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The Left’s Sad Reaction to the George Zimmerman Verdict

george-zimmerman-calls-trayvon-martin-a-coon

I used to think that irrationally emotional responses to lightning rod issues were more or less exclusive to the reactionary right.

Boy, was I wrong!

Following the announcement of the ‘not guilty’ verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, I posted the following Facebook status:

“Beyond a reasonable doubt” means just that. Although all people of conscience wanted to see justice for Trayvon Martin, that shouldn’t come at the expense of justice for George Zimmerman. The state simply did not prove second degree murder, or even manslaughter, in my opinion. I do feel like Zimmerman got away with something, but exactly what I cannot say, and we cannot convict people based on feelings, even if they’re informed by a lifetime of observing the racial dynamics of American society.

Immediately the comments started pouring in from my erstwhile allies in various social justice movements.

“He got away with murder,” the very first one read, “he stalked and killed a child.”

Murder? Really? Let’s separate that emotional response from the reality of the state’s threshold for burden of proof for a second degree murder charge. According to Florida Statutes Section 784.04(2), the prosecution must prove that Zimmerman committed “an unlawful killing of a human being perpetrated by an act imminently dangerous to another and evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life, although without any premeditated design to effect death.”

In laymen’s terms, the state had to prove that Zimmerman killed Martin with ill will towards him while acting in disregard for human life.

“Ill will” was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt by the prosecution.

Like my first Facebook friend, others repeated the claim that Zimmerman “stalked” and even “hunted” Martin. This is a stretch of the imagination no doubt fueled by an emotional reaction to another (unpunished) killing of a black youth by non-black police officers or citizens. Without defending Zimmerman, who I believe brought everything upon himself by following Martin and then ignoring the police dispatcher’s instruction to stop doing so, he was doing what he perceived to be his job by monitoring passersby in a community plagued by burglaries, break-ins and other crimes.

Another Facebook friend called Martin’s killing a “lynching,” a display of hot-headed hyperbole which insults the victims of real lynchings and other hate crimes that, unfortunately, happen with too much frequency even in this supposedly ‘post-racial’ era.

Others pointed to the irrefutable fact that the armed Zimmerman killed Martin, who had no weapon, as proof of the former’s guilt. This overly simplistic, black-and-white (no pun intended) analysis is just the sort of thing I’d come to expect from the reactionary right, not my ideological brethren and sistren. It doesn’t take much imagination to envision countless scenarios in which an armed person could be acquitted in a court of law for shooting an unarmed person.

Yet another friend, this one of the real world variety, compared my stance to recent comments by Geraldo Rivera, who told his Faux News colleagues that the six women jurors “would have shot and killed Trayvon Martin a lot sooner than George Zimmerman did.” I am by no means justifying Zimmerman’s actions. I am only asserting that the prosecution did not meet the burden of proof required to secure a second degree murder conviction.

What part of “beyond a reasonable doubt” do these people not understand?

A respected Digital Journal colleague published a scathing op-ed piece this morning in which she blasted the United States as “a nation where killers exterminate the helpless.” She also referred to Zimmerman as a “racist.”

“Exterminate?” Really? Does any reasonable person believe for even a moment that Zimmerman wanted to kill Martin? As I have already said, I believe Zimmerman bears some responsibility for Martin’s death because he brought the tragic events of that rainy night upon himself by following him. But using the word ‘exterminate’ is yet another example of inaccurate hyperbole that damages the credibility of progressives who fight for social justice.

As for the assertion that George Zimmerman is a racist, where is there any proof of this? The FBI certainly concluded that he was not.

Speaking of allegations of racism, by far the most absurd reply my Facebook status received was this:

“Brett, you are a racist. Goodbye.”

This, from a white woman, mind you.

In case any readers didn’t know, I am black.

Do I believe George Zimmerman should be punished for killing Trayvon Martin? Yes. Do I believe he got away with something? Absolutely. But what? The obvious answer seems to be manslaughter. After all, people who accidentally kill people with their cars, even if sober, are regularly convicted of manslaughter, right? According to Florida Statutes Section 782.07(1), manslaughter is “the killing of a human being by the act, procurement, or culpable negligence of another, without lawful justification.”

Zimmerman’s claim of self defense– even if he was defending himself against aggression resulting from his own actions– fits the definition of ‘lawful justification’ in both murder and manslaughter cases. Under applicable law, Zimmerman only had to present a prima facie case of self defense. The burden of proof rests upon the prosecution to show that Zimmerman did not act in self defense. Beyond a reasonable doubt. And under the state’s self defense laws, including the notorious ‘stand your ground’ statute, a person is justified in the use of deadly force if “he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.”

I think most reasonable observers would agree that Zimmerman indeed perceived that he was at least in danger of ‘great bodily harm’ once his interaction with Martin turned physical, regardless of who escalated the encounter to the point of violence. We may never know who instigated the physical confrontation. But that’s just it– there’s simply too much reasonable doubt to return a guilty verdict– for either murder or manslaughter.

George Zimmerman is guilty of making a string of bad decisions which resulted in the death of an unarmed and innocent black teenager. He is guilty of making incorrect– and possibly racially motivated– assumptions about Martin. He is guilty of using poor judgment in following the teen. He is guilty of not heeding the police dispatcher’s advice to stop following him. But none of these things rise anywhere near the level of second degree murder, or even manslaughter.

Therefore, the only logical verdict is not guilty.

Was justice served in this case? Certainly not for Trayvon Martin. And while I hesitate to use the word ‘justice’ to describe Zimmerman’s acquittal, I believe the jury made the best decision considering applicable law (just or not) and the facts of the case.

Of course, it would be nice if all defendants– especially the poor, the black and the brown– received the same deference to the principles of American justice which George Zimmerman was afforded. But that’s an entirely different conversation…

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4 Comments

  1. MattJuly 15, 2013 at 10:10 amReply

    I agree 100%.

    The problem here is with Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. Based upon the wording of the statute, I don’t think the jury could have found Zimmerman guilty even if it had wanted to. The problem isn’t with the jury’s decision. The problem is with the law itself. It’s a bad law, pure and simple.

    I’ve taken several armed self-defense classes. The instructor pounded the point home over and over. If you are carrying a gun, DO NOT PURSUE. Ever. The only time you have a right to shoot is if the threat to your life is immediate. If not, you must do everything possible to deescalate or avoid the situation.

    If the FL law is not clear on this point, then it’s a bad law. This is where the focus should be, not on the jury’s decision.

  2. Leo GlickmanJuly 17, 2013 at 9:24 amReply

    I stopped reading at this point:

    Ill will” was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt by the prosecution.

    Like my first Facebook friend, others repeated the claim that Zimmerman “stalked” and even “hunted” Martin. This is a stretch of the imagination no doubt fueled by an emotional reaction to another (unpunished) killing of a black youth by non-black police officers or citizens. Without defending Zimmerman, who I believe brought everything upon himself by following Martin and then ignoring the police dispatcher’s instruction to stop doing so, he was doing what he perceived to be his job by monitoring passersby in a community plagued by burglaries, break-ins and other crimes.”

    Because your understanding of the law is badly misinformed. Clearly, the jury found that he was not guilty beyond reasonable doubt, that is irrefutable. But a jury could easily infer “ill-will” based on his actions. Ill will doesn’t have to be particularized or internalized (“ie I’m out to get Trayvon Martin tonight”.) It is enough that when he shot, he was motivated by anger that Trayvon was not complying with his request to do whatever it was that Zimmerman wanted him to do.

    Though “lynching” may be a bit hyperbolic, the fundamental truth here is that Zimmerman wouldn’t have acted the same way if it was a white kid in khakis and boat shoes.

    Your failure to acknowledge the easy path to conviction that the jury could have taken and been well within the law, but refused to take, is apologizing for the backdrop of racism that surrounded this trial.

    • Brett WilkinsJuly 17, 2013 at 9:46 amReplyAuthor

      I am not “apologizing for the backdrop of racism that surrounded this trial.” I am acutely aware of that backdrop, having lived in north and central Florida for most of my early adulthood and experienced it first-hand as a black man on numerous occasions. But should George Zimmerman pay the price because he happens to live in a corner of the world where racism is prevalent? That seems like an injustice to me as well.

  3. UdolphoAugust 1, 2013 at 10:02 amReply

    “I used to think that irrationally emotional responses to lightning rod issues were more or less exclusive to the reactionary right.”

    This is a very strange comment. I attribute it to the period of disorientation that occurs when one emerges from the cave.

    Dude! Human beings are pretty much emotional creatures at the core. They react, morally and emotionally, long before the facts trickle in. They do this partly because it’s simply faster. But it’s also part of the cement of groups–of social activity. We aren’t mainly rational creatures–and never have been.

    Was the left always more rational? It may depend on your point of view! It may be that your view that the right was more irrational had to do with your own tribal, emotional habits of thinking.

    Our parents just keep getting smarter the older we get!

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