Monday, March 26, 2012

Justice in Florida

From the outset, let me state clearly that I am not advocating for or against George Zimmerman.  There is no dispute that he was the shooter in an incident in which an unarmed teenager was killed.  Mr. Zimmerman is not a certified law enforcement officer nor is he (to my limited knowledge) a licensed security person.  He is (or was) a commander of a volunteer neighborhood Watch program, surely similar to other neighborhood Watch programs around the country in which citizens serve as extra eyes and ears for local law enforcement.  They voluntarily patrol their respective areas and report to the police anything suspicious - and then let the police do the rest.  Mr. Zimmerman did exactly this up to a point and was, by all accounts, instructed by the police dispatcher to disengage.  It appears Mr. Zimmerman did not disengage as he was instructed.

What happened next which led to Trayvon Martin being shot and killed is what is in dispute, but Mr. Zimmerman's attorney is insisting that Florida's "Stand your ground" (SYG) law is applicable and that Mr. Zimmerman acted in self-defense.  In essence, this Florida statute does not require one to retreat to safety in face of a perceived threat but allows one to "meet force with force" if attacked.  It may also be a disputed point of whether Mr. Zimmerman suspected young Trayvon Martin of being armed.

I am a firm believer in the Second Amendment, and I do own a weapon.  I do not, however, possess a "Concealed Carry" permit nor do I intend to apply for one.  I've managed to live as long as I have without carrying a weapon, and I do not feel a need to start carrying one now.  This is neither here nor there at this point, however, because Arkansas regulations for concealed carry do not allow the kind of latitude as Florida's SYG.  In Arkansas one is "required" to retreat even when directly threatened but only to the point at which retreat is no longer possible.

I prefer Arkansas' law in this respect to Florida's SYG because of the vague wording in Florida's "meet force with force".  This leaves much to interpretation not only after the fact but, more importantly, during an altercation in which split-second decisions are left to the one who "perceives" a threat.  Citizens must be mindful of the fact that police officers undergo hours and hours of training in order to discern a genuine threat to life or limb; even concealed-carry workshops and seminars do not give citizens this kind of intense, necessary training.

It is bothersome that only public pressure seems to have made a grand jury necessary, and it is more bothersome still that forensic evidence was not collected at the scene as some allege.  That Mr. Zimmerman was allowed by police to walk away from the scene only on his word that he was acting in self-defense (remember there was only one shooter, one weapon!) is a travesty in itself even if he may be eventually exonerated; because the other side of the story lay dead.  Mr. Zimmerman had a broken nose and other minor injuries, but how can we know it was not Mr. Martin who was "acting in self-defense" after having been pursued and accosted by an armed man?

Even still, a grand jury is about to be seated where facts of the case will be disseminated.  The police chief has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation, and Mr. Zimmerman has retained legal counsel and has necessarily gone into hiding for his own safety.  The wheels of justice are slowing turning.  The outcome at this point is anyone's guess, but now is not the time for the Black Panther Party or any other vigilante group to issue a "bounty" on anyone (by the way, does it bother anyone else that the BPP is seeking to collect $1 million so they may pay out a $10,000 bounty?)!  The very thing they and many others are protesting is the very thing they are themselves demanding: vigilante justice!  People are taking sides while demanding justice and are themselves denying justice by having already made up their minds about the guilt or innocence of George Zimmerman.  Never mind facts; let emotion rule the day!  But remember it is emotion, pure emotion, which brought about the unjustified death of an unarmed young man because an armed man "perceived" (and possibly walked deliberately into) a threat.  Aside from the fact that Zimmerman was the shooter is one other fact that seems not in dispute: Mr. Zimmerman was not equipped to handle the situation.  Armed, yes; equipped, no.

The one thing we can know for sure at this point is that Mr. Zimmerman failed to follow instructions of the police.  We can also clearly see that carrying a weapon is dangerous and brings with it awesome responsibility that many citizens are not capable of bearing.  Whether or not Trayvon Martin was "supposed" to be where he was seems not an issue because I have yet to see the word "trespass" in any news accounts.  By these accounts, Mr. Martin apparently only "appeared" suspicious and only according to Zimmerman's analysis.

This thing stinks from top to bottom, and a young man is needlessly dead.  It does not get much worse than this for most; and for Mr. Martin's parents, this truly is as bad as it gets.  They are the only ones entitled to irrationality because they alone are grieving the loss of their son.  The rest of us can and should be concerned about what happened and the rest of us can demand justice - as we always must - but we must not lose ourselves in emotion.  This pot is about to boil over.  

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