Monday, July 15, 2013

The system worked for George Zimmerman

Although many Americans are upset about the not guilty verdict handed down by the jury for George Zimmerman, the case is actually proof that the judicial system still works and is not controlled by politicians and interest groups. George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old black man, on February 26, 2012. Although the circumstances of the killing were uncertain, many in the media rushed to judgment and fanned the flames of race almost immediately.

Media reports immediately claimed that Zimmerman was a racist who shot Martin because he was a black man who was walking in Zimmerman’s neighborhood. As Examiner reported at the time, Zimmerman’s neighborhood was racially mixed and had suffered a large number of burglaries in the months leading up to the shooting. Martin was staying at his father’s girlfriend’s house, which was in the same gated community where Zimmerman lived. Logically, Zimmerman would not have been shocked to see a black man in his neighborhood.

The only evidence that the shooting was racially motivated seems to be the color of the men’s skin and a telephone call that Zimmerman made to the Sanford police while he was following Martin. Originally described as a 911 call, Zimmerman actually called the police department’s nonemergency line. A recording of the call was edited by NBC’s Today Show to make Zimmerman appear racist.

According to Reuters, NBC deleted several seconds of the call to make it appear that Zimmerman initially volunteered information about Martin’s race. In reality, Zimmerman only mentioned that Martin was black when queried by police. An NBC producer was fired over the incident and George Zimmerman is suing the company. The complete transcript of the call is available on Document Cloud.

Zimmerman does not dispute that he followed Martin, but says that Martin confronted him and began assaulting him after he began to return to his truck after getting out to look for a street sign. No one knows for sure what happened because there were no witnesses to the start of the fight.

In a July 2013 CNN interview, Sanford police chief Bill Lee said that there was no probable cause to arrest Zimmerman on the night of the shooting because the evidence supported Zimmerman’s story. One investigator did favor arresting Zimmerman for manslaughter, but Lee says that the evidence did not even support that charge and that an arrest would have violated Zimmerman’s Fourth Amendment rights. Lee said that the investigation was “taken away from us.” The mayor released the telephone tapes before the investigation was completed and Gov. Rick Scott appointed a special prosecutor in the case less than a month after the killing. Lee said that he was pressured by city officials to arrest Zimmerman, even without evidence of a crime, to placate the public. Around the same time, President Obama made a statement that, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” Lee’s department presented a capias request to the state attorney to determine whether there was sufficient evidence to arrest Zimmerman, but was removed from the investigation before the request was answered.

The facts in the case must be judged on their own merit. The facts do not include sensational, and often erroneous, media reports. The skin color of the victim and his accused murderer are not relevant to the question of whether Trayvon Martin’s killing was justified. There is an old saying that “justice is blind.” Justice should also be colorblind.

The accumulated weight of hundreds of years of repression and discrimination of blacks cannot be placed upon George Zimmerman’s shoulders. Zimmerman is responsible for his own behavior and no one else’s. The banished institution of slavery was not on trial in Florida. Neither was the separate-but-(not quite) equal system of “Jim Crow” laws. In 1923, white mobs killed at least six blacks and destroyed most of the black town of Rosewood, Florida. George Zimmerman was not part of that mob. America has checkered past when it comes to race relations, but America was not on trial.

Many of Zimmerman’s critics are angry about the fact that he shot an unarmed man. Florida’s self-defense law does not require that an assailant be armed for someone to defend themselves with a gun. According to a survey by CNN, “nearly all states allow use of deadly force to protect yourself inside your home, based on the Castle doctrine,” a concept that dates back to Roman times. At least 33 other states have expanded the right self-defense to homes, offices and other areas as well. Zimmerman’s defense did not hinge on the Castle Doctrine according to Bill Lee. According to his testimony, Zimmerman could not retreat since he was pinned by Martin.

Florida law provides that a person is justified when they “reasonably believe that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.” George Zimmerman told police that Martin attacked him and told him, “You’re gonna die tonight, mothaf____!” according to Business Insider. At that point, Zimmerman said that his gun became exposed and both men reached for it. Zimmerman was able to get the gun and shoot Martin. Zimmerman’s critics may disagree with the law as it is written, but the jury was required to decide the case based on current law, not what pundits believe the law should be.

In American jurisprudence, criminal defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Jurors should not enter the trial with preconceived notions about the defendant’s guilt or innocence. It is up to the prosecutor to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that it is “beyond dispute that any reasonable alternative is possible” and “that no other logical explanation can be derived from the facts” according to West’s law encyclopedia. In practice, this means that the American justice system defaults to a position where guilty men sometimes go free so that fewer innocent men will go to jail.

In the end, for both Bill Lee’s police investigators and the jury, there was simply not enough evidence to charge or convict George Zimmerman. The prosecution seems to have been pushed for political reasons to answer the media and public calls for Zimmerman’s arrest. The pressure may have emanated from as high as President Obama’s Department of Justice. The prosecution of George Zimmerman was an attempt to subvert justice for political reasons. In the end, in spite of the pressure, the system worked.

Originally published by Atlanta Conservative Examiner

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