As Predicted, Guilty Parties Walk in Zimmerman Trial

Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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50 Responses

  1. trumwill mobile says:

    I agree that SYG is still relevant here die to its influence on the investigation But I think it’s speculative to hang the shooting or the verdict (even indirectly)on the law.Report

  2. Drew says:

    Of course, you can still hang the law on a culture that teaches white folk to fear black teens in hoodies.Report

    • DRS in reply to Drew says:

      Actually I think it’s a culture that teaches everyone to fear everything.Report

      • Drew in reply to DRS says:

        Do you have to worry that if you wear a hooded sweatshirt to keep the rain off your face, you might be taken for a “thug” and accosted? I don’t. Because I’m white.Report

        • DRS in reply to Drew says:

          You may be white but in a country that seems to react violently to the slightest provocation or unfamiliar situation, you’re probably not as safe as you think you are.Report

          • Drew in reply to DRS says:

            The point being that I am still infinitely safer than I would be if I were black.Report

            • DRS in reply to Drew says:

              But only until you are perceived to be a threat by someone else.Report

              • j@m3z Aitch. in reply to DRS says:

                Yes, but the probability of Drew being perceived as a threat is much lower than it is for a black teen.Report

              • DRS in reply to j@m3z Aitch. says:

                Actually, I don’t think it is. I think there’s a lot of strong cultural messaging going on that all strangers are dangerous and potentially life-threatening, that you’ve got to be armed at all times in readiness to handle any possible threats, and that if you wait for some other form of protection than what you personally own, then you’re little better than a fool.Report

      • Patrick in reply to DRS says:

        Actually I think it’s a culture that teaches everyone to fear everything.


        • Kazzy in reply to Patrick says:

          You mean we’re NOT currently living in one of the most dangerous societies during one of the most dangerous periods of human history? Our whole way of life isn’t under constant, existential threat? The downfall of society isn’t imminent?


        • Mike Schilling in reply to Patrick says:

          I’m afraid you’re right.Report

  3. Cathy Kelly says:


  4. Jaybird says:

    I am a big fan of Castle laws and I understand the intent behind SYG laws (though I will cheerfully grant that the stated intent of the law has ABSOFREAKING NOTHING to do with how it plays out in reality).

    As stated in the other thread, New York laws state that your responsibility to retreat exceeds your right to self-defense… which strikes me as what the other option is (given the binary nature of this kind of law).

    I mean, if you wake up at 3AM and there’s an intruder on the stairs, should it really be your responsibility to lock yourself in the bathroom PRIOR to your responsibility to defend yourself/your family? (Should we make more room for the people who say “what if it’s Jean Valjean trying to find some bread for his daughter?” than we do for those who say “what if it’s someone who wants to do you harm?)

    (Or are we talking, hey, Castle laws are one thing, it’s completely different when you’re outside in neutral territory?)Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

      “Or are we talking, hey, Castle laws are one thing, it’s completely different when you’re outside in neutral territory?”


      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        Expanding on this…

        I would probably never fault anyone for using violence against an apparent intrude in their home. However, I would also likely commend someone who did their best effort to avoid violence being done to anyone in just such a situation. Because my hunch is that the number of people who intrude into a home with intent to cause physical harm to its inhabitants pales in comparison to other people who might be perceived to be an intruder.

        Using a sample size of one, my family’s house was broken into once while we were growing up. Some small items were stolen… Gameboys (remember Gameboys?), a VCR (remember VCRs???), some jewelry… but the TV was left behind. As the cops pieced together what happened, the imagined it to be the job of amateurs, probably “kids”. It was Halloween and they said they probably rang the door and, if anyone answered, simply stuck out a bag and said, “Trick or Treat.” If no one answered, they tried to break in through the backdoor and grab what they could.
        On a great number of other occasions, I snuck in through a window after getting locked out. Many of these occasions occurred during the day when no one was home and it was broad day light, but a number happened late at night when I wanted to avoid waking my parents. This was something my siblings repeated. Hell, even my mom had to break in once after locking herself out.
        My point is that if someone fired a gun every time my house was “broken in to”, they would have killed a number of kids, some of which belonged in the house and some of which didn’t, and a middle aged Italian lady.
        I, personally, would rather that pulling a trigger be a last resort.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

          I, personally, would rather that pulling a trigger be a last resort.

          As would I.

          But I would prefer the legal presumption that “the situation was created when intruder intruded” to the one that says “the situation was created when the resident failed to lock himself in the bathroom.”Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

            Agreed. I don’t think it should be illegal to shoot an intruder in your home if you genuinely think yourself to be at risk. But I think it prudent to perhaps pursue other avenues. T’is all.Report

            • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Kazzy says:

              We just don’t want to legally obligate that alternate avenue exploration.

              As I’ve said before, such events are often scary, fast, & leave little time for figuring out the OODA loop.Report

        • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Kazzy says:

          Did your parents own guns? Did they keep them in their bedroom so as to be handy in the middle of the night? If so, where you aware of this? Would that awareness have altered your behavior?

          Were your parents aware that you & your siblings would occasionally use an open window, such that they (if they owned guns for home defense) would pause to be sure of the threat before firing?

          I had a friend who used to come home in the night via window. More than once he was told to freeze by his shotgun wielding father, until dad was sure it was his kid. The Dad was an experienced hunter, always careful, very unflappable.

          If only all gun owners were so self-assured… sighReport

          • Kazzy in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

            My mom and dad never owned a gun, at least not one I ever knew about. My stepfather did own a rifle, but I’m not sure this was ever kept in the house and, if it was, it wasn’t long, as it quickly made its way to the garage and then to an off-site storage unit.

            Regardless, you bring up a good point. Would I have acted differently had there been guns in the home? I dunno. Being 19 and drunk doesn’t always lend one to the most rational thinking. Were I the sort of person who’d own a gun and would grab it at the sound of bumps in the night, I’d tell my kids, “Don’t you EVER come through a window… ring the ball, call the phone, no matter what hour,” and hope to god they listen.

            I commend your friend’s dad for doing a thorough risk assessment before pulling the trigger.Report

      • Patrick in reply to Kazzy says:

        Yeah, this.

        Castle laws are of debatable necessity, and can be badly designed and all that, but I think it’s pretty reasonable for anyone to assume that someone who has broken into their house bears the culpability for what follows. Even if they’re just drunk and/or stupid. At the very least, we should respect someone’s private property enough that once the public right of way has been passed, it’s not on the homeowner any more to prove anything.

        Out in public, you don’t have any particular right to be standing on any particular chunk of pavement. A reasonable retreat rather than restoring to violence is a better default (subject to provisos on particular wordings, etc.)Report

        • RTod in reply to Patrick says:

          Agreed. I think of everyone I have read today, TNC (natch) does the best job of summing it all up:

          “Effectively, I can bait you into a fight and if I start losing I can can legally kill you, provided I “believe” myself to be subject to “great bodily harm.” It is then the state’s job to prove — beyond a reasonable doubt — that I either did not actually fear for my life, or my fear was unreasonable. ” If someone is in your home uninvited, it’s easy to see actions being justifiable.

          If you are able to pick a fight in a bar, escalate that fight to the point that it get dangerous for you, kill the person you antagonized and be found compliant with the law, then it is a terrible law.Report

          • Mike Schilling in reply to RTod says:

            “Effectively, I can bait you into a fight and if I start losing I can can legally kill you, provided I “believe” myself to be subject to “great bodily harm.” It is then the state’s job to prove — beyond a reasonable doubt — that I either did not actually fear for my life, or my fear was unreasonable. ”

            And the best part is that I can make up as much shit as I want about what happened, because there’s no one left to contradict me.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

              More than one policeman I’ve spoken to have told me that if I shoot someone in my house (Castle doctrine, remember), that it’s best for everybody (meaning everybody in the conversation… i.e., me, the cop) if the person is dead rather than capable of giving testimony.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                My high school physics teacher said the same thing. He came home one night and surprised some intruders. They get the hell out as fast as they could. He said he would have shot at them, but couldn’t figure out how to explain the holes in his back fence.

                Of course, we thought he was a psycho.Report

              • Alan Scott in reply to Jaybird says:

                What is it with policemen and creepily amoral advice?

                Earlier this year I had a policeman tell me that it was better to leave my drunk friends stranded at a bar than to be a designated driver.Report

            • Marchmaine in reply to Mike Schilling says:

              …if you kill everyone else in the bar.Report

              • Glyph in reply to Marchmaine says:

                …if you kill everyone else in the bar.

                …Sigh. Do I always have to do everything myself?

                But seriously folks, even plentiful witnesses may not be able to easily or satisfactorily resolve the questions. To refer again to the trial I was part of, the shooter’s witnesses (this shooting occurred at a party) said that the victim started the altercation, first with words, then shooting. The victim’s witnesses claim the shooter started it.

                The victim claimed he had no gun, and police did not locate one when they arrived (but EMT’s found spent shells under him when they lifted him up) – the defense claimed that the victim’s friends had removed his gun prior to police arrival.

                A witness for the prosecution swore up and down that the shooter fled the scene while still firing out of the sunroof of the car (she demonstrated his firing stance) that he was shortly pulled over in – a car model which, the defense pointed out, does not feature a sunroof. Eyewitness credibility impeached.

                So the ultimate question became, when the shots were fired that hit the victim, was it possible that the victim (or someone near him) was already firing at the defendant? And to me, the spent shells underneath him at least suggested that possibility (though it was a bad neighborhood, and those shells could have been old).

                In the end, the shooter was acquitted; and this with multiple witnesses to the events. Some of those witnesses were at best mistaken (memory is notoriously unreliable), if not outright lying.Report

              • Marchmaine in reply to Glyph says:

                I wasn’t suggesting that the truth wouldn’t be messy, just that it wouldn’t be exclusive.

                “And the best part is that I can make up as much shit as I want about what happened, because there’s no one left to contradict me.”Report

              • Glyph in reply to Marchmaine says:

                Sorry, I wasn’t disagreeing with you, and I understand what you meant.

                I was just trying to point out that even multiple witnesses don’t necessarily solve the core “problem”: which is 2 men fought, and one is on trial for it.

                How do we offer the defendant the standard presumption of innocence, without simultaneously slightly privileging his narrative (this is I believe how our system is supposed to work, which is why I put quotes around “problem” above)?

                After all, in my case the victim lived, and there were witnesses taking his side; and yet ultimately his narrative was not deemed sufficient to overturn the self-defense narrative of the shooter, so the shooter walked.

                How much more will this usually be so when there were no witnesses, and the shooting victim is dead?

                And how can you possibly fix that without altering the principle of presumption of innocence?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Glyph says:

                Well, what’s interesting to me is the moment when the detective decided to bluff and said “it looks like there’s videotape of what happened” and Z responded by saying “Oh, thank God!” rather than “um, really?”

                This cop testified that he thought that Z was telling the truth.

                Now let’s say that a camera was around, somewhere. What would it have shown? Let’s say that either party was carrying an iPhone with a video/audio record app that saved stuff off to the cloud. How much better would that be? Wouldn’t it be a relief to be able to listen to the audio from this vantage point and then hear the same audio from that one?

                As we get better and better tech and as it gets more and more ubiquitous, we’ll have more and more live records of everything.

                Until people will wonder aloud why they wouldn’t be carrying their iPhone or, if they were, why they wouldn’t have kicked off the eyewitness app.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Marchmaine says:

                No half measures.Report

              • Glyph in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Mike “The Cleaner” Schilling.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Glyph says:

                Like I’d have let a high-school teacher get the drop on me on that.Report

              • Glyph in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                I AM THE ONE WHO BLOGSReport

              • Marchmaine in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                That’s what I like about you… a good storyteller is completely dedicated to his craft.Report

    • dand in reply to Jaybird says:

      The part of Florida law I find most troubling is the “use of force by an aggressor “clause, my reading (and I’m not lawyer) is that the aggressor can use deadly force and be absolved of all punishment that seem wrong to me. I don’t think it would be relevant in this case since there isn’t any evidence that Zimmerman was the (legal) aggressor but it would still be a good law to change.Report

  5. NewDealer says:

    I have been thinking a lot about what are the “proper” responses to various tragedies. Including how long should they stay in the public conscious. You are right that this story will soon be replaced by something else in our mind. The problem seems to be that there is a lot of bad news in the world. The world seems to be so vast that at anytime all actions are occurring. There are tragedies happening as we are out to dinner with friends, typing on comments on the League, shopping for new clothing or groceries, etc.

    Something like 9/11 can seemingly shut down a nation for a day or so. A natural disaster can disrupt an area for a few days (see Sandy) but life needs to go on and bills need to be paid.

    I am not saying that it is good that Trayvon will soon be forgotten in the public memory. I don’t think that is good at all. I just wish we had a better framework for dealing with all the stuff that comes at us at lightening speed. Life is hard and filled with pain. Also lots of joy. Without joy and happiness life would be nothing more than a living hell. Somepeople sadly do reside in this living hell. It just feels odd that I went out on Saturday night and discovered about the Trayvon verdict. There is always part of me that thinks I should call it in when stuff like this happens but what purpose would that serve?Report

  6. jaded says:

    The SYG law is basically a “Kill Black People and People We Don’t Like Legally” law. A black woman did NOT have this right when she killed the husband that was beating her and was about to kill her, she’s serving time because the law is only against black people and only if you’re white. If she was a white woman who defended her life from a black husband that was beating her she wouldn’t serve a day and you know it. The Foxians and their ilk WANT a race riot so badly that they’ll make one up (Matt Drudge and Sean Hannity) when there is only protest which is legal in this country as long as it’s not violent. The Foxians are looking for ANY excuse. If anyone was upset that Zimmerman was acquitted it was the Foxians because now they’ll have to create another excuse.

    But just think about it. You can defend yourself if you’re threatened…

    If I’m a Christian dad whose daughter is dating a Muslim man, you think I could say he’s a terrorist without any proof and just shoot him dead and walk away? I’ll bet I can.

    If I’m a Christian dad whose pregnant daughter who is dating a Jewish man, you think I can say he’s a threat to my religion because he refuses to raise the child as Christian? You think anyone will bat an eye after I kill him and end the problem? SYG, I say!

    If I’m a student who’s receiving a full college athletic scholarship and you’re the one teacher who will fail me and ruin my future (even if I deserved to fail) and stop my livelihood, you’re a threat. I should be able to shoot you dead too. You’re terrorizing me!

    I’m a woman who is being raped by a man, can I shoot you to prevent you from killing me?

    Let me ask you two questions first. What color am I? What color is my rapist?Report

  7. Angela says:

    Part of the heartbreak of the story is knowing how innocently belligerent 17 year olds can be.
    When this all hit the news initially, I was talking about it with my 19 year old.
    It was clear that my son would not have responded politely to someone following him around and hassling him, since he knew he had a right to be there. In that situation, he would be at high risk. Being 17 and surly should not be a death sentence.

    And, I do think that choosing to carry a gun should come with automatic consequences when that gun is fired. Especially since every state now allows concealed carry.Report

    • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Angela says:

      But what kind of consequences?

      There is a saying in the self-defense community, that every bullet fired anywhere but the range has a trial/lawsuit attached to it. At the very least, there will very likely be an extremely uncomfortable police investigation (maybe not always, but one should expect it).

      If a person honestly defends themselves with a gun, should they suffer some consequence above & beyond the personal trauma (assuming they are not sociopaths) & the subsequent investigations?

      When I was 17, I would never have confronted an adult. My sensei would have kicked me out of his dojo for initiating any kind of violence, & I always assumed that adults know more dirty tricks than I do, and are much more willing to fight dirty than I was.

      I believed then, as I believe now, that violence is always the last resort, the thing you do when all your other options are even worse. The end result of violence is always way worse than you can imagine. And I shall make every effort to impress the same to my son as he grows up. I only wish others did.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        Is “honestly” subjective or objective? If they shot someone because they honestly believed they were in severe danger, but in fact that belief was not reasonable, they should not be carrying a gun around. And if they’re in severe danger because of a confrontation they provoked, again they should not be carrying a gun around. In both cases they’ve demonstrated they can’t be trusted with one.Report

        • NewDealer in reply to Mike Schilling says:

          IIRC from the Bar and my crim law classes, California makes it a mitigating factor but not a complete defense if someone has a “sincere but unreasonable” belief that they were in severe danger.Report

  8. Art Deco says:

    This post is comprehensively unserious. George Zimmerman was on his back being pummeled when he shot Trayvon Martin. No enhancements to conventional self-defense were necessary for an acquittal and such enhancements were irrelevant to the sequence of events.Report

    • DRS in reply to Art Deco says:

      If Zimmerman were on his back being beaten, how did he manage to get the gun out, let alone aim it and fire? Since you seem to know everything about the case, please explain. Please try to do it without referencing Zimmerman’s ridiculous claim that Martin threatened to kill him with it.Report

      • Art Deco in reply to DRS says:

        The claim that Martin threatened him is not ridiculous at all.

        There is no doubt he was on his back. There is eyewitness testimony to that effect and the autopsy report and the forensic testimony for the defense both indicate that Martin was shot while leaning over Zimmerman.Report

  9. Barry_D says:

    BTW, I’ve seen postings of the jury instructions. They included SYG. IIRC, one of the jurors stated that SYG was an issue in deliberations.Report