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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.

About the Author

Robert Geroux is a political theorist.



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But we shouldn't be surprised by this, I think.  The culture is in large part one of what Macpherson called "possessive individualism."  It's a few decades since I read his book, which I thought brilliant, particularly his argument that Locke (and Hobbes, too) filled their "state of nature" with early modern proto-capitalists who, acting as such, needed the state to curb their tendencies.  What do people make of his book today?

Have not read the MacPherson book, but possessive individualism sounds right: Zimmerman's right to tool around his neighborhood, gun at hand, and confront people. The police told him to let it go. He didn't.

"Stand your ground" now seems to give hot heads and bullys the right to run around and shoot people who give you lip--at least in Florida. I am very disappointed in my six fellow women who made up the jury; manslaughter it was and that's what they should have found...even if they have cute little pistols in their pocketbooks.

And he gets his gun back "George Zimmerman will get his gun back now that he has been cleared of murder and his lawyer said today that Zimmerman needs the weapon "even more 'than before.'"

I haven't rread Macpherson's book. I agree that our culture can well be characterized as a culture of possessive individualism. But I'm not inclined to agree that Locke fills his "state of nature" with proto-capitalists who, acting as such, needed the state to curb their tendencies." Some of Locke's lated disciples may fit tis bill, but Locke's "Second Treatise of Govenment," at least as i see it, needs the premise that every person and thing in the world is God's property to get his whole treatise going. I'm also skeptical, for other reasons, about seeing Hobbes as a "proto-capitalist.". Both Locke and Hobbes can rightly be seen as espousing an individualist conception of human beings. It's the "possessive" part that I have a hard time agreeing with.

I also have not read Macpherson's book. However, the secular culture in which we live is not as evil and filled with diabolic cancer as some would argue. The secular culture and materialism, liberalism, individualism and relativism are blamed by the Church for the non-reception of some Church teachings. This is a worldview that must be tempered by reality. The world is not polarized into those who are athesits and agnostics and Catholics who disagree with some Church teachings, one the one hand, and on the other hand, by those Catholics who adhere to all Church teachings as the truth. As for the Zimmerman-Martin case:


This was a tragedy that could have been avoided. One issue of great concern is the right of a neighborhood watch volunteer to carry a concealed weapon with a bullet in the chamber. Despite the law that allow individuals to carry concealed weapons there does not seem to be any requirement of rigorous training, certification or strict laws governing the behavior of neighborhood watch volunteers. This can lead to tragic consequences.

One can reasonably argue that "profiling" was used by both Mr. Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. However, those who assert that Mr. Zimmerman used "racial profiling" is not supported by the evidence or his past behavior. The fact that the majority of crimes in this neighborhood were committed by black teenagers and young adults, making suspect some black strangers walking in a gated community is not "racial" per se. This does not mean that racial profiling is not real and a major problem in the U.S.

Had Mr. Zimmerman been unarmed, Trayvon Martin would likely have made it safely home that night. However, neither is the possibility that an unarmed Mr. Zimmerman may have been killed or may have sustained very serious injuries by the hands of Trayvon Martin. We can speculate until the cows come home, but the jury found no evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin because he wanted to, because he had malice in his heart, because he was a racist or because he was gravely negligent. The jury found sufficient evidence that Mr. Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin in self defense. The tragedy is that if Trayvon Martin and Mr. Zimmerman had the love of God and neighbor in their hearts, this incident would not have happened.

In the aftermath of this jury judgment, the startling different conclusions of those on both sides means there are issues that must be addressed such as gun laws, race, white and black paranoia, neighborhood watch behavior and legal boundaries, among others.






I think the problem with the privatization of everything applies, more aptly, to the presence of gated communities. These should not be permitted by municipal by-laws as nothing breaks down community like a gated community. That, more than any other created social entity, "others" the broader community.

The concept of neighbourhood watch is not a bad concept and I do not think it necessarily means that we "other" all kinds of people. We do not have one where I live now but I did when I lived in the country (unorganized township). It was good as I could tell my watch when I was away and she would keep an eye on my place when I was gone. She did not patrol but at least if my place was broken into (as it was once), she was empowered to call the police and take care of things in my absence.

I watched a bit of the trial towards the end and listened carefully to the jury instructions. I think the jury followed their instructions to the letter. They arrived at, what i see, as the only legal judgement that applied; namely not guilty. There simply was no way that the state could prove that Zimmerman did not act in self defence beyond a reasonable doubt.

That does not mean that he is blameless and that he does not have some accountability. On the other hand, it seems pretty clear that he was physically struck and repeatedly hit on the ground and acted in self defence. You can go around and around the issue of following and instigation but it is at least reasonably doubtful that Zimmerman began the fight.

This case is not a good one to hang issues of gun control (I am totally in favour of restriction of handguns). It was a tragedy, and an avoidable one for sure.


I would bet that 90 percent of people, including me, do not even have a clue of what stand your ground even means. It wasn't a part of this trial and was not part of the defense. The defense was self defence. 

I do know this much by working closely in the justice system for some years. The vast, vast majority of people in criminal court are lower income minorities. Drugs and alchol are waaaay more associated with criminal behaviour. A lot of mental health issues, social disorganization.

If you want to prevent criminal behaviour address income inequality, improve access for educational opportunities, create jobs,and safe affordable housing.

It sounds like Zimmerman wanted a safer community but there are better ways of going about it than the way he did. However, he is not a criminal and did not act criminally. Unwisely but not criminally. 

The takeaway from this is that we should all be part of one community and the good Samaritan is a good gospel that should guide us. We need to educate people on how to achieve that safe community for all. Based on my experience, I tend to zero in on the social and economic issues as that is what is most obvious to me.


The verdict hinged on witnesses differing on who screamed a high pitch call for "help". Would a man packing a 9mm gun scream for help?? not at all believable.


The verdict hinged on more than that. The jury could reconstruct likelihood based not only on conflicting reports of who was on top but my the physical evidence of the clothes. it was raining that night and they were on the grass. Therefore, Martin's hoodie should have had stains and been wet, the back of his jeans stained and wet. They were not.

Zimmerman had visible lacerations on the back of his head and his nose was bleeding.The martial arts trainer said that he would only let George shadow box and rated him a 1 out of a 10 on physical ability.

An eye witness saw Martin on top in a "ground and pound" position.

it is beyond a reasonable doubt that Martin was on top and George screaming for help! But at a bare minimum, if it cannot be proved conclusively, in the judicial system the doubt, under law, must go to the defendant.

At any rate the six jurors apparently paid close attention to all the testimony, took notes, even asked for inventory of evidence. They were sequestered and had only this for three entire weeks. Plus meticulously went through every single piece of evidence and applied the instructions they were given.

A step farther--Before 9/11 multinationals were able to evade sovereignty with their economic power and shop for favorable jurisdictions, sometimes able to order jurisdictions made-to-fit (American firms do this routinely among states); the real danger of 9/11 was that technology proved non-state actors capable of waging war, and the U.S. dignified that claim by elevating a band of thugs to the status of an enemy; a widespread political movement inside the United States is based on the idea that government, itself, is both (strangely) incompetent and dangerous, undermining the authority of institutions, and; Edward Snowden substitutes his individual judgment for the elected government, exposing a lawful program, and countless people on both sides of the spectrum hail him as a hero of concience.

I would suggest that privatization is a symptom.  The deeper problem is that a long, slow erosion of sovereignty's legitimacy is reaching a tipping point in many places, on many levels.  The idea of the authority of government has become suspect almost everywhere.  It is, in many ways, exactly what Hobbes feared most.

Since George Zimmerman did not testify (which is his right) the only self-defense "defense" was made by witnesses who did not see the whole thing, and by "experts" who testified about various related matters. Phone messages, Zimmerman's head wounds, Martin's sweat shirt and the position of Zimmerman's gun when it went off--all of them presented ambiguous "facts" to the jury. Zimmerman got the benefit of the doubt (which is his right) with a vengence.

We cannot know how thoroughly the jury actually went into matters. We must accept their judgment that the prosecution did not make its case; there was reasonable doubt about the facts.

The bigger picture here is as many here have described or suggested--Hobbesian. Stephen Milles puts the matter in the realm of the political and the question of sovereign authority. The idea that a self-appointed guard, George Zimmerman, can drive around his neighborhood and confront anyone (against the advice of the police) while carrying a loaded gun seems like out and out vigilantism. We are going to see more of this. That is one unfortunate outcome of the "not guilty" verdict.

I agree with the original post: We are no longer in a Lockean state of nature (if we ever were), but the laws of Florida, and other states influenced by the Randian or Kochian weltanschauung, assume we are. The point about "stand your ground:" is not that the law was invoked by Zimmerman; it wasn't, But "stand your ground" also eliminated the common law requirement that, in a threatening situation, a person has a duty to flee first and to fight only if he has to. It changed the rules of  self-defense. Instead of defusing confrontations, we are now encouraged to win them. (That is what makes champions.)

If the duty to flee had been present, the actions of both Zimmerman and Martin would look different. Zimmerman, in getting out of his car would have been wrong, not performing the neutral act of walking around where he had a right to be, and Martin, in confronting him (if he did), would have been wrong. as well. The case would have been argued differently, but it still would not have been a slam dunk either way. In such a case, presumably the default judgment would be invoked, and the white guy would have won.

In my county, neighborhood watch volunteers are told not to carry their guns, although I would not bet that all don't.

Which gets back to the main point of this post. It is not by happenstance that "It's not all about you" has become a catchphrase in civil society. In far too many areas of life far too many people are sure it is indeed all about them, and tough on you.


Following on Tom Blackburn: Here is a graph from Lizette Alvarez's report on the self-defense rules invoked in the Zimmerman trial: "From the start, prosecutors faced a difficult case — weak on evidence and long on outrage. Mr. Zimmerman had the power of self-defense laws on his side, and was helped by a spotty police investigation and prosecutorial missteps. The initial investigation foundered when the local prosecutor balked at bringing charges, convinced that overcoming the self-defense claims would prove impossible."  Read on.

She also did a good story on race, an element in the story but not in the trial.

Just to throw in another point.... I have not completely reconciled myself to the jury system that now allows six rather than 12 members. I assume the lawyers obviously agreed or that that perhaps is the standard now and that all the jurors had to be accepted by both, but I would have felt better had it contained a couple of men among 1 jurors... and I still can't understand why his getting out of the car and somehow conronting him (or even being attacked by him as he claimed) doesn't change the culpability... but that was not the point, I know... 

From the jury instructions:

If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

Stand your ground was relevant because it eliminated any need for Zimmerman to justify not leaving. The case probably wouldn't have resulted differently if that hadn't been the law, but the law did make the case easier for the defense. Stand Your Ground laws allow Zimmerman to participate in a fight and kill the other person as long as no one can prove that he committed a crime before the fight started.

So... one can be (secretly) armed and wander around a neighborhood after explicit, non-binding instructions not to engage or to stay in the car and, if a fight is provoked (in some unclear manner) and he can "show" some injury or threat, deadly force is licit...

"Kochian Weltanachauung"?  I haven't heard rapping like that in over forty years.

Macpherson's idea of "possessive individualism" is described as the "conception of an individual as essentially the proprietor of his own person or capacities, owing nothing to society for them. The individual was seen neither as a moral whole, nor as part of a larger social whole, but as an owner of himself." Thus, the right to bear arms is not attached to specified social duties or responsibilities. Robert's original post rightly points to a differntiation between enemy and criminal - this is why police departments generally favor strong gun restrictions, because as a society, we cannot walk around imagining others as enemies. Yet, besides race, there are a couple points of the case worthy of comment that seem to be lost in the verdict. First, Zimmerman was not protecting his own house - interestingly, as a neighborhood watch volunteer, he was doing something we generally encourage, a social duty. A big problem in this case is the ill-defined nature of neighborhood watch programs (and the question of carrying loaded weapons when serving as one). I would hope that neighborhood watch programs could be better regulated and guided so that they serve their purpose. Second, as a part of this neighborhood watch guidance, it seems clear that whatever actually happened, there was unnecessary conflict escalation here. Everyone seems to agree that Trayvon Martin was not engaged in any criminal activity, and yet there also seems to be clear evidence that a physical fight ensued. It is truly sad that neither man seemed able to de-escalate a conflict under these circumstances.

I am told that Zimmerman was not tried under Florida's "stand your ground" legislation, but the common law self-defense tradition, which allows him to defend himself. But if I heard this right, that would have required Zimmerman to back off unless he was under imminent threat of death. Lawyers: Is that correct?

As to neighborhood watch programs: Do they have liability for their volunteers? Somewhere in the mediamania coverage, I have read that someone (Martin's parents?) have brought a suit against the gated community. Have no idea if that is true. In our lawyer-laden land, I wouldn't be surprised. But curious about whether such watch programs have rules, whether they vet their volunteers, whether they actually allow what seems to have been a free-lance patrol on Zimmerman's part.

Fortunately in New York, there is the police and what I would call the "busybody" watch, just anybody telling people to pick up after their dog, etc.

one can be (secretly) armed and wander around a neighborhood after explicit, non-binding instructions not to engage or to stay in the car


if a fight is provoked (in some unclear manner) and he can "show" some injury or threat, deadly force is licit - 

I have no idea why states pass concealed weapon carry permits (Minnesota, where my mother and two brothers, just south of me has that law. But, yeah, it is lawful. Take it up with the state legislature. I would.

As for the staying in car, that is conflicting. According to an interview with Hannity aired last night, Zimmerman called the non-emergency number and was already walking and giving directions at the time that feedback from dispatcher was given. As soon as the dispatcher said that police were on their way, he doubled back to his car and was on his way back when he was confronted by Martin.

In the closing, the lawyer paused for four whole minutes, the time that Martin could have been heading to his dad's girlfriend or his friend which was only a minimum of a minute away. While that was a trick, it really showed how long four minutes really is. I am not blaming the victim really but there were conscious choices made by both parties in this awful situation.

Appartently, the law says that you do not have to show injury only that it is resonable for you to have feared for your safety.

The interesting aspect of this case is that the more you look closely at the actual evidence and piece it together, the more favourable it appears to Zimmerman.

That said, this is just a human tragedy but there are no cardboard villains or heros (except for the jury IMHO who followed and applied the law dispassionately)

In Monday morning quarter-backing and without hearing from the jury, I want to suggest a thought that I sounds sexist but I think that  another could be made if it were an all male jury that might be equally objectionable and that an all male jury would have as significant, but different liabilites. This is does not suggest that women are less rational than men about this issue and indeed men have their own demons of aggressiveness and inherent "stand your ground" macho dispositions (whether formally cited or not!).

One could make the case that the all woman jury might have felt more maternal (although I don't know ages or maternal status) and therefore inclined to sympathy for Trayvon, I believe that there may have been a  deeper disposition accentuated by the defense that played upon that fear of assault and a "what would you do to defend yourself" that may have resonated more with this jury in terms of vulnerability as they were spun the tale of Zimmerman being "attacked" by Martin and could easily imagine a fear based action in that situation. I realize this is a gender oriented argument and that the lawyers and jury experts may declare this way off base and I'd accept that, but it is a thought I've had for these weeks...

That is one reason why i wish there had been a mixed gender jury to sort through some of that and not to allow the lawyers to play simply on that fear. 

DP: The very thought that has coursed through my mind. The jury was all to able to imagine the anxiety of George Zimmerman, and dismiss the anxiety/fear/anger of Trayvon Martin. That Martin was black and a teenager might have increased their sympathy for Zimmerman. I was surprised that the jury was all women and all white. Another misstep by the prosecutors.

Here is a thought experiment: What if Martin had been white and Zimmerman (who is "white" in the mediamania) was labeled as "brown," Hispanic, namely "other." Would there have been a very different reaction from the beginning, the police, the prosecutors, etc. I hate to think so, but I do.

Ms. Steinfels - another approach to jury selection is that the prosecution was hoping that the reality that 5 of the 6 women were mothers might have tipped the *emotional* struggle towards Trayvon Martin - mothers defending/protecting their teenagers.

Have to say - between the Florida *stand your ground* law and self-defense ambiguities, this jury probably landed on the fact that there was too much reasonable doubt, period.

As to maternal Instincts of the women jurors:

Do we expect white women to have  have compassion for a black teenage youth? I don't think so - not in our society.

It seems to me that this is the  crucial issue that convinced the jurors:

Zimmerman did not take the stand where he would be cross-examined, but the jury did see an animated reenactment of what happened.  Although I was not able to see that video, it would not surprise me if it was based on the widely circulated video of Zimmerman's version of the event as described to the police.

Take a look:

Trayvon Martin and the Irony of American Justice, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

I read that the relevant information for the defense was not gender but whether these women were either gun owners or lived in a home with a gun. They all were. Consequently, the initial strangeness that many (me included) would feel of someone having or carrying around a handgun who is not a police officer would not be in their horizon. It would seem "normal".

But back to the issue at hand. The district attorney (analagous to the Crown in the Cdn, and British system?) is supposed to represent the people and the interests of the public. They are given wide and sweeping power of enforcement and safety. But they are only supposed to bring cases forward that can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. They too have their responsibility and if there is not sufficient evidence to make a conviction likely (and given all the information they had, including information not included at trial), they should not press charges because look at the impact when they get it wrong.

5 of the jurors were "white" and 1 was "hispanic."  Whether the 2 terms are inclusive or contradictory depends on .....

This paragon of virtuous reporting thought that this composition was "dangerous":

The word from Germany.  Many of the commenters take umbrage with the reporting, however:

World from Berlin: 'Trayvon Martin Will Happen Again and Again'

One juror already has a book deal w/husband help.... that's the ticket to the American Dream land.

I think that it should be illegal for jurors or attorneys involved in any particular case to profit financially from their involvement, i.e., no book deals.

The reaction (and "reaction" it is) seems to overlook two factors, namely, the presumption of innocence and a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  Given that the jury had virtually nothing with which to work, I think the verdict was correct.  I support private *and responsible* gun ownership as well as the right to *responsible* self-defense.  I don't think race was ultimately an issue in the jury room although subsequent revelations might suggest otherwise.  This case was truly one of "Damned if you do, damned if you don't".  There were no real winners here.

Both sides, prosecution and defense, selected the jury and each were pleased with the selection. Every commentator that was in the court room for the trial, praised the jury for being highly attentive, taking copious notes and deliberating on the evidence. 

Let's consider other important issues:

1. The media, including Rev. Sharpton and others, made a rush to judgment before the evidence was known. This was clearly biased against Mr. Zimmerman. 

2. The Governor did not allow the county district attorney to try the case, but selected an independent prosecutor (another district attorney in Florida). She not only by-passed the grand jury that was scheduled to hear the case, but withheld evidence from the defense. This fact of wihholding evidence was only made public by a whistle blower, who was then fired by the state's attorney. More will come of this.

3. Had Florida not had stand your ground, this incident might have been avoided. However, it was clear that Trayvon Martin started the fight, almost broke Mr. Zimmerman's noise, and got on top of him in a ground and pound position. It might not have been possible for Mr. Zimmerman to back away or take flight to avoid this incident. We will never know the real circumstances. However, this was not a case about stand your ground, but about self-defense. 

There are many unawered questions in this case, but based on the evidence, the jury reached the only decision that was reasonable.

4. If the Federal Government brings civil rights charges against Mr. Zimmerman, they will have a tough hill to climb to prove based on a preponderance of the evidence that Mr. Zimmerman committed a hate crime.



Re: #3...

Where is it "clear that Trayvon Martin started the fight"?

Having witnessd many "fights" between my teens, I often cannot exactly pinpoint who "started" it and I'm an eyewitness!

Was it a dirty look? a gesture? name calling? A threat? A blocked sidewalk? How do you know, Michael, what "started" it and that Trayvon did whatever it was?


Nobody will know but....I think it is more likely that Trayvon threw the first punch. Granted, that is different than starting the fight. And it is likely that the scenario, in that specific instance, played out like Zimmerman said. However, more broadly, Zimmerman started the fight by getting out of his car and following. This put Trayvon in high alert mode and as far as the flight or fight response, Martin was more on the fight side.

Trying to fit those (presumed if you are a juror) set of facts into the law is difficult and it appears that the law tends to favour Zimmerman's claim of self defence.

George D. --

What was 'more likely" is the problem.  What was the probability that Zimmerman was motivated by racism strong enough to cause him to want to kill a black man?  What was the evidence?  Did Martin probably start  the fight?  What was the evidence?  Did Zimmerman probably pull his gun before Martin (probably?) attacked him?  What was the evidence?  Was Zimmerman probably fearing for his life?  What was the evidence?  I don't think that any of these questions have very probable answers.

It seems to me that with so little evidence in this case that the jury had to decide what the preponderance of evidence was -- in other words they had to add up the probabilities.  But those crucial questions above had little to support any probabilities either way.  In other words, there was no convergence of strong probabilities, and the law requires that the probability be strong (no reasonable doubt) in a murder case.  My understanding of reasonable doubt might be in error, but I see it as requiring that there is a strong probability, not just a weak probability, that the the accused actually did it. 

<i><b>it represents nothing more than the forward march of the privatization of everything.</b></i>

As opposed to the forward march of the government controlling everything.  I vote for the privatization.

Hey!  What happened to the italicization ability?  Is there something we should know?

George D.

Your own words are that Zimmerman MAY have done "something" that MAY have caused Trayvon to stand and fight -first punch (if there was one) or not...That means that Zimmerman MAY have "started" the fight. He obviously STARTED the whole provocation in getting out of his car...

NYT Op-ed worth reading... reminds me some of Grisham's provocative "A Time to Die" when the lawyer ends his summation with "...and imagine that she is white."

Why does it matter who started the fight? Martin had the right to stand his ground if he reasonably feared for his life. After the fact, we can say such fear was justified even if we do not know why Martin may have felt that way. He was within his rights if he shot Zimmerman, punched him, hit him against a concrete sidewalk, etc.

The problem is systemic. Neither man was guilty of breaking the law. The law allows, even promotes, confrontations like this. Zimmerman know has to be afraid of vigilantes following him, as his brother apparently has said. So does everyone else in Florida.

A link to David Paskinski's reference:

But it doesn't help that Al Sharpton appears to be organizing the troops, at least in the media.

Rather than looking for vengeance on one hand and vindication on the ohter, it would be better if everyone involved sought forgiveness.




Yes. However, remember that we are dealing with the specific and technicalities of the law that needs to be applied. Listen or read the whole jury instructions. Zimmerman did not do anything illegal by following or watching him. Nor is there evidence that he provoked it and yes, I find Zimmerman's account credible. One, becasue Trayvon did have time to run home and get out of the situation, stand your ground notwithstanding. It is a pretty reasonable inference that Zimmerman was on the ground (and you are obliged to give him the benefit of the doubt).

I am not saying that Zimmerman is blameless.

At any rate, a jury decided. Iuro locuta est, causa finita est..



 I don't think that any of these questions have very probable answers



I think that if you were a juror and poured over the whole testimony and were charged with having to reconstruct events and finding facts. You would be forced to make reasonable inferences based on the testimony and evidence. I won't go through each of your items line by line and I did not watch the whole thing gavel to gavel. My sense is just based on the closing and watching some of it, there are certain elements that can be reasonably inferenced. At a minimum, there is obviously reasonable doubt and i just do not see how anybody could overcome that standard in a case such as this.

As I said, I do not think Zimmerman is blameless or "innocent" as the defence claims.

People should be challenging this in constructive ways. For me, the issue is not stand your ground but the whole concealed carry permits. I think all of those laws should be abolished. I do believe that this gave Zimmerman false bravado. Guns are very, very dangerous and need to be treated with respect not appendages to make one feel safe. Tragic and fatal accidents are more likely to occur as a result. QED

Me reading these comments:

George D

I appreciate the constraints of the law and that "the law is an ass."

I agree that with the testimony and instruction given and the current laws, there was little choice but to assume "innocent until PROVEN guilty." And he was proven such beyond some doubt - reasonable or no.

But George Zimmerman is more than "not blameless" in my mind. In any reasonable world, he PROVOKED this incident -- even if he was assualted, which I am not willing to concede.

However, as you say, the jury has spoken

But how to address that, how that should be treated, and how one goes on speaking about these issues especially among black youth is a challenge that curently appears beyond us all... 

I think it is instructive here to do a little thought experiment. Imagine that Trayvon Martin was ALSO carrying a concealed gun. If he had seen George Zimmerman "stalking" him, and shot Mr. Zimmerman dead, he could have used the exact same defense that George Zimmerman did--he felt threatened (by a man with a gun) and fired in self-defense.

In that case the jury, under the current law, would have been required to find Trayvon Martin not guilty.

Now, I'm not going into the question of whether or not racial bias plyed into the juriy's decision. It might have, but it was not necessary. The law is pretty clear. The person who shoots first gets the benefit of the legal doubt. And that is the REAL problem here.

Sorry for the double ppost and crucial word deletion that Zimmerman was NOT proved guilty "beyond reasonable doubt" given the state of the interpretation odf self-defense. As many seem to agree, not to "proven guilty" is far from not being blameless or smewhat (and I'd say a good deal) responsible.

I find the suggestion that Trayvon should have run home is blaming the victim when he "standing his ground" or whatever a teenage boy might do if he thought someone was stalking him -- whether or not it was wise or not, aggressive or not. Of course, he could have (should have???) fled - and who says he did not -- George Zimmerman?

George D. --

My point was that when you carefully combine the probabilities established by the evidence, you still do not come up with a convergence of probabilities that Zimmerman *very* probably did it   I think it has been establised that he is *possibly* guilty, not that he is very probably guilty.

As I understand common law, the burden of proof in a murder trial is much more stringent than in other sorts of trials.  In a murder trial the burden of proof is on the prosecutor, and it requires not simply an over-50% probability, but, rather it requires a *strong* probability that the accused is guilty.  Yes, this implies that sometimes some murderers will probably be aquited.

But the whole point of the stiff burden of proof requirement is to protect those who are accused but innocent.  It is to prevent the innocent from being convicted because of unlucky circumstances.  Some call this a "technicality" because it makes some fine distinctions.  But I say it is one of the pillars of common law -- to protect the innocent.



Yes, that is exactly correct or how I read the law as it is presented. Trayvon had a reasonable fear for his safety.

Whether that would have happened in reality is the debate and I suspect Trayvon would not have been given the benefit of the doubt. Sad, but that is my view.

But in principle, you are correct. Reality is a different story and that is why I totally understand the frustration of so many people.

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.


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.


"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



"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.


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:


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