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Zimmerman and the Privatization of Everything

My contribution to the debate surrounding the Zimmerman verdict will be short and (one hopes) sweet. It isn’t grounded in any particular expertise in case law. It’s just meant to be a pessimstic observation about the loss of (a) common sense.

Political philosophers after Hobbes draw a distinction between an enemy and a criminal. An enemy is someone defined by sovereign power. One state declares war on another, and when this happens, their citizens become enemies. A criminal in contrast is someone who represents an affront to the law, and who in a sense lives outside the law; the threat that he represents is private. One’s Second Amendment right to bear arms is in this context clearly a duty and obligation, an imperative to face down and defeat the enemy or enemies of one’s country. It’s not the same as a universal “right” to define and fight criminals. Of all people, John Locke understood the dangers inherent in this point of distinction: he argued that in a so-called state of nature without public authority, every individual could engage in self-defense. However, the egregious excesses of that condition – men using lethal force to avenge petty insults or crimes against property for example – was according to Locke what led human beings to leave that condition and enter into the social contract.

We no longer live in Locke’s state of nature – in truth we never did – and yet laws like Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” assume that we do. Such laws diminsh the Second Amendment by turning common defense into a hunt for “bad guys.” What once conveyed a vision of virtuous citizen-soldiers now evokes a world full of private contractors, a tremulous and bellicose mass of individuals, each with his particular grievances and shadowy comprehensions of threat, fully empowered to use lethal force. It's a tragic distortion.

Commentators on the Zimmerman case are already discussing it in terms of a conflict between what the law mandates versus the pursuit of justice. In my eyes, the terms are much clearer: it represents nothing more than the forward march of the privatization of everything.

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Here are my ollective thoughts, some repeated, for reflection.

1. No one truly knows what exchange of words were used between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman when they first encountered each other. All the jury had was Mr. Zimmerman's account and the fact that Trayvon Martin punched Zimmerman and almost broke his nose. It is a reasonable inference that Trayvon Martin started the fight and any desparaging words that Mr. Zimmerman "might" have used was not reason for a severe punch to the nose making it swollen and bloodied. This incident was viewed by the jury as favorable to Mr. Zimmerman even though the evidence about who started the fight was incomplete.

2. There is nothing illegally bias about suspecting someone who was a stranger in this gated community and fit the profile of those who committed robberies in this community. Neither was it illegal for Trayvon Martin to be walking home through this community. Something triggered Trayvon Martin to punch Mr. Zimmerman, then to get on top of him and slam his head into the concrete causing his head to bleed in several places. If anyone was going to scream for help at that time, reason would dictate that it would have been Mr. Zimmerman. We have an eye witness who testified that Trayvon Martin was on top of Mr. Zimmerman in a ground and pound MNA style fighting action.

3. We also have evidence, not given in Court, of pictures on Trayvon Martin's cell phone of someone holding a hand gun (possibly Trayvon), jewelry laid out on a bed (possibly stolen), young nude teenager women, etc. We also have autopsy evidence of marijuana in Trayvon Martin's blood stream. This evidence was not used by the defense. However, could marijuana have made Trayvon Martin paranoid?

4. All evidence and arguments were presented by the prosecution and defense. The jury return a not guilty verdict because the evidence did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin because he wanted to, because he was a racist, or because he used excessive lethal force and was irresponsibly negligent. He was found not guilty because of self-defense. No one was a winner in this case. All the facts were not known but based on the evidence, "not guilty" was the only reasonable outcome.

This country needs to address stand your ground laws, the right to carry a concealed hand gun by neighborhood watch volunteers, rigorous training and certification, and very strict rules concerning how to approach strangers, respectful non-provoking questioning, how to identify yourself, etc.

This incident should have never occurred. Now we must learn from it and do something to prevent its re-occurrence. Unfortunately, politics and emotion are polarizing our nation. I seriously doubt that the Federal Government will find probable cause to bring a civil rights action against Mr. Zimmerman. The FBI investigation uncovered a substantial amount of evidence that Mr. Zimmerman was not racist by a long shot. He did not commit a hate crime.

 

 

"...or because he was gravely negligent." 

There may be grounds to sue the city (as well as Mr Zimmerman personally) here, because the neighborhood watch program is a creature of the city.  As you point out, there is a question of how much training and control this particular city exercises over its program volunteers, particularly when it allows "patrols".  The situation is complicated by the fact that it occurred in a state with few gun controls, and one that apparently sanctions "open carry".  Even though a CITIZEN is entitled to carry a weapon, is that still true when that person is acting in the capacity of an AGENT FOR THE CITY?  Does not the city government have a duty to control the use of firearms by its agents, whether they be police officers or others? 

 

The fact is that Mr. Zimmerman checked in with a dispatcher, who told him NOT to follow Trayvon Martin.  Mr. Zimmerman chose to ignore that direction, and so could be considered "gravely negligent".

I myself volunteer for a nationwide federally-sponsored program, and no matter what the state laws might be, all of us are always forbidden to carry any sort of weapon during the time we volunteer.  IMHO, this city should have imposed the same rule on its neighborhood watch volunteers. 

One, becasue Trayvon did have time to run home and get out of the situation, stand your ground notwithstanding.

 

As did George Zimmerman.  Since when does anyone have the right to provoke a confrontation and then decide that his alleged sense of fearfulness (loaded gun in his possession, notwithstanding) have the right to harrass someone who was doing NOTHING wrong except being a young black kid in a hoody?  GZ may have had a bad law on his side but he had ... nor has ... no moral case on his side.

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels:

Regarding your question on Zimmerman's defense, Zimmerman's defense team relied on "self defense", not Florida's Stand Your Ground law.  Self defense in Florida law is defined in a way that is similar to how it is defined in all 50 states.  Florida law on self defense says: " A person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if:

(1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony; or

(2) Under those circumstances permitted pursuant to s. 776.013 [to protect one's dwelling, residence, or vehicle]."

If Martin had attacked Zimmerman, Zimmerman had a duty to retreat if he could've had done so safely.  Zimmerman's defense argued that Martin was on top of him and was punching him and slamming Zimmerman's head into the concrete.  In addition, Zimmerman in his comments to the media, which were shown in court by the prosecution, also claimed that Martin started to reach for Zimmerman's gun.  As a result, Zimmerman's defense argued that Zimmerman could NOT retreat safely and he reasonably believed that deadly force (i.e., shooting Martin) was necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself (Zimmerman).

Zimmerman's defense team could have used the same arguments in any other state in the United States to make a case that Zimmerman acted in self defense and should not be found guilty of 2nd degree murder or manslaughter.

The Stand Your Ground Law in Florida eliminates the need for a person to try to retreat if they can safely do so.  It states: "A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place [than his dwelling, residence, or vehicle] where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony."

 

Because Zimmerman's defense team argued that Zimmerman couldn't safely retreat, they didn't need to invoke the Stand Your Ground Law. 

As to your question of liability for neighborhood watch groups, the homeowners' association for the community that Zimmerman was the watch captain in, settled a wrongful death suit brought against it by Martin's parents for Zimmerman's actions.  Reportedly the homeowners' association agreed to pay Martin's parents over $1 million.  This settlement expressly did not cover Zimmerman.  At the time of this settlement, the attorneys for Martin's parents stated that they wanted to pursue a wrongful death suit, which is a civil, not a criminal, suit, against Zimmerman at some point in the future.  

 

Since the verdict in the criminal trial, I have not read anything about whether Martin's parents are still planning on bringing such a civil suit against Zimmerman.  They may be waiting to see if the Justice Dept. will bring a civil rights suit, which would be a federal criminal suit.  In addition, they may be re-evaluating their chances of winning a wrongful death suit against Zimmerman in light of the verdict in the criminal trial.  Civil suits carry a lower standard of proof (preponderance of the evidence, not beyond a reasonable doubt), which normally makes them easier to win than criminal suits (see OJ's criminal and civil trials for murder of his wife and Ron Goldman).  Florida's Stand Your Ground Law, however, might it difficult for Martin's parents to successfully bring a civil suit.

 

Florida's Stand Your Ground Law states that a person who uses force in self-defense to protect themselves, to protect their dwelling, residence, or vehicle, or to protect another person is immune from civil actions for the use of such force.  In light of the criminal verdict, a judge might be able to decide that the Florida Stand Your Ground Law applies and might be able to dismiss any civil action against Zimmerman that Martin's parents might try to bring.  I have read that Zimmerman's lawyers intend to raise the Stand Your Ground Law's immunity provision if Martin's parents try to bring a civil suit against Zimmerman to get the suit dismissed.

See "The Whole System Failed Trayvon Martin," by Charles Blow.

www.nytimes.com/2013/07/16/opinion/the-whole-system-failed.html

 

Professor Brown, thank you for the information--and the tutorial in Florida law.

I grew up in the Bay State as a card carrying liberal. In mid-life I had a conversion experience which led me to look more critically at my own thought patterns and those of my friends on the left. I began to see that I had a bias about certain categories of fact, including race. My Dad had been a cop and was rather prejudiced (we called him Archie Bunker). In response I moved to the other end of the spectrum. Then I noticed my own prejudice which brings me to the Martin-Zimmerman matter (MZ). The discussion here as I read it bends so far over backward as to give Martin's race and age the greatest importance. Mr. Z, on the other hand is portrayed as a white Hispanic bubba who was out looking for trouble and was getting what he deserved until two things occurred to him: 1) He was being pummeled and felt his life was endangered and 2) that he had a firearm. It is at this point that more liberal observers distract us from the motive of self defense to call our attention to stupid gun laws and the more stupid stand your ground law. Those, they contend, are the chief issues along with Mr. Z's presumed racist motives. Didn't they watch parts of the trial? Did they fail to see the prosecutors fail to persuade the jury beyond a reasonable doubt. Are we a nation of laws, or a nation of feelings. I feel great compassion for Mr. Martin's family in their agonizing loss. Such a shame that he felt it necessary to assault a man who lived in the neighborhood and was carrying out his duties. Had he only decided to just get back to where he was staying. In the meantime, I notice scant compassion for Mr. Z or his family. Must be because they're racist bubbas, huh?

The legl tutorial was very helpful, I agree. This string is winding down thogh issues remain- as Charles Blow column astutely points out. However, I canot let ths last coment go when it presumes so much that is unknown that "he felt it necessary to assualt a man who lived in the neghborhood and was carrying out his duties." that is so riddled with presumptions that it doesn't warrantmre refutation...enough...

There is no doubt this whole case is a tragedy; obviously both guys should have acted differently.  But from the days when they represented slaveholders, the Klansmen and Bull Conner types, right down to today as they organize a federal lynch mob for Zimmerman, the Democrats have been race-baiters and used race to manipulate sitiations to their political benefit; routinely (and cynically) pitting one group against the other in emotive and hurtful public dramas. 

With Zimmerman, Democrats are now clamoring for mob rule, just like when folks used to instigate lynch mobs 100 years ago in Alabama. 

These types are long on emotion, gossip, snide innuendo and character assignation, and very, very short on reasoned debate, tolerance and logic.

Someone should be the rational adult, the sheriff at the door of the jail, stopping the torch & pitchfork wielding mob in its hysterical tracks.

It must be hell to wake up every morning knowing that you are rich because your child is dead.    For many reasons, our prayers should go out to the Martins.

Ken

"Someon should be the rational adult"?

Having read your comment, I have to say that the rational adult does not seem to be you.

Someone should be the rational adult

Someone should be the rational adult

Correction:

Ken:

"Someone should be the rational adult"?

Having read your comment, I have to say that the rational adult does not seem to be you.

 "When profiling is “reasonable,” injustice becomes excusable,"  By Father Bryan Massingale. 

http://www.uscatholic.org/blog/201307/when-profiling-%E2%80%9Creasonable...

 

Massingale teaches theology at Marquette.  Here are the opening paragraphs of his essay:

 

The Blues: a feeling of frustration and sorrow in the face of harsh reality; a refusal to surrender despite deep pain. 

 

“The blues” describes my reaction to the “not guilty” verdict in the death of Trayvon Martin. I cannot be dispassionate about this matter. For I know what it feels like to be a black man in America, regardless of the impassioned denials of so many that race had nothing to do with this case. 

 

I, too, have been profiled by police officers, followed by campus safety patrols and stalked by mall security guards for doing nothing more than walking to my office, shopping for clothes, or enjoying an evening stroll—for just minding my own business.

The Blues: a feeling of frustration and sorrow in the face of harsh reality; a refusal to surrender despite deep pain.

“The blues” describes my reaction to the “not guilty” verdict in the death of Trayvon Martin. I cannot be dispassionate about this matter. For I know what it feels like to be a black man in America, regardless of the impassioned denials of so many that race had nothing to do with this case.

I, too, have been profiled by police officers, followed by campus safety patrols and stalked by mall security guards for doing nothing more than walking to my office, shopping for clothes, or enjoying an evening stroll—for just minding my own business.

- See more at: http://www.uscatholic.org/blog/201307/when-profiling-%E2%80%9Creasonable...

 

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