Tag Archives: self Defense

The laws are not designed for people to make moral or emotional decisions. Verdicts must be based on facts, even when the outcome might be dead wrong. Let’s talk about George and Trayvon.

14 Jul

The verdict for George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin is in: Not Guilty, and a lot of people are understandably very, very upset.



I won’t pretend I’ve been following the case in excruciating detail, because I haven’t been. I’m operating on the bare bones of the case, which I understand to be this:

George Zimmerman felt personally responsible for the safety of the people who lived in his gated community, and he felt that young black men in particular were ‘F***ing punks, these a**holes always get away’. When he saw Trayvon in the neighborhood, wearing a hoodie and carrying a can of tea and some Skittles, he called in his suspicions to 911.


911 dispatchers told George to stay in his car and leave well enough alone, and dispatched officers to the scene.

George ignored the 911 dispatchers, went after Trayvon and a scuffle ensued. George sustained some injuries to his head and face, and Trayvon was shot through the heart at point blank range.



Trayvon died. He was 17 years old.

The prosecutors in the case offered the jury three possible routes of conviction:

Second degree murder


Not guilty

The jury does not have the power to consider any possible verdict other than the ones the prosecutors give them. They do have a fourth option: mistrial. No decision is reached and the case goes to trial again with a different jury. Maybe. Prosecutors could just agree to let the whole thing slide until more evidence shows up.


Second degree murder requires that the prosecutors PROVE, beyond all reasonable doubt, that George murdered Trayvon out of spite, or malice, or hatred. That George was completely indifferent to Trayvon’s value as a human being.

Had prosecutors found evidence that George had a long history of spewing racist bullshit on Twitter, or had he blogged about wanting to kill a black man, they might have had a case for second-degree murder.

There was no such evidence.

On the lesser charge of manslaughter, the prosecutors had to PROVE that George intentionally killed Trayvon. He went after Trayvon, meant to kill him, and did kill him.


That’s dicier territory. In Florida, you can’t use the fact that a defendant exercises their Fifth Amendment rights as prejudicial. Juries are not allowed to read anything negative into the fact that George refused to testify on his own behalf. That’s not true in every country. Courts in Ireland, Britain and Wales are allowed to draw negative inferences from the fact that defendants don’t testify on their own behalf.


Florida also has some interesting laws about self-defence. Florida’s laws have a twist that says once a defendant claims self-defence, the so called “Stand Your Ground” law, it becomes the prosecutor’s job to prove that it WASN’T a case of self-defence at all.

all women

6 jurors, all women, deliberated for 16 ½ hours and found that the prosecutors had failed on both charges. They did NOT prove, beyond all reasonable doubt, that George had a severe case of hate for young black men, and they did NOT prove that George went after Trayvon with the intent to kill him.

They might have hung the jury, but didn’t. They came back with a not guilty verdict.

The jury was comprised of six women. Five were white and one was not. I already question what kind of justice can be achieved with a jury like that. We already know that when you put a group of women together and ask them to make a tough, ethically fraught decision, women don’t like that.



I have serious doubts about how much depth and understanding a group of white women can possibly have when it comes to being a young black man, constantly on guard against being fingered for the crime of DAWB (Doing Anything While Black). Hey, there is no doubt that plenty of young black men ARE thugs and a menace to society, for lots of complicated reasons, but that doesn’t mean they ALL are. We don’t like all men being treated like rapists, even though some of them ARE, so why should we accept all young black men being treated like thugs?



I would have liked to see a few more black men or women on that jury. Five white women is not a jury of Trayvon’s peers. If the verdict was in fact, the right one, then the outcome would have been the same, no matter what the composition of the jury. If it was the WRONG verdict, simply because a group of white ladies couldn’t see what was right in front of their faces, then that is a miscarriage of justice.

The charge that a more diverse jury would have lined up in favor of a guilty verdict no matter what can be levelled against a group of white women, too. They will line up in favor of a not guilty verdict, no matter what.

And the verdict was, in fact, not guilty.

The lack of diversity on the jury panel makes me very, very uneasy.

How much stock would we put in the verdict at a rape trial in which all the jurors were sorority girls, accustomed to getting shit-faced drunk at frat parties and holding other people responsible for their ensuing sexual escapades?


Yeah, not much.

An interesting aside: frat boys are actually the LEAST likely to be sexually aggressive towards women. Perfect illustration of how stereotypes become pervasive and we make decisions beginning from a prejudiced set of assumptions.


Trials like this trigger huge emotional reactions. The trial hits exposed nerves in the culture and the whole point of trials gets lost in the ensuing rancor and pain. There is no denying that young black men are treated with disproportionate harshness in the criminal justice system.


You know the best way to get a death sentence: be a black man who has killed a white person.

The easiest way to avoid a death sentence: be a woman.


Both defendants might have committed the exact same crime: they murdered a white man. The black man will die. The woman will serve a minimal sentence, if she gets a sentence at all.


That is the reality of Justice in the USA. Anyone who denies that the criminal justice system in the US is stacked way against black men and way in favor of women is willfully ignorant. And that is why the response to the Zimmerman case is so anguished. It looks like another case of a young black man’s life being thrown away with no regard whatsoever.

But those people calling the verdict a travesty of justice should be very, very careful. If the jury reached their verdict based on evidence and evidence alone (and I’m not saying they did), critics are essentially calling for a verdict that ignores evidence in favor of emotional response.

And while that may have exonerated Trayvon, it’s a call for a legal revision that will come back to bite the most vulnerable in the ASS harder than they could ever imagine. Who do you think will be most convicted AFTER such a revision is in place?

Make an emotional call? Really? How the jurors “feel” should come into play? Everyone can see how absolutely insane that is, right?

If justice has been miscarried in the Zimmerman trial, then it is the LAWS that must come under scrutiny. If Florida’s self-defence statutes are so lax as to allow neighborhood vigilantes to ignore instructions from police dispatchers and take the law into their own hands, then it’s the LAWS that need to change.


I sincerely hope all the people who are heart-broken that Trayvon’s killer walked away a free man band together to address the laws, and not to visit vengeance on a man who was found not guilty under the law.

The laws are not designed to make moral decisions. They’re just not. Nor should they be. If the Zimmerman verdict has revealed a huge flaw in the law, then change the laws. That’s what democracy is about: you don’t like the rule of the land?

Change it.


That’s the power the people have. It’s not easy to exercise, by any means. But that’s no excuse.

Difficulty is the excuse history never accepts.

Edward R. Murrow

Lots of love,


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