Saturday, July 13, 2013

Before the Verdict

       A year ago, before almost ANY of the facts in the case were known, I asked here if there was any possibility that George Zimmerman acted lawfully and responsibly considering his neighborhood watch duties, had been attacked, and fired his weapon as a last resort.  At the time, all we knew was what the press was promoting, that a black kid had been profiled, stalked, and murdered; and that law enforcement was reluctant to charge the shooter.  My concern was that we as a society are quick to believe and act based on sound bite narrative fed by folks selling internet views and TV ratings.  This story provided all the right emotional buttons to push, and sold like funnel cakes at a diet camp.  Even the Prez jumped in.  For asking folks to keep their passion AND an open mind, I was attacked in print.  
       This was BEFORE we saw pictures of Trayvon that were less than five years old and learned that he was suspended from school for violence and drug problems.  We hadn't seen him on his website with a handgun. We hadn't been shown the broken nose and cuts on the back of GZ's head.  We didn't know that an eyewitness saw TM doing a beatdown on GZ (another didn't).  We weren't aware that GZ passed three lie detector tests when grilled about his version of the events, and responded with relief when cops tried to dupe him by lying that they had videotape.  The truth is, GZ wasn't charged by Sanford police because they didn't have evidence to charge him for actually breaking any laws!
       Complain about the laws that exist if you like, but his weapon was legal, as was the shadowing under the auspices of Neighborhood Watch, and shooting an attacker when feeling your life is threatened is a right protected by statute.  I wonder about the wisdom and liability of carrying a handgun, but if one were involved in a neighborhood watch on properties with frequent criminal activities, and you'd reported several events that ended in arrests, concealed carry might weigh differently for you.  As to the profiling/stalking, we only have GZ's version, but the time lines and evidence support his description, and nothing anyone has come up with comes close to warranting being attacked. To those who doubt GZ thought his life was threatened, I can only suggest that you have probably never been in that situation, or that there is plenty of documentation of deaths occurring without any more in the way of weapons than fists and a concrete curb.
      I've heard some chatter about GW as a "wannabe cop" who was over zealous and over confident because of his perceived authority and the fact he carried a gun.  Could be.  But a jury, and anyone judging without knowing his mind, can't use that presumption.  He admitted to law enforcement as his chosen career path, and using the neighborhood watch as a resume padder.  There is no crime there.
      The issue for the jury now, as I see it, is whether GZ was negligent in putting himself in a position where he might be attacked and have to use his weapon.  Did he NEED to exit his car after reporting a suspicious person?  Did he TRY (or have the opportunity) to defuse the situation by identifying himself as neighborhood watch and make himself less threatening?  Did the life threat he perceived validate pulling the trigger?
      After a special prosecutor was assigned in response to public outcry, second degree murder charges were brought.  GZ opened a website for a legal defense fund, and got a good response.  The government,  seeing an opportunity, raised bail.  GZ's wife lied about their assets (stupid), and a judge was angered.  Irrelevant sideshow, but media gold.
       And now, those of us interested enough to actually look at some evidence and listen to some arguments are left wondering about our legal system once again.  I'm writing before the verdict is announced because it doesn't matter much to me whether there is a conviction on the manslaughter charge.  You can easily argue that GZ made decisions that would land him in jail.  The second degree murder charge was trumped pandering, and the third degree was an act of desperation.  Manslaughter should have been the original charge, and the state should have to prove the crime they charge instead of negotiating and settling after the evidence is presented.  GZ's life has changed whichever direction the jury goes, and an appeals court is likely to toss a guilty verdict anyway when things calm down.  I'll trust the jury to do the best they can with a difficult decision, and assume their motives are pure.

Notes and Lessons Learned:

1: Whether you are a cop, or a security guard, a neighborhood watch, or just a regular citizen who chooses to carry a weapon, understand that a situation may develop in a heartbeat which can change lives, yours included.  Train, prepare, be ready for that day when you are in that place and have to make that split second decision, then be accountable.

2:  If you are a prideful teenager (or immature adult) bent on showing you'll take no crap from anybody by offering or providing a beatdown when you are insulted, disrespected, or feel threatened; understand that the person you attack may actually be trained or equipped to defend themselves.  Your road rage or temper flare may be all it takes to set off a chain of events that gets you killed.

3: We, the people, are easily controlled.  One might think that research and fact checking in the information age might allow a generation of free thinkers and logical decision makers.  Not yet.  More than any recent example, the way the general public responded to the way the media chose to rewrite the story of George and Trayvon exposes how willing we are to ignore facts and possibilities that don't match the story we want emotionally told.  And public opinion, not the courts, not the constitution, is where cases are tried today, and power controlled.

4: Tragically, Trayvon is dead, George's life is ruined, a police chief lost his career for making correct decisions, our judicial system is proving again to be a sham, and our nation is more politically and racially divided than ever.

5:  Speaking of race (notice please, I hadn't), there is no doubt in MY mind that if both of these men had been black, we'd never heard of this case.  Had Trayvon not been portrayed as an innocent black child victim, and Zimmerman a predatory racist, we'd never heard of this case. The president is represented as black, and Zimmerman is white, even though they have the same amount of minority blood, and until we quit using division, guilt, history, and hate to decide court cases in public opinion and in our own minds, there will be no justice, and no progress as a civilization.  No part of this tragedy is relevant to melanin amounts, slavery, gangs, or civil rights.  The only victims are the direct participants in the incident.  If you rushed to judgement when first hearing about this story, and especially if after looking at all of the evidence you are still only emotionally attached to a point of view, perhaps it's time to look at your REAL motivation.

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