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Civil Rights Charges Against George Zimmerman Would Be Completely Inappropriate

Zimmerman Not Guilty

Within minutes of the announcement that a Seminole County, Florida jury had acquitted George Zimmerman of all charges against him, we began to hear calls for the Department of Justice to bring charges against him alleging that he had violated Trayvon Martin’s civil rights in the February 26, 2012 incident that ended with Martin’s death. It started, predictably, with MSNBC host Al Sharpton, who had oddly been chosen to anchor the network’s coverage of the verdict and quickly spread as organizations such as the NAACP made that call part of the statement that they released regarding the verdict. Yesterday, they were joined by a number of other activists as well as Members of Congress calling on the Justice Department to move forward with its investigation into the matter, which was actually opened back when this case first became part of a national debate. Now, the Justice Department is saying that this is exactly what they intend to do:

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department said Sunday that it was restarting its investigation into the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin to consider possible separate hate crime charges against George Zimmerman.

Mr. Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot Mr. Martin, was acquitted of all charges by a jury late Saturday.

The federal inquiry, which was started shortly after the shooting last year but had been delayed while the state criminal trial in Florida was under way, was being restarted after civil rights leaders called on the Justice Department to re-examine the case. The leaders said Sunday that they remained convinced that the shooting had a racial element. Mr. Martin, 17, was black.

“There is a pattern of George Zimmerman making dozens of calls to 911 over several years, frequently about young men of color,” Benjamin T. Jealous, the president of the N.A.A.C.P., said in an interview on Sunday. Mr. Zimmerman and his family have defended the shooting as an act of self-defense.

In a statement on Sunday, the Justice Department said that now that the state criminal trial was over, it would continue its examination of the circumstances in the shooting. “Experienced federal prosecutors will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation of any of the limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction,” the statement said.

The department sets a high bar for such a prosecution. Three former Justice Department officials who once worked in the department’s Civil Rights Division, which is handling the inquiry, said Sunday that the federal government must clear a series of difficult legal hurdles before it could move to indict Mr. Zimmerman.

“It is not enough if it’s just a fight that escalated,” said Samuel Bagenstos, who until 2011 served as the principal deputy assistant attorney general in the division. “The government has to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant acted willfully with a seriously culpable state of mind” to violate Mr. Martin’s civil rights.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. hinted at those challenges last year.

“We have to prove the highest standard in the law,” Mr. Holder said at a news conference in April 2012. “Something that was reckless, that was negligent, does not meet that standard. We have to show that there was specific intent to do the crime with the requisite state of mind.”

Criminal charges under federal hate crime law have increased significantly during the Obama administration. Between 2009 and 2012, the Justice Department prosecuted 29 percent more such cases than in the previous three fiscal years. Last month in Seattle, for example, Jamie Larson, 49, pleaded guilty to federal hate crime charges that he beat a cabdriver, who was from India and was wearing a turban.

The increase is in part because of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, enacted in 2009, which removed a requirement that a victim had to be engaged in a federally protected activity, like voting or going to school.

Deciding whether or not to proceed with civil rights charges against Zimmerman is not going to be an easy task. On the surface, there really isn’t any evidence that would establish definitively that Zimmerman targeted Martin because of his race, or more importantly that he ended up shooting him to death in the middle of a fight because he was black. None of the comments that Zimmerman made before or after the evidence can fairly be read to support that conclusion, I would submit, and there doesn’t appear to be any independent evidence that establishes any kind of race-based motive for the crime. The case is further complicated by the fact that the killing occurred at the end of what was, going by witness accounts and by Zimmerman’s own statements, was a fight between the two men that had Martin on top of Zimmerman hitting him repeatedly. It would seem difficult if not impossible for a prosecutor operating under those facts to be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman was acting out of racial bias when he shot Martin and killed him. One could argue, perhaps, that his use of deadly force, although the jury verdict clearly seems to indicate that they believed Zimmerman’s use of force was reasonable under the circumstances. Getting from the idea that his use of force was “unreasonable,” though, to the idea that it was motivated by racial bias seems to be a bridge too far.

Ruth Marcus doesn’t think civil rights charges are appropriate:

“This will confirm for many that the only problem with the New South is it occupies the same time and space as the Old South,” said NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, invoking the memory of 14-year-old Emmett Till, who was killed in 1955 after supposedly flirting with a white woman and whose murderers were acquitted. “Old South justice,” thundered Jesse Jackson.

This comparison is unfair. No doubt race played a role in Martin’s death. Zimmerman likely would not have called the police about a white teenager — even a white teenager wearing a hoodie — walking back from a 7-Eleven.

But there is no evidence that race played a role in Zimmerman’s acquittal. If anything, the racial undertones worked against Zimmerman, increasing public pressure on prosecutors to bring the most serious — and, in hindsight, the most difficult to support — charges against him.

Adam Serwer further comments on the difficulties of bringing civil rights charges, and concludes that the Justice Department will ultimately refrain from doing so:

[C]oncern and sympathy may be all the attorney general will have to officer. The civil rights division of the Justice Department, which handles hate crimes prosecutions, has been investigating whether or not to file charges against George Zimmerman since spring of 2012. But convicting Zimmerman on federal hate crimes charges would likely be even more difficult than trying to convict him of second degree murder, because it requires proving beyond a reasonable doubt that when Zimmerman shot and killed Martin during a confrontation in Sanford, Fla., last year, he did so because of race.  Zimmerman has maintained that while he initially followed Martin, believing he might have been connected to recent burglaries in the neighborhood, he broke off pursuit and was attacked by Martin while returning to his car.  Zimmerman claims he shot Martin in self-defense.

The jury didn’t necessarily need to believe Zimmerman’s story to acquit him. If the jury didn’t believe Zimmerman’s statements to a police dispatcher about Martin, in which he used profanity to refer to the teenager, indicated that he acted out of “ill will, hatred, spite or evil intent” when he shot Martin then it’s unlikely that they will be able to prove Zimmerman acted out of racism, barring any new, undisclosed evidence unearthed by federal prosecutors.

“Based on what I’ve seen, I think it would be difficult to envision proving racial intent beyond a reasonable doubt here,” said Samuel Bagenstos, a former deputy assistant attorney general in the civil rights division who is now a law professor at Michigan Law. “It’s always hard to prove what’s on people’s minds, but particularly when you have an event like this that took place away from anyone who would be able to testify it’s going to be very difficult.”

Further Federal action in this case is further complicated by the fact that we already know that the FBI investigation that was conducted in early 2012 when this case first came to national attention found no evidence of any kind of racial motivation for the incident:

After interviewing 30 people familiar with George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch captain charged with killing African-American teenager Trayvon Martin, FBI agents found no evidence that the shooting was driven by racial bias or animus.

Before Thursday’s release of a Department of Justice report, both sides have argued over whether smatterings of racially charged testimony should be released to the public before the trial – in particular, the testimony of “Witness 9,” whom state prosecutors say has described an “act” by Mr. Zimmerman that suggests “he had a bias toward black people.”

The report released Thursday made clear that the FBI found no one willing to go on the record as saying Zimmerman is racist. Even one of the most skeptical local investigators with the Sanford, Fla., police department, Chris Serino, suggested to the FBI that Zimmerman followed Trayvon “based on his attire,” not “skin color,” and added that he thought Zimmerman had a “little hero complex,” but is not racist, according to the Orlando Sentinel, which obtained copies of the document.

Given this, it’s hard to see where the basis for even bringing charges against Zimmerman under the appropriate civil rights charges are going to come from.

I can understand why some people might feel that this avenue is necessary. A 17 year-old is dead after seemingly doing nothing more than walking back from 7-11 after buying Skittles and some Arizona Iced Tea. There’s a sense that someone  ought to be held responsible for what happened and, on Saturday, a Florida jury has ruled that Zimmerman cannot be held criminally responsible under Florida law. Indeed, it’s worth noting that the fact that George Zimmerman was found not guilty does not mean that his actions were without some kind of moral culpability. In the end, none of us will ever really know what happened on the night of February 26, 2012 between Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, who, at 17 years old was, I would submit, far from being a “child” in anything but the legal sense of that word.

All of that, though, is of only passing relevance to an evaluation of Saturday’s verdict. Suffice it to say that the evidence presented at trial was clearly and obviously insufficient to find Zimmerman guilty of either 2nd Degree Murder or Manslaughter. Had he been charged with a lesser crime, such as Negligent Homicide, then he probably would have been convicted and served a couple years at most, but the State’s Attorney who handled the case chose to go for broke and the jury dealt with the case that was put in front of them. As I said on Saturday night, it strikes me in hindsight that their verdict was entirely predictable given the evidence put on by both sides at trial.

Well never really know what happened that night. The only surviving witness is George Zimmerman, and he won’t be talking in public about this case until all possible legal hurdles are put behind him. However, we have his own words in the hours after the incident and physical evidence that doesn’t really contradict those words. In the end, perhaps the best thing we can say is that the confrontation between Zimmerman and Martin ended in a tragedy that could have been prevented had both parties acted differently. However, preventable tragedy is not a ground for criminal liability, nor it is it grounds for turning this case over to the Department of Justice and, without credible evidence, treating George Zimmerman as a racist who went out hunting a young black man.

There will be tremendous political pressure on the Justice Department and the Obama Administration to bring charges against Zimmerman. However, political issues should not enter into this discussion at all. The only relevant question is whether there is sufficient evidence to support the idea that George Zimmerman acted out of racial bias in shooting Trayvon Martin and, looking at it from that perspective, further criminal action in this matter seems completely inappropriate.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. PJ says:

    I call on George Zimmerman to repudiate his racist father and brother.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 14 Thumb down 19

  2. mantis says:

    I think you’re right about the appropriateness of such charges, but there is still plenty of evidence that Zimmerman’s vigilante activities were directed at black people pretty much exclusively.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 29 Thumb down 29

  3. anjin-san says:

    the idea that George Zimmerman acted out of racial bias in shooting Trayvon Martin

    Personally, I think he acted out of racial bias in profiling Martin, calling 911 to report him, and following him.

    The shooting? No – that was the result of a very foolish man making a string of bad decisions that led to him being in a situation that he was in no way equipped to deal with.

    Racial bias is part of the mix, but I don’t have the expertise to know if the bias Zimmermann displayed prior to the confrontation is something that could lead to him being charged.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 35 Thumb down 24

  4. al-Ameda says:

    It is very probable that none of this would have happened if the kid wearing the hoodie was White.

    That said, it is hard to see how the government could prove that Zimmerman was motivated by race when he shot Martin. Based on what we know now, civil rights charges would not be appropriate.

    One beneficial aspect of the verdict to acquit Zimmerman is that we avoided the spectacle of conservatives rioting in the streets.

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  5. Jenos Idanian says:

    Doug, you have to understand: a white Hispanic man shot and killed a 17-year-old black youth. That is never, ever, ever acceptable. There are never circumstances that justify it. Even self-defense is not an excuse, because the black teen can never do anything, ever, that justifies the shooting. They have absolute carte blanche (if you’ll pardon the expression) do do whatever they want, and they can not be shot and killed. And even if a jury doesn’t punish the white Hispanic man, then we have to keep going back to the case, over and over and over again, until he is properly punished. Double jeopardy? The objections you cited? Doesn’t matter. The white Hispanic man must be punished.

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  6. Jenos Idanian says:

    BTW, this may all be moot. There’s a “Kill George Zimmerman” FaceBook page that FaceBook has already decided doesn’t need to be taken down, as it apparently doesn’t violate their policies.

    I wonder how many OTB commenters are already members, or will sign up once they find out about it?

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 34

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Suffice it to say that the evidence presented at trial was clearly and obviously insufficient to find Zimmerman guilty of either 2nd Degree Murder or Manslaughter.

    Ya know? When an armed man stalks and kills an unarmed teenager for the crime of walking thru a neighborhood while being black, young, and armed with Skittles and NOT BREAKING A SINGLE LAW…. and you cite evidence????

    Doug? What part of you is broken? That you can not say the law is broken????

    There is a reason why I have not been around the past 2 days. According to way too many people, my son should have died for his mistakes.

    Fwck all you all.

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  8. mantis says:

    It’s amusing that Jay Tea’s sock puppet Jenos doesn’t realize that the absurd anti-white straw man argument he’s created for his opponents loses much of its impact when he has to replace “white” with “Hispanic.”

    “You’re all just anti-white bigots! Er, Hispanic, whatever!”

    What a moron. And notice how he couldn’t care less about the tragedy of a young man dead for no good reason (exhibiting no small amount of glee, in fact), but gets outraged about a Facebook page. Priorities. Empty threats on the Web are far worse than a bullet to the chest.

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  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Jenos Idanian: You are an idiot. If you can not see why people would want to shoot a man who shot an unarmed teenager? You are dumber than a box of rocks.

    ps: for the record? Zimmerman will be the reason why you lose your “gun rights” FU.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 22 Thumb down 17

  10. anjin-san says:

    Empty threats on the Web are far worse than a bullet to the chest.

    And that’s the way it is… In the strange and dark world Jenos inhabits.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 28 Thumb down 3

  11. Jenos Idanian says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Ya know? When an armed man stalks and kills an unarmed teenager for the crime of walking thru a neighborhood while being black, young, and armed with Skittles and NOT BREAKING A SINGLE LAW…. and you cite evidence????

    Under what law was it legal for Martin to break Zimmerman’s nose, pin him to the ground, and keep beating him?

    A jury of six (including one black woman) heard the evidence you work so hard to immunize yourself from and decided Zimmerman didn’t break any laws.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 20 Thumb down 24

  12. Jenos Idanian says:

    @anjin-san: I hope like hell those are empty threats. I’m just not optimistic.

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  13. Totally agree. There has not been one iota of evidence of racial animus that’s come forward with regard to George Zimmerman’s actions that night in question except, ironically, for Martin’s “cracker” comment. Any prosecution by the Feds on the grounds of evidence already prevented, while perhaps not technically unconstitutional, would smack of double jeopardy or ex post facto law making, because there are really no new elements of a crime that could be proven. But personally, I hope Holder and Obama go ahead, to cement evidence for posterity just how abusive their regime has become.

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  14. anjin-san says:

    @ Jenos Idanian

    Pipe down, weasel-boy.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 9 Thumb down 11

  15. Jenos Idanian says:

    @anjin-san: Here, let me write your comment should Zimmerman get killed:

    While I, of course, condemn the shooting of George Zimmerman, there is a certain karmic justice that this man who stalked and murdered an unarmed black teen was himself shot and killed. Let us all hope that this ends the cycle of violence that ZImmerman himself initiated.

    I also will go way, way out on a limb that should Zimmerman be murdered, there will be no worries or predictions of mass riots and protests in the case.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 8 Thumb down 15

  16. anjin-san says:

    Under what law was it legal for Martin to break Zimmerman’s nose

    Umm. Stand your ground, perhaps?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 34 Thumb down 11

  17. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Let’s Be Free: Don’t bring in facts. You’re a racist if you do anything that disrupts the narrative.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 13 Thumb down 21

  18. anjin-san says:

    @ Jenos

    Here, let me write your comment

    You have commented here countless times. Out of all that, you have produced perhaps three comments that contained any substance, truth, or wit. You have no friends here, no allies, no supporters. You are not respected or admired on any level. A fairly diverse community of mostly bright, thoughtful, and educated people considers you to be, at the very best, an annoying pest.

    I suggest you put more effort into your own words, and refrain from attempting to put words in the mouths of others.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 20 Thumb down 6

  19. Jenos Idanian says:

    @anjin-san: Here’s the law. Cite the 1) relevant part of the law you cited and 2) any evidence whatsoever that it applies to Trayvon Martin.

    Here’s a hint: there’s one key element in the legal use of force that is absolutely essential.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 6 Thumb down 16

  20. tyrell says:

    Rioting and flag burning in Oakland. That really helps everything.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 9 Thumb down 15

  21. Jenos Idanian says:

    @tyrell: Don’t be a racist. Don’t bring that up. You’re harshing the narrative.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 6 Thumb down 18

  22. legion says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    Under what law was it legal for Martin to break Zimmerman’s nose, pin him to the ground, and keep beating him?

    The Stand Your Ground law Zimmerman wanted to use to defend himself at the outset.
    Jackass.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 13 Thumb down 9

  23. Peter Cheney says:

    It does not matter what people think, as a White American,yes Zimmerman is guilty, black Americans will think blacks are all ways innocent no matter what. NAACP are just as racist as the whites. We need too work together.

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  24. Jenos Idanian says:

    @legion: The Stand Your Ground law Zimmerman wanted to use to defend himself at the outset.
    Jackass.

    Zimmerman needed an opportunity to retreat in order for the SYG law to apply. From the initiation of the fight, he didn’t have that.

    Jackhole.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 13 Thumb down 13

  25. anjin-san says:

    @ Indy Idanian

    I hope like hell those are empty threats.

    ♪♫♪
    At work I just take time
    And all through my coffee break time
    I say a little prayer for you
    ♫♪♫

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  26. Jenos Idanian says:

    If I’m gonna read fiction, I’m going to read professional, entertaining fiction. The amateurs here can’t even make their fantasies plausible.

    I’ve got a hankering for some Robert Conroy right about now…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 10

  27. al-Ameda says:

    @Peter Cheney:

    NAACP are just as racist as the whites. We need too work together.

    NAACP are just as racist as the whites. We need too work together.

    I agree with one part of your statement.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 5

  28. legion says:

    As much as I detest the outcome of the trial, I have to point out that Doug is, at least practically, correct. Whether or not it’s “appropriate” to file civil rights charges is something that can be debated till doomsday, but functionally speaking, if the prosecution in Florida couldn’t prove Murder 2 (which even I never thought they had had a chance in hell of doing) there’s pretty much no way they could meet the standard of racial bias needed for a civil rights conviction.

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  29. legion says:

    @Jenos Idanian: Try remembering the thing you’re arguing about. You just stated why _Zimmerman_ couldn’t use SYG. But that very statement shows why it _would_ have been a valid defense for _Martin_: he couldn’t retreat because _Zimmerman_ initiated contact and pursued _him_.
    Illiterate.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 18 Thumb down 7

  30. Rusty Shackleford says:

    @legion:

    I’ll probably regret jumping into this snake pit, but my understanding of the law is that Trayvon didn’t have a right to SYG because he didn’t have a right to be striking Zimmerman in the first place, because it wasn’t provable that Zimmerman committed a forcible felony against Trayvon. This has been repeated at places like the Atlantic and Slate, not exactly far right news sources.
    Zimmerman was completely in the wrong to follow Trayvon and inject himself into the situation, but by the letter of the law Trayvon had no right to do what he did, given the facts of the case.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 3

  31. Rusty Shackleford says:

    No legal right, that is

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  32. C. Clavin says:

    Jenos…the white victim of reverse racism…what a maroon.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 6

  33. Scot says:

    What am I missing? Did the prosecution claim this was racially motivated? I thought the Martin family and the prosecutor said this wasn’t about race. I thought Zimmerman and his defense said it wasn’t about race. I totally understand the debate over the appropriate use of a gun and I understand the debate over what actually happened since no-one witnessed the shooting, but why do so many people believe this was racial thing? I get the feeling people are using this tragedy to drive their own personal agenda. How sad.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  34. mantis says:

    @Rusty Shackleford:

    Trayvon didn’t have a right to SYG because he didn’t have a right to be striking Zimmerman in the first place, because it wasn’t provable that Zimmerman committed a forcible felony against Trayvon.

    Not provable because the other witness is dead.

    It makes things quite convenient for aspiring murderers. Follow someone until you are alone. Start a fight (make sure you get a scratch or two), shoot him/her, and then just say he/she started it. You don’t want your victim to know you have a gun, of course, lest he/she tries to take it from you in the scuffle. Good thing vigilantes can conceal their weapons legally.

    I’m not saying that’s what happened with Zimmerman/Martin–though it could be–but apparently careful murderers have an airtight method to get off scot free.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 20 Thumb down 7

  35. Rusty Shackleford says:

    @mantis:

    I don’t disagree with any of that. And your scenario certainly
    could describe what happened. But that’s like saying the presumption of innocence encourages rape, because if it is a he said/she said scenario then you cannot charge the accused rapist, without some evidence beyond the accusations (if I’m misunderstanding you I apologize).

    In regards to stand your ground, doesn’t it refer only to the middle of
    an “attack”? In that case it wouldn’t encourage or discourage the situation that you described. I’m not sure exactly how it is so heavily related to this case, because Zimmerman waived his right to a Stand your ground hearing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2

  36. mantis says:

    @Rusty Shackleford:

    But that’s like saying the presumption of innocence encourages rape, because if it is a he said/she said scenario then you cannot charge the accused rapist, without some evidence beyond the accusations (if I’m misunderstanding you I apologize).

    There is no such thing as justifiable rape. You can’t say “I raped her, but she deserved it.” But more importantly, the victim is alive to give the “she said” (or “he said,” in some situations) testimony. My point was you eliminate the other witness.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  37. C. Clavin says:

    Of course Zimmerman isn’t a racist. And voter suppression isn’t about race. And the VRA decision wasn’t about race because we no longer have a race problem. The tea baggers aren’t racist…they just don’t like Obama because he pulled the economy out of a death spiral and cut their taxes. It’s just ridiculous to say that Zimmerman was stalking Martin because he was a black kid. That’s impossible today. We only discriminate against white folks now…like Jenos…and Ted Nugent.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 19 Thumb down 8

  38. Matt Bernius says:

    @Rusty Shackleford:
    The issue that many of us (including those like myself who are very sympathetic to the concept of legitimate self defense) is that SYG more or less encourages escalation of situations towards deadly force. And since most self defense encounters are one on one situations, when deadly force is deployed, the cards tend to be in favor of the person who deployed the deadly force.

    In Martin’s case, given the fact that Zimmerman did turn out to be armed, it’s not impossible to build an entire argument for Martin’s preemptive attack and use of deadly force.

    In addition to all of this, the larger problem with SYG is that the law was past as violent crime rates were precipitously dropping. However, thanks to mass media and lobbying groups, people actually believed that their lives were actually more in danger, not less. The net result was a law passed in the middle of a moral panic.

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  39. @legion:

    That’s another part of the argument. Prosecutors are generally held to certain ethical standards, and one of those is that they should not file charges if they do not honestly believe that there is a reasonable chance that they could prove those charges beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  40. Matt Bernius says:

    *Sigh*

    The only reason that the this topic is being kicked around is pure optics. Given the frustration about this, the last thing Justice is going to do is immediately say there’s no chance of a civil rights prosecution. They responded in the most mealy mouthed way possible, which is unfortunate. Race might have played a role in this, but the idea of going after Zimmerman based on “racism” is the same type of radical overreach that led to a 2nd Degree Murder indictment — something that it’s clear there was never enough evidence to support and which poisoned any sensible prosecution.

    All that said, while a Civil Rights investigation is pure BS, a civil lawsuit (wrongful death) is surely on the way. And it will be very interesting to see if the defense’s “We’re not pursuing SYG” will come back to haunt them (or alternately, if they felt that an acquittal will help them in the inevitable SYG hearing).

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  41. rudderpedals says:

    Keep in mind the SYG test is whether this accused had a reasonable fear of imminent injury. It’s a shocking and divisive result because I think we’ve taken a situation we’re accustomed to seeing and excusing – the homeowner who shoots the nighttime home invader – and putting that situation out on the street.

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  42. Matt Bernius says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Prosecutors are generally held to certain ethical standards, and one of those is that they should not file charges if they do not honestly believe that there is a reasonable chance that they could prove those charges beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.

    Prosecutors held accountable for overcharging? Dude, stop making me laugh by posting this stuff.

    Sadly “reasonable” is definitely in the eye of the beholder. And one has to wonder where “charge big to force a plea deal” plays into these concepts of “reasonable.”

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  43. C. Clavin says:

    @ Rudder…
    Advance Your Ground laws are next.

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  44. Mike Preston says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Doug – I have a question for you that’s been on my mind since I read some of your other postings on the case…

    I appreciate your legal take on the issue and, as much as I don’t want to, I have to agree with it as the prosecution didn’t prove murder two. But I have to ask…and I know that the law is not supposed to legislate morality…what would you tell black people to do with the anguish and pain of seeing this young person gunned down and the law basically saying there’s nobody at fault?

    I’m a 6’3″ black man with BA and MA degrees from two very well-known universities. I have no criminal record, pay my taxes and am otherwise completely normal citizen. But this case makes me feel like I go walking though a Sanford (there are Sanfords all across America), that I could potentially get shot and maybe killed if someone doesn’t like my being where they think I shouldn’t be…even if I have every right to be there.

    My first inclination would to to tell people to either try to scrap SYG laws or to alter the self-defense laws so that the person who initiates the encounter has more culpability, but since many of these things are closely tied to gun laws (and we’ve seen that there’s no appetite to change those) there seem to be limited areas of recourse.

    I get that some people think Trayvon was a punk because he was young, and black, and flashed middle fingers in a picture. You can believe that but also believe that he shouldn’t be dead. I just think that there’s been a real lack of empathy for the Martin family from people who are supportive of the jury verdict and that’s been most disheartening.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 37 Thumb down 1

  45. C. Clavin says:

    But Advance Your Ground only applies to white on black murder.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 6

  46. Franklin says:

    I don’t see any solid evidence that George Zimmerman is racist. His brother, however, has repeatedly provided evidence of his own racism.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  47. rudderpedals says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Advance Your Ground laws are next.

    We’re already there :(

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  48. anjin-san says:

    @ Franklin

    I don’t see any solid evidence that George Zimmerman is racist.

    Solid evidence? Probably not. But his history of making 911 calls with a focus on “suspicious black males” is certainly a red flag, as are his completely unfounded suspicions regarding Martin.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 3

  49. bk says:

    You’re a pig, Doug. I’m done with this website.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4

  50. C. Clavin says:

    I think Doug is about right on this…but I’d like to see DOJ press it anyway.
    Watching all the idiots heads explode would be awesome. Might just push poor Jenos over the edge. Watch him wet his onesy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 6

  51. John Burgess says:

    @Matt Bernius: Here’s where SYG could very well come into play. While Zimmerman did not assert this as a defense in the criminal trial, he may very well do so in any attempted civil case. Here, Florida’s SYG provides immunity from civil suit. The verdict in the criminal case would certainly be presented as showing that Zimmerman acted lawfully.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  52. Tyrell says:

    @Peter Cheney: I thought Zimmerman was hispanic, which is usually considered a minority group.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  53. PD Shaw says:

    @Rusty Shackleford: “In regards to stand your ground, doesn’t it refer only to the middle of an “attack”?

    There are two or three concepts that people use interchangeably and confusingly with SYG.

    First is a centuries old description of an interpretation of self – defense, it is better to describe it as “no duty to retreat.” If you attack me in a place I have a right to be, I do not have a duty to retreat, but can attack you in return. I can stand my ground without losing the right to claim self-defense if the conflict escalates. The premise here is that society is reluctant to judge you criminally response to responding to an attack with criminal penalties when you are not the instigator. Morally, it might be best if you had used all efforts to evade the conflict, but in practice over numerous occurrences, society has deemed it unfair as an absolute rule.

    A principle related to “no duty to retreat” is the “rights of aggressors.” Aggressors do not have a straightforward right to stand their ground — they perpetrated the conflict. An aggressor has a duty to first seek to disengage from the conflict they initiated before they can claim self-defense. If the aggressor is prevented from disengaging, having taken reasonable efforts to do so, the law will then recognize his self-defense claims.

    Florida, like a few other states, has a stand-your-ground statute which provides a procedural remedy for the defendant to seek immunity from civil or criminal sanctions. It was not invoked by Zimmerman, but his attorneys will invoke it if Zimmerman is sued.

    Since the judge in Zimmerman’s case found that the State presented no evidence that Zimmerman was the aggressor in his encounter with Martin, the jury was not instructed on the duties of aggressors. And when I say no evidence, I mean no evidence was presented by the State that a jury could reasonably rely upon to find that Zimmerman was the aggressor. Had such evidence been presented, the jury would have had to evaluate Zimmerman’s claim that he was not the aggressor, and if they found that he was the aggressor, they would have had to evaluate his claim that he could not remove himself from the conflict he had started because he was pinned on the ground and being pummeled by Martin.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  54. Matt Bernius says:

    @John Burgess:
    That was exactly what I was thinking actually. Without a successful finding of SYG Zimmerman is open to civil law suits.

    One has to wonder why, given that fact, Zimmerman (and his legal team) didn’t go for a SYG hearing *before* the trial. Not only would that have ended everything (saving money and the pain of the trail), but it would have immediately immunized him from civil law suit.

    I am curious as to whether or not the verdict in this case can be entered as evidence in the SYG hearing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  55. PD Shaw says:

    This is the jury instruction on duties of aggressors that the judge rejected:

    Use of force by aggressor.—

    The justification described in the preceding sections of this chapter is not available to a person who:

    (1) Is attempting to commit, committing, or escaping after the commission of, a forcible felony; or

    (2) Initially provokes the use of force against himself or herself, unless:

    (a) Such force is so great that the person reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he or she 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; or

    (b) In good faith, the person withdraws from physical contact with the assailant and indicates clearly to the assailant that he or she desires to withdraw and terminate the use of
    force
    , but the assailant continues or resumes the use of force.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  56. Matt Bernius says:

    @PD Shaw:
    I’d love your take — along with Doug’s and HarvardLaw’s — on the strategy of holding off on the SYG hearing until *after* the criminal trial.

    As I said in the last post, it seems like having an SYG hearing could have shut all of this down quickly and immediately closed the door on any civil suit. Clearly Zimmerman’s team felt the State didn’t have the evidence to prove 2nd degree murder. But why go through all the extra hassle and cost of the actual trial?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  57. Matt Bernius says:

    @C. Clavin:

    I think Doug is about right on this…but I’d like to see DOJ press it anyway.

    Way to argue for perverting of the legal system to go after people you don’t like for no other reason than you don’t like them.

    What was that Nietzsche warned about battling monsters?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

  58. PD Shaw says:

    @Matt Bernius: “One has to wonder why, given that fact, Zimmerman (and his legal team) didn’t go for a SYG hearing *before* the trial.”

    The reasons that I’ve heard are (1) the defense had decided that the judge was pro-prosecution or would be too scared to take the weight of a very controversial decision, (2) Zimmerman would have had to testify, exposing him to additional claims by the prosecution of changing his story, and (3) the SYG hearing would have helped prepare the prosecution for the criminal trial by revealing the details of their testimony. Mainly, (1) it would appear, (2) and (3) are consequences of losing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  59. JKB says:

    @PD Shaw:

    Of course, contrary to the delusions of many here, the “provokes use of force” doesn’t arise by following or calling the cops on someone. It has to be “the other’s imminent use of unlawful force” for which there is no evidence Zimmerman ever considered or attempted unlawful force imminent or not.

    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

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  60. bill says:

    @al-Ameda: yes, conservatives rioting in the streets- when’s the last time that happened? usually they’re too busy working to burn down neighborhoods and loot for stuff they already have….
    it’s nice to see the left admit (albeit sheepishly) that they have no civil rights case because nobody’s civil rights were violated. and obama will not have to stick his foot in his mouth again for political points or just to look presidential…….whatever that means to him.
    not that i think zimmerman is some kind of hero, but this case was a waste of time/money in the name of trying to fan some flames on the dying embers of racism.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 13

  61. bill says:

    @C. Clavin: and how many of those happen yearly, vs. the reverse? it’s not news when blacks kill, it’s expected. you should demand more from the media!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 9

  62. SideTraKd says:

    @al-Ameda: It is very probable that none of this would have happened if the kid wearing the hoodie hadn’t assaulted an armed man.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 7

  63. JKB says:

    Over at NRO, John Yoo has a post up discussing the fact that there does not seem to be federal interest to support any civil rights prosecution. The laws just don’t cover private-private civil rights violations. Also, if the civil right is the right to life as some have proffered, then why isn’t the DOJ investigating the dozens of minority killings in say Chicago on a quiet weekend? Or Detroit, or New York?

    So it is doubtful the “investigation” will come to anything and if it does, it could go all the way to SCOTUS as it would raise some interesting federalism issues

    And I know you all will freak out with the mention of John Yoo but get over it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 9

  64. dennis says:

    @Peter Cheney:

    black Americans will think blacks are all ways innocent no matter what.

    Oh, really? You let the same media that you call “lame stream” and rail against color your view of what Black people think or don’t think. I’ll bet you complain that Black people always lump White people in the same category, don’t you?

    What an asshat.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 1

  65. common sense justice says:

    @mantis: @al-Ameda: elements of a crime u just proved one wow think about what u just said

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  66. common sense justice says:

    @Peter Cheney: u so funny u will wake you kkk dead brothers

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  67. anjin-san says:

    @ JKB

    John Yoo

    It comes as no surprise to me that the godfather of American torture is someone you look to for answers. Water tends to seek its own level.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 2

  68. PD Shaw says:

    @JKB: “Of course, contrary to the delusions of many here, the “provokes use of force” doesn’t arise by following or calling the cops on someone.”

    Anybody who thinks that following someone or calling the cops is a legal provocation for violence is either a very scary, violent person, or they have not considered the consequences of that rule.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  69. common sense justice says:

    If profiling can be proved along with 911 tape evident 2 elements of a crime have been meet more then likely more evidence will surface old friends or enemies from gz past charge going to be easier to prove time will tell

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  70. JKB says:

    @PD Shaw:

    Have you read some of the comments here?

    Just so happens Eugene Volokh just posted a discussion of provocation and self defense.

    It would be wise for many here to read it lest they make an unwise choice if they find themselves in a self defense situation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  71. bill says:

    @Tyrell: well the media deemed him a “white hispanic” and some are still using that term. so i assume our president is a “white-black guy” , or a “black-white guy” if we’re to keep this bs up?! at the end of the day, white means bad…..we’re all bad people i guess. what a joke.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 8

  72. Matt Bernius says:

    I just want to second @JKB’s recommendation. The article is well worth reading.

    However, I would point out one issue with the excellent analysis at both Volokh and the Huff Post article Volokh cites.

    In the case of one-on-one self defense situations where deadly force was involved, only the living person gets to tell the story of what happened unless there are witnesses.

    There were no witnesses to most of the Zimmerman/Martin encounter. The only eye witness account we have places Martin on top of Zimmerman. Beyond that, no one can swear to exactly what was happening until after Zimmerman drew and fired.

    I only write that because much of the subtlety of Volokh’s and Burke’s analysis hinges on what happened in the moments leading up to Martin punching Zimmerman (and to be clear, I firmly believe that Martin swung first).

    As the phrase goes, dead men don’t tell tales. So, fair or unfair, in a case like this, the draw goes to the person who acted decisively and with deadly force.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  73. Matt Bernius says:

    @PD Shaw:

    Anybody who thinks that following someone [...] is a legal provocation for violence

    Following by itself, no.

    But following someone on a dark night, for no apparent reason, is a solid start toward legal provocation.

    ** Warning: Everything that follows is speculation for the sake of argument **
    From the 911 tapes, it sounds like Zimmerman was in a somewhat agitated state. So that needs to get added to the mix as well.

    So, for the sake of argument, you now have an agitated person clearly following you, at night, in a neighborhood were this isn’t normal behavior. That’s a red flag there. Not necessarily enough to be legal provocation, but it’s a major step in that direction.

    That’s going to inform whatever happens when the direct verbal/emotional/psychological confrontation takes place.

    The missing piece in this story is what specifically happened when the two met face to face prior to the punch being thrown. We will never know that as we only have Zimmerman’s side of the story.

    Say, for the sake of argument, that Z caught up to M and forcefully asked him to stop (no gun shown). At that point, Z’s aggressive following is going to have to be taken into account in M’s sizing up of the potential self defense situation. Again, is it enough for lethal force? HELL NO. But, it takes us to a moment of judgement as to whether or not M should try and talk his way out of the situation or “stun and run” (as they say in the biz).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

  74. Matt Bernius says:

    @Mike Preston:
    Thanks for the heartfelt post. I’m not answering for Doug. Here are a few random thoughts on what you wrote:

    But I have to ask…and I know that the law is not supposed to legislate morality…what would you tell black people to do with the anguish and pain of seeing this young person gunned down and the law basically saying there’s nobody at fault?

    You are (understandably) looking for an answer to a deeply emotional question/pain. Unfortunately, “law” doesn’t deal in emotion. In fact, it’s specifically designed to avoid emotion. So any answer the law gives isn’t going to meet your need.

    The truth is that the prosecution over-reached and went after a conviction based more on emotion than fact. So the state failed its people.

    Secondly, the fact is the law, in a case like this doesn’t assign “fault.” It’s simply making a finding of guilt or innocence on certain charges. Fault is a matter for civil courts and what will happen there remains very much open.

    Neither of these truths are particularly comforting. But for that matter, neither is the law.

    But this case makes me feel like I go walking though a Sanford (there are Sanfords all across America), that I could potentially get shot and maybe killed if someone doesn’t like my being where they think I shouldn’t be…even if I have every right to be there.

    This is a tough one. I have empathy for this feeling — though as someone whose White and from a middle class background, it’s not something I can pretend to fully understand in the same way that you do.

    Again, speaking rationally, the fact is that these types of incidents are incredibly rare. That’s not to excuse this. It’s simply stating that the US is no where near as violent as most people believe.

    But of course, that isn’t your point. Your point is that you can’t trust the legal system to protect you.

    Again, all I can offer is a clinical analysis — I think race played a “soft” role in the initial shooting. There’s little doubt in my mind that Zimmerman was profiling. But in part that’s because Martin fit the profile of someone(s) who had been burgling the community. Still, the fact is that young black men dressed in a certain way are identified as “dangerous” in our cultural collective consciousness and pretending that had nothing to do with this is absurd.

    However, in terms of the trial and the verdict, all that had far more to do with (a) prosecutorial overreach and (b) that Florida’s laws, not to mention its culture, tend to favor the plaintiff in self defense cases.

    My first inclination would to to tell people to either try to scrap SYG laws or to alter the self-defense laws so that the person who initiates the encounter has more culpability, but since many of these things are closely tied to gun laws (and we’ve seen that there’s no appetite to change those) there seem to be limited areas of recourse.

    The difficult thing here is what are we counting as “initiating the encounter.” Unfortunately, from all the available evidence, Martin made some mistakes as well. And, while I’m a firm believer in preemptive self defense if the situation calls for it, unless Zimmerman did something to signal an immediate danger, Martin shouldn’t have popped him.

    Again, that isn’t to say Martin deserved what he got. But his role in this cannot be ignored.

    Which gets to the problem of laws. And I agree that if I had to choose between SYG and Florida’s concealed carry laws, I’d strengthen the latter first.

    I just think that there’s been a real lack of empathy for the Martin family from people who are supportive of the jury verdict and that’s been most disheartening.

    The problem is that for all too many people, this is just a battle in a larger proxy war. And it’s a war where empathy is largely seen as a weakness by many folks on both sides. And as with most wars, the peacemakers and those trying to reconcile the conflict are in for a lot of pain.

    The thing is, the only way to understand an issue is if you are willing to be wrong and willing to not worry about winning every fight. And the only way to be empathetic is to try to understand the other side. These are not goals and skills that are particularly valued on internet discussion threads. But they are definitely things that are ultimately appreciated by friends and family once you step away from the keyboard.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  75. michael reynolds says:

    People want to do something useful? Don’t visit Florida. We should cut them off from tourist dollars.

    We have better sunshine here in California, far less humidity, no cockroaches, and our legislature does not pass laws whose purpose is to empower white people to kill black people.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 20 Thumb down 8

  76. anjin-san says:

    @ Matt Bernius

    SYG more or less encourages escalation of situations towards deadly force.

    This is a real problem. Back in the day, I worked with some very good bouncers – legitimately tough, trained guys who could mess people up very badly, very quickly if they wanted to. Without exception, the best of the best were courteous and level headed at all times (barring an idiot who just could not be steered away from trouble).

    One thing they all seemed to agree on. Always try give the other guy a way he could back down, and still save face. Conflict begets conflict, escalation begets escalation, violence begets violence, and so on.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  77. anjin-san says:

    Here’s a charming story about a Zimmermann fangirl attacking 73 year old Lester Chambers (of the Chambers Brothers) on stage because he dedicated a song to Treyvon Martin.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 2

  78. sam says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    Under what law was it legal for Martin to break Zimmerman’s nose, pin him to the ground, and keep beating him?

    Under Florida’s stand-your-ground regime, he was perfectly within his rights had he thought he was in imminent danger. Had he a gun, he could have shot George Zimmerman and plead the defense.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 3

  79. fred says:

    Black Americans, and millions of White Americans, are angry and full of despair today. An all White judge, prosecutor team, defense team and 5 of 6 jurors, with the remainer being Hispanic, in truth metaphorically lynched a dead black victim who was in his grave and freed his murderer. Is this what we call American justice? When you listen to the lone juror who has already spoken you hear why Zimmerman was found not guilty. She had made up her mind before even hearing the evidence, signed up for a book deal within a day of the verdict, and did not even understand the cultural differences evident in how a young black teenage female had to go on the witness stand to speak about the unlawful death of her friend. Something has to give in America and it is that some white Americans have to come to terms with the fact that our country is now multi-cultural and the old confederate and jim crow ways will never return to our country.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 7

  80. sam says:

    BTW, if you haven’t seen it, read it, you might want to look at Alafair Burke’s article at HuffPo,
    What You May Not Know About the Zimmerman Verdict: The Evolution of a Jury Instruction on the lack of instruction on provocation. She summarizes at Volokh, Provocation and Self-Defense:

    The attorneys squandered 15 minutes on arguments that were clearly factual determinations for the jury, rather than boiling down to the obvious legal issues. Is provocation through “threat of force” a requirement of ACTUAL threat of force or simply the victim’s reasonable belief that the defendant poses a threat of force? If we inject self-defense standards into the provocation standard, then the prosecution can argue that Trayvon Martin was the one who reasonably perceived an imminent threat of harm, did not need to retreat, and enjoyed a right to self-defense. 2) Is it possible for two people to be acting in self-defense simultaneously (if they both have reasonable beliefs that they face a threat?) Or if TM had a reasonable fear, does that automatically make GZ the aggressor? The trial court punted on the legal issues by forgoing the instructing in its entirety.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  81. Joe Reed says:

    @mantis:

    Not provable because the other witness is dead.

    It makes things quite convenient for aspiring murderers. Follow someone until you are alone. Start a fight (make sure you get a scratch or two), shoot him/her, and then just say he/she started it. You don’t want your victim to know you have a gun, of course, lest he/she tries to take it from you in the scuffle. Good thing vigilantes can conceal their weapons legally.

    I’m not saying that’s what happened with Zimmerman/Martin–though it could be–but apparently careful murderers have an airtight method to get off scot free.

    Wait, so under Florida law, if there is not enough actual evidence to convict you, you are found not guilty? That’s heinous! The penalty for murder would hopefully be something severe enough to act as a deterrent. Possibly something as threatening as life in prison or some other harsh sentence.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

  82. C. Clavin says:

    @ Michael Reynolds…
    Yes…and it’s a perfect excuse to never have to visit my family again.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  83. C. Clavin says:

    @ Matt…

    “…Way to argue for perverting of the legal system to go after people you don’t like for no other reason than you don’t like them…”

    Try a reading comprehension course.
    What I was (facetiously) arguing for was the legal system to go after a guy that killed an unarmed kid…so that it would annoy the idiots who are in fact gleeful that he got away with killing an unarmed kid.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  84. becca says:

    Zimmerman is a weenie-man who provoked and killed an unarmed innocent kid and got off cuz Z got skeered of the kid and Florida law was written by a bunch of other weenie-men.

    The Atlantic can’t swallow FL soon enough.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

  85. mantis says:

    @Joe Reed:

    Wait, so under Florida law, if there is not enough actual evidence to convict you, you are found not guilty?

    Florida law encourages homicide.

    If you fire a warning shot at your abusive husband, you get 20 years. Better to kill, then only you get to tell the story.

    That’s Florida.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 2

  86. JKB says:

    @sam:

    Well, even if you assume Martin was justified in punching Zimmerman so that he falls to the ground, there is still the problem that he continued his attack beyond the force necessary to stop the threat. Once Zimmerman is on the ground with Martin astride him, the imminence requirement is no longer there to justify continued force such as punching.

    Even if you consider that Martin reasonably thought some threat continued, you still have the problem that Martin apparently thought that Zimmerman’s face was the imminent threat he needed to stop. There is no evidence that Martin tried to control Zimmerman’s hands, which most reasonable people consider to be the greatest threat from another person.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  87. JKB says:

    @mantis: If you fire a warning shot at your abusive husband, you get 20 years. Better to kill, then only you get to tell the story.

    There is no such thing as a warning shot. Every discharge of a firearm at or in the vicinity of another person, whether intentionally trying to hit them or not, is deadly force. As it was, the court noted one of the bullets went through a wall but thankfully was deflected away from one of the children.

    Back in 2010, in Kansas (fixed by the Leg. now) it was a crime to draw your firearm and not use it. Self defense only applied to using the firearm which was ruled by the courts as discharging. So, if you pulled it you had to draw blood or risk assault with a deadly weapon charges. Even if the individuals stopped their threat upon seeing the firearm.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

  88. C. Clavin says:

    JKB bragging about his 9mm muscle again….zzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  89. stonetools says:

    I understand all the arguments by Doug and others about why the DOJ should not get involved. But then my mind circles back to one fact: had Trayvon Martin been white, this would never have happened.
    Zimmerman would never have followed/pursued/stalked Martin ( he seem to only “follow” black people, by some strange coincidence).
    Had Zimmerman killed white Martin, he would not have gone home that night. He would most certainly been arrested, held, charged, and tried.
    Had Zimmerman been tried, he most likely would have been convicted by a jury that would have identified less with “Georgie” and more with a victim who would not have been a “boy of color” , according to one juror.

    All the tap dancing in the world by the Zimmerman supporters can’t refute all this, which is why the DOJ should look at this again.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 3

  90. Rob in CT says:

    No way can they prove this. Therefore, they shouldn’t try.

    We, in our armchairs (so to speak), can opine as to what made Zimmerman believe Martin was suspicious. I tend to think it was the combo of Martin’s race, gender, age and attire (oooh, scary hoody) and Zimmerman’s apparent desire to be The Fist of Goodness (if you haven’t seen the ad, google it. I can’t help but see Zimmerman as the Fist of Goodness, except with a gun).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  91. stonetools says:

    I posted prematurely, but let me continue with Part 2 of my post. All that said, what should the DOJ do?
    I will admit that a hate crime prosecution looks like a long shot. But the DOJ has more arrows in its quiver than that.
    It should investigate and maybe file a lawsuit on SYG. There appears to be statistical evidence that SYG is applied in a racially discriminatory fashion. The Civil Rights Commission is already on it, but its a small agency. The full force of the DOJ should be behind this.
    It should investigate ALEC and NRA-the two organizations that fomented the spread of SYG and shall issue CCW.
    It should look again at the voter suppression legislative schemes(instigated, once again, by ALEC). One way to change these vigilante enabling laws is to increase minority voter turnout, which are going to elect legislators that will repeal such laws.
    The point is that the DOJ should not simply do nothing, but should do everything it can to make sure no Trayvon Martins get killed again. As long as these laws exist, there will be more “tragedies”-except its not a tragedy, if it happens by design.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  92. bill says:

    @michael reynolds: water’s too cold

    @stonetools: previous burglars/thieves in the “very middle class” gated community were described as being “black”. do the math. neighborhood watch volunteers “watch” their neighborhoods. more math, but it adds up.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 5

  93. george says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Ya know? When an armed man stalks and kills an unarmed teenager for the crime of walking thru a neighborhood while being black, young, and armed with Skittles and NOT BREAKING A SINGLE LAW…. and you cite evidence????

    You know, if evidence becomes unnecessary in criminal prosecution, a lot more blacks than whites are going to be convicted because of it.

    Sometimes situations just suck. This is one of them. If someone had driven by at that time, or looked out a window, there’d be plenty of evidence.

    The best long term solution is gun control. No gun, and Zimmerman (who according to his MMA instructor was an exceptionally untalented fighter) stays in his car. The second best is changing the SYG law. But changing “innocent until proven guilty” to “guilty until proven innocent” (ie evidence not being required) is going to hurt the poor, who won’t have access to good lawyers, more than anyone else.

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  94. al-Ameda says:

    @Mike Preston:

    I appreciate your legal take on the issue and, as much as I don’t want to, I have to agree with it as the prosecution didn’t prove murder two. But I have to ask…and I know that the law is not supposed to legislate morality…what would you tell black people to do with the anguish and pain of seeing this young person gunned down and the law basically saying there’s nobody at fault?

    I’d say to them that the legal system is designed to provide due process, not necessarily a morally right outcome.

    Although Zimmerman set in motion the series of events that resulted in this tragedy, and although at every step of the way Zimmerman exacerbated and aggravated the situation, he (Zimmerman) had a gun, there was no reliable eyewitness testimony to counter the defense, so he prevailed. Zimmerman was fortunate, his idiocy was rewarded by Florida laws and the Courts.

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  95. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    Well, even if you assume Martin was justified in punching Zimmerman so that he falls to the ground, there is still the problem that he continued his attack beyond the force necessary to stop the threat. Once Zimmerman is on the ground with Martin astride him, the imminence requirement is no longer there to justify continued force such as punching.

    That is nonsense as evidenced by the fact that Zimmermann was able to kill Martin in exactly this situation.

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  96. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @bill:
    a. Hispanic is an ethnicity, not a race. Hispanics can be caucasian, asian, or african, or a combination thereof.
    b. Might I suggest Googling “one drop rule” if you want to avoid looking like an ignorant fool in the future?

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  97. sam says:

    @JKB:

    Even if you consider that Martin reasonably thought some threat continued, you still have the problem that Martin apparently thought that Zimmerman’s face was the imminent threat he needed to stop.

    Ah for chrissakes, please. Stand in front of a mirror and read that out loud. Jesus.

    And for what its worth, I think

    1) given the instructions and the evidence, the jury reached the right decision.

    2) the DOJ ought not to get involved.

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  98. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    Just wanted to add that this was by far the best reader post I have read around here in the last year. Logical, measured and on the point in every detail.

    Kudos!

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  99. Matt Bernius says:

    @JKB:

    Well, even if you assume Martin was justified in punching Zimmerman so that he falls to the ground, there is still the problem that he continued his attack beyond the force necessary to stop the threat.

    There are a lot of assumptions in the above statement that are presented as *fact.* I again point out that all the witness could swear to seeing was Martin on top of ZImmerman and the two men scuffling.

    Again, what follows is speculation, but also speculation from someone with experience in this sort of situation (I train martial arts/self defense, I’ve sent a lot of time both in mount and mounted).

    If Martin intentionally followed Zimmerman to the ground, there is no question in my mind, he was in the wrong. However, from personal experience in an actual real-life fight/self-defense situation, and as someone who regularly trains this stuff, I can say that typically most fights go to the ground because one person, who is falling, pulls the other one down. (In fact this is also pretty common in MMA matches as well).

    My belief, based on all the evidence, is that Zimmerman most likely pulled Martin on top of him as he was falling. It’s a natural human reaction — you reach out and grab whatever is nearest to you.

    This gets the the second part of the discussion:

    Once Zimmerman is on the ground with Martin astride him, the imminence requirement is no longer there to justify continued force such as punching.
    [...]
    There is no evidence that Martin tried to control Zimmerman’s hands, which most reasonable people consider to be the greatest threat from another person.

    Again, outside of Zimmerman’s testimony, there is little sworn evidence to suggest that this was necessarily the case. Yes, I think the two (scared) men were tussling. Again, I will point out that the medical experts clearly split as to whether or no Zimmerman’s injuries were consistent with what one would expect from a ground and pound situation.

    But the fact is, regardless of whether your are in mount or mounted, trying to get off the ground when you are dealing with a resisting opponent is a very messy thing. And having watched people in mount (with training), under good lighting, from relatively close distances, trying to extricate themselves from a resisting opponent, I can say that clear designations between defense and offense get blurred rather quickly.

    Likewise, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that Martin wasn’t trying to control Zimmerman’s hands. Again, grabbing hands sounds like something easy to do until you’ve tried to control the hands of a resisting opponent.

    My point in all of this is not to pretend that I know what happened that night. It’s to point out that simple narratives (like many people here are using) are not necessarily correct and shouldn’t be stated as fact — especially since there was never an actual finding of fact on this particular aspect of the confrontation.

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  100. PD Shaw says:

    @Rob in CT: “We, in our armchairs (so to speak), can opine as to what made Zimmerman believe Martin was suspicious.”

    The juror that was interviewed said it was reasonable for Zimmerman to be suspicious of Martin because Martin was walking slowly through the rain at night, looking in windows, cutting through the back of the neighborhood. Provocative enough to keep an eye on and call the non-emergency number.

    What’s surprising is how the dispatcher’s conduct has done a 180 degrees with his testimony. This juror is angry that the dispatcher didn’t instruct Zimmerman to stay in his car, but was egging him on to tell him where Martin was. The dispatcher testified that he didn’t instruct Z, nor would have because of liability issues.

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  101. Rob in CT says:

    @mantis:

    One thing about the “warning shot” case… from what I’ve read, the woman went out to her car to get the gun, returned to the house (where her ex and kids were staying) and THEN fired her “warning shots.”

    I don’t know much more than that and yeah, 20yrs is a serious punishment so it warrants a cocked eyebrow. But I’d be careful jumping to conclusions.

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  102. Rob in CT says:

    @PD Shaw:

    The juror that was interviewed said it was reasonable for Zimmerman to be suspicious of Martin because Martin was walking slowly through the rain at night, looking in windows, cutting through the back of the neighborhood.

    Is this the “his heart was in the right place” juror?

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  103. stonetools says:

    @Rob in CT:

    Yup. And here is what she actually said:

    ROR: I think just circumstances caused George to think that he might be a robber, or trying to do something bad in the neighborhood because of all that had gone on previously. There were unbelievable, a number of robberies in the neighborhood.

    COOPER: So you don’t believe race played a role in this case?

    JUROR: I don’t think it did. I think if there was another person, Spanish, white, Asian, if they came in the same situation where Trayvon was, I think George would have reacted the exact same way.

    COOPER: Why do you think George Zimmerman found Trayvon Martin suspicious then?

    JUROR: Because he was cutting through the back, it was raining. He said he was looking in houses as he was walking down the road. Kind of just not having a purpose to where he was going. He was stopping and starting. But I mean, that’s George’s rendition of it, but I think the situation where Trayvon got into him being late at night, dark at night, raining, and anybody would think anybody walking down the road stopping and turning and looking, if that’s exactly what happened, is suspicious. And George said that he didn’t recognize who he was.

    Note that even she said this was George’s version.Now she (and all the Zimmerman supporters here) are straining to say that Zimmerman didn’t racially profile Martin, but it’s pretty damn obvious that Trayvon’s problem was that he was walking while BLACK.
    I look out my window and see people of all colors walking down the street every day and night -looking into windows even. I NEVER think of that as suspicious.

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  104. Mike Preston says:

    @Matt Bernius: Thanks for the response. Very thoughtful.

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  105. PD Shaw says:

    @Rob in CT:” Is this the “his heart was in the right place” juror?”

    Yes. I don’t think people who didn’t follow the day-to-day testimony realize how much good character evidence came in with regard to Zimmerman. Law enforcement, the neighborhood association/watch, neighbors, school teachers, a gym instructor, and friends gave a picture of a pretty nice guy, someone you would want to have as a neighbor.

    Because the prosecution didn’t have any direct evidence, they put Zimmerman’s character into play, which backfired.

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  106. Tom says:

    @anjin-san:
    I have to agree this appears to be more about a foolish man whose actions resulted in the death of another person rather than about race. It’s tragic that two people interact, one of them is armed and the unarmed man ends up dead. Whatever went on there its hard not to conclude that Zimmerman’s actions led to the death of Trayvon Martin. He had choices and he made bad ones.

    I would not want Zimmerman making any decisions that involved me.

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  107. Matt Bernius says:

    @Mike Preston:
    No prob. I wish I could give more comforting (or perhaps satisfying) answers to those difficult questions.

    Please comment here more often!

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  108. anjin-san says:

    @ Tom

    I would not want Zimmerman making any decisions that involved me.

    Agreed. Zimmermann is a fairly shaky character. An arrest record, court ordered anger management classes, an ex with a restraining order against him. Ad that in with his rather obsessive wannabe cop thing and obviously horrible judgement – well with the gun in the mix, it’s an accident waiting to happen.

    If I knew someone like Zimmermann was driving around my neighborhood armed, I would call the cops on him. It might not be illegal, but it is stupid and dangerous, and I would hope a real cop could persuade the fake cop to cease and desist.

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  109. george says:

    @Gromitt Gunn:

    a. Hispanic is an ethnicity, not a race. Hispanics can be caucasian, asian, or african, or a combination thereof.

    You forgot aboriginal (or Amerindian if you wish). No, we are not the same as Asian, any more than Caucasians are (the divide between Asia and Europe is an arbitrary political line, between Asia and North America a sea).

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  110. olsgamer56 says:

    I find all the Zimmerman caused this because he got out of the car to be dangerously wrongheaded. How is it different from blaming a rape victim for how she was dressed or were she was, as long both were legal actions. Zimmerman had every right to be there. It was his neighborhood. He was in the neighborhood watch.

    Why does none of the Saint Trayvon crowd ever explain what Martin was doing in the four minutes between when Zimmerman said he lost him and the neighbors reported the fight. Martin, a fit 17 year old football player, was within a little more than a football field away from where he was staying, could have walked there within a minute, but choose not to.

    The only scenario that for me fits both the evidence and my personal experience is that Martin went back to confront Zimmerman and then assaulted him, probably with a sucker punch and followed up to inflict maximum pain and injury. Martin has a history of fighting and liking it. The only thing that stopped him was Zimmerman’s highly effective (probably not by design) shot.

    I was taught that a reasonable person may loss control of their emotion and lash out, but after 5-6 seconds they normally regain their senses and attempt to defuse the situation. There was no evidence that Martin attempted to cease his beating of Zimmerman until Zimmerman had to use the last resort. Expecting Zimmerman to keep taking a beating that could end in his death is unreasonable and not legally required. Martin is dead because he made a long series of bad decisions.

    This has never been about SYG because Zimmerman never had the chance to make that decision. He was assaulted unexpectedly, which drops it into regular self defense. He was never given the opportunity to retreat or choose to SYG, the assault happened too fast.

    Yes, the shooting was a tragedy. But would so many people have felt the same way if Martin had succeeded in killing Zimmerman? I doubt it.

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  111. bill says:

    @legion: and there’s any proof of that? i suppose the highly paid state investigators missed all that or it would have been brought up at trial. here’s a clue- martin ambushed zimmerman or something like that. and since zimmerman was not a good fighter he pulled his gun and fired – and being a bad shot he actually killed him instead of winging him? tragic nonetheless but a far cry from stalking/killing .

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  112. bill says:

    @olsgamer56: ur a racist! just for thinking rationally in here.

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  113. olsgamer56 says:

    @Tom: You would then prefer to have those decisions made by Martin?

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  114. Craig Davis says:

    @bk: good.

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  115. mantis says:

    @Rob in CT:

    20 years, Rob. I didn’t say she did nothing wrong. I said she should have killed him and gone free. That’s how it works in Florida.

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  116. anjin-san says:

    @ olsgamer56

    He was in the neighborhood watch.

    Then why was he armed? Why was he following someone? Serious “no-nos” in Neighborhood Watch. You don’t get to break all the rules then cloak yourself in the legitimacy of a group that has totally renounced you and your actions.

    Martin, a fit 17 year old football player

    I used to be a high school football player. Trust me, it does not equate to physical marvel, or Bruce Lee. Martin was a skinny kid.

    There was no evidence that Martin attempted to cease his beating

    There is no evidence Martin “beat” Zimmermann. There is evidence he hit him once.

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  117. olsgamer56 says:

    @anjin-san: It was a good thing Zimmerman had a gun, probably saved his life.

    Why did Martin return to find/ambush Zimmerman. Makes him the aggressor. He had no right to strike him at all.

    One witness, saw them fighting, yelled at them to stop and went back in to get his phone. Martin never got off Zimmerman and continued to strike him.

    Did you even follow the case at all or you just convinced of the sainthood of 12 yearold Trayon of the white hoodie?

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  118. Ashley says:

    It’s amazing to me how people comment on this case and state “facts” that were either never brought up in court or proven completely false. No one commenting should have to re-hash details that were publically discussed in court. Facts that either resulted in no objection by either side or were collaborated by witnesses and evidence. If anyone here has information that contradicts what the investigation, witnesses, and experts testified to in court–then you’ve done the Martin family a disservice by staying quiet with your inside knowledge. If you don’t have such material information–then you are a fool to add your own version of events days after the publically open court case is over.
    With that said. There is quite a difference in racist assumptions and biased assumptions. Racist assumptions are the result of ignorance. Such as: young black males all smoke weed or arab men are terrorists or all white people are racist. Biased assumptions are the result of society’s perceptions of people. Such as: Gangster rappers probably used to be in gangs or Arabs don’t like Christians or white people are decendants of slave owners. You can’t get around bias. A black teen in a hoody on a dark night walking in a neighborhood who isn’t recognized by a guy trying to prevent crime would be suspicious to someone based on bias–approaching him isn’t racist anymore than Zimmerman approaching an unknown car driving slowly in front of a vacant house. It’s not WHY Zimmerman approached that’s the problem here. Everyone has a right to confirm their suspicions. I have a right to keep an eye on the guy in the parking deck when I am alone at night. I also have a right to ask why someone is in my yard who I don’t recognize. The problem in this case is what both these men did once Zimmerman approached. According to the court case–Trayvon didn’t simply answer Zimmerman’s questions about what he was doing. Trayvon didn’t simply say: “Hey, I’m walking to XXXX address from a friend’s house.” Instead, he contributed to the escalation of a confrontation. The result had little to do with race. It has everything to do with bad decisions on the part of both men. Everything to do with bias that both men felt–nothing to do with racism.

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  119. Ashley says:

    @michael reynolds: No they just kill each other there while your state politicians bankrupt the treasury.

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  120. fred says:

    In the last few days my heart has been at breaking point as I hear a multitude of Black and Brown Americans talk about how they speak to their children, mostly boys, to interact with the police. Their discussions along with the result of the Zimmerman trial and interview of one of the jurors have reinforced the idea that black and brown boys are “other than,” “second class citizens,” “animalistic,” and the notion that “white is right.” Instead of fostering these perceptions in their kids by telling them how to walk in the dark, how not to run in public, etc, most Black parents, including AG Holder, have unwittingly bought into the myth that Black and Brown kids are not American. The messages they have given to their children surely must have these children asking themselves why they have to behave differently than White Americans when they are in public and in their dealings with the police. Their children’s self-esteem and self-worth have been invalidated by parents whose love and also fear for the safety of their kids have in fact sent the wrong message to these children. These parents’ messages have also failed to educate their children that they are as free as any other citizen and that RESPECT for ALL is the American way. Instead of the messages mentioned above, I urge every Black and Brown parent, and enlightened whites who want to empathize, to tell their children about slavery, about the civil rights movement and about how many Americans, of all races, have fought, died and sacrificed that ALL Americans enjoy freedom and happiness in this land we all call home. They should tell their kids that freedom applies to all Americans and that there are certain rights that we all enjoy not only as citizens but as human beings who are similar in so many ways, yet different in many others too. From this day onward, I exhort all Black and Brown parents to change how they educate their children to behave differently in our society. Yes, embrace their ethnic and cultural differences, but make no mistake in telling their children that as an American they are no different than any other. Tell them that RESPECT for ALL in our society is the American-way and even the police and those in authority have to adhere to these American norms. Tell them that there are federal and state laws that protect their rights as Americans and if those rights are violated, they and their parents have recourses to corrective action. This positive image of our country and living here must be reinforced in Black and Brown kids and when this image is violated parents must use all available avenues to correct any wrong. Black and Brown parents must now tell their children that first and foremost they are Americans and come from a heritage which helped build this country. Let their children feel the pride from this knowledge and be brave in living the American-way. The federal government, local police stations, and organizations such as NAACP should establish a hotline, similar to 911, which should be imprinted in the brain of all of us so that if any citizen see violations in treatment of our children, especially Black and Brown, they can call and report them. I recommend a number such as 333, for example, which is easy to remember. All Americans need to act to change the racial animus and hatred exhibited daily in our country towards minorities, especially Black and Brown citizens. Black and Brown parents have a significant role to play too as outlined above. It’s time for our country to make a significant change and go forward as ONE. I am willing to travel this land and spread this message to all audiences, if there is any interested sponsor out there. LETS MOVE OUR COUNTRY FORWARD AND BE PROUD AND BRAVE AMERICANS.

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  121. al-Ameda says:

    @olsgamer56:

    It was a good thing Zimmerman had a gun, probably saved his life.

    It’s always a good thing when insecure guys carrying guns follow kids.

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  122. Truthteller says:

    @mantis: What evidence?

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  123. tom perkins says:

    @anjin-san:

    “Then why was he armed?”

    In case he was attacked.

    ” Why was he following someone?”

    To tell the police where the person was.

    “Serious “no-nos” in Neighborhood Watch.”

    Maybe in the trademarked organization, but no one said it was involved, did they?

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  124. tom perkins says:

    @anjin-san:

    There is the testimony of the neighbor who saw most of the fight, who said he saw Martin repetitive swing at Zimmerman, and who said he could not see the multiple blows land only because Martin was in the way.

    If you have the wit to wonder, the reason you have to keep on lying about this point is, you have no evidence to support your claims at all.

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  125. tom perkins says:

    @stonetools:

    “but it’s pretty damn obvious that Trayvon’s problem was that he was walking while BLACK”

    Nope, in fact, at first Zimmerman had no idea of the race of the person. What he thought was weird was how the person has going from house to house and looking in windows erratically in the rain.

    And what Martin was doing was weird and merited watching and a summoning the police. If Martin hadn’t assaulted Zimmerman, that would have been all that happened.

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  126. tom perkins says:

    @stonetools:

    “but it’s pretty damn obvious that Trayvon’s problem was that he was walking while BLACK”

    Nope, in fact, at first Zimmerman had no idea of the race of the person. What he thought was weird was how the person has going from house to house and looking in windows erratically in the rain.

    And what Martin was doing was weird.

    And really, Martin may well have been scoping places to burgle:

    http://spectator.org/blog/2013/07/15/trayvon-crime-school-miami

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  127. al-Ameda says:

    @tom perkins:

    Nope, in fact, at first Zimmerman had no idea of the race of the person. What he thought was weird was how the person has going from house to house and looking in windows erratically in the rain.

    Lacks credibility, no eyewitnesses can confirm that, it’s only Zimmerman’s word there.

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  128. Tom Perkins says:

    @al-Ameda:

    There is the recorded 911 call prior to the shooting, which shows no sign of any dissemblance on Zimmerman’s part, that when asked to specify the appearance of Martin, that Zimmerman only thought he looked black. Zimmerman wasn’t sure.

    Anyone can judge the worth of that call, which is a digital record, and not testimony.

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  129. al-Ameda says:

    Zimmerman has a criminal record, I guess that in Florida it’s okay for a guy with a record to possess a gun?

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  130. olsgamer56 says:

    @al-Ameda: Again, you are wrong on the facts, he has no criminal record. Charged or arrested does not mean guilty. You only have a criminal record if you are convicted of something.

    Do you deliberately get all the facts wrong?

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