Saturday, May 19, 2012

Media–New Evidence on Zimmerman Earns a Yawn

The media aren’t quite ready to give up on the hysterical version of the fate of “Little Trayvon” (as Fox News’ Shepherd Smith calls him) they all ran wild with a few months ago.

The release Thursday of dramatic photos of George Zimmerman’s injuries, his medical reports, and other exculpatory information is being underreported with these kinds of ho-hum headlines: Evidence in Martin slaying probe released to public (The Detroit News) (tells you a lot), andEvidence mixed for Zimmerman’s self-defense claim”) (AP).

Mixed? The known facts are now completely unavoidable that Zimmerman was having the hell beat out of him by the 6-foot, 160-pound Martin before Zimmerman fired a fatal shot.

But instead of backing off the shredded account that Zimmerman, Elmer-Fudd style, hunted Martin down with the premeditated plan of executing him for being black, the AP continues to insist that the released information still leaves “many of the pertinent questions . . . unclear,” including “why did Zimmerman feel that deadly force was warranted?”, and “Did the fact that Martin was black play a role in Zimmerman’s actions?”

Actually, the second question isn’t pertinent to the case at all, unless you’re a race hustler, so I won’t dignify it here.

As to the first question about deadly force, it’s pertinent, but it’s not unclear.

I believe I would feel that deadly force was warranted If someone had blacked my eyes, broken my nose, was sitting on top of me and banging my head onto the pavement – in other words, was applying something approaching deadly force against me. The Stand Your Ground threshold for deadly force is the belief that you are facing “imminent death or great bodily harm.” Look at the photos of Zimmerman’s swollen nose and the back of his head, and I’d say Martin pushed Zimmerman well past imminent great-bodily-harm before his victim had a chance to fire his weapon.

But the AP isn’t quite ready to let this go. The spin is that Zimmerman instigated a confrontation by approaching Martin in the first place. But Stand Your Ground provides immunity to a person who isn’t committing a crime himself and is in a place he has a legal right to be. For the time being in Florida it’s still not a crime to get out of one’s car or to approach a stranger to inquire what he’s up to. The fact that under the given circumstances -- only some of which were within Zimmerman’s control -- a fight erupted that ended in a fatal shooting, cannot be blamed on Zimmerman’s decision to get out of his car.

The Martin family attorney, Ben Crump, would love to make the mistaken conclusion of one police detective “the headline.” Said Crump, “The police concluded that none of this would have happened if George Zimmerman hadn’t gotten out of his car. . . If George Zimmerman hadn’t gotten out of his car, they say it was completely avoidable.”

But it’s not a conclusion at all, only speculation, that “none of this would have happened if George Zimmerman hadn’t gotten out of his car.” He may as well say that “none of this would have happened if Trayvon Martin hadn’t gone out to the store.” The AP also thinks it proves something that “the original lead detective in the case believed Zimmerman caused the fight by getting out of his vehicle to confront Martin, who wasn’t doing anything criminal, and then could have defused the situation by telling Martin he was just a concerned citizen and tried to talk to him.”

Except Zimmerman wasn’t doing anything criminal, either, in spite of the lead detective’s overly broad concept of what ought to be against the law. As for Martin, it’s true enough that, as far as we know, he wasn’t doing anything criminal, right up until he decided to clobber Zimmerman.

We don’t know on what facts, or on what imaginary reconstruction of what happened, the lead detective decided that Zimmerman “caused the fight by getting out of his vehicle to confront Martin.” Nor can I figure out why it was Zimmerman’s sole responsibility to defuse the situation. Indeed, just as much as Zimmerman (speculated the detective) could have defused the situation, so also could Martin have responded to Zimmerman’s concerns by explaining that he was living in the subdivision, was on his way home, and wasn’t doing anything wrong.

But notice how the AP has adopted the Florida prosecutor’s short-cut way of telling the story to avoid even the barest reference to Martin’s decision to assault Zimmerman. According to the Affidavit of Probable Cause filed by the Florida State Attorney, “Zimmerman confronted Martin and a struggle ensued.” But human beings confront one another all the time in our world where struggles do not ensue. Some key fact has been left out. Similarly, the lead detective’s account of what happened proceeds directly from “Zimmerman . . . getting out of his vehicle” to a “situation” that needed to be “defused” -- as if Zimmerman’s mere act of approaching Martin could have called forth no other reaction from Martin than to physically attack Zimmerman. There was a situation to defuse because somebody lit that fuse, obviously, but neither the detective’s truncated narrative nor that provided in Florida’s affidavit and these latest media accounts are willing to state that the guy holding the match was Trayvon Martin.

The lead detective was ready to charge Zimmerman with manslaughter for, in effect, the decision to get out of his car and see what Martin was up to. The original prosecutor wisely decided that Zimmerman’s self-defense explanation was plausible. Manslaughter only occurs when a death resulting from one’s actions is foreseeable. If you get into your car, run a red light, and kill someone, there’s a good chance you’ll be charged with manslaughter. It’s not manslaughter just to get into your car.

And if you happen to believe that Zimmerman should have known that approaching Martin would foreseeably lead to some kind of a violent confrontation, then there goes the original myth that Martin – to anyone who wasn’t a rabid, gun-toting racist like Zimmerman – would appear to be only a little child skipping home harmlessly from the candy store. 

Fortunately, the court doesn’t get to re-write the Stand Your Ground law to include an affirmative obligation to remain frozen with inaction to avoid consequences beyond all possibility of foreseeing. If the law is applied as written, the judge will dismiss the charges because Martin unquestionably assaulted Zimmerman, who then applied deadly force to save himself.

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Carlos Perera said...

That's a big "if," Mr. Clancy: I don't think we can be sure that the law _will_ be applied as written. If we could be, then Angela Corey--who, I am ashamed to say, is from Jacksonville, Florida, where I reside--would not have have filed the bogus second degree murder indictment against Mr. Zimmerman in the first place. The one bright spot in all this is that, barring a supremely incompetent legal defense team who allow only black racists or utter poltroons to be impanelled, I don't think any Central Florida jury is likely to convict him of _any_ crime. (Of course, that might lead to a spurious double-jeopardy _federal_ indictment of Mr. Zimmerman for "violating Trayvon Martin's civil rights," . . . but that's another story.)

T.R. Clancy said...

You're right, we can never assume the law will be correctly applied. But in this case, Zimmerman is entitled to a pretrial hearing before the judge only, to make his case that he was acting in self-defense, and therefore immune from prosecution -- then there will be no trial and no jury. The more facts that come out, the stronger that case for him becomes.