I thought I believed in standing my ground. Fighting for a position in the face of wrongs, to further public rights, protect client interests, etc. Now I am rethinking the concept, what is justice and where is the body politic sentiment today. Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman and “standing your ground”.
If a slightly built teenage male is being followed by an unknown, unidentified male of substantial size who then exits his vehicle to approach the young man in a menacing manner does he (the young man) have the “right to stand your ground” and to use excessive force, including death under Florida law? If he (the young man) perceives the other man is a danger to him, what does that mean by definition? What is the objective proof and “trigger” for “self-defense” under the Florida “Stand Your Ground” law? What is the prima facie case for the one asserting the right of self-defense under Florida law? Who should make that determination? Police? Prosecutor? Judge/Jury?
Does any person, in a personal or any unmarked vehicle, or walking, have the legal right to approach an unknown person on a public street to demand that the other identify himself and his purpose for being in a certain community? Does the first have the right to detain, or attempt to detain the “unknown”? Is his or her legal right to ” stand” either equal to, greater than, first or secondary to the “unknown’s “right stand his ground”? What is the legal importance of being told by a 911 operator not to pursue the “unknown”– to leave it to the dispatched police– but electing to pursue any way? What does it mean to “not be engaged in any criminal activity” in order to claim self-defense under the “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida? Is there a procedure, policy, state, or local law that prescribes appropriate activities, duties, responsibilities and actions for “Neighborhood Watch” organizations and “Captains”? Is there a registration requirement for the “Captain” and other Watch participants? Are the Neighborhood Watch participants permitted to carry weapons while on patrol? Is the “Captain” permitted to carry a weapon or to use a weapon in the defense of the streets of the Neighborhood? Did Mr. Zimmerman comply with any or all these requirements, if they exist?
In the case of Trayvon Martin– we will never have his statement of events, or perspective of whether he thought he had a need to act in self-defense. We may never know with certainty (beyond a reasonable doubt) whether he tried to fend off the Zimmerman as an attacker, or whether Trayvon was actually the aggressor. WIthout further investigation and analysis, we can not know if he saw Zimmerman following him as reported by his girlfriend, and was in fact concerned about his personal safety. Did he (Martin) also have the right to stand his ground, did he act to defend himself?
We are just beginning to hear the basis of the self defense claim of Mr. Zimmerman– a full month after the shooting. Much has been written or reported about the 911 tapes– what they reveal and what they don’t. The nation has been speculating based on tapes released in a very piecemeal way. What is most glaring is what remains unknown 30 plus days after the case was closed by the local police. There is a visceral feeling that something is grossly amiss in this case.
Normally these questions would be reason enough for a full police investigation from the time of the incidence, including review and consideration of surveillance tapes (if any in the gated community). What was done to gather evidence as to the nature of injuries both parties sustained; photographs of both parties, alcohol/drug testing of both maybe relevant. Paramedic findings might be relevant. Police review of the 911 calls and cell phone records would be a part of a thorough investigation. There remain many more questions.
When, where and why did Mr. Zimmerman seek medical treatment? What was the treatment and are records available for police/ legal review. Who’s voice is being heard screaming for help, over and over? Can/ will the “voice” be determined by comparisons of other examples or experts? What did the neighbors closest to the incident see or hear? Certainly an immediate canvassing of the entire neighborhood to determine who saw or heard the activity that night and what they know seems appropriate. Was there evidence of Mr. Zimmerman’s blood on the younger, smaller Mr. Martin? If so where and what is it evidence of ? If, as Mr. Zimmerman seems to allege, the deceased began hitting him in the head–with what, how and were pictures taken of Mr. Zimmerman by the police that night? Is there any evidence from, or are there any witnesses to the scene of the alleged “head banging” incident. How did the gun get discharged? What were the positions of the 2 men at the time of the shooting?
It is troubling the apparent ease at which people can claim self-defense and avoid any criminal investigation by the police in Florida. This matter should be one for the Trier of facts to decide. In our long history of law enforcement and judicial disposition, the Trier of facts has always been either a” jury of our peers” or the judge as the Trier of the facts. This “Stand You Ground” law in Florida seems to leave the determination of facts up to the local police agency.
I support Justice for Trayvon Martin– no matter what the outcome. YES, Trayvon Martin IS “My Son”. He is every parents’ son or daughter– deserving of a proper investigation into the facts causing his death, proper criminal procedures and due process, including a determination on “probable cause” and ” beyond a reasonable doubt”, with possible trial / resolution by the Trier of the facts– Judge or Jury. We do not need to raise questions of race or racism, or hate crimes in this incident to call out for justice. There are way too many questions and reasons to call for justice in this case.
Questions of race and racism, hate crimes or not, are just the obvious ones. But the fact that questions of race arise should not be faulted or unexpected—this incident brings up a long and inglorious history for people of color in this great country—especially for Black Americans in southern states. My son is an adult, about whom I worry anytime he is out late in his own neighborhood, or in a place where few people of color live or trade. We still talk about manner and demeanor in encounters with police personnel. Do security guards and “neighborhood watch captains” rise to the need for the same concerns? And what do we tell our children, how do we expect them to behave when they fear for their personal safety—especially in the face of bullying in Florida or 30 other states?
Either Florida’s ” Stand Your Ground” law itself should also be on trial, or the manner in which it was applied in the death of this young man, without proper investigation and the full engagement of the legal system– with all of its presumptions of innocence, and burdens of proof. Without our proven and established system of justice– the dead and injured get judged by those who are only authorized to investigate and enforce the law– not write it, or adjudicate the actions of those either accused or abused under it.
There are few confirmed facts made public about the circumstances of Trayvon Martin’s death as of March 27, 2012. What we do know is that a 17-year-old young man died as the result of at least one shot from a 9 millimeter gun. George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old man told by the 911 operator to wait for the police to arrive and to not pursue an “unknown black male in a hoodie” , admits pursuing and later shooting Mr. Martin. Mr. Zimmerman reported to 911 that the “unknown male” appeared to be acting strangely and perhaps under the influence of drugs. It has been reported that the deceased remained unidentified for 3 days, was a 17 years old black male slight of build, who wore a hoodie at the time of his death, was not under the influence of drugs, had no weapon and was carrying some money, a soft drink and a bag of Skittles® . Additionally, 911 tapes from neighborhood callers recorded a single voice making numerous pleas for help, and a sound like a gunshot is heard, then silence.
It is what we Do Not Know that is the basis for the growing movement of national discontent.
Out in the open, my thoughts– share yours,