Why I’m Through with Trayvon Martin

The verdict is not in. We do not know what transpired between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin in the Sanford, Florida shooting that captured national attention. We may never know. But I will tell you this much. I am sick and tired of defending ignorant people.

When the Martin shooting first broke, the media portrayed this as the shooting of a “boy” who had nothing but Skittles and an iced tea. That phrase alone made me think of a kid ten or eleven years old. Then came the pictures of Martin, all of them portraying a very young kid. As the story unfolded, we learned that the “boy” was 17 years old. We saw new pictures that portrayed a less innocent visage than what we had seen before. Truth be told, the more facts emerged, the less sinister Zimmerman appeared and the more “complex” Martin appeared. Our President said that if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon. Well after weeks of maintaining my objectivity on the matter, let me tell you what would happen if I had a son.

  1. First, I would not be shacking up with my girlfriend in her house. That way, when my son came to visit me he would have a role model worth a damn. I know cohabitation without marriage is the cool thing nowadays but I still say a kid is better served by seeing his divorced father either living alone or married to a new woman. Not shacking up.
  2. Second, my son would not have a Twitter handle so vile that I could not write it on my blog, or brag about it to my friends. Nor would the content of his tweets suggest he has no better than a fifth grade education.
  3. Third, if my son were visiting me, it sure as hell would not be because he was suspended from school for possession of an illegal drug.
  4. Finally, if my dearly departed son’s autopsy yielded a positive test for THC, the main intoxicating ingredient of marijuana, sonny boy would be getting a burial at sea. In other words I’d throw his sorry ass in the nearest river and save on funeral expenses.

Does this seem harsh? Well you know what? I’m tired of defending ignorant kids raised by most probably ignorant parents. Every new detail that emerged about Trayvon I tried to absorb, keeping in mind “don’t blame the victim, don’t blame the victim.” But let’s look at the issue at hand here. Zimmerman is claiming self-defense. Advocates for Trayvon say his character does not matter. Excuse me? His character is the primary determining factor in whether Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense holds any merit. Was Trayvon the type of kid to run from a fight or lean into one? The more I hear about him, the less able I am to conjecture that he would run from a fight.

Here’s the scenario that I can live with:

  1. I am divorced from Trayvon’s mother and I live alone in Sanford, Florida.
  2. Trayvon comes to visit me as part of the normal visitation agreement with my ex wife. Trayvon is a good kid. Good kids don’t possess illegal drugs.
  3. Trayvon goes out to get a snack from the nearest convenience store.
  4. About 20 minutes later, Trayvon comes running back into the house, out of breath and scared to death because some stranger approached him menacingly.
  5. Because my boy Trayvon is a nice kid, he ran like hell from this stranger. He didn’t stop to talk to him. He assumed the stranger was dangerous and he got away from him.

We know for a fact that Trayvon was not shot running away from George Zimmerman. A nice kid, an innocent kid, a kid afraid of trouble, would have run like hell. If he wound up dead it would be because Zimmerman shot him in the back. Didn’t happen that way.

You know what my tipping point was in this case? It was when I read the kid tested positive for THC. I almost dropped my outrage on his behalf when I found out about the Twitter handle he used. But I allowed myself to get suckered into that “it’s just a cultural thing” type of bull crap. But the THC was the last straw.

I’m sorry Trayvon’s parents had to suffer the loss of their son. No one should see their children die. But the fact remains that Trayvon was not a nice kid. The only way Trayvon comes up nice is if you view him through some bogus double standard that forgives ignorant behavior of young black men. As a black man, I reject that. I find it insulting in the extreme.

Verdict or no verdict, it is pretty clear to me that Trayvon was a gangsta-wannabe who encountered a cop-wannabe and got way more than he bargained for. Make no mistake. I don’t retract my objection to the Florida stand your ground law. It stinks. But I am sick and tired of ignorant people raising ignorant children and then wondering what went wrong when they get in harm’s way. To some extent, Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman were made for each other. Trayvon has paid the ultimate price for being a young fool. What price Zimmerman pays remains to be seen.

Regardless of the outcome here on out, I’m done.

Respectfully,
Rutherford

Photo by David Shankbone (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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The Trayvon Martin Case — Three Related Issues

As I write this, the travails of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old boy shot by a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, are taking on new colors. It may or may not turn out that Trayvon gave George sufficient reason to use his gun in self-defense. Be that as it may, tragedies like this often provide an opportunity to examine related issues. With a hat tip to MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and HBO’s Bill Maher, I’d like to look at three of them.

A Bad Law

A look at Florida’s so-called Stand Your Ground statute reveals it, at least to my laymen’s eye as very bad legislation. First, the law is overly broad. According to Chapter 776 of the Florida Crimes statute, a person may stand their ground and use lethal force “if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.” (Emphasis mine.) Notice that lethal force can be used not only in defense of self, but in defense of another. But it goes even further to prevent commission of a forcible felony. So what exactly is a forcible felony? According to Chapter 776, “Forcible felony.—“Forcible felony” means treason; murder; manslaughter; sexual battery; carjacking; home-invasion robbery; robbery; burglary; arson; kidnapping; aggravated assault; aggravated battery; aggravated stalking; aircraft piracy; unlawful throwing, placing, or discharging of a destructive device or bomb; and any other felony which involves the use or threat of physical force or violence against any individual. ” (Again, emphasis mine.) Some of these crimes are not necessarily life threatening yet the statute gives a bystander who has a right to be where he is, the added right to use lethal force to prevent these crimes.

The Stand Your Ground law has its foundation in the “Castle law”, the common law notion that a man’s home is his castle and he has a right to defend it. However in most cases a simple claim of self-defense will be accepted in a home break-in. The Stand Your Ground law extends this self-defense claim to public places and even when you yourself are not the one being threatened.

Beyond its breadth, which I think is excessive, there is also the problem of police being given the right to grant immunity from prosecution, on the spot, to anyone with a legitimate Stand Your Ground defense. However, as law professor Micheal Mannheimer points out, how can the Stand Your Ground defense even be properly evaluated without the legal mechanisms to evaluate it, i.e. arrest and trial? Mannheimer writes:

So what is truly distinctive about Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law? It is this: while self-defense conventionally is just that — a defense, to be raised at trial — self-defense under the Florida law acts as an immunity from prosecution or even arrest. Section 776.032 of the Florida Statutes provides that a person who uses deadly force in self-defense “is immune from criminal prosecution.” This odd provision means that a person who uses deadly force in self-defense cannot be tried, even though the highly fact-intensive question of whether the person acted in self-defense is usually hashed out at trial. The law thus creates a paradox: the State must make a highly complex factual determination before being permitted to avail itself of the forum necessary to make such a determination. [Emphasis mine.]

In short, the Florida statute is bad law.

ALEC: How a Bad Law Goes Viral

Until this past week, I had never heard of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Just based on the name, I was actually impressed. What a great idea! A group of legislators from across the country sharing legislative ideas in order to spread best of breed solutions. Unfortunately ALEC has a dark side that undermines my rosy picture. ALEC is composed not only of legislators from across the country but also business interests including the Koch brothers, the tobacco industry and the NRA to name a few. The Council leans heavily conservative. ALECExposed.org goes into great detail on the workings of this council and its dangers. The council drafts “model legislation” which is then taken back to the States by member legislators. The legislation is presented as original by the legislator (despite its ALEC origin) and is voted on. The Stand Your Ground law has spread across the country in part because of the efforts of ALEC. ALECExposed.org details the nefarious origins of Stand Your Ground here. The amount of NRA influence into the law is disturbing to say the least.

On this snapshot from the ALEC site, the Council brags about its success rate in introducing and passing legislation across the country. The so-called “Castle law” based on the ALEC model spread to Maine, North Dakota and Tennessee in 2007 alone. The troubling aspect to ALEC is that instead of lobbyists going to the various state legislatures to influence law, legislators essentially go to a gathering with lobbyists and then bring the ideas back with them as their own. In this way, bad legislation can go viral without any demand from the electorate and no obvious track back to the corporate influence involved.

The Redundancy of Hate Crime Designation

One of the issues being tossed around in the Trayvon Martin case is whether his shooter was caught on tape using a racial epithet, and if so, does this point to a hate crime.  As a liberal, I always took it for granted that special designation of hate crimes was a good thing. The goal, as I saw it was to punish folks for wrongful attitudes that lead to violence and by example shape the thought process of others. This seemed to me a noble approach. The topic got discussed on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” last Friday night and for the first time I found myself reevaluating my position.

The truth is actions speak louder than thoughts or words. A murder victim is no less dead if the murderer bore him no ill will because of his race, gender or sexual preference. When we start talking hate crimes, we’re really talking mind control. The last time I looked, it was legal to hate people for any reason whatsoever. It is also illegal to murder someone in most cases (exceptions being typically self-defense). Why the two have to be mixed in deciding upon punishment no longer makes sense to me.

Another way to look at it is this. In most murders (I use the word generically, not in its strict legal sense), the murderer does not like the victim. Exceptions include “mercy killing” which supposedly puts a loved one out of misery, or a contract killing, where the perpetrator is doing it strictly for the money and has no ill will for the victim. But in most cases, particularly at the moment of the act, a murderer either dislikes or hates the victim. So in many cases, murder by definition is a hate crime. The reason WHY the murderer hates his victim is irrelevant except perhaps in some sort of legal defense (e.g. the murderer had suffered abuse from the victim in the past). Hence labeling a crime a hate crime borders on redundant.

The civil rights movement has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is very hard to change the way people think but we can change what they can or cannot do. Hate crime penalties attempt in vain to control thought. We’re better off simply controlling actions.

Respectfully,
Rutherford

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If Skittles Scare You, Maybe You Shouldn’t Be on Neighborhood Watch

Trayvon Martin left his Dad’s Florida home during an NBA basketball game’s halftime to get a snack at the nearby convenience store. On the way home he encountered George Zimmerman, a self appointed neighborhood watch “Captain”. George called 911 and reported Trayvon as a “suspicious” character. He told the 911 operator that he was in pursuit. The 911 operator basically told him to leave that to the police and back off. What happened next is a bit fuzzy on the details but it ended in George shooting 17 year old Trayvon in the chest and killing him. Not only is George a free man today, he was never taken into custody. There are reports that Trayvon’s corpse was tested for drugs while his shooter never was.

MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell did his damnedest to make this about race. He played a garbled 911 recording for a black Florida congresswoman. The tape reportedly has Zimmerman referring to Martin as an effing coon. I didn’t hear that until the idea was planted in my head by O’Donnell. To her credit, the congresswoman did not jump on the race train, and said she could not make out what Zimmerman was saying. So let’s take the obvious racial angle (Zimmerman, white, Martin, black) out of the picture.

At its most benign, what we have here is a very dangerous version of Barney Fife and hell, at least Barney had a badge. Reportedly, Zimmerman had called 911 a good 40 times in a short time period reporting “suspicious” characters. He appears to have some sort of cop-wanna-be complex going on. From what I can see, Zimmerman may well be your run of the mill nutjob. The real villain here is the Sanford, FL police department who saw fit not to arrest Zimmerman whose self defense claim stretched credibility when the only weapons possessed by Martin were a bottle of iced tea and a box of Skittles.

I do believe that when all is said and done, Zimmerman will be arrested and tried. The bigger question is how much scrutiny will be paid to the Sanford police department and the Sanford district attorney’s office. When a man, really still just a child, can be killed simply for looking “suspicious” and nothing is done about it, the system is clearly broken.

Respectfully,
Rutherford

Image: vichie81 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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