Reflections on the Trayvon Martin Case
This has next to nothing to do with what I usually write about here, but I wanted to get down what I have been thinking about the events and the trial and the aftermath.
Let me say, first of all, that had I been on the jury, I would have voted for conviction. But that I would almost certainly never have made it onto the jury had I been a potential member of it. Had I been called as a potential juror, and answered questions honestly during voir dire, I would have been excused. Because I would have said I was unable to approach the case impartially--I believed then and I believe now that George Zimmerman is guilty of unlawfully taking the life of another person.
But I understand the verdict, intellectually, and, I guess, legally. Florida's incarnation of self-defense ("stand your ground") says, among other things:
A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly 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.In this case, the only "eyewitnesses" were Martin and Zimmerman--and only one of them is around to describe the events. And Zimmerman chose (wisely, I think, from the point of view of his defense) not to testify, so all that is available is what he told the police and to which they testified. (Had Zimmerman testified, the prosecution, on cross-examination, could have asked, for example, why he chose to disregard the instructions/suggestions of the police operator not to follow Martin, not to confront Martin, to wait for the police to arrive.)
Replicate these events. Two people, no other eyewitnesses. One is dead, the other has some superficial wounds, but claims to have been attacked and responded with what he believed to be necessary (and lethal) force. But suppose our survivor in fact provoked the confrontation, knowing they were unobserved. What we have is a legal justification for what is, in fact, murder.
I do not believe that Trayvon Martin initiated the encounter. I believe Zimmerman did. I have no evidence of this, of course, because I was not there. But it's a belief that is consistent with what is reported of Zimmerman's activities (including the call he made to the police). I don't believe that Zimmerman went out that night intending to kill someone. I do believe he was willing to interpret innocent behavior as somethng else, based on the appearance (apparel, ethnicity, etc.) of someone he observed doing something he thought was strange. I believe that instead of waiting for the police, he provoked an encounter, even that he may have been coming off the worse for that encounter, and responded by killing an innocent person.
And doing so in a way which made it all but impossible for him to be convicted.
Update, 16 July 2013: And read this: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/07/trayvon-martin-and-the-irony-of-american-justice/277782/