Gun Laws Policy & Law

Comments on Martin-Zimmerman. To reiterate:

If you go to the original post on the verdict itself, entitled “Trayvon,” you will find more than five hundred posts in which all of the issues regarding the case were debated to the point of repetition over more than 48 hours, after which, as every new comment in the last several hundred had already been addressed, we closed the comments to preserve the give-and-take of the debate — debate becing one of the fundamental goals of the website.

The dynamic is explained in greater detail in the subsequent and concluding post, “Trayvon: Calling It.”  Commentary on that post is naturally being limited to a discussion about the debate dynamic here.  A third post stands only as a corrective to the false claim that I was exhorting anyone to riot, and that the reductive medium of Twitter was being so utilized.  Commentary there is being limited largely to a discussion of the claim and the uses or misuses of Twitter.

If you have a point to argue about the issue itself — be it the false claim that SYG was not fundamental to the prosecution of this case, that black-and-black violence can be cited so that we should all turn our attention away from the slaying of Trayvon Martin because sentient humans can only be concerned about one tragedy at a time, or just feel the general need to tell me to leave the country because I feel ashamed of this verdict and what it says about our nation — rest assured that you will likely find the appropriate back-and-forth already enshrined in the comments.  Oppositional comments were not winnowed, save for those that veered into outright racism, psychosis, hyperbolic ad hominem insult and libel.  Other than that, it all got a ride.

If you’re arriving late to the party, rest assured that it’s already in the comments, ready for your perusal.  As life is short, I can’t oblige by undertaking to answer the same arguments in sidebar posts that have already been answered in detail and with diligence on the main post in the days prior.




  • Mr. SImon,

    On a side note (but kind of related), have you heard of/seen Fruitvale Station? It’s based on the true story of Oscar Grant, a young man killed by a police officer at the Fruitvale Bay Area Rapid Transit Station in Oakland, California in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 2009.

    • Yes, Michael B. Jordan, the fine actor who played Wallace in The Wire, has the lead. I haven’t seen it yet, but am planning to do so, of course.

      • Not to be rude, but the actor’s name is Michael B. Jordan. You might have accidentally mixed his name up with that of Michael K. Williams, the actor who played Omar Little.

        • Indeed. Thanks to you and another correspondent, I’ve now corrected.

          Was on vacation, typing quickly and not proofing. Apologies, Michael. Too much sangria in the afternoon.

  • now that the President has had his say, and the predictable right wing reaction is all over the internet, I can’t help but notice a strong correlation between the people that believe unarmed, 17 year old Trayvon Martin had no rights to self defense and the people who believe that twice-elected Barack Obama has no right to speak about the case.

    but of course, it’s never been about race…

  • Mr. Simon:

    Thank you for your commentary. It is a travesty that so many aspects of the GZ case have been debated repeatedly as you absolutely accurately state, but that despite the repetition so many salient points slip through the cracks of our collective consciousness. The facts of the GZ case are imbued with a fundamental notion , which although it has been repeated by some, bears repeating continuously: The right to carry and use a firearm against another human (if it actually legally exists outside a military context) does not, and cannot trump the right to lead a life free from the fear that you will become the unsuspected victim of the gun owner.

    Our laws trend more and more toward a “bullets over bodies” mentality. And although, I truly believe that the dividing line between race in many instances is becoming muted, at least with regard to mass casualty situations, it remains an inescapable reality at this time that so long as the victim is black justice is unlikely to be served. Unless of course the perpetrator is a poor black woman or a black teen in fear for their life: then absence of justice is absolute.

    It’s time to flip the equations and value living breathing bodies over bullets.

    Now, Mr. Simon, please leave the country as you seem far too rational for the American Insane Asylum.

  • Thank you for your posts and for your thoughtful responses to the various comments. I just have a few questions regarding the Judge’s instructions to the Jury regarding the use of SYG as well as the corroboration of the forensic evidence pertinent to Zimmernan’s injuries.
    First, the jury instruction is not the product of Florida Law, it was a recitation that Florida does not recognize the common law duty to retreat. The majority of states, Federal Law, and Model Penal Code have also lessened or refused to recognize this duty to various extents. Eliminating the duty to retreat just means that that the defendant is not necessarily defeated if he did not attempt to flee the area. This alters the duty to retreat from a prerequisite into consideration under reasonableness.
    Regarding the forensic issue, photos taken on the scene of the back of Zimmerman’s head and forensic evidence suggest that Zimmerman fired the shot when he was on the ground when Treyvon was on top of him, which is sufficient to eliminate the duty to retreat. You have also disregarded expert testimony because they were paid by the defense, but that shouldn’t be considered when weighing the evidence. It presumes that the expert witness was committing perjury.
    Moreover, the injuries consistent with a lesser misdemeanor do not necessarily defeat the “under threat or harm” element that is necessary to raise a self-defense argument. The jury is only inquiring into the threat of injury. Your thoughts on these remarks would be much appreciated.

    • 1) The instructions to the Jury were wholly reflective of SYG and its enshrinement in Florida’s self-defense standard. An effort by the prosecution to include the language that if the jury believed that Mr. Zimmerman initiated the confrontation, then the SYG logic need not apply was denied by the judge. For more on this, google Alafair Burke, a law professor and author, who wrote a fine piece on just how rigged the game was.

      2) Equivocation: If indeed there was a point during this mutual combat/common assault at which Mr. Martin was atop Mr. Zimmerman then he was getting the better of the up-to-that-point unarmed fight. Certainly, this is suggestive that at that moment, Mr. Zimmerman might have had less of an opportunity for flight. However, this does not suggest that at many moments prior — beginning with leaving his vehicle, continuing through his pursuit of Mr. Martin, etc. — the opportunity to retreat had not presented itself. Some people here seem to believe that it is corroborated who laid hands on who first. It is not. And given that all we know is that a mutual combat ensued and that the injuries were quite minor, some people nonetheless go beyond that to suggest that Mr. Martin was under obligation to lose the fight once it had begun. I hope you are not suggesting such. But nothing in what you write offers claim that anyone needed to pull a gun to save himself from serious injury or death. No witnesses, no physical evidence, no corroboration. Nothing but his own uncorroborated tale. And of course he’s the only one left alive.

      3) Apparently, in the state of Florida with a young black male as the victim and five non-black women for jurors and jury instructions that do not even require the jury to establish that there is reasonable evidence of a life-threatening, aggravated assault to prompt a lethal self-defense, nothing whatsoever could defeat the “under threat or harm” element. I agree with you there. After all, Mr. Zimmerman was certainly harmed. A grown-man, he had suffered some abrasions. Mr. Martin, a minor child under the law, suffered death from a gunshot wound. But yes, the legal standard as it now exists in Florida and every stand your ground state affirms for this lopsided outcome, or worse.

      Admit it. Under the arguments you just suggested, you can shoot someone prone on the ground, or in the back of the head, or because you thought they might be going into their pocket for a knife or gun when, oops, they were not, and hey you were just standing your ground. Think me hyperbolic. Google the Tampa Bay Times project which is indicative of the bloodletting already underway from this barbaric law. I just described actual cases that went unprosecuted.

      • Tampa Bay Times’ Stand Your Ground Law project
        is indeed amazingly informative. I was not aware of it until I read this post.

        There appears to be a tradeoff: on the one hand SYG has made it a lot easier to kill someone malevolently or negligently (either when there is no legitimate threat, or when the killer shares some or even all blame for the altercation).

        On the other hand, it undoubtedly also made it a lot easier for people to protect themselves from legitimate threat without fear of legal retribution.

        In other words, the changes induced by, or associated with, SYG have likely cost some (many?) innocent lives, but also saved some (many?) innocent people from death/great bodily harm. It is easier to get away with murder, but it also easier to avoid being unjustly punished (I assume we all agree that under the pre-SYG law there have been *some* cases when legit self-defense defense failed in courts).

        Whether this is a good or bad effect probably depends on the statistics. TheTampa Bay Times project seems to provide important stats, as well as a wealth of anecdotal evidence, enough for one to form an opinion of their own. Of course, I imagine different people would have a different threshold for when the statistical balance is acceptable/desirable.

        • Better to kill ten innocent people then to let one guilty one live? Is that the new standard for jurisprudence in America? Good to know.

          • David, my comment did not imply such an equation.

            Here is my point.
            The relevant equation here is: a change in law (introduction of SYG in this case) will cost X innocent lives, save Y innocent lives, prevent Z people who defended themselves properly from legal retribution (since they would not have been able to establish self-defense beyond reasonable doubt) and let W people off the hook when they in fact killed someone maliciously.

            Of course this is pretty complex, since part of Y (lives saved) is potentially accounted for by crimes that are not committed due to the deterrent of the law — good luck reliably estimating this from any data.

            Note that the number of guilty people killed is not even part of this equation; I don’t care about the punitive aspect of the law in this context.

            Obviously for everyone there are some values of X,Y,Z and W for which the law would be acceptable. In fact, under ANY law, there will be some nonzero values for those variables.

            If, as you sort of indicate, the ratio of W to Z is 10 to 1, I’d say the law is very bad. But I doubt it’s even remotely close to that.

            I have now read about half of the Tampa Bay cases. It’s quite a revolting endeavor, and it’s hard to compile statistics for the likely values of X,Y, Z and W (simply because we don’t actually know exactly what happened in each case). But based on these cases it’s unlikely that W is greater than Z, let alone by a factor of 10.

            In fact, for *all* of the truly egregious cases I have found there (it’s subjective of course), the attempt by the defendants to use SYG failed, sometimes with the judges scolding the defense for an attempt to use the law “creatively”. Seems it may not be such a huge loophole, after all, even in the great state of Florida.

            • Actually, I have no reason to agree to your equation. It is false on its face. Your entire premise is without supporting fact.

              I am arguing that there will be an increase in X — the needless deaths of many Americans. I am also arguing that there will be no gain in Y — innocent lives saved, and no gain in Z — people who defended themselves prior. And yes, more of W will now exist — people who have killed unnecessarily and gone unpunished. How can I say so? Because I am operating from a real-world premise as you and the NRA are not.

              You seem to believe that there were no mechanisms for accomplishing Y and Z prior to SYG. This is untrue. There were in any jurisdiction in the United States presumptions in the applications of manslaughter laws that allowed grand juries not to indict those individuals who took a life because they were subjected to a potentially lethal threat. All over America, prosecutors had the discretion not to charge even manslaughter if they were presented with sufficient corroborating evidence that the death was the result of genuine self-defense. And those prosecutors did so. I spent a year in an urban homicide unit and saw a dozen such cases never go to grand jury. Then there was the grand jury itself, where several cases would be brought by prosecutors because they were politically sensitive and where the stamp of a grand jury action would reassure the public. Here, too, several cases went unindicted. And finally, there were the jury trials, where additional cases resulted in acquittals because juries wished to believe the arguments of self-defense. All of these existed in the world before SYG, and no one — not the NRA, not defenders of Mr. Zimmerman, not you — has yet demonstrated that there exists any number of cases that were 1) self-defense against a lethal threat and 2) not mitigated by existing rights to claim self-defense in our legal system. The absolute need for this new legislation was never established before the NRA wrote up the draft legislation and began lobbying red-state legislatures for the change in the law. This legislation solves a problem that NEVER FUCKING EXISTED. And you, Greg, have bought into that dynamic, fish to hook. I am arguing that all of your Ys and Zs are, in fact, already covered by the existing, time-honored standards for self-defense in American jurisprudence and English common law, and that these standards were civilized and protective of human life.

              You have offered no evidence otherwise, as the NRA offered no evidence otherwise. They don’t care about X and Z. They don’t give a shit about the lives that are going to be lost here — more and more lives as the gun culture comes to realize there is no longer a deterrent to walking around, shooting people and justifying it in the most meager terms later. They don’t care about corroboration of potentially lethal threats being a legal essential. They don’t care because they want the gun to prevail in American society and they want to empower American citizens to shoot first and worry later, and, too, because the imagined victim is some black or brown thug who deserved it anyway. Except of course when he isn’t.

              SYG solved a problem that isn’t. It has now created a problem that is. And people will die because of it.

              • First, although you say that you don’t accept my equation, it’s clear from the remainder that you do accept it as the framework for analysis of the law, you just make specific assumptions/assessments about the values of these variables.

                That’s fine; my main point here is that such an equation, perhaps with some additional variables, should be the basis for rational discussion and decision making regarding this, or any other, law.

                If indeed things are as you say, and Y and Z (which I defined to be *additional* lives not lost/ruined thanks to SYG) are near zero, while X and W have significant values, then it is a no-brainer: it’s a terrible law. It’s possible. But forgive me if I hold off until there is actual careful data collection and analysis; your significant personal experience in one city some years ago is, with all due respect to it, anecdotal.

                And yes, it’s not like the other (pro-SYG) side has done anything remotely resembling such data collection and analysis. So basically, if one wants to review the facts to make a rational decision to support SYG or its repeal, one is left with pretty little to go by beyond anecdotes. You have yours showing Z and Y are small, I have whatever I gleaned from the Tampa Bay Times archives, showing that X and W may be small too.

                Oh: and I haven’t “bought” into anything, least of all the arguments of NRA which I consider to be one of the most ridiculous organizations in the US, promoting a terrible, irresponsible and often stupid gun culture. I don’t own a gun, although I would not see anything wrong with civilians who wish to have a single handgun for self-defense, licenses after proper thorough training and under regular renewal of license with proper review — not because the 2nd amendment says so (it quite obviously doesn’t) but because it’s seems to me a good thing to to promote public safety. If NRA supports a piece of legislation it’s a red flag for me — but not sufficient to have a knee-jerk reaction and reflexively become opposed to it. Once in a while even idiots have a good idea.

                In the end, I find it dispiriting that even you, shortly after lamenting inability of many to hold multiple conflicting ideas in their minds, mistake a call to quantitatively evaluate data to infer the cost and benefit of a policy decision (do you have a better way to base policy decisions on reality?) for some sort of NRA-inspired derangement.

                I wish everyone did more of rational statisticsal thinking when reasoning about law and policy, and less of it when reasoning about any specific criminal case at hand.

                • Greg, you can always draw a big semantic circle and sit in it. But I am telling you I don’t believe that your Y and Z exist. I don’t think there is a meaningful set of honest self-defense killings that aren’t otherwise protected under the law prior to SYG. End of story.

                  You say you want to wait until there is some statistical analysis? Marvelous, that puts you ahead of the NRA and 22 state legislatures, which did no fucking analysis before they started this revolution. And that, my friend, is why such a statment from you is ass-backwards. You want to revolutionize self-defense standards, claiming to be fixing a problem that you haven’t proved even exists, and then after upending three or four hundred years of proven legal standards, you then want to sit on your hands and wait for data. Really, Greg? How droll. Perhaps we should substitute the words “dead human beings” for data. Because that is the data you are waiting on: Dead people who didn’t need to die. The data should have presented BEFORE the laws were upended, as an argument to why this change was necessary. The series of cases involving people who defended themselves against lethal force but are convicted nonetheless? Where are those cases, Greg? Where is that fucking data?

                  You don’t think the bodies are piling up? That irresponsible gun owners and users aren’t going free in SYG states? Okay, here’s some preliminary data: Google “Tampa Bay Times” and “Stand Your Ground” and read their project studying the cases thus far in FLorida alone. People shot in the back of the head. People shot in a prone position. People shot while running from a property theft and away from the gunman. All unpunished. All sanctioned by the state. It’s happening, Greg. How many more Trayvons are you gonna need to realize we’ve fixed something that was never broken, and now broken something anew in our societal compact.

                  • Well, you and I agree that the laws were passed apparently with zero due diligence in analysis of their outcome. The blame s of course on the state legislatures; I wouldn’t expect from NRA to any analysis (and wouldn’t trust it if they did report any) but the legislatures and governors have failed their voters. I bet many of the members didn’t even have a clue what the new laws say, let alone understand their implications.

                    This also means that it was a mistake (or worse) to pass the laws, and given the (plausible) concerns you and about a million other people raise, it would have been better to not pass these SYG laws until analysis is available. Certainly the states that don’t have these laws should not pass them without such analysis.

                    On the other hand, we seem to disagree whether there is a robust evidence that these laws are in fact bad, and specifically if they lead to reality that is worse that the prior status quo. I am genuinely not sure at the moment, for reasons I mentioned (there are some ethical issues I can’t resolve as well, regarding when I, personally, think it’s OK to respond with deadly force — ethically, not legally). I understand that in your view this position is ass-backwards.

                    Other than that, I am afraid we have started going in circles. E.g., you again admonish me to google the Tampa Bay Times project, after I told you I not only googled it, I actually read roughly half of the cases (I focused on the ones resulting in acquittal or immunity).

                    Anyway, thanks for the discussion; I learned a lot both from your describing your experiences regarding law enforcement dealing with self-defense cases, and from sources you mentioned (like the Tampa Bay Times project). And despite my refusal to join you in your impassioned condemnation of SYG, many of its problems are a lot clearer to me now.

                    • I’m quite comfortable blaming the NRA agenda and the legislatures both, not to mention red-state governors who saw these laws as meat for the conservative faithful, because let’s face it, tough-on-crime sells even if it means some dead people who didn’t need to be.

                      Thanks to you as well. Again, this site is to provide debate that gets considered attention by people who are tired of what usually passes for commentary on the internet. Bring your issues and concerns back here whenever.

            • “Note that the number of guilty people killed is not even part of this equation; I don’t care about the punitive aspect of the law in this context.”

              Who exactly are the guilty people and what are they guilty of? And are you saying that it is the vigilantes’ job to mete out justice now?

              • Guilty here means “considered morally at fault by whoever is doing the analysis”.

                But again, the point of self defense is to take immediate steps to prevent or diminish harm to a victim of an attack; it’s not to punish the perpetrator, or in other words it’s not about justice at all (that, in a civilized society, is done by the organized justice system).

                So no, no justice meted out by vigilantes in my book.

                • Greg, I can see by your posts that you are trying to objectively understand it. My point is that you can’t reduce this to an X, Y, and Z calculus. These are people we’re talking about. I think if you objectify it too much, you will lose sight of that. Emotion does belong in the equation because morality isn’t something that can always be quantified.

                  For example, the laws in FL didn’t make it so the jury could consider the possibility that Zimmerman was the aggressor in determining their verdict. I have to accept that. However, morally? He was wrong to assume Martin was doing anything wrong, and completely wrong to follow him. And, in my opinion, wrong to shoot him just because he’d been punched in the face. You can’t reduce that to rhetoric because we are not just rhetorical beings.

    • According to the timeline, GZ is on the phone with 911 until 7:13.41. TM was on the phone with his girlfriend until 7:16. The first call about the gunshot was received at 911 at 7:16.11. The gunshot was heard at 7:16.55. The police were there at the crime scene at 7:17.40.

      It’s not like Zimmerman was taking hours of beating from Martin. This all happened in less than a minute.

        • Katie: I understand.
          I agree with David that the issue is “systemic”, so I don’t think it’s important to debate the evidence in Zimmerman’s case. In any case, (a) my hypothetical is of course a bit silly since one (e.g., Zimmerman) can not really be certain of the outcome of a fight, either way, and (b) I think it’s possible to sustain serious injuries, irreversible with current state of the art medicine (even if not life-threatening) in a span of a minute.

          • Systemic, yes, but also personal. I won’t fight you on the hypothetical damage that can be.caused in 40 seconds. I only mention it because the dominant narrative seems to leave out the astonishingly brief time line.

            • Surely Zimmerman couldn’t have known that the cops would show up after 40 seconds; I am sure in many places it can take 10-15 minutes before the police arrive to investigate reported suspicious activity, if they arrive at all. For all he knew (assuming the defense’s story is correct) he was in for 10 minutes of vicious beating.

              But to make things simple, here is my point: when a person who is not bound by an extraordinary obligation to put the safety of strangers ahead of his own (like police officers or soldiers are) is in *any* act of “combat” as David refers to it, with a reasonably capable opponent (e.g., not a 3-year old throwing a tantrum or a very angry octagenarian armed only with a rolled up newspaper) — in that situation I would not second guess that person’s instincts of self preservation. I do not have any obligation to suffer *any* degree of irreversible damage to my body to protect a life of a stranger who is attacking me. It’s (perhaps) admirable if one is willing to risk that, but I don’t see how we can ethically or legally require that.

              I am amazed by the nilly-willy attitude with which physical violence, however minor, is treated apparently by many, including David in many comments about bar fights and what not. I consider initiation of violence (throwing the first punch, as they say — words of any sort, however offensive, are not violence) to cross a line. Speaking of barbarism — any other view seems barbaric to me.

              I believe the law sees it so, too; if I beat someone up for saying really vile things to me, and face trial, I assume the provocation will be perhaps a mitigating circumstance, but not grounds for acquittal. Perhaps I am wrong on this.

              • this is a highly academic point; the evidence does not support Zimmerman’s story of a severe beating. as stated at trial, it supports a single blow to the face, resulting in a fall and a single contact between his head and the ground. that is all.

                consider that for a moment. he was punched once, fell, and at some point after this, drew his gun and fired.

                you are saying you would not second guess an individual’s instincts of self preservation. leaving aside my personal training and experience with combat, which indicates strongly that people’s self preservation instincts are inherently terrible and flawed absent training, we have here clear evidence that this defendant’s instincts told him that the single punch he received constituted a serious threat to his life.

                still not ready to second guess?

                • I am not sure I understand your point.

                  If someone who does not have any training (e.g., me) is suddenly faced with physical violence, are you saying it is *not* reasonable for them to act on their instincts (terribly flawed due to lack of training), possibly overreacting and needlessly killing the attacker?

                  If that is what you are saying, then please tell me: What is in your view the ethically appropriate way to react? (Keep in mind we are talking about someone not trained in “combat”, i.e., the vast majority of population)

                  * Since it seems hard to have a discussion without constantly being brought back to specifics of Zimmerman’s case, I will say explicitly that this does not apply to Zimmerman: he supposedly had some martial arts training, and besides he at least saw himself in a security type position, so he would be expected to have better judgment than a complete layperson.

                  • Of course the topic keeps coming back to the Zimmerman case. That IS the topic.

                    Using all these hypotheticals is just a way to avoid discussing this case, and a pretty insidious way of dehumanizing what has happened.

                  • wondering if it is ethical, or reasonable, or whatever, for people to act on their instincts when confronted with violence is irrelevant. it will happen, because they are instincts.

                    I’m taking issue with your assertion that we ought not “second guess” someone who acts on those instincts – or, to put it in legal terms, “try” someone in that position.

                    sometimes when you start second guessing, you see that the situation was tragic but inevitable. you see that the accused acted responsibly in a difficult situation.

                    sometimes, you find out that the accused was punched once, and then gunned down his unarmed teenage attacker.

                    • Remarkable that instinctual becomes a substitute for right or legal or moral in this rationalization.

                    • The issue here is how one can judge whether another’s reaction was reasonable (i.e., “second guess” that reaction). You see a dead unarmed teenager and apparently think no reasonable person can, after one punch in the face from such a teenager, reasonably fear great bodily harm. I think otherwise — perhaps you wouldn’t fear that, but someone might.

                      Of course, the whole idea of valid self-defense (even prior to SYG) is anchored at the notion of “reasonable fear” and I don’t have any objective solution to this. I suppose the conclusion is that when you and I (and people like you and I) sit on jury in a self defense cases, we’d push for very different verdicts in many cases, SYG or not.

              • I agree that it’s ridiculous to go over the details, but he knew the police were on their way because he had been on the phone with them for several minutes before this.

                That said, to the bigger point — we don’t know if Martin was the aggressor here. We’ll never know. We don’t know what happened. All we know is that Martin was unarmed, not breaking any laws, and is dead.

              • I apologize for posting this as a reply to an earlier comment, but the software here won’t let me respond to your last comment directly – probably best for all of our eyes at this point.

                as Katie already pointed out, removing the details from this case and attempting to apply empty hypotheticals is reductive and dehumanizing.

                I don’t just see “a dead unarmed teenager” – I see a dead, unarmed, black teenager, who had been followed by an unidentified stranger, even after he tried to flee in the first place.

                I don’t see a reasonable person fearing great bodily harm. I see a person with a history of violence, exhibiting unhinged behavior, who followed and confronted that teenager with a gun, then killed him.

                I’m not talking about whether or not I, or anyone else, should fear a punch to the nose. I’m talking about whether or not we as a society really believe that getting decked by a guy who YOU chose to follow and confront, absent any other wrong doing or verification of your suspicions, should be legally punishable by summary execution.

  • I am a bit confused by the repeated insistence that “American citizens are allowed to engage in a simple assault without fear of death penalty” (this was said by David more or less verbatim in the original Trayvon post). Presumably this is necessary to establish the evils of SYG, which, as per David’s logic, increases the chance of death penalty effectively administered by the armed person being assailed.

    But I see a couple of problems with this.

    1) I am not sure what “allowed” means. The state indeed does not threaten death penalty for simple assault, and it would have been (in my opinion) indeed barbaric if it did. But the protective response by the citizen who is a victim of a crime is a completely different story. For instance, in many states there is no death penalty, period — even for murder. But I understand, David, that you agree that it’s OK for a person to use lethal force to protect themselves from murder, correct? I am not equating murder with assault, just establishing that the acceptable level of violence used by the state in response to the crime is not the same as the acceptable level of violence used by a private citizen to defend themselves.

    2) I admit I don’t know (and haven’t looked up) the distinction of simple assault from aggravated assault. But, it seems that the discussion here and elsewhere regarding such assaults keeps missing the “grave bodily harm” component of the definition of allowable self defense, while fear of death takes all the attention.

    Suppose I am being assaulted (beaten up) by an unarmed person, who is significantly stronger and more skilled in fighting than me. Let’s also assume that he started the fight after I said something insulting to him (say, while arguing over the last parking spot at Costco on Saturday afternoon 🙂

    Now, let’s further suppose that I am quite certain (a contrived hypothetical but perhaps good for the sake of clarifying the ethical argument) that he won’t kill me, but will very likely knock out a few of my teeth, damage one of my eyes so I will lose 50% vision in that eye, and dislocate my shoulder. Obviously, none of these are life threatening injuries. But I’d say they are life-altering (and I can attest to this regarding dislocates shoulder, which I do actually have, not through any violent incident 🙂

    Now, I am armed with a handgun. I am curious, David: do you think it’s OK (i.e., ethical) for me to shoot the person, likely killing him, to prevent these injuries to myself?

    (I know it’s related to some points made by earlier commenters regarding injuries sustained in fist fights; somehow those didn’t seem to be addressed directly though.)

    • Greg, I’m tired. I’ve explained it six ways from Sunday. I’ll turn it over to the internet. Look up on any number of websites a concise explanation for how SYG laws liberalize the use of lethal force, so that no longer is the reasonable fear of unavoidable death or serious injury the standard justification. Compare the two. Do your own work here. If you are truly curious, the answers will be apparent and obvious.

      That’s a lot more direct than coming back here and asking me, time and again, to answer a series of theoreticals. What I am telling you is true: SYG laws allow for myriad new scenarios in which you can kill an unarmed assailant without proving that you needed to do so. That is why the NRA crafted the legislation and lobbied it into 22 states. Because the self-defense standards that worked in this country for years as a coherent and plausible balance between legitimate self-defense and wanton violence didn’t allow for killing more people than necessary. And if you don’t believe me, then go look up the stated position of every major law enforcement umbrella organization in the country from the national prosecutors association to the IACP. Read their position on SYG laws.

      When the police are against you, and the civil libertarians are against you, and the only people who love this brave new world is the gun lobby, that’s a fucking clue. If you can’t help yourself, I can’t help you.

  • Hey, Dave if you are so ashamed of being an American, then get out. I’ll even buy you a ticket out of United States to anywhere else you want to go, but on arrival you give up your passport and never return to the United States.

    • Hey, how about I stay around and bust your balls a little more? I say what I say because I believe it, but I’ll admit that every now and then, a knuckle-dragger shows up with and with a few short sentences, he makes it clear that he is without clue and that I have upset him. And this, yes, is a bonus.

      If it isn’t too much strain:

      And, armed with that, maybe you can do some growing up.

  • David,

    Do you understand the concept of “reasonable doubt”? You can speculate all you want as to what happened before Trayvon Martin began his assault on George Zimmerman. When a police detective lied to Zimmerman by telling him that the entire altercation was captured by a surveillance camera, Zimmerman’s immediate response was a relieved, “Thank God.”

    You say that Zimmerman was only mildly bruised. Well, then, I suppose he should have waited until he was in a coma, brain damaged or dead before deciding to shoot Martin. And what if, as Zimmerman alleges, Martin really did tell him, “You’re going to die tonight”? An eyewitness saw Martin straddling Zimmerman and pounding on him. The evidence (injuries to Zimmerman, injuries to Martin’s knuckles, trajectory of gunshot wound) supports this account. Should Zimmerman have just taken the beating and hoped for the best?

    You and others have made much of Martin being “unarmed.” Earlier this month, in Mableton, Georgia, a 36-year-old white man named Joshua Chellew was jumped by four unarmed black teens as he exited a Chevron convenience store. He was savagely beaten, then thrown into the street, in the path of an oncoming car which ran him over, killing him. At least he didn’t shoot any of the assailants, right? After all, they were unarmed. And only a racist wouldn’t want to be beaten and killed by a black teenager.

    If you, like our “white black” president Mr. Obama, do not believe a person has the right to defend his own life using a gun, then just come out and say it. A jury listened to testimony and examined evidence, and found George Zimmerman not guilty of second degree murder or manslaughter. You and the other critics of this outcome have yet to explain, with reasoned arguments based on FACTS, why the jury was wrong.

    Zimmerman was not charged with “profiling,” (i.e. acting rationally based on experience), which is not yet a crime. He was not charged with following Martin or looking at Martin, also not crimes.

    Maybe you just wanted a catharsis rather than justice. But this was not a trial to determine the guilt of the white race throughout history, much as you might have enjoyed burning the (white enough, I guess) Zimmerman in effigy.

    • Yes, I understand reasonable doubt. I also understand that not all doubts are reasonable, a phrase that every trial lawyer also knows and understands.

      If you want to ignore the transforming revolution in self-defense standards within which that Florida jury was operating, that is your perogative. But you are ignoring it, and focusing with an almost desperate myopia on other things. Notably, some other case that doesn’t in any fucking way mitigate this one. I am obliged to use a generic save-string constructed last for another racially phobic poster who, rather than address the fundamental flaws with SYG and its application in this case, rushed around trying to find up some other case to discuss as an exercise in rank intellectual dishonesty. Here goes:

      “Greetings. If you have arrived at this site lacking the intellectual rigor or the moral core that will allow you to honestly discuss the actual dynamics of the Zimmerman-Martin tragedy, you may, as an act of rhetorical dishonesty try to obscure this fact by rushing to cite any various and random instances in which tragedy befell a white victim or in which a black offender wrought havoc on someone.

      “It will seem to you that you have made a meaningful point, in that you think you are saying: See, the black people here are the problem and they should be feared and loathed and addressed as the problem. And the white people are innocent and undeserving of tragedy. And you all are ignoring this.

      “In fact, in a very transparent way, what you are revealing is that you do not have the courage or the intellect or the honesty to address this tragedy and what happened here. This is because you know in some dark place that here, at this moment, the tragedy doesn’t suit your preconceived racism. Here, the dead boy did not have a gun. He was committing no crime. He was black. And the assailant, part-European and part-Latino with a German surname was believed from his earliest moments to be white. And here, with the new advent of SYG standards for self-defense, the game was rigged from the start. And so if we stay here and confront this reality, I will be forced to confront my own biases, fears and assumptions. And this I will not do.

      So let’s go instead to this case in New York/Georgia/Texas/Wherever that I would more prefer to discuss, taking everyone’s eyes off the matter at hand. Because the matter at hand is the senseless death of a black teenager for whom I not only can muster little empathy, but who in my heart I fear and loathe and regard as less than my own humanity. So, quick, find me another tragedy, one in which the black man can be the villain to my great and self-affirming delight.

      “We understand your deepest desire. But we aren’t biting. You are full of shit. And the problem is inside of you. And judging from your passion and your resistance to dealing with it, you will be in flight from yourself for the rest of your life. But this is not a secret that you hide from the world. It becomes transparent in the twists and tangles of your rhetoric, and in your unwillingness to abandon the logical fallacies that keep you from truthful debate. We see you. We really do.


      • David,

        Thank you for admitting that you don’t care about the facts of this particular case, and that you wanted the jury to convict George Zimmerman because you are upset about, in your words, “the transforming revolution in self-defense standards within which that Florida was operating.” You wanted Zimmerman to be punished for a speculative scenario, in which Zimmerman left Martin no choice but to violently assault him. That this scenario is unsupported by evidence or eyewitness accounts is irrelevant. All that matters it that it reaffirms your narrative about “self defense gone wild.”

        You also wanted Zimmerman to be punished for white-on-black racism in general, even if Zimmerman is not a racist.

        That you think such a spectacle would amount to “justice” is telling.

        Let’s talk about intellectual honesty. Your canned response is nothing but a straw man and you know it.

        I brought up the Joshua Chellew murder specifically because you and others continue to stress that Martin was “an unarmed teenager,” without mentioning that he was engaged in the commission of a violent assault — an assault that could plausibly have ended Zimmerman’s life or left him debilitated. My point was obviously to illustrate that being unarmed and a teenager does not make one innocent or harmless.

        You also call me a racist — again, no evidence necessary. Don’t you see that trick doesn’t work like it used to?

        I’ll ask again, not expecting an answer: Should Zimmerman — straddled by a bigger and stronger man, having his face punched and his head banged against the pavement, choking on blood streaming into his throat, unable to retreat — have allowed Martin to beat his brains in? If not, then what, precisely, was Zimmerman’s crime?

        Zimmerman was on trial for what he did at that moment, not to settle the issues of SYG laws or racism. It was you and the race baiting media and politicians who turned this case into a national circus to advance other agendas, and who wanted a man to be railroaded into prison for reasons having nothing to do with the matter at hand. For that, you ought to be truly ashamed.

        • No, Mr. Rotelli. I said that in this case, the facts are superceded by the legal standards to which those facts are now applied. If you can’t understand that any facts, or interpretations of those facts, or suppositions, or theories that you could offer as to what happened between Mr. Zimmerman and Mr. Martin must be evaluated by a court within a framework of law, then you are lost. If you can’t understand that the framework of law, and how this court operated, has changed from hundreds of years of English common law and American jurisprudence so that now, rather than a humane and careful assessment of a self-defense argument, we are offered an opportunity for barbarism within the law, then you are lost.

          The judges and juries of Nazi Germany did their job well, Mr. Rotelli. They interpreted the laws of their nation-state and systemically disenfranchised and disempowered Jews and jailed political opposition. I am sure they followed the law of the land to the letter. And you would not discern the immorality of their efforts by myopically assessing the evidence in each individual case. No, for that you would have to look at the laws.

          Here, too, though hardly to the extremity of overt racial discrimination, we find a transformation in the SYG laws, evidenced in this case in what was allowed in the jury instructions and what was not. Once the game was rigged, Mr. Rotelli, the players followed to the inevitable conclusion.

          But as this law is now in 22 states, it is all of us who should be ashamed. And you should be ashamed for coming to this site with tunnel vision, and a purposeful intent to hold up this legal standard as it is anything other than a recipe for needless deaths and indeed even a legal lynching if that is a shooter’s intent.

          But let me save my last remark for the most embarrassing statement you offer to mischaracterize my position:

          “You also wanted Zimmerman to be punished for white-on-black racism in general, even if Zimmerman is not a racist.”

          No, Mr. Rotelli, no. A first-rate mind can be occupied with two distinct thoughts without imploding. Do not bring a second-rate mind to this problem. You can do better, if you really want to try.

          I believe that race had everything to do with this death.
          But I want Mr. Zimmerman to be convicted and punished not for any racial thought whatsoever. I want him convicted and punished because he used a lethal weapon to shoot to death an unarmed seventeen year old boy.

          That you would conflate a systemic opinion with the reason for individual punishment and lose sight of a dead boy entirely says everything about how much humanity you seem to bring to this argument.

          • David,

            I agree with you that morality supersedes written law. Here is where we (perhaps) differ: I believe it is entirely proper and consistent with morality that the written law should permit a person to defend his own life and the lives of others from violent assault, by the use of lethal force if necessary. In fact, I believe that any law which denies a person the right of self defense is immoral and unjust.

            For instance, I believe that the prosecution, conviction, imprisonment and death sentence (later overturned) of Corey Maye was a travesty. Under the circumstances in which Maye shot and killed police officer Ron W. Jones, Maye had every reason to believe his home was being invaded by an intruder with criminal intentions (Jones had entered the wrong home and did not identify himself as a police officer). Maye was trying to protect himself, his girlfriend and their child. Of course, the death of Jones was tragic, but it was obviously wrong for a prosecutor to charge Maye with murder, and for a jury to convict him.

            The relevance of “stand your ground” laws to the Zimmerman case is highly dubious. It is based on speculation as to what happened prior to Martin’s assault on Zimmerman. Based on what is known beyond reasonable doubt, and not merely guessed at, Zimmerman’s shooting of Martin was self-defense as traditionally defined.

            Zimmerman had black neighbors. They trusted him. They knew that black teenagers had been burgling homes in their community. You can call it “profiling” or “racism” for Zimmerman to have been watching Martin. You could also call it “reasonable” and “common sense.” It is harder to argue that Martin, who had described Zimmerman using the racial epithet “creepy-ass cracker,” was being reasonable when he punched Zimmerman to the ground, then straddled him to continue his assault.

            Sure, if Zimmerman had stayed home that night, Martin would probably be alive. But a neighborhood watch is neither immoral nor illegal. Based on what we know, the person whose actions are most responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death is Trayvon Martin. The primary cause of Martin being shot is that Martin was straddling and beating Zimmerman.

            Don’t you think it strange that you and others who take your position don’t hold Martin even partially responsible for what happened? You continually refer to him as an “unarmed teenager walking home,” which seems to me deliberately misleading, since he was, in fact, an “unarmed teenager savagely beating a smaller man, and with potential access to his victim’s gun.”

            “But I want Mr. Zimmerman to be convicted and punished not for any racial thought whatsoever. I want him convicted and punished because he used a lethal weapon to shoot to death an unarmed seventeen year old boy.”

            Fists are also lethal weapons. Of course it is tragic that Martin died. But it would also have been tragic if Zimmerman had been beaten into a coma or worse by Martin, as it is tragic every time a person is savagely beaten by “unarmed teenagers,” to the silence of the news media and race hustlers. The fact that those incidents, which are legion, don’t receive national attention or celebrity commentary, does not make them less tragic.

            I reiterate, *based on what we know* it would have been a miscarriage of justice, in both a moral AND legal sense, to have convicted George Zimmerman of murder for having shot Martin to stop Martin from beating him any further, or from grabbing hold of Zimmerman’s gun. Zimmerman had good reason to fear for his life.

            Remember, there is absolutely no indication that Zimmerman did anything to Martin leading up to the assault beyond observing him. Zimmerman had hoped the altercation was caught on video, presumably NOT because it contradicted his account of what happened. Therefore, unless you think Zimmerman was morally obligated to submit to a potentially lethal beating, I don’t see how you can argue that he committed murder as opposed to justifiable, defensive use of force.

            • You keep referring to Mr. Martin’s assault on Mr. Zimmerman. How do you know that this characterization is accurate? It may be. It may also be that Mr. Zimmerman laid hands on the teenager first, even to detain him, at which point, it is, by law, Mr. Martin’s assault, regardless of whether he is punched in reply to this illegal detention. You are speculating, I am speculating.

              All we have is physical evidence indicative not of an aggravated or life-threatening assault.

              Everything else is bullshit you wish to believe. I concede that the actual account of how that common assault came to be can be recovered through evidence. It cannot. One party is dead, and the other is on trial for his life and he can will misshape any fact to preserve his liberty. The story of the altercation is uncorroborated.

              Do you concede this? If not, please begin to cite sources for your make-believe.

              As to your blanket statement that any body of laws that doesn’t include a right to self-defense, what the fuck? English common law and American law has always maintained such a defense and no one is arguing against it. We are arguing against new laws that lower the bar for the use of lethal — get that, lethal — self-defense from the legitimate fear of serious injury or death to I didn’t want to walk away, I caught him trying to steal something, I was scared when he raised an arm or went into his pocket, or yes, he hit me and rather than call the police or swear out a warrant, I shot him dead. You’ve traded self-defense or wide-open barbarism.

              • David,

                I concede that any account of the totality of what happened is uncorroborated. That said, the accused is presumed innocent, and Zimmerman’s basic narrative is not contradicted by the available evidence. Zimmerman’s expressed hope for a surveillance tape of the incident would also seem to favor him telling the truth.

                The police, who responded to the scene, investigated, interviewed witnesses and associates of Zimmerman along with Zimmerman himself, concluded he had acted in self defense and they chose not to charge him with a crime.

                The jury that heard the arguments of both sides, viewed the evidence and listened to testimony concluded that they could not find Zimmerman guilty of murder or manslaughter. That doesn’t mean they KNOW Zimmerman was innocent of any crime. It means that, in their eyes, the prosecution did not prove that a crime was committed. Should they have pronounced him guilty anyway?

                It is possible that Zimmerman laid hands on Martin or otherwise instigated a fight. Do you throw someone in jail based on a possibility for which there is no evidence? Again, what about the presumption of innocence?

                Even if the American criminal justice system functioned in strict accordance with the precepts of justice and integrity, which it most certainly does not, some defendants who are guilty would go free for lack of evidence. That would be better than having innocent people lose their liberty based on speculation, unsupported by evidence, that they *could* possibly have done something wrong.

                “We are arguing against new laws that lower the bar for the use of lethal — get that, lethal — self-defense from the legitimate fear of serious injury or death to I didn’t want to walk away, I caught him trying to steal something, I was scared when he raised an arm or went into his pocket, or yes, he hit me and rather than call the police or swear out a warrant, I shot him dead. You’ve traded self-defense or wide-open barbarism.”

                Once again, you’re entertaining what-ifs, or talking about cases other than this one. Here’s another what-if: If Martin was on top of Zimmerman when he was shot (as is consistent with the gunshot wound), then retreating or calling the police might not have been an option for Zimmerman. If Martin saw and was reaching for Zimmerman’s gun, the situation was even more dire. You could argue that this shows the danger of carrying a gun in the first place, but you’d still be engaging in speculation — in this case, that, had the gun not been in play, Martin would have stopped short of killing or seriously injuring Zimmerman. Zimmerman himself would not have had the luxury of knowing the outcome in advance.

                If you are going to say that Zimmerman acted on an expanded-to-the-point-of-barbarism definition of self defense, you need at least some supporting evidence. It’s not there.

                The police in this country frequently DO assault and kill black men (and women and children, as well as, less often, people of other races) while claiming self-defense (i.e. “officer safety”) on the flimsiest pretext. Why aren’t those cases, many of which are far more egregiously and unquestionably unjust than what happened between Zimmerman and Martin, picked up by the national media, the self-appointed civil rights leaders, the President and Attorney General? Is it because what these people really object to is *private citizens* owning guns and using them in self-defense, and they don’t have much of a problem with aggression committed by agents of the state, i.e. they believe, in Orwell’s words, “some animals are more equal than others”?

                • I can’t emphasize this enough because it continues to be ignored in your replies: The doctrine of reasonable doubt is being applied in a legal space where IT DOES NOT APPLY. Reasonable doubt is the legal standard by which we convict people when evaluating their claims of innocence. It is the state’s burden to prove that Mr. Zimmerman shot Mr. Martin beyond a reasonable doubt. They have established that this is so.

                  Mr. Martin may then mount an affirmative defense of self-defense. Before SYG, it would have been incumbent on him to bring to bear corroboration or evidence for his assertion sufficient to convince a jury that his life was in jeopardy or the lives of others were in jeopardy and that the slaying was a reasonable response to such a threat. This jury was not required to ascertain this.

                  Why? WHy are these new laws on the books? Who do they make vulnerable? Who do they protect.

                  This is race in America. This is how it works. The game is rigged if you are black. And if you are white, and you don’t directly encounter such a rigged outcome, it is much harder to see, or acknowledge, or admit it.

                  As to the bullshit about this being about private gun ownership, let me remind you that the mantra of the gun lobby and gun supporters for years has been that guns don’t kill people, people do. And now, here — having crafted a law that excuses people for using a gun against an unarmed teenager — suddenly, we get a shrug and little mention of responsible gun ownership. Now, people don’t even kill people. Now, shit just happens.

            • I agree with Mr. Rotelli. It would have been a miscarriage of justice to convict GZ. There is no way that jury could have found him guilty with all the evidence that supports his story. I am so sorry that Trayvon died, but I believe GZ’s story ( and I see more evidence that Trayvon was racist than anything GZ said or did) and I would’ve been scared for my life too. And I just don’t think GZ is a smart enough guy to have fabricated a story to support self-defense, with details on where/what happened and then have the evidence support his story(his keys, flashlight, and phone were found on the ground right near where he said Trayvon confronted him). And I am also moved by the evidence that Trayvon only had the gunshot wound and cracked knuckles, no other signs that this was in any way a fair fight or one that GZ started. We’ll never know how things went exactly, but there is no way the jury wouldn’t have reasonable doubt or even faith in his innocence. Am I just stupid?? Am I missing something?? Why should GZ have been convicted?? I wish Trayvon was alive, but that only would be possible if GZ was not allowed to legally carry a gun with him that night. But then perhaps GZ would have been beaten to death.

              • There is no evidence that supports any story that he was confronted by a lethal or potentially lethal threat from Travyon Martin. No physical evidence. No witnesses.

                But you will believe as you wish to believe, certainly.

                But one man brought a gun and used it to stand his ground. He killed a young boy. A young boy stood his great against a grown-man using only his fists and he was slain.

                • I agree that at the beginning of the confrontation there was no sign of lethal threat, but that is not when GZ drew his gun. He drew his gun once Mr. Martin had broken his nose and smashed his head on the concrete, and according to his story noticed he had a gun and was going for it. If Trayvon had lived he would’ve gone to jail for assault. I wish you would write a post about why exactly you believe GZ guilty, point by point, supported by the evidence of the case, because I want to understand. I truly assume that you are much smarter than I am, so I want to know where my logic goes wrong and why so many believe this was not self-defense.

                  • you are assuming that Zimmerman’s account of a great, life threatening thrashing are accurate, despite medical testimony that his injuries were “insignificant” and consistent only with a single punch to the face, and a single impact with the concrete.

                  • but really, DS’ point has overwhelmingly been NOT about the actual guilt before the law of Zimmerman, but about how the law was specifically changed to allow for a not guilty verdict, when self defense law sans Stand Your Ground traditionally would have convicted him.

                  • Dear Ms. Amy Jane, I know you want to believe what you want to believe. Nevertheless, from the L.A. Times, covering the daily trial testimony:

                    “Perhaps the biggest contradiction is Zimmerman’s claim that he was repeatedly beaten by Martin. Zimmerman has said his head was struck against the concrete sidewalk by Martin who rained a series of blows — more than two dozen in one account — on the volunteer. Photographs show that Zimmerman had a bloody nose and two lacerations to the back of his head — wounds that the prosecution has insisted are too minor to have come from a severe attack by Martin.

                    Dr. Valerie Rao, the Jacksonville, Fla., medical examiner for Duval, Clay and Nassau counties, testified that she reviewed Zimmerman’s photographs and medical records. She was not involved in the autopsy of Martin. The wounds displayed on Zimmerman’s head and face were “consistent with one strike, two injuries at one time,” she testified. “The injuries were not life-threatening,” she said, adding they were “very insignificant.”

                    You can believe Mr. Zimmerman’s version if you wish. But he didn’t have the injuries to corroborate that version. You could at least acknowledge that you simply choose to believe it regardless of the evidence. And we can go from there. We will not endeavor to convince you to believe anything else, we promise. If you can promise on your end to stop saying that there is corroborated evidence of a lethal threat — as this is untrue — that will be honest enough for this website. You can then continue to believe in a lethal threat nonetheless and we will love you for your sweet certitude and allow you that certitude regardless. Fair?

      • You are an angry angry man David Simon.
        It makes me sad.

        I thank to high heavens that Jimmy Carter yesterday spoke up and called it precisely:
        “This is not a moral issue but a legal one”

        This ends the story everything else is hysteria and disgusting politics.
        From all sides. And you chose to take the fringiest side of them all in the way you attack and insult your commenters who offer you rational arguments. I have read almost all of them. You never adress those arguments that you don’t have answers for you spill hate in response.

        This is well meant advise:
        You should take a break from that crap to save your soul or let her recover for at least a bit.

        • I disagree with Mr. Carter in this sense. It is indeed a legal issue. Our legal standard for self-defense has been eroded to meaninglessness, largely by the gun lobby and complicit, purchased legislatures. At which point people die unnecessarily and tragically. And that, of course, is a moral issue.

          Aside from your citing Mr. Carter’s quote was there anything of substance you wished to bring to this discussion. Because there is nothing to latch onto or assess in the remainder, save for your drugstore psychiatry, which is fun, but silly.

  • DS, did you see Alafair Burke’s piece in HuffPo on Monday regarding the jury instructions?

    Florida law prohibits “initial aggressors” from claiming self defense if they use force to defend against aggression that was provoked by their own conduct, whether or not they threw the first punch. in those situations, the initial aggressor MUST attempt to retreat, and must clearly state his or her intention to retreat to the other combatant(s), for a self defense claim to be valid. the initial aggressor has no legal right to stand their ground.

    apparently, the state wanted to include this in the jury instructions, reasoning (sensibly) that the jury might have cause to consider Zimmerman the initial aggressor and therefore ineligible for a self defense…um, defense. Zimmerman’s attorneys successfully argued against its inclusion, leading to the set of instructions you’ve referenced so many times in the last few days – effectively prohibiting the jury from ever considering Martin as anything but the aggressor before the trial ever started.

  • Guess I’m late to the party. Not really expecting a response, but, having read the available comments, I’m not assured I’ve been covered. Some of it, but not all. Maybe someone will read it anyway.

    “Those that do not, those that hold the pain and betrayal inside and somehow manage to resist violence — these citizens are testament to a stoic tolerance that is more than the rest of us deserve.”

    No, Mr. Simon. Resisting the urge to become violent and being tolerant instead is exactly what you deserve. It’s what we all deserve. If George and Trayvon had displayed those qualities, there would have been nothing to report.

    George was a cowboy who got in over his head and got out the only way he could when the situation changed against him. Trayvon was not tolerant because he responded to legitimate questions with something less than legitimate answers. And so the underlying racial fear and tension that pervades our society was let loose, one transgression upon the other, in a manner where the law was insufficient.

    And it always will be. No attempt to legislate personal feelings can possibly succeed. We’ve seen that even where laws attempt to redress past inequalities by tipping the scales the other direction, even temporarily. Resentment lurks. Fear lurks. The answers must come to each of us individually and spread amongst us irrespective of the law if we are to conquer the separations that we have created in out hearts. The walls we created to protect us have become our jail.

    There is no shame in the verdict. By all accounts, the jury did their duty admirably. And they recognized that both George and Trayvon could have been more tolerant. They both made mistakes. Trayvon paid with his life because he did not know he was risking it. George pays by living in fear and shame the rest of his life, because he knows what he did. This may not be justice, but neither is convicting him of something not covered by the law, or convicting him by mob law.

    What people seem to want is something not granted by laws or juries.

    The only true change agents are the heart and the will. The heart to be tolerant and respectful of someone you don’t know and the willingness to give them the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. Practically, waiting until they prove otherwise can cost you your life. And we must have the courage to do that, or live with the law. If I, a middle-aged white man, go walking through the ‘hood at night, you can bet an Emmy I’ll be stopped and asked about my business by a few self-appointed “neighborhood watchmen”. Even if I have a legitimate reason to be there, my behavior is risky. And what can the law do about it? Nothing except hope we can work out our differences without it. Those neighborhood watchmen are worth my respect and tolerance because I am worth it. I am worth being tolerated for my legitimate purposes. When these qualities are lacking between opposing viewpoints, all we have left is the imperfection of law.

    So let’s quit falling back on something so imperfect and work on heads and hearts. That’s where the mistakes were made, and that’s where the correction needs to come.

    Pick up that brick if you must, but be ready for someone else to pick one up and start heading in your direction. They’re perfectly willing to be just as wrong as you if they think they’ll lose respect for letting you carry it. If you’re going to pick up a brick, use it to build. That’s a pretty legitimate
    purpose. Other people with bricks just might decide to help you if you can tolerate them long enough to give them the chance. Build a shelter this time, instead of more walls. It all starts with what you do with that brick.

    For the record, I have never seen your show and am thoroughly unfamiliar with it, and with you, except for the post in question that has garnered so much attention recently. I am a foster parent who has seen and dealt with the effects of emotional trauma on multiple children of multiple races for the last 8 years. I am also a natural parent of 2 white children, a step-parent of 2 Hispanic children, and an adoptive parent of my black niece. The only agenda I’m pushing is for people to quit using this incident for their own selfish ends. If they were really concerned, they’d do something more effective than just complain that they didn’t get what they want. They’d do something to create what they want. That’s what I’m doing. I am one of the stoically tolerant. I collect bricks.

    • We deserve any rebellion we get from citizens who are granted the same civil liberties as the rest of us — and then denied those liberties in actual practice. Saying that these rights exist on paper for African-Americans does not constitute proof of their existence in reality. Mr. Martin attempted to exercise his civil liberties unsuccessfully by walking to the store. He is dead now. SYG laws and white fear have succeeded in transforming, at worst, a petty mutual combat, or at best, a common assault with no significant injuries, into manslaughter. I think it entirely appropriate to say that if citizens subjected to such second-class status, at the cost of the lives of their children, choose to rebel, then it is wholly understandable. And then, as I also said, it is wholly admirable that the great mass of them do not, despite such a betrayal of their civic trust.

      I have no selfish ends here, Mr. Bryan. I have no agenda other than speaking to it because it deserves to be spoken to. Loudly. You imply some gain for me in so engaging. I resent that. I have no show that is on the air now. I need no publicity for any product. This gains me nothing. This is an argument that I make because I believe and it is an argument that, with SYG laws in place in 22 states, is long overdue.

      • I did not intend to imply that you were one of those with a selfish interest in exploiting this situation. From what I’ve seen, your remarks were seized
        upon and publicized by others whose interests are different from yours. My apologies for the misconception.

        As a writer and reporter, your legitimate role is the expression of strong opinions supported by strong facts that affect us all. It is our role to deal
        with them strongly, to be willing to dig into the shit we’ve created and come out with something better. If we can do that, we need not be ashamed.

        My immediate, practical solution is poor. More paper. I don’t know much law, but I noticed that Zimmerman’s attorneys declined a SYG hearing prior to the trial. They probably thought he would lose. Perhaps these hearings should be required, rather than optional. It might have made a difference here, and it might also be easy to legislate and administer. Economical, too, if it eliminates unnecessary trials. It may not address the larger racial issues that have been raised except as the results of these hearings play out over time, but it might speedily address some SYG issues.

        The larger issues require larger solutions, and getting our hands dirty is a hard sell. I remain skeptical of the law alone to achieve it considering its record so far. My part is to grow a solution here at home.

        I’ve now spent about 24 hours over five days collating the publicly available evidence, commentary on the specific and larger issues, and
        trying to articulate where I can stand. Your publicized comments were the catalyst. Maybe, the next time you get an audience, you can express a strong opinion about a solution. It won’t get publicized for that reason (which gives you an idea of the scope of the problems) but we can hope that someone in the audience can be motivated to do something we can’t. Despite the influences that seek to divide and conquer us, we must remain willing to count on each other. Then we can have law we can count on. Then we can realistically hope. That’s how we got started.

        I’m counting on you to keep writing.

        • No one misused my remarks. I intended for them to be addressed and considered by allies and opponents alike. I am not some naif whose words were simply fodder for more sinister forces. That’s also rather insulting, if you think about it.

          The solution to racism is time and proximity. We are getting better as a country, slowly and generationally. Though there is a lot of waste and tragedy still to come, to be sure.

          The solution to this particular nightmare is the repeal of SYG laws nationwide. That would prevent every needless death from handguns, nor will it prevent racial profiling from transforming ordinary teenagers into imagined threats. But it will, at the least, reduce the legal hole through which racial profiling and a handgun can now drive a truck, allowing the slayings of innocent people with impugnity. I’ve been saying this for a week, so I am surprised you think my complaints were to no purpose.

          • OK, you got me. Regardless of the larger issues, changing the law that led to Zimmerman’s acquittal is the right thing to do because under it, he escapes accountability. Human life must be valued, and upheld by the law. If the law doesn’t do that it must be changed. Otherwise, we’re all screwed. Who’s next?

            When those who already have a lifetime of feeling threatened see no compassion or solidarity from others, no progress on larger issues can be expected.

            And even if I’ve missed something there, I think one important fact remains: If something is not done now, while passions are high, then certainly nothing
            will be done later. The opportunity will pass. That would be shameful.

            “I think a change already perceptible, since the origin of the present revolution. The spirit of the master is abating, that of the slave rising from the dust, his condition mollifying, the way I hope preparing… for a total emancipation…” – Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Ch. 18

            If we give credibility to Jefferson for noting the beginnings of emancipation some 232 years ago, and the bulk of those affected thereby today still don’t have emancipation, then the work is not done. What I do personally may have value, but it’s just not fast or far-reaching enough for some issues.

            So, go with God and whoever else will join in to make change happen. That’s a proper use for a brick.

    • “George pays by living in fear and shame the rest of his life, because he knows what he did.”

      fear, perhaps – but by his own account, no shame, no regrets, no second guessing the outcome and no indication that he’d do anything differently if put into the same situation today.

        • exactly. hell, his father already started selling his tell-all book about how everyone but George is responsible for Trayvon’s death, and everyone but George – from the NAACP on down to the Martin’s funeral director – are the REAL racists.

      • He already said on Fox News that this was part of God’s plan, so the pump is primed. Maybe he and Palin will run in 2016.

      • He doesn’t dare say anything else. And if he should prove, ultimately, that this is truly the way he feels, then he is a fool for relying on the law to decide his own personal morality for him. If his conscience cannot inform him of the magnitude of his error, particularly after the way the backlash from his actions is snowballing, he will become a pariah. The lectures will last only so long as he is useful. Time wounds all heels.

    • Just on your cowboy reference, Kirk. I was just thinking about the varieties of wannabee. You got your cowboys, then there’s the pretend soldiers, and pretend cops. Survivalist types are soldiers but sympathize with the others, I think. They all want a fight.

      Ever hear this Texas SYG recording? His guy was jonesing to shoot somebody.

      • Thanks. Another example of how our emotions lead us astray, and a law may not protect us up front. It can frame a context in which we operate by the promise of retribution for transgressions or incentives for the lack of them, but that did nothing to stop this guy.


        As I examine my own feelings, I find that what I believe is that I’m standing up for something. “I can’t be wrong,” I say, “because I’m standing up for a principle we’ve agreed on that someone is violating, and dammit, they need to comply with the agreement!” What I hear from this guy is that he’s suffering. He’s fed up, and law enforcement has failed him. So, what’s left to do but take personal action?

        Not saying I agree with what he did, just that I understand his frustration and desire to do something. I haven’t shot anybody myself yet, and ain’t jonesin’.

        I think GZ felt much the same way. I’m can’t say how much the law contributed to his feeling free to do as he did before the fact, but it certainly failed the rest of us after.

    • I loved your comment Mr. Bryan and I like your using bricks to build idea. I don’t agree with Mr. Simon on this GZ case issue, but I do appreciate him for having this blog and maintaining a place where we can have a back and forth of comments to discuss this. The comments on most other articles and videos about the case I’ve seen are worthless and hateful. I’ve been learning a lot here and truly appreciate Mr. Simon taking the time to respond, even though he sometimes twists my words and calls me sad and dishonorable. : ) So, I would say Mr. Simon did take that brick and start to build something.

      • Mr. Simon sets a high standard. It seems to me he makes an honest effort to apply it to himself as well as others, and he’s doing a lot here. I’ve had my own difficulties with perception, but “If people are callous and will not hear you, bow down before them and beg their forgiveness, for in truth you are to blame for their not wanting to hear you”. – Dostoyevsky

        I always took that to mean that I should just try harder. It’s worked before.

  • Mr. Simon,
    It seems to me after reading some of your articles/blogs, multiple comments by you and others, that the debate comes down to who instigated the physical interaction – it can’t be self-defense if you start the situation, but does anyone know if that was truly how it happened? I, as many, have a job and could not watch all of the trial as it played out. Perhaps you did (not implying that you do not have a job, just more free time than mine). If you did not, as many Americans did not, then you as well as many others are jumping to conclusions about who instigated the physical interaction with out any idea of what ALL of the evidence shows. That is assuming that the evidence shows BEYOND A DOUBT what truly transpired – that is what the prosecution must do to win the case.

    I think what happened was an awful tragedy. If Zimmerman initiated the PHYSICAL interaction, then the tragedy is made that much greater – an armed man attacked a 17 year old boy and then shot him when he could no longer win what he started. HOWEVER, to be objective we also must look at it the other way since many did not sit through and hear ALL the evidence presented – again if ALL the evidence gives a true accounting. Any person not knowing what the evidence is HAS to think of the situation from both directions if that person wants to truly claim to be non-racist. To look at only one outcome/one viewpoint, not knowing what truly happened, that is being prejudice, which in this case means “racist”.
    So the other side of possibility – that Travon instigated the physical interaction, seems to be one point in question you seem to dance around or make general statements about and then insult the writer. It is clear you believe that GZ was the instigator, but I ask what facts do you (and the other commentators who see things this way) use to come to that conclusion? I ask in a true moment of being educated – as I said I could not watch the whole trial.
    Secondly, if you cannot provide facts to back your viewpoint and are not prejudice, then you as a journalist should be open-minded enough to consider the other outcome. You have mentioned your experiences and books often- well if it is up-to-date then you know there are many thugs/gangsta males (black, latino, and white) who react first with fist and ask questions later. I have a multitude of those types everyday in my classes in the Dallas area. Some teacher friends have been threatened by said same kids to “watch their back” walking to their cars – If you are “in the know”, as you claim, then you and I know how much “watch your back” is a solid threat of violence. Travon could (notice i don’t say was) have been similar to these I reference – so here a question: (pleas give a direct response – no side stepping) Doesn’t a person who instigates a physical altercation and then get shot have some responsibility in the outcome? I’m still not sure if in all cases that is true, but in this one my answer is yes (if that is how it happened – not saying that it was). I don’t see how it is not self- defense to shoot if some one is sitting one you and punching you aggressively without signs of stopping [being punch is bodily harm (so by one or your previous threads =being assulted)]. My only real judgement on this case – both GZ and TM could have taken different steps to avoid the outcome.(which no I am not saying by not taking action means TM deserved to be killed – you seem to take this large jump of an assumption based on peoples comments in your rebuttals – shame on you for that!!!!) With GZ being the adult – does that perhaps put more responsibility on him – well that could be debated to the end of time as well.

    There are 2 things that make me sad as am American. 1) If we want justice to truly take place for all colors, we cannot make snap judgements based on what we think happened, we have to go with the facts. Perhaps the facts gave the jurors a clear picture and perhaps they didn’t, but before we cry “foul” ,”No justice” we have to know what the facts are, not make up are own, and work from those. Many on both sides are not doing this HONESTLY. 2) That instead of more fighting or arguing about what should be, we don’t all come together on what we agree on – it was a tragedy to have a 17 year old die – and try to fix was is broke on both side of the race card – anger and hate. There is more ways that one to get justice – his death could be the thing that unites many to act on violent crime. It is definitely another notch in the belt to argue “gun control”.

    • Your premise is incorrect.

      It doesn’t matter who struck who first, and frankly we’ll never know as there are no witnesses and the physical evidence isn’t definite as corroboration.

      What matters is what I keep saying matters: There is no corroboration of anything other than a common, or misdemeanor, assault. No physical injuries that are consistent with an aggravated or felony assault. And no lethal weapon in the possession of the victim, Mr. Martin.

      Under traditional self-defense standards, this fails to justify Mr. Zimmerman’s decision to use lethal force and take a human life. Under SYG, those standards evaporate and Mr. Zimmerman can kill even if he doesn’t need to kill.

      That’s it.

      • Mr. Simon,

        thank you so much for your posts and for responding to the flurry of comments on here. I do apologize if you have already done this (I have not read through all of the comments yet), but where can I find links to the forensic evidence and what it shows (or fails to show) regarding the justifiable use of force in Zimmerman’s case?

        • On this site? We are not a repository for forensic evidence. Coverage of the trial itself contained the testimony of medical experts who characterized the injuries for which Mr. Zimmerman initially declined treatment and later was treated for and released on the night of the shooting. They indicated that the abrasions were not consistent with the account of him having his head smashed repeatedly into the sidewalk in any way that could consistute an aggravated assault. Rather the injuries were consistent with non-lethal, common or misdemeanor assault. Mr. Martin had no injuries — defense wounds on his hands, scraped knuckes and such — of the kind that would be sustained in prolonged mutual combat.

          There are no witnesses to the altercation itself, so the physical evidence here is paramount.

          • Yes, however I’m unclear about the corroboration of the expert testimony. Dr. Vincent Di Maio testified that the evidence was consistent with Zimmerman’s statements to authorities.

            • And the prosecution witnesses wholly contradict that for the state, noting that the single abrasion to the back of the head is inconsistent with the tale of having one’s head slammed repeatedly into the sidewalk. The injuries are suggestive of a single strike, according to state pathologists. And the fact remains that these injuries were such that Mr. Zimmerman refused treatment at the scene and then was treated and released for minor abrasions.

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