Monday, July 15, 2013

Making Sense of the Trayvon Martin Murder Case

One thing we can all agree on is that this case was a tragedy.  At the end of the day, a young man is dead and another man's life is ruined as he will live as a social outcast for the rest of his life.  The lives of the victim's family has been torn apart forever.  None of this should have happened.  If George Zimmerman hadn't been a wannabe cop, racial profiler and busy body, all of this could have been avoided.  It's telling how people who knew Zimmerman said he would call the police up to 20-30 times per day.  He's the kind of white (or at least half white) guy you would absolutely hate to live near--uptight as fuck, never minding his own business, and likely giving you shit about the state of your lawn.  If I were Trayvon Martin and this guy was giving me shit for no reason, I would have wanted to give him a good throttling, too.  Zimmerman had it coming to him.

The problem is that while Zimmerman deserved a beating, he didn't deserve to die, and Martin didn't have the right to kill him. A witness at trial and the pathologist both testified that based on eyewitness testimony and the nature of the bullet entry wounds to Trayvon Martin, he was on top of Zimmerman and pounding him in the head and wouldn't stop.  The injuries to the back of Zimmerman's head confirm this.  Getting your head slammed against concrete will kill you.  Based on Florida's "stand your ground" law, you can defend yourself with lethal force if you believe your life is threatened.  The facts of this case are clear here that Zimmerman could have reasonably believed this given the circumstances.

Initially, this case wasn't even going to be filed.  Prosecutors are charged with only bringing cases when the facts warrant them.  They have discretion to decide when something is worth pursuing or not.  Given how weak the case was against Zimmerman, the prosecutor wasn't going to bring this case.  It was only after the Obama administration weighed in on the matter publicly and political pressure was brought to bear that the case was brought against Zimmerman.  The problem with this is that the rule of law is inconsistent with playing political games.  As Obama has little respect for the rule of law given his disregard for the Fourth Amendment with respect to privacy rights and surveillance, this isn't surprising.

It wasn't right for Zimmerman to racially profile Martin.  It wasn't right for him to engage him, which led to a fight.  But under Florida law, this doesn't make Zimmerman a murderer.  A certified dickhead?  Definitely, but not a murderer.

There are folks like Al Sharpton who are saying that this verdict is an "atrocity" and that this case is reminiscent of the type of racial injustice served up by the Old South.  This inflammatory rhetoric doesn't apply to the circumstances of this case.  If people are unhappy with the expansive "stand your ground" legislation, they need to work on getting the law changed, but using the court system to punish Zimmerman for being racist is inconsistent with the rule of law.  When we violate that, then eventually we all lose because eventually every one of us is on the wrong side of politics.


  1. While I am deeply disappointed with your take on this case. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. I think this article might help you understand where people who condemn this as an injustice are coming from. This case was clearly about race - especially when viewed through the lens of America's racial history. However ignoring the racial undertones of an event is something most whites are privileged enough to be able to do as it doesn't really affect their daily lives. I'm not sure there is any way to make you see this. I suppose it's just one of those things - like poverty - that if you never have to deal with it, it may be impossible to try to imagine.

  2. Chinelo, with all due respect and I mean that sincerely because I do respect you, I totally acknowledge that America and white people are racist against black people and that black people are systemically abused and discriminated against personally and systematically. My husband and I understand that white people have privilege. We both personally think that George Zimmerman is more than likely a racist. But that is a separate issue from whether he met the legal definition of murder in this case. You can think that something is *racist and *wrong and a *tragedy but not think that it legally requires one to be convicted of murder. You can't jail someone because they are a racist based on the "Stand your ground law" because of how that law was written. My husband is a lawyer and was speaking to the technical legal requirements of the "Stand your Ground Law" and whether George Zimmerman met those. My husband and I are both very grieved over the tragic loss of Trayvon's invaluable life. We do not think that what George Zimmerman did was the correct action to take, whatsoever. But based on Zimmerman's split second decision in reaction to getting his head beaten (which does cause death), he over-reacted and did something terrible. Trayvon Martin did not deserve to die for defending himself against George Zimmerman. But George Zimmerman, at the time that he was getting his head beaten, thought he was going to die and reacted in self-defence. If George Zimmerman had been killed, would you say that Zimmerman deserved to die? I don't believe that you would. (Just so you know, if Trayvon had killed George Zimmerman, I would completely be *against Trayvon being punished whatsoever, since that also was in self defence. --I also suspect that if Trayvon Martin had killed George Zimmerman in the heat of the moment, that he would have been convicted because America is systematically racist in the court system. That legal outcome would be horribly immoral, but that is a separate issue.) Neither of them deserved to die. This doesn't mean that George Zimmerman is a good guy or a moral hero. He definitely is not. But more injustices do not undo the original injustice. I'll be honest. I think that your accusation towards my husband about ignoring racial undertones without having ever had a conversation with him about what he believes about race (especially when he was commenting on the technical legal aspects of the case using layman's terms because he is a lawyer). He was focusing on a very narrow aspect of this case--the legal one. Not the racial one or the social one or the political one. He never said that Zimmerman should not be punished for being racist. Just that legally speaking, one cannot use the "Stand your ground law" to punish racism as it is currently written. To quote my husband, "If people are unhappy with the expansive "stand your ground" legislation, they need to work on getting the law changed." Again, he is speaking from the narrow perspective of American legal theory. My husband's blog post was never meant to be an expansive and nuanced account for my husband's views on race in the United States. It seems to me that based on what you wrote, that you did extrapolate ideas from my husband's post that he never explicitly stated. That's fine. I know that you are hurting for Trayvon and his family, which proves that you are a good and compassionate person. But isn't making assumptions about how someone thinks based on them being "white" and therefore "privileged" a small part of this very problem that we are talking about? Look, I definitely know I do it, too. I just hope that this can become a helpful dialogue or that at the very least, we can give each other the benefit of the doubt and refrain from making judgments about each other without knowing the full story. Kindest regards and a big hug from your old college friend, Cynthia

    July 16, 2013 at 7:38 AM