Monday, July 15, 2013

An open open dialog about race...?

I experienced by turns a range of emotions throughout the course of the Martin-Zimmerman case and trial.

Like (I think) most of us, I was at first appalled by the shooting and afflicted with a profound case of White Guilt. I kept wanting to apologize to random black people I encountered in the course of the day; I found it especially difficult to look middle-aged black women (presumably mothers) in the eye.

Then as more of the putative details came out I started to feel that Zimmerman was being scapegoated and railroaded, that he'd been transmuted into an archetype for something ugly and unspeakable when in fact he is probably just a flawed man (a simple human, like the rest of us) who found himself (or, yes, placed himself) in the middle of a situation that was bound to end in horror.

But then again, the more I listened to my wifewho was and remains furious at Zimmermanthe more I started asking myself, where and when and how did this tragedy actually begin? (Nothing, after all, begins and ends in only the precise moment of its occurrence. There is always a history stretching circuitously back.) Did it begin when Zimmerman got out of his car and began stalking Martin? Is that where an otherwise normal day took a tragic turn? And what really made Zimmerman do that? Or did the case, in truth, begin somewhere else? Did it begin in the spate of robberies that Zimmerman's neighborhood had endured? Did it begin in the resentful psyche of white Americans who worry that they're losing their edge? Did it begin when Martin reacted angrily at being confronted by Zimmerman? And if so, why did Martin react that way? Was it for some reason unique to his experience, or because of something about the psyche of young black men as a class? Did any or all of this begin even centuries earlier in the deep plantation south? On some flood plain in Africa? Before that?

So here is where I come out: 

I am willing, even eager, to have an open dialog about race in America, if that dialog is truly open and everything can be put on the table for examination...including facts, thoughts and hypotheses that are extraordinarily un-PC and, as a result, have yet to win a voice on mainstream television. For starters, I want to know what constitutes racism, or any kind of "ism." When is something an "ism," and when is it a form of science? (Assuming those answers are available.) Are all (classes of) men (and women) created equal? If not, what do we deserve to know about the inequalities, and do we adjust to them, or simply bury them beneath florid language and the force of law? Are some classes of people more predisposed to intelligence than others? (The Bell Curve notoriously says this is so.) Are some classes more predisposed to violence, and thus more dangerous to the rest of us? It should not be wrong to merely ask such questions. If the average man is taller than the average woman, is it some kind of "ism" to institute an associated preference in situations where height is desired? If the average woman is probably nicer than the average man, I want to know that too. I may even need to know that. Certainly I deserve to know it, if it's true.

And don't tell me that we're not permitted to make such judgments; we make them all the time, for example, in instituting auto-insurance rates for teen males that are off the charts compared to rates for "normal" drivers. For better or worse, society has decided that such an instance of clear-cut discrimination visited upon all members of a class is permissible because it is borne out by empiricism. As a stroke survivor, I will pay outrageous rates for life insurance (if I can even get it) and health insurance from now on. Is that an "ism"? Or common sense? If I do beat the odds and outlive the rest of the members of my stroke-addled cohort, will an injustice have been done to me by forcing me to pay those outrageous rates all along? In the NFL, it is almost impossible to be drafted for a defensive backfield position if you are not black. You probably don't even get to play the position in college if you're not black, so you wouldn't appear in the draft to begin with. Is that racism? Or merit? Like NFL backfields, American prisons are also full of young black men. Is that racism, merit, or some of both? I'd like to know, and I refuse to be penalized for asking.


Finally, I must say that Chris Cuomo's flustered and utterly overwrought post-mortems of the case on Sunday morning had to be one of the most cringeworthy embarrassments in the history of network television. Over and over again Cuomo delivered news of the verdict as though apologizing for it, implying (if not at times almost appearing to state) that a colossal miscarriage of justice had occurred, as though all viewers (and sane Americans) knew that going in. It was a terrible, terrible job of anchoring.


E.C. Hendriks said...

Dear Steve,

I welcome non-PC, open discussion. Be careful, however, of not falling into an old trap of naturalizing social inequality. The real non-PC topic in America—the real elephant in the room—is NOT the question of whether different races are equal in terms of natural ability. It is the issue of class. Mainstream discourse pretends class does not exist. It pretends the world consists of individuals with natural abilities and attitudes and voluntary group structures.

But being born in a ghetto is a bitch. You might have a great genetic potential for intelligence, but if your mother is an alcoholic or under severe stress while she is pregnant of you, and then does not give you the proper nutrition while you grow up, your brain does not grow well. Your class habitus (as Bourdieu calls it) will cause you to be instinctively attracted to things and tastes that are lower-class which will cause upper and middle-class people to look down upon you. The very language you speak—your vocabulary, your grammar—is lower-class and cuts you off from educational and career success. If a white, highly educated scholar one day tests your IQ, you feel awkward and insecure about being tested and the very language of the test. Your score will be low.

And one day you will walk in front of a gated community and attract the attention of an anxious security guard because you fit too many class and race stereotypes. He will confront you. If you would have been an upper or middle class white guy (like me), you would have said: “Well excuse me Sir. I’m only on my way to the supermarket. There is no cause for alarm.” But nobody in your social circle has shown or taught you how to communicate in an effective fashion. In addition, you are frustrated and angry about having to justify yourself. So you react defiantly. He puts a bullet through your head. Later statisticians at some prestigious Western university insert your case into a large data file with thousands of other case. The data shows that there is a real connection between race, low-IQ scores and crime. Your case fits right in.


Steve Salerno said...

Eric, thank you very much for weighing in on a controversial topic. Really what this boils down to is that I want us to stop the pretend fidelity to concepts that may well be true only in our soaring poetic imaginations. I don't know that there are any meaningful differences between the races that are present at the biologic level. I do know that there are observed differences between peoples in myriad other areas of life that we do reference because they're not considered controversial or sensitive. I am quite sure that at almost 6-4 I am taller than the average Chinese person. I can say that out loud without reprisals. "I"m taller than most Chinese people." No one really cares--but if there are other subcutaneous differences between us, suddenly it's a big deal. I can say out loud, "I have a penis and women don't." There will be no angry outcry. But does my possession of penis mean there are other differences (which we usually can't talk about) that are just as defining and material?

There should be no taboos in these discussions.

RevRon's Rants said...

In my opinion, stating that ours is a racist society is no less valid than stating that Ebola is a deadly disease. Pointing to exceptions as proof that we are no longer defined by race is akin to stating that an increase in the survivability rate amongst those infected with Ebola constitutes proof that it is no longer deadly.

The fact is that the U.S. was a racist nation at its inception, founded by men who proclaimed that "all men are created equal," even as they dismissed the notion of women playing any role - much less, and important one -in governance, and relegated their slaves to subhuman status.

Fast forward a couple hundred years of civic evolution, and the original mindset of our founders continues unabated. Had Trayvon Martin exercised *his* right to "stand his ground" and killed his stalker, I doubt that anyone could honestly state that his arrest would have been delayed for 44 days. I'd wager that his conviction would likely have been handed down in little more time, were he to even survive the night of the shooting. I find it sadly ironic that such a comparison was not offered during the trial, at the very least in closing arguments.

The sad fact is that, after studying the evidence and testimony that is available, the reading the instructions given to the jury by the judge, a guilty verdict was all but impossible. And this speaks as much - if not more - to the systemic injustice of our criminal justice system as to the question of racism in our society.

If justice were the intent of the proceedings, I believe that Zimmerman's claim of self-defense evaporated at the point where he ignored the directions of the police dispatcher and left his vehicle to pursue Martin. Placed in Martin's position, stalked by someone at night, we need to consider how we each might react - to flee or to confront.

Having once found myself in a similar situation, I know from experience that I would be prone to confront my stalker, despite acknowledging the possibility of a violent encounter. I can't help but wonder whether I would be prosecuted for injuring or killing the person.

In all honesty, I have little doubt that had Martin prevailed and the tables turned, he would have been jailed immediately, and ultimately convicted of assault, at the very least. And it's difficult to perceive any evidence of "justice" in the outcome.

Steve Salerno said...

I agree with your conclusion, Ron, and just about all you say. But I don't think that invalidates my own points, however. I'd still like to know: Are there group-wide generic differences? And what are they?

Anonymous said...

There is real prejudice against blacks and young black males due to facts, experience, and induction. It is something most decent people try to overcome. From personal experience it is fairly easy to do if you live in a largely white, suburban area. It is also relatively easy to do if you work in some inner-city environment but live in an enclave apart from the real inner-city. But if you have to deal with the day-to-day realities of a diverse area you'll be worn down and jaded in a few short years. And even if you live in some less diverse area (60%+ white) you must either remain ignorant of the realities out there or do some compartmentalizing to remain progressive in your thinking.

Weston said...


A couple of points.

People keep raising "stand your ground". Zimmerman never raised it as a defense and both sides agree that it had nothing to do with his case. If Trayvon killed the person following him (whom you label a "stalker") than yes I agree he would have been convicted. And should have been. There is no imminent threat of death or great bodily harm just because someone is following you. People follow me every day, and sometimes it is in isolated areas.

There is an imminent threat of death or bodily harm (and thus a right to self defense) if someone has you pinned to the ground, is punching you and banging your head into concrete.

Why would Zimmerman's claim of self defense evaporate after speaking with the dispatcher? The dispatcher is basically a phone operator. He had no more authority to tell someone what to do than any other phone operator. Even if the dispatcher had such authority even the prosecutor acknowledged that what the dispatcher actually said was ambiguous.

I know exactly how I would have reacted if I was in Trayvon's position because I was in a somewhat similar situation years ago. I would take out my cell phone and call the police in a very loud voice. My situation was before cell phones existed and I moved as rapidly as possible towards where I hoped other people (or even better a cop) would be.

Would have been a hell of a lot easier if cell phones had existed back then. 2 or 3 seconds to call 911 and then yell "Cops are on the way!"

I was quite a bit bigger than the guy following me. It never occurred to me to physically attack him unless I had no other option. Not because I was noble or brave. It was because I worried he might have a knife or a gun.

Just responding to some of your points although I think most of what you raise is extraneous to the sole and actual issue... whether Zimmerman believed that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.

Steve Salerno said...

Weston, thank you for your comments. I think they help demonstrate that there are many valid sides to this argument, which is far more nuanced than the media (or Al Sharpton, or Sean Hannity) would have you believe. One thing, though--and I say this recognizing that my remark in itself may be viewed as a form of racist thinking--but I'm not sure that many black teenagers are in the habit of dialing 911. When I was growing up in Brooklyn of the 1960s/70s, I know for a fact that most of the black dudes I hung with (from the football team) did not see the cops as their friends, and assumed that the likely result of dialing 911 (or any unnecessary encounter with "pigs") would be to invite reprisals against themselves. (And they were probably correct; in the years post-college I worked almost daily in Harlem and witnessed many acts of police brutality against the locals.) Maybe it's different now, I don't know, but the tenor of recent comment from black leaders (who, again, may be taking the demagogue tack) is that things aren't that different from when I was growing up. Especially, perhaps, in a neighborhood like Sanford?

roger o'keefe said...

What do you say we cut to the chase here? A thuggish black kid took exception to being followed by a man who took his Neighborhood Watch duties seriously and the kid forced a physical confrontation that turned into a life or death struggle in which the kid ended up dead. Everyone is up in arms but in the final analysis this ended as a case of self-defense no matter how it started. I thought the defense introducing the block of concrete was pure genius. It is clear that the kid's actions forced Zimmerman's hand. Angry words are one thing but once you're punching someone in the face and brutally banging his head on the ground, all bets are off.

Steve Salerno said...

Thank you, Roger, for that typically measured response. I'm sorry, I don't mean to sound snide, but such views, expressed in such terse language, seem rather harsh/strident. Although I guess as it turned out the jury agreed with your legal theory.

Weston said...

Steve - I grew up in the sixties and seventies. A long haired hippie type. Interacting with cops was always the last thing I wanted to do.

Does that mean that I could physically attack someone and they were not allowed to defend themselves or else risk prison?

Sure racism and police brutality exist but does their existence prevent individuals from defending themselves? If so, where does it end?

Again. All extraneous issues. No proof of racist intent by Zimmerman and police brutality was not a factor.

If you were on the ground being punched and slammed into the concrete would you fail to defend yourself because you know that racism and police brutality exist?

Steve Salerno said...

Weston, in tight focus I can't disagree with your point. I had that same argument with the wife almost nightly during the trial. Her basic argument was that Zimmerman "started it" and had to be held responsible for whatever happened: Yeah, she said, he was entitled to prevent himself from being killed, but since he put the whole thing in motion, the price of that entitlement should be a manslaughter conviction. That was her argument, not mine. I felt (and still do) that if the action here really unfolded as advertised, Zimmerman had every right to shoot to kill by the end of it. My biggest concern, however--and this would've given me pause if I were on the jury--is, What was really in his heart that night? Did he go looking for trouble? Was he at some level hoping for a confrontation in which he could whip out his trusty sidearm? The only thing that reassures me is that he seems to have allowed Trayvon to get awfully close to him, and to inflict considerable hand-do-hand damage, before he put his plan in motion, if he did indeed have malice in his heart. Unless the kid just got the drop on him somehow.

We'll probably never know.

Weston said...

Not sure how one could make the leap from a neighborhood watch guy keeping someone he deems suspicious in sight while he waits for the cops to respond to the call he just made, to someone who "started it".

Your most recent questions are certainly fair ones for a blog. They would however be horribly inappropriate in a jury room. Jurors aren't supposed to be mind readers. They have no way of actually looking into a defendant's heart.

I do know that if I was "looking for trouble" I certainly wouldn't call the cops beforehand.

RevRon's Rants said...

Weston -

First of all, the city in question has a long history of racial discrimination against blacks.

Secondly, the response time to 911 calls in most metropolitan areas is so slow as to be virtually useless in resolving a crisis situation - a fact of which most criminals are fully aware. Using a cell phone and announcing that the police had been notified simply would not carry much weight in an attacker's decision-making process.

And thirdly, the police dispatcher is not merely a phone operator, but is generally a certified police officer, with all the authority such a position implies. The dispatcher's instructions were not just an reiteration of policy (and common sense), they represented a directive issued by a law-enforcement officer. By failing to follow the directives, Zimmerman was actually breaking the law.

By silently following Martin, without identifying himself as neighborhood watch, Zimmerman fit the pattern of a stalker.

Finally, and whether one agrees with the definition or not, according to the law, one need not be physically attacked in order to feel threatened, and is therefore not required to await a "first punch" in order to defend him or herself. I personally believe that the "stand your ground" laws need to be significantly modified. In any case, Zimmerman did not attempt that defense for good reason - it was clearly established that any threat he faced was a direct result of his own actions in countermanding the instructions of police and pursuing Martin.

And Roger - Please clarify what it was about Martin that identified him as "thuggish black kid." on second thought, I think you've already done so. And IMO, that is the crux of the attitude from which this situation arose.

Cosmic Connie said...

This isn't directly related to the topic at hand, Steve, but I just wanted to pop in and wish you a Happy 8th Blogaversary!

Steve Salerno said...

Wow, Connie. EIGHT!??

I'm glad someone's counting. ... Or even cares. ;)

Thank you, dear girl. Can anyone really be as nice as you seem to be?

(Ron? Can she?)

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve, you asked, "Can anyone really be as nice as you seem to be?

(Ron? Can she?)"

In a word, yes, she can... At least when dealing with people who demonstrate integrity. For those whose integrity is lacking, well, as she says on her blog, she sometimes likes to play with her food before eating it.

BTW - Back to the original topic, the following statement, made by one of the jurors in the Zimmerman case, reinforces my assertion that the judge's instructions pretty well precluded the possibility of a guilty verdict, despite any other factors in the case, and also supports my contention that the "stand your ground" laws need clarification and realistic boundaries:

"My prayers are with all those who have the influence and power to modify the laws that left me with no verdict option other than 'not guilty' in order to remain within the instructions. No other family should be forced to endure what the Martin family has endured,"

Weston said...


"long history of racial discrimination" This perfectly illustrates my frustration when discussing this case with those with different opinions about the verdict. This constant shifting between trying to argue for a conviction and then going to irrelevant, inadmissible facts and/or opinions about society as a whole. Okay. For the purposes of this discussion lets accept that a city has "a long history of discrimination" What the heck does that have to do with whether a reasonable person in Zimmerman's position (down on the ground with someone pinning him down, punching him and banging his head into concrete) would reasonably fear death or great bodily harm? And if you think that such a fear is not reasonable under the circumstances (although I personally can't fathom how)are you certain of that beyond a reasonable doubt? That is all that this legal case was about. Everything else that you, I, the media, and everyone else is talking about has absolutely nothing to do with the verdict.

911 calls are slow. I have absolutely no idea how long it takes the Sanford police to respond to 911 calls. The point is that making the call in a loud voice (and better yet giving a description) lets the person who concerns you, know that the police are on the way. I might expect your position that you would prefer a confrontation to calling the police from a 17 year old kid. I don't understand it from a responsible adult.

I can tell you from personal experience that in the 35 years that I've lived in Florida I've called 911 three times. One was clearly a fire dept. matter and it took approx 8 to 10 minutes. The 2 that were police matters were responded to in less than 5 minutes. I remember being very impressed. The fastest response was when I called from a higher crime area since that area had more police cruisers on patrol nearby. Again just giving anecdotal evidence. I live mighty far from Sanford and even if my experience was in Sanford it would still be completely irrelevant to the verdict.

You keep restating the same inaccuracy regarding the 911 operator. Please cite me to some statute or regulation that a Florida 911 operator has any right or authority to order someone to do anything. If you find it, please send it to the prosecuting Attorney and the police since they don't seem to agree with you. The operative did not give a directive. Had no authority to issue a binding directive, and even if he did, it would have no relevance to the sole germane issue.

I wish people would stop with the pejoratives. Words like thuggish or (in your case) stalker. By your stated definition, if you are silently walking behind someone without identifying yourself you are a stalker. By that definition I stalked several dozen people this morning. I've apparently stalked tens of thousands in my lifetime. Sometimes I've stalked in isolated areas. I've stalked children, old people, paraplegics, nuns, priests and rabbis. Clearly I deserve to be beaten and have my head slammed into cement and I'll just have to take it.

Weston said...

Ron (Continued)

You have also completely misstated why Zimmerman did not use a "Stand Your Ground" defense. It was not because " it was clearly established that any threat he faced was a direct result of his own actions in countermanding the instructions of police". He did not use "Stand your ground" because it was completely inapplicable to the fact pattern. Stand your ground (a law I truly loathe) essentially says you have no duty to retreat in certain circumstances. At the time that he shot Trayvon, Zimmerman had no reasonable means of retreat. He was on the ground being beaten and having his head knocked into the sidewalk. He had no means of retreat. Thus a classic self defense (not stand your ground) case. I'll bet you that if you took a poll of Florida lawyers and ask them whether they would prefer to litigate a self defense case or a stand your ground case you would probably get close to 100% agreement that a traditional self defense case (which has been used for hundreds of years all over the U.S.) is a much stronger case than saying that a defendant shot someone under "stand your ground" because he had no duty to retreat. In this case retreat was not possible. And once again you can repeat yourself forever, but he was not in fact "countermanding instructions by the police". You had vague, ambiguous comments by an operator with no more authority to give orders than you and I have.

I leave you with one of my favorite quotes.

"You’re entitled to your own opinions. You’re not entitled to your own facts." Generally attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Steve Salerno said...

Weston, not to be overly "cute," but I guess your argument reduces to: If you're already on the ground, "stand your ground" is irrelevant.

RevRon's Rants said...

Weston, I would suggest that a degree of common sense be applied to the situation, particularly when the actual facts are unclear. In an environment where there have been a long line of incidents which demonstrate the prevalence of racial prejudice - even among law enforcement personnel - claiming that it is irrelevant as a factor in the handling of the current situation is beyond ludicrous.

You overstep when you state that I would prefer a confrontation, and your clear implication that my attitude as stated is a mark of immaturity is not only offensive, it shows that you missed my point (possibly intentionally).

If someone I don't know is quite obviously following me at night, I have to face the reality that a call to the police would not result in a response timely enough to eliminate any danger I might perceive. The choices left are either to run away or to confront the individual and determine their intentions. My reaction in the past has been of the latter. In one case, the situation did become violent, but I have no doubt that such would have been the case had the individual caught up with me, anyway, as his intent became clear when I asked him his intentions.

As to your depiction of the actual altercation, those who witnessed it (albeit from a distance) stated that the person on top was larger than the person underneath - indicating that it was Zimmerman. Like you quoted, you aren't entitled to your own facts.

As to whether the 911 operator had the specific authority to issue a directive, I would suggest that having been directed by a representative of the police department, common sense would indicate that such a directive be followed. If you require a statute requiring common sense before using it, even the existence of such a statute would be meaningless.

A five-minute response time is an eternity if a crime is in progress. Reliance upon a rapid response has not proved particularly prudent in the majority of cases. You have but to watch the news on any given evening to realize that. And the criminal element is all too aware of the latency of responses.

As to your argument against my use of the word "stalker," I would once again suggest the use of a bit of common sense. Just because someone is behind you doesn't make them a stalker. But if that person is approaching you late at night when nobody else is around, it would be foolhardy to summarily assume that their motives were benign. But you're free to do so if you wish.

I have already stated - repeatedly - that I believe the "stand your ground" defense needs considerable revision. But by your own definition, Martin would have been within his legal rights not to flee, and to take measures to defend himself.

I would suggest that you not only look at the evidence and testimony presented, but to read the full instructions issued to the jury (objectively, if you can). There is no way that a juror could have followed the instructions and returned a guilty verdict, despite the evidence that pointed to Zimmerman's having been the aggressor, regardless of the evidence presented. This was apparently the conclusion reached by the jury member I quoted, as well.

Perhaps you would do well to read and consider your own quote.

roger o'keefe said...

Ron, you're overreaching and trying to turn a simple and LEGAL question of self-defense into a philosophical tour de force or a grand social lesson. But since you like sparring so much, who do you believe struck the first blow here? Don't answer "Zimmerman" just to suit your argument. The kid made a violent confrontation out of it. Doesn't matter how it started before that or what words were exchanged. The kid struck the first blow. If Zimmerman hadn't been armed he might be dead now or be a vegetable after severe head injuries.

In the same position as Zimmerman you would've done the same thing.

RevRon's Rants said...

Roger, I don't know who struck the first blow. Nobody but Zimmerman knows for a fact - not even you - and he had every motivation to cast himself in a favorable light.

Even assuming that Martin did land the first blow and ultimately killed Zimmerman, it would have been legally justified for him to use the "stand your ground" defense, since his reaction was borne of fear for his physical well-being. Despite what you might prefer, even "thuggish black kids" are entitled to defend themselves.

As to your ill-advised projection as to my response in the same circumstances, I would not have been so stupid as to initiate the confrontation in the first place. I would have done as the police instructed and merely observed until they got there.

Anonymous said...

The U.S. Attorney General has given us instruction as to what to do if we find ourselves in a situation similar to Zimmerman's. Run away. So if you find yourself in a similar situation, just shake off that heavy meal you just ate and outrun that gang of black teens who are doing some "polar bear hunting".

Steve Salerno said...

Ohhh-K. Well, I did say open, didn't I?

Dad to a Trayvon said...

It's easy for you white folks to have your detached intellectual discussions. Even those of you who advocate for the so-called black position can do so at a distance. I think this really is a case where you had to walk a mile in a man's shoes, or in Trayvon's case try to walk a few blocks home without getting shot by some white guy using the tools the system has given him to defend himself against "Them". You don't realize or recognize that so much of this "stand your ground" insanity is about that? Look at the states where the law was most quickly adopted and is most vigorously promoted. They're all places where White America is trying to keep hold of its domain against the encroachments of minorities.

Think about it, in a society that allegedly places so much value in the presumption of innocence and due process, a would-be Clint Eastwood like George Zimmerman can just dispatch some poor black kid acting as judge, jury and executioner, and his defense is that he had no obligation to retreat or give Trayvon a wide berth or any kind of berth before confronting him?

It's INSANE, people. Again, please think about it. Most of you can't imagine what it's like to have to live this.

Steve Salerno said...

I know that there is racism built into the fabric of society. I know that many people continue to be racist in their thinking. But last night I watched a taped Anderson Cooper Town Hall meeting on race in America, and once again I heard experts (with agendas) cite all the sorry stats on blacks who are suspended from schools, blacks who are arrested for drug activities, blacks who are more or less permanently incarcerated or on Death Row...and the panel used that unfortunate reality as evidence of racism. there not, even possibly, an elephant in the room that we're looking past in our haste to blame all of this on society?

When I was growing up, and despite my Dad's most earnest attempts to fill me with ethnic pride, I knew that there were far more Italians being investigated and/or arrested for Mob activities than there were playing center field for the New York Yankees. They were arrested because they committed crimes. They killed people. It wasn't some grand conspiracy/vendetta against Italians. (Perhaps it is true that society and media have sometimes gone overboard in their kneejerk linkage of Italians and the Mafia, but one is hard pressed to argue that the Mob was imaginary or that it wasn't staffed by Italians.) If Italians were in court or in jail, it was because they did it the old-fashioned way: they earned it (as the old Smith Barney ads used to say).

Isn't that also at least partly true here? If even the Rev. Jesse Jackson is inclined to cross the street when he sees a group of black teens coming toward him (as he famously once suggested, to his chagrin), what are the rest of us to conclude?

Weston said...


I'm sorry if you were offended. I was just relying on your own words.

Fine. We have a difference of opinion. I think the proper response to this situation in the age of cell phones is to call the police. You think the proper response is to confront the perceived threat. Difference of opinion.

I just wish that Trayvon Martin had leaned towards my approach. My approach may or may not work in all cases but in this particular case it certainly couldn't have ended up with a worse result.

I also need to clear up something regarding the jury instructions. I may be reading you wrong but you seem to be inferring that the Judge created the jury instructions and no juror could have returned a guilty verdict under those instructions.

Florida has what are known as Florida Standard Jury Instructions. They are designed entirely to make sure that every defendant is judged by the same standards and all juries hearing cases for the same crime get the same instructions.

When someone is charged with a crime the judge and the attorneys for both sides pull out the Florida Standard Jury instructions and agree as to which instructions apply to that particular charge (and if applicable) that particular defense.

The standard jury instructions on self defense have been around for 32 years. It has been amended a number of times (most recently in 2006). I don't think the 2006 amendments are material to this case but lets take that date for the purposes of strengthening your argument.

Are you under the impression that in a state of twenty million people every defendant who has argued self defense over the last seven years has won? That none of the juries hearing that exact same instruction convicted?

I also find your defense of your use of the term "stalker" highly unpersuasive. Are you saying that you have never been silently followed or approached by someone late at night when no one else was around? Or the reverse. Haven't you ever silently followed or approached someone late at night when no one else was around?

I've been in both situations literally hundreds of times. Particularly when I was younger. Didn't make me a stalker. Didn't make the person following or approaching me a stalker. Stalking is a crime. It has a specific definition and being followed or approached at night when no one else is around definitely ain't it.

RevRon's Rants said...

Weston - If I had any reason to expect a timely response to a cell-phone call to the police, it would certainly be my first choice. But the fact is that in most instances of a crime being committed, the police arrive in time to evaluate a crime scene and make a report. My "preference" is not to confront; it is merely the only feasible response in most real-world circumstances. So please don't twist my words to create an easy strawman target.

As I advised previously, please READ the actual instructions given to the jury. IMO, they present a perfect instance for the justification of jury nullification, as they eliminate the capacity of the jury to use common sense. While judges strongly resist any mention of nullification, it represents the essence of the jury process, and allows juries to look beyond technical loopholes to achieve... justice. At the very least, I think it appropriate to revisit both the "stand your ground" law AND the boilerplate jury instructions.

"Are you under the impression that in a state of twenty million people every defendant who has argued self defense over the last seven years has won?" Subtle condescension and additional attempt to turn me into a strawman duly noted and rejected. The answer is, of course, no. I'm talking about THIS CASE and how the various elements influenced the outcome.

I have *intentionally* followed others silently, but only in military operations. Had I *intentionally* followed someone in a civilian setting, doing so would constitute a threatening and possibly act. How threatening is highly dependent upon circumstances. Given the history - even recent history - of racial relations, particularly in the South, it should be understandable to a reasonable person how Martin would have felt threatened, and how Zimmerman could well be labeled a stalker.

"Stalking is a crime. It has a specific definition and being followed or approached at night when no one else is around definitely ain't it." You seem to overlook the presence of menace. Zimmerman wasn't merely strolling along in the rain. He was intentionally following Martin, based upon his unsubstantiated judgment that Martin represented a threat. And since Zimmerman did not have the authority to pursue Martin, he most certainly DID qualify as a stalker. If you can't see that, we probably have more than a simple difference of opinion.

RevRon's Rants said...

Dad - I find it interesting that you feel qualified to judge what "us white folks" think, while at the same time claiming that we have no frame of reference for what "you black folks" think. Can you see the disconnect there?

I agree that racial profiling and/or racism were significant factors in the incident itself, and i might have some suspicions as to the effect of race upon the jury's mindset, but IMO, the results of the trial were more the product of poorly-written laws than of race, per se.

Steve brings up a good point, and the elephant in the room that is avoided like the plague. Given that young black males are statistically involved in and convicted for committing violent crimes more frequently than young white males, is it any more racist for a white person to acknowledge feeling uncomfortable when approached by a group of blacks than it is for a black person to decry the white person for feeling uncomfortable in such a situation? Racism is very much a two-way street in this country, and the fault lies both in those who perpetuate the stereotype they decry AND those who cling to that stereotype in evaluating individual circumstances.

weston said...


1. So you approve of jury nullification? You believe that juries should be allowed to purposely ignore the law when rendering a verdict? Is this all the time or just when you think that your version of "common sense" has not been allowed? Why have any laws at all if juries can just ignore them? Nullification is not "the essence of the jury process" it is the jury processes greatest danger. It's not a "technical loophole". It's Constitutionally guaranteed due process of law. The same due process you would expect for you or a loved one if you (or they)were accused of a crime.

2. I certainly believe you when you say you only intentionally followed someone silently in military operations. All the other people that you (and I, and everyone else)have followed unintentionally. How are they supposed to know you are not following intentionally? Mind reading? Haven't you ever been followed silently by someone and your senses became acute and you started wondering if they intended you harm only to have them eventually walk past you peacefully on the way to their true destination. I've had this experience literally dozens if not hundreds of times. People following someone unintentionally look just like people following someone intentionally. By your definition those individuals walking silently behind me minding their own business were commiting a threatening act because how the hell would I know whether they were following me intentionally unless and until they made an overt threatening comment, act or gesture?

3. Regarding "Stand your ground" (SYG). I don't know what to say beyond what I've already said. I don't like it and would support it's repeal. Doesn't change the fact that SYG had absolutely nothing to do with the Zimmerman case. I would however vehemently oppose any efforts to abrogate a person's right to self defense. It is a doctrine that has been around for hundred's of years and has served society well. I shudder at the thought of living in a country where you can be someplace perfectly legally but are not allowed to defend yourself when reasonably faced with grievous injury or death.

4. Let's make sure we are on the same page

You stated that "There is no way that a juror could have followed the instructions and returned a guilty verdict,"

I pointed out that the jury instructions were not unique or crafted by the judge just for this trial. That they come from the Florida Standard Jury Instructions. I mentioned that the self defense instructions were 32 years old and were last amended in 2006 and asked if you believed that ..."every defendant who has argued self defense over the last seven years has won? That none of the juries hearing that exact same instruction convicted?"

You then responded... "The answer is, of course, no. I'm talking about THIS CASE and how the various elements influenced the outcome."

Based upon your most recent response I see only two possible interpretations

1. You believe that the jury was correct in acquiting Zimmerman after applying the testimony and evidence to the law as it actually is (not as you or anybody else might wish it should be) .

2. The jury should have ignored the law and Zimmerman should have been held to some different, unwritten law or standard that is materially different from those that every other criminal defendant in Florida is judged by.

I'm not setting up a straw man and I certainly am not intending any subtle condescension. I am pointing out what I consider serious logical fallacies in your arguments, as well as mistatements and inaccurate definitions.

Anonymous said...

Steve, I think you are rolling around in the obvious point of view and that you are way off.

The "race" angle is just a juicy headline grabbing distraction that fuels the kind of story the human mind requires to explain what is and what isn't, and fuels our addiction to awesoem explanations.

I assume that humans have been violently knocking each other out since homo erectus fought over the watering hole 2 million years ago.

Only new addition to that is enormously profitable gun makers have saw to it that their fantastic products are easy to get and use. God bless America.

Humans have invented better toilets that flush both ways and fancier window systems and cooler iPads and amazing 3d blockbuster movies about robots that can battle sea monsters but we have not evolved in any other way. Now we can face this fact that we have remained a mediocre petty and violent species and really face that and take our evolution (or lack thereof) and maturity (or lackthereof) into our own hands or we can keep fussing about controversial race dialogues and stay distracted from our lack of transformation for another 500 years.

Hey does anyone here own a gun by any chance?

Anonymous said...

I see appalling road rage on the road almost every time i am on a highway. Give any two adult (preferably male) humans of any race of colour the right set of circumstances and we will kill each other. Had nothing to do with these two young men. It is a predictable and cliched outcome.

todd said...

A ghetto is a ghetto. Suburbia is suburbia. A person’s skin color is, in part, “washed away” by their sociocultural identity. In today’s world, money talks louder than the color of a person’s skin. Yes, racism exists, but it takes a backseat to elitism.

RevRon's Rants said...

Weston -

1) Yes, I not only approve of jury nullification, I recognize it for what it is intended to be. Lawyers argue the minutiae and technicalities of the law, to the extent that pitting the opposing attorneys' skills at manipulating those minutiae is the primary objective of the trial process, rather than "justice." The presiding judge ensures that the respective counsels don't overstep. The jury is comprised not of legal professionals and experts, but rather of (hopefully) objective observers whose charge it is to evaluate the evidence and render their perspectives, weighing the evidence and arguments presented at trial against their own common sense and sense of fairness. If their responsibility was solely to adhere to the minutiae of the law, that objective would be better realized by having the case decided by a judge alone.

2) Yes, I've found myself in uneasy situations when I questioned whether I was being pursued (particularly in the months following my military experiences). My response was to either take evasive maneuvers or to take action that would clearly establish the follower's intent. I suspect (but of course cannot prove) that Martin might have followed a similar course of action, and ultimately recognized the presence of a genuine threat. All we have in the way of "evidence" is the testimony of a man on trial for murder. It is here that the "common sense" comes into play, where we look at the evidence presented, as well as both individuals' history, and try to determine the most logical sequence of events.

3) "I shudder at the thought of living in a country where you can be someplace perfectly legally but are not allowed to defend yourself when reasonably faced with grievous injury or death." Here, we agree, at least in principle. My point was that the only way the "stand your ground" law could apply would be in Martin's defense, had he ultimately prevailed in the fight. He had that right, IMO, for the very reason you offer in the above quote.

4) The legal definition of self defense has evolved (poorly, IMO) in the years since the boilerplate jury instructions were drafted. Because the law has been dynamic, yet the instructions static, there is an obvious disconnect between the two - at least, if justice remains the ultimate objective. Again, common sense should prevail over a religious devotion to words written in and for a different time.

Your final analysis ALMOST describes my perspective.
1) The jury had no choice but to acquit Zimmerman, due to the poor definition of self-defense laws and the antiquated and overly constraining jury instructions. Per one juror's own post-verdict, they gave the only verdict they were allowed by instruction to give, yet recognized that said verdict wasn't the right one.

2) Your assumption is incorrect. Read #1, directly above.

While Zimmerman was acquitted in trial, the process by which we supposedly seek "justice" was indicted. Had the laws been geared toward achieving "justice," I firmly believe that Zimmerman would not have felt entitled to go hunting Martin in the first place, and that had he done so, he would have been convicted of manslaughter, at the very least.

I'm not convinced that racism was Zimmerman's primary motivation, and reject the notion that it played a significant role in the process (despite that having been the case historically). SOME role, perhaps; just not the significant role some would imply. IMO, this tragedy has merely served as an excuse for the "usual suspects" on both sides to play their preferred race cards and foment further discord.