question that Zimmerman shot Martin and killed him. Zimmerman himself admitted that.

      The question is, did he really do it in justifiable “self-defense”
      (as he claimed), or did he just kill a kid in cold blood (as the
      evidence suggests). And I’m not sure how you can get those two polar
      opposite viewpoints to come together and start singing Kumbayah.

      And is not thinking it’s a good idea to allow Rambo wannabe
      vigilantes out on the street with loaded weapons really a “liberal” or
      “conservative” issue?

      • olwhatsername

        what evidense suggests cold blood?

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  • Mike

    Well that was 5 minutes I can never get back after reading the biggest piece of crap in years. I’m glad he knows that he lied since he makes it sound he was right there then you state only two people know what really happened. If you don’t like the laws change them, oh you cant because you don’t live there. Stop telling people in other states how they should be living.

    • whirlpooloff

      He doesn’t even understand the the defense never used the “Stand Your Ground law” in its case. It was simply a self defense argument. No mention either of why the high school suspended homophobe Martin didn’t call the police if he thought he was being threatened. The woman he did call would be the last person I’d consult if I were in trouble.

      I could recommend that the writer go back to school in Detroit, but that obviously wouldn’t do much good either.

  • Hugo S LaVia

    Remember Columbo? I watched it last night on ME TV.

  • Hugo S LaVia

    My dad used to say if you go looking for trouble, you’ll find it. That was Zimmerman’s job.

    If he’d been looking for unicorns, I’m sure he would have found one.

  • John B.

    I’m sorry to say the verdict was predictable — and I did predict it before the trial opened.

    Donald has it almost right. He wrote, “You have to be pretty stupid or reckless or both to be found guilty of murder in Florida.” Not quite. It should read, “You have to be pretty stupid or reckless or black to be found guilty of murder in Florida.”

    Sanford is, after all, the town that refused hotel and restaurant service to young Jackie Robinson. Nothing there has changed. It is quintessential Florida.

  • BarbaraM.

    thanks. I belive what you believed. How was Trayvon a threat walking down the street on the cell phone talking to friend. eating skittles, and drinking tea.

  • BarbaraM.

    please send this to Essence and abony Mag