Sunday, July 14, 2013

Trayvon Martin: Let It Rest

Personally, I thought George Zimmerman was guilty of some degree of homicide. Not first degree: he did not deliberately set out to target Trayvon Martin with malice aforethought and intent to kill. Not second degree: when he shot Trayvon, he did not shoot with malice. But it wasn't justified self defence either: you don't get to pick a fight with someone, then when the fight goes against you, pull out a gun and kill, and claim "self-defence." If George Zimmerman had stayed in his truck, Trayvon Martin would be alive today.

I do not believe the jury that found George Zimmerman not guilty of all charges was primarily motivated by racism, and I cannot know with certainty that it was motivated at all by racism. Credible accounts that Martin had Zimmerman pinned to the ground, and Zimmerman feared for his own safety are quite enough to explain the jury's verdict.

I wasn't in the court room, and I didn't hear all the evidence. Like most people, I had to sort through what was pumped out in the media, generally with a lot of overlay by people who were either pumping for Zimmerman as a poster boy for something or other, or were demanding that he be convicted. I tried to get the best picture I could, but only the jury heard it all.

The best sense I got is that two people were each afraid the other was up to no good, and lashed out in what they perceived to be self-defense. Zimmerman thought he was following a potential burglar, and he was wrong. Martin thought a crazy man was following him with intent to assault, rob, or otherwise harm him, and he wasn't quite right about that either. Based on a video that's been posted, it is obvious why Martin might have found Zimmerman's behavior bizzare and threatening. Martin probably felt 'this guy's following me down the street on a dark rainy night, driving past me, then stopping, watching me, following me around the corner and around a bend, then getting out of his vehicle and following me.' Zimmerman thought Martin was acting bizarre when Martin ducked out of sight for fear of Zimmerman.

Zimmerman thought it odd that Martin was looking at him. Martin thought it odd that Zimmerman was looking at him. At some point, Martin thought the best way to insure his own safety was to incapacitate this creepy guy following him. That was overkill. So Martin turned on Zimmerman, quite possibly intending to render him unconscious, and Zimmerman, who found that understandably threatening, pulled out a gun and shot Martin.

Nobody who has had a friend or relation in prison, or worked with families who did, could fail to have some sympathy for Zimmerman's parents and wife, and even Zimmerman himself. He believed he was doing the right thing. He really did. But killing someone, in the honest and unreasonable belief that someone poses a danger, is a crime, albeit less than murder. The hard part is, Zimmerman had a reasonable belief that Martin was doing great bodily harm to him at the time he fired. What he did not have was a reasonable basis to behave in the bizarre fashion that led Martin to believe Zimmerman was posing a danger to Martin.

Apparently the jury found Zimmerman's injuries established a reasonable doubt that he was guilty of any degree of criminal homicide. But the fact remains, Zimmerman began the chain of circumstances that ended with Zimmerman shooting Martin. Zimmerman made a faulty assumption about Martin, and acted on it. It is dangerous for people who jump to conclusions to be following other people on dark rainy nights. It is even more dangerous for such people to be carrying weapons. We need protection from people who do what George Zimmerman did. A conviction would have provided a bit of that protection.

Trials are not held to provide the community with catharsis. The jury has a specific duty NOT to respond to any organized body of opinion that Zimmerman should or should not be convicted. They heard all the evidence, and did what seemed to them the best they could do. They clearly weren't happy with it. Even if the evidence was clear and convincing, they had to find proof beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict.

Zimmerman does come across as a creepy guy. Hopefully he will at least have learned to stay home and stop acting like Superman. The verdict cannot be satisfying to Martin's family, but the fact that there was a trial was a victory. Zimmerman did not get to walk after a routine dismissal by police. He had to face detailed testimony, and the entire matter was examined and sifted. That is a bit more than nothing. Let it rest.