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Presumed Innocent

with 32 comments

The title of t his post is also the title of a very good book by Scott Turow, and I personally think you should all go read it if you haven’t yet.  It’s good enough so that I read it, in spite of the fact that it’s a novel about somebody falsely accused, which is the kind of story I can barely handle at the best of times.

But the title of this post is what it is, of course, because sometime overnight the  jury came in in the Zimmerman case and acquitted the man on all counts in the death of Trayvon Martin.

This is the second Florida trial I’ve watched closely, and like the first one it’s left some side questions about  how t hings work in Florida–the courts work on Sunday? and Saturday? and all night?  and only six jurors?

But these really are side issues, and matter for another time–although I do think juries would probably return verdicts faster if they weren’t allowed to leave or rest until they delivered one.  Sort of like cardinals shut up in the Vatican until they name a new Pope.

There are also other confusions related specifically to this trial.  I Googled “racial composition of Zimmerman jury” and got, not the racial composition of the Zimmerman jury, but the information that the court was not releasing the racial composition of the Zimmerman jury.

I’m not even sure how this was possible.  Weren’t reporters allowed in the courtroom?  Weren’t spectators?  Was the jury kept out of sight?  How is it possible nobody looked at the jury and said, “Oh, five white women and one Trobriand Islander”?

The other Florida trial I watched closely was, of course, the Casey Anthony case.

That trial and this one had a lot in common, of course, and they both had at least one thing in common with the O.J. trial–all three were trials in which “everyone” “just knew” the defendant was guilty.

I am on record here in about a million places as being FAR happier with a guilty defendant going free than I am with an innocent one being convicted.

I’m also on record as thinking that  it’s far MORE likely that innocent people will be convicted than that guilty ones would be set free.

Outcomes like that of the Zimmerman trial and the Casey Anthony trial and the O.J. trial don’t make me angry, and they don’t make me despairing.  They give me hope that the legal process isn’t hopelessly biased against defendants.

They give me hope that, at least every once in a while, the  presumption of innocense works. 

FWIW, here’s my take on all three.

1) When the glove didn’t fit, the O.J. jury HAD to acquit.  They really did.  Given with what they were allowed to know, and given the prosecutions absolutely idiotic handling of that evidence, they were pretty much stuck letting the guy off.

On the day the prosecution righteously demanded that OJ. don the glove and then–oops, the man couldn’t get it over his hand–the case was over.

That was prosecutorial error, not inevitability, but once the error was made, they were stuck with it.

And it would have killed them even if the jury was  made up entirely of white people.

2) The Casey Anthony case is harder to read, and the best I can make of it is  prosecutorial overreach.

I would  think the State could have easily gotten a conviction on a neglect charge, or an endangerment charge, or something along those lines.  As far as I know, nobody, not even the defense,  ever disputed the claim that Anthony left her child home alone while she went out to party.

With  or without the use of cholorform, that would have been enough.

The attitude of the prosecution seemed to be that that wasn’t good enough, and they spent so much time trying to paint Anthony as an Avatar of Evil that they ended up with  nothing at all.

In a way, that was too bad, because Casey Anthony may actually be an Avatar of Evil.  She gives every evidence of being a first class sociopath.

What she almost certainly wasn’t, however, was somebody who deliberately set out to murder her child.

Given everything we know about her now, I wouldn’t be shocked if she showed up ten or fifteen years from now having deliberately  murdered another child, but you can only charge a person with crimes already committed.

3) As for George Zimmerman, the one  really  major difference is the fact that not everybody in the country thought he ought to be convicted.

In this case, there were real, honest to God sides.

And there were certainly real, honest to God issues.

The real issue, though, was almost certainly that tape and what was or was not on it.

Both Trayvon Martin’s mother and George Zimmerman’s mother testified that they were “positive” that the voice heard screaming in agony belonged to her son.

If there really was no way to positively identify the voice on that tape, then I don’t see how the jury could have done anything but what they did.

The craziness has already started,  of course.

The Reverend Al Sharpton is calling for the Feds to file charges so that somebody can get Zimmerman on something, and double jeopardy be damned.

I’ll just note for the record that this is exactly the kind of case the Framers were thinking of when they outlawed double jeopardy to begin with.

The scarier stuff is going on on Twitter and FB with people posting what they claim to be Zimmerman’s address in the hopes that somebody will go get him.

It’s tempting to explain this by the racial aspects of the case, except the same thing happened after the Casey Anthony trial, and there were no racial  overtones there.

It’s useless to say that the racial overtones don’t matter, because they do, and they will.  That’s why I’m very  nervous that we do n’t know the racial composition  of that jury  up front. 

But even beyond the tendentious and deliberately inflammatory stuff, there are actual practical  issues in a trial of this kind.  If one of the main points is whether or not Zimmerman had a credible case for self defense, then one of the things jurors will do is to ask themselves that if they found THEMSELVES in the same situation, they would feel justifiably in danger of their lives.

And it’s almost certain that men and women, blacks and w hites and Latinos and Asians, would have distinctively different answers to that question.

I wish the  jury hadn’t been all female.  I hope the jury was not all white.

But in the end, if I had been on that jury, the only thing that would have mattered would have been the fact that we could not positively identify the voice screaming on that tape.

If the voice belonged to George Zimmerman, he had every right to fire in self defense.

If the voice belonged to Trayvon Martin, then Zimmerman murdered him.

Written by janeh

July 14th, 2013 at 9:04 am

Posted in Uncategorized

32 Responses to 'Presumed Innocent'

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  1. I’m still furious at the blatant and disgraceful bias of the American MSM that shamefully, from the very first day, tried to procure the lynching of Zimmermann. I’m still furious that many of the usual liberal suspects (who see only the liberal media) never got to see the full transcript of the 911 call(s) but insisted that Zimmermann deliberately “profiled” Martin when the full transcript clearly showed that he did nothing of the sort. I’m still furious that the MSM has been allowed to get away with suppressing and, perhaps even “photoshopping”, photographic and video evidence of the injuries that Zimmermann received in the beating he received and that was at least in part witnessed by others in the process.

    I’m still furious that racist jerks like Al Sharpton can still get away with inciting violence. I’m still furious that President Obama, learning nothing from his disastrous intervention in the Gates case, saw fit to interfere. I’m still furious that Holder interfered and might yet do so again.

    I’m still furious that apparently mature and sane adults (you know who you are) can post inflammatory material to their Facebook pages. I’m still furious that other apparently mature and sane adults can describe Zimmermann as “scum”, as a vigillante, and a “wannabe cop” even before the trial was over.

    I’m not furious, just highly amused, that another apparently sane and mature adult, ostensibly a lady, would describe me on Facebook as an asshole who should be ashamed of myself because I dared disagree with the politically correct view. Opinions, eg “scum”, “vigillante”, “wannabe cop” and so on, aren’t facts.

    From this distance, it was the “profiling” claim by the prosecution, repeated yet again in the news conference after the jury verdict, that was believed to have indicated intent, that seemed to be the hook that the lynch mob hung their hats on.

    Hopefully, people who believe that the conservative media tells lies will get to understand that in this instance at least, it generally got the details right. Had people read more widely, including blogs like VDH’s and “Legal Insurrection” (http://legalinsurrection.com/) to name just two they’d have had a much clearer picture of what was really happening.

    I don’t know whether who screamed for help or not was the key issue. I would have thought that the mere sight of Zimmermann’s broken nose, bloodied lips, and other facial damage, couple with the significant injuries to the back of his head was sufficient support for his argument that he was acting in self defence. Of course, the MSM was at pains to suppress those pictures while it ramped up the hysteria.

    Shame on them all.


    14 Jul 13 at 10:00 am

  2. What’s a MSM?

    I think there’s something innate in humans that makes us want to join in the rush to judgement and condemnation, and it takes a lot of early training and a strong legal system based on presumption of innocence and respect for logic and proof to train the tendency out of some of us.

    Maybe it’s just our desire for ‘justice’ combined with the tendency to split ourselves into ‘us’ and ‘them’, and to condemn ‘them’.

    Oddly, or perhaps not so oddly, it seems in that case that the immediate relatives, who might be excused anything they said or did in their grief, are much less inclined to political grandstanding than strangers are.

    Being Canadians, the finger-pointing in the recent derailment tragedy is more muted, and of course isn’t inflamed by US racial history, but the finger-pointing is still there.


    14 Jul 13 at 11:12 am

  3. Main Stream Media, Cheryl.

    Jane, we do NOT want faster jury verdicts. There are too many cases of weeks-long trials “deliberated” in two hours or less. The jury is supposed to be bound to actually DELIBERATE all the evidence, which at least means discussing it. Too often, a jury will sit down and take a ‘preliminary’ vote, and if there is substantial agreement, the majority will talk the minority into following along just to get out of there faster.

    My husband has studied wrongful conviction issues for years, and done much research. He calculates there are 10% wrongful convictions. (see the SkepticalJuror.com”) Ten percent of 2.5 million incarcerated. Think about that. We don’t want faster verdicts in any way.


    14 Jul 13 at 12:52 pm

  4. Yes, I too once watched TWELVE ANGRY MEN all the way through. It hasn’t convinced me that trials longer than summer break and jury deliberations longer than my vacations are more likely to yield justice. If we have a good system for determining which verdicts are wrong, why don’t we use that system instead of the juries?

    On to the side issue. Does it strike no one else that we regularly dispatch our ruling class off to beautiful places to stay in luxury hotels and be fed the whatever they want at taxpayer expense, only to have them say that, sadly, they don’t have an Arab-Israeli peace treaty, a free trade agreement or a solution to global warming, so they’re just going to have to do it again next year?
    Let’s try sending the decision-makers (not proxies) to Khartoum or Pyongyang, put them up in buildings with broken AC and feed them MREs until they comem to an agreement.
    And before you laugh too loud, read MIRACLE AT PHILADELPHIA. The US Constitution was written during a miserable hot Philadelphia summer by people who were losing money by being there and who had to give the building back in the fall.


    14 Jul 13 at 2:34 pm

  5. Cheryl, MSM is Main Stream Media.

    I admit that I did not follow the Zimmerman case closely. The fact that he had injuries to the back of his head was all I needed to know.

    The Australian media often reports someone killed by a single punch. All that is necessary is that the victim hit his or her head on a sidewalk or a rock. There is even a campaign going on called “One Punch can Kill”.



    14 Jul 13 at 3:31 pm

  6. Presumed innocent. I agree with Jane up to a point, but it’s an important point. Yes, we let a lot of killers walk–some for procedural reasons, which I regard as insane. And we rightly go to serious lengths to avoid the possibility of punishing the innocent. BUT
    1. We can never completely eliminate someone being unjustly punished. That would require divine and not human certainty.
    2. A government must nonetheless maintain order, uphold the laws and punish those it believes to be guilty. When it does not do so, it creates a Hobbesian state of nature. It is unjust to punish the innocent. It is insane to let the guilty boast of their murders and not to expect the return of private justice. A court will sometimes err. But if it isn’t an improvement on lynch law, we have serious trouble.


    14 Jul 13 at 4:00 pm

  7. jd

    14 Jul 13 at 5:27 pm

  8. I don’t know if I would characterize my husband’s work as equivalent to watching a movie. Though he did do that too.

    He’s worked for more than five years on behalf of specific, wrongfully convicted people, writing over a million words in four books, hundreds of blog posts, and a heartbreakingly unsuccessful attempt to keep a Texas prisoner (Preston Hughes III), almost certainly innocent, from being executed last year. He’s traveled at his own expense to meet with the governor of Missouri’s General Counsel on behalf of the clemency petition for Byron Case, a young man who became the subject of my husband’s first book at random, because Byron’s trial transcripts were available online. John found in his analysis of the evidence available in public documents that the jury was denied crucial facts that almost certainly would have swayed them otherwise, if they hadn’t bought the prosecution’s concoction (and suborning of perjury) and convicted a 19-year-old to life without parole in LESS THAN TWO HOURS.

    And yes, as foreman, he DID take a jury he served on from 11-1 Guilty to 10-2 Not Guilty, and then hung it after 8 days. This was for an innocent man, accused of a heinous crime. (the proof was in the main witness’s testimony that he was doing something to her in Utah when she was with a friend in Los Angeles at that moment.) Then John invested months of his own time helping the defense during the SECOND trial of this poor man, leading once again to a hung jury.

    Don’t think that being falsely accused will never happen to anyone decent (or to you or someone you know). You just have to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. You’re accused, and your life and your personal finances are wrecked, before you ever get to trial. Bail, in tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, never to be returned. Attorney costs, investigator costs, court costs…mortgage your house, strip your savings, owe every one of your family and it still might not be enough. If the prosecutor is malicious, they can come up with endless charges, each carrying another load of bail money along with it. Did you know, that if your trial doesn’t happen before 1 year, you have to RENEW bail every year? Yep, you paid $50,000 last year, pay it again or go to jail.

    And then…and then… the prosecutors make it so damn tempting to just plead guilty. To get a shorter sentence. To get off with time served. To not get deported, or be deported in lieu of jail time. A large number of people confess to crimes they’re not guilty of just to have it done with, to get the 5 years or whatever, or to get life in prison vs. the death penalty.

    My husband is an engineer with a sophisticated math background. He’s done the research and done the math to prove that right around 10%, or 250,000 people of the incarcerated in the US, are wrongfully convicted. It varies somewhat by crime, and somewhat by whether one has a bench or jury trial. It also agrees with the data from the only people who REALLY know…the prisoners themselves. Unlike the myths that “everyone in prison is innocent,” prisoners who are guilty generally admit to it. Those who insist they are innocent, often when doing otherwise would benefit them (you cannot get parole unless you admit guilt and sincerely fake contrition) run about 10% of the population.

    John has also written blog posts on the presumption of innocence, and how often that simply fails.

    Start there. His overview of his mongraph is here: http://www.skepticaljuror.com/2010/09/on-rate-of-wrongful-conviction-chapter.html


    14 Jul 13 at 6:45 pm

  9. Darn those link things. Back in moderation. :/


    14 Jul 13 at 6:48 pm

  10. OK, more information is better. But my comment was not directly that his estimate of the percentage unjustly convicted was wrong, but that I did not think the huge lengthening of the judicial process over the past generation was reducing that percentage. As you point out with bail bonds, spending two or three years in “pre-trial” is not an unmixed blessing. And does spending a month selecting a jury really get a less biased jury, or only a more expensive one with fewer working people?

    There’s a reason we officially have a right to a speedy trial.


    14 Jul 13 at 7:49 pm

  11. The judicial process has *nothing* to do with jury deliberations. Those are often shortened by unclear, confusing jury instructions, even unclear charges that just make jurors throw up their hands. Judges don’t emphasize the need to actually deliberate in detail. People have busy lives, and jury service, although it’s the cornerstone of the whole shebang, is not given the status and the respect it deserves. They want out, and most of them have no concept that it could be them on trial, given a slight change in circumstance.

    And then there’s judicial and prosecutorial shenanigans. Withholding evidence & documents. Framing the guilty (where the police just KNOW the accused is guilty, so they make sure there is some evidence of that.) The judge summarily declaring entire ranges of evidence as not admissible…like having the arresting officers and other police officials testify. This actually happened at the trial referenced above, as well as bringing spurious charges to increase the bail by 75%.

    John’s convinced that one MAJOR change that needs to happen is to mandate the recording (and preservation of that recording) of ALL interviews between the police and accused, and all witnesses. Having a police officer, months after the fact, review case notes or a terse report and “summarize” what happened or what a defendant or witness said. We all know peoples’ memory of events changes over time. It’d be really useful to have someone whose memory has faded or altered reminded by what they said immediately after a crime. This doesn’t lengthen any timelines, it prevents the destruction of evidence (memories).

    There are already recommendations in place for better administration of lineups to prevent false identifications and bias. DNA has gotten a lot of people wrongly accused of murder out of jail, now the DNA analyzers are moving down to arson cases, which are also subject to old, bad arson science. That’s moved on, too, and may free a lot of people. It’s too late, of course, for Cameron Todd Willingham, convicted wrongly for the arson murder of his children, and executed under Rick Perry’s watch in Texas.

    I personally used to believe that the death penalty was necessary for the worst of the worst. Since I’ve been confronted with the way it’s administered, and the *absolute certainty* that as many as 1 out of 10 of those killed are innocent of the specific crimes they die for, I have changed my mind. I’m with Jane…it’s going to be an odious necessity to let guilty people walk in order to minimize the number of wrongfully convicted, or executed innocents.


    14 Jul 13 at 11:00 pm

  12. One final note: It is beyond eerie to hold a hand-written note, composed in the last few days of a person’s life, from Death Row, which arrives after the execution has taken place. A note thanking your husband for his efforts to help free the prisoner. We didn’t know this man, but John spent a lot of hours of his life working for him, filing writs with the help of a local anti-death-penalty activist.

    He was not a particularly nice man, this now-dead person. He was superficially charming, but not a hard worker or well-educated. His mother loved him, though. And he was demonstrably innocent of the crime he died for. He also thanked John by name in his last words, along with insisting once again he was innocent.

    It was upsetting beyond words, that letter. I realized then that the hole a person leaves when they die diminishes us all. That we do this as a society diminishes us as a society. As does allowing the conviction of the innocent in such numbers.


    14 Jul 13 at 11:09 pm

  13. Lymaree, as someone who was outraged by the Lindy Chamberlain case here in Oz, and who was at the time regularly confronted by people who simply refused to think beyond the glib reports in the MSM that were stirring the lynch mob, I appreciate what your husband is doing. Thanks for the links to his work.


    15 Jul 13 at 1:51 am

  14. None of which explains why the Fort Hood shooting is pushing four years old and little closer to resolution than it was the next day, or the OJ Simpson trial took a year from jury selection to acquittal. I keep pointing out that the mills of American justice grind slow, slow, slow. You keep pointing out that they are not grinding exceeding fine. But I have yet to hear how–with the arguable exception of jury deliberation–the gummed-up procedures improve results. Unless it’s that the accused seem likely to die of natural causes before the process is complete?
    A speedy fair trial is not an oxymoron.


    15 Jul 13 at 1:59 am

  15. Right now the only shortening of the judicial process that seems possible is to remove some power from the hands of the prosecutors. Right now they’re the ones who determine who gets a plea bargain, or who gets charged at all, with or without evidence. Or with manufactured evidence (see framing the guilty). If they decide to charge you, and then drop the charges before trial there is no recourse and no refund of whatever it has cost to that point. They can literally bankrupt people with bail and defense costs, and if the charges are unfounded and they say “Oops” and drop it, you do not get that money back, not even the bail. Oh, and your job and reputation? Sorry about that, dude. False arrest can sometimes be recovered by lawsuit against the police or city, but when’s the last time you heard of “false prosecution?” Never, because the prosecutors are immune from being sued.

    That kind of power breeds arrogance and abuse. They can drag out a trial to force acceptance of a plea, if the defendant tries desperately to save something for his or her family. Or just crap around because they feel like it.

    How to make the process of justice faster? Prevent plea bargains at the whim of the prosecutors. Seems counterintuitive, but if the prosecutors had to meet a much higher standard of evidence before they brought charges, there might be fewer trials, not more. Make police investigations more transparent to defendants and their attorneys. I cannot express how many times we run across trials where police & prosecutors withhold, subvert or falsify evidence. On appeal, mostly these things are held to be “harmless errors.” Yeah, right. With full disclosure would come much quicker dismissal of charges, as prosecutors realize their cases are falling apart, or much quicker guilty pleas as the accused realizes they’re caught. We’ve come to find that innocent defendants have nothing to fear from full disclosure of facts. As Robert says, “more information is better.” Only the guilty, and the prosecution need to shade meaning, to bend reality to fit their theory of the crime.


    15 Jul 13 at 2:56 am

  16. Lymaree, most of that sounds reasonable. I might also suggest more judges and courtrooms, to ease up on the plea-bargaining pressure. But consider also suggest that when jury selection runs into weeks and months, it’s not in an effort to get an unbiased jury. I continually amazed by the amount of testimony of little relevance, the long breaks, the procedural quarrels and the time spent on pretty much undisputed physical evidence.

    As you say, dragging a prosecution on for years is not justice, whether it’s dropped at the end or not. And when only the retired or unemployed can be empaneled as a jury for a serious charge, it’s not quite a jury of one’s peers. We can do better.

    Of course, I’d also accept uncoerced confessions as evidence regardless of Miranda, and physical evidence even if someone later found a flaw in the search warrant, which would put a good few people behind bars who now walk free.


    15 Jul 13 at 8:51 am

  17. Our system in Oz is far from perfect, but at least our prosecutors (and our cops, for the most part) are about as independent of the political process as it’s possible to get. We don’t have ADAs trying to make their political bones by trying to get convictions by fair means or foul. Unfortunately, plea bargains are getting more and more common, but the prosecutors are independent politically, so it’s not out of control yet. (The Northern Territory, and the Australian Capital Territory, may be exceptions. Small ponds and incestuous legal and law enforcement.)


    15 Jul 13 at 9:05 am

  18. As my last word on the subject, these appeared in my inbox this morning:



    The thing that intrigued me most about the summary of the closing arguments was that there was no evidence produced by the prosecution that Zimmermann followed Martin one step beyond where he was asked by the cops on the phone not to do so. Yet this is the point of howling insistence of the mob allegedly “proving” that he was hoping to kill Martin from the outset.


    15 Jul 13 at 11:49 pm

  19. We don’t need no stinkin’ moderation. :-)


    15 Jul 13 at 11:49 pm

  20. Well, Mique, the mobs that insist Zimmerman was stereotyping black youth in hoodies are now running around in their hoodies breaking windows and looting businesses, which will surely put an end to THAT stereotype.

    It’s one thing to object to someone saying all Germans are Nazis, and another thing to voice the objection while wearing a swastika armband.


    16 Jul 13 at 7:24 am

  21. “The thing that intrigued me most about the summary of the closing arguments was that there was no evidence produced by the prosecution that Zimmermann followed Martin one step beyond where he was asked by the cop”

    Hmm. The jury seems to think differently:


    And Charlie Pierce has some pertinant observations about Stand Your Ground as it now exists post Zimmerman:


  22. Mike, I can’t find anything relevant in the first quote, and Charlie Pierce’s observations are just plain perverse, and as stone stupid as those who simply cannot understand that the Stand Your Ground law was utterly irrelevant in this case. Apart from the initial reaction to events, and the original decision not to charge him, the only people talking about Stand Your Ground were the media, and the lynch mob they stirred up. It didn’t feature in the trial at all.

    Regardless of what Zimmermann did or did not do, the first breach of any law, and in the end the only breach of any law, was when Martin attacked him and beat him to a pulp.

    The Pierce article, like the rest of the lynch mob’s nonsense, is pure hysteria. Read Dershowitz.


    16 Jul 13 at 12:09 pm

  23. “The Pierce article, like the rest of the lynch mob’s nonsense, is pure hysteria. Read Dershowitz.”

    Read some god damned facts – and remember, this is from BEFORE the Zimmeran verdict gave the free pass away:

    From 2000 to 2010, more than 20 states passed so-called “castle doctrine” or “stand your
    ground” laws. These laws expand the legal justification for the use of lethal force in
    self-defense, thereby lowering the expected cost of using lethal force and increasing the
    expected cost of committing violent crime. This paper exploits the within-state variation
    in self-defense law to examine their effect on homicides and violent crime. Results
    indicate the laws do not deter burglary, robbery, or aggravated assault. In contrast, they
    lead to a statistically significant 8 percent net increase in the number of reported murders
    and non-negligent manslaughters.


  24. I read the paper but don’t have the statistical chops to analyse it more than superficially, but I accept that all of the above is true. As far as it goes. But in any given case, eg Zimmermann/Martin, the particular circumstances will vary from any theoretical norm. For example, in Zimmermann’s case, did the Castle Doctrine play any part in his decision to act the way he did? Was he even aware of it? Before the introduction of the Castle Doctrine in Florida, would his case have been decided in any other way given identical circumstances? When push came to shove, regardless of whether he should have been where he was when he was, he was still physically attacked, knocked to the ground by a larger, aggressive assailant (not by the saintly middle school kid as the MSM and Obama described him), and severely beaten receiving significant facial and other head injuries in the process.

    At the instant where he finally pulled the gun and the trigger, whether he apprehended it or not, he was in actual imminent danger of his life with no other practicable means of escape. If he hadn’t shot Martin, he’d as likely as not have been dead himself. The “liberal” consensus seems to be that, if so, he would have got nothing more than he deserved.

    I like William Saletan’s analysis in Slate today:


    It really is amazing how much hate and vitriol has arisen from this. Where’s the comparable rage in all (or any) of the dozens if not hundreds of homicides against blacks that have occurred in the US during the same period? Just for fun, see here: http://homicides.redeyechicago.com/

    And that’s just the first week of July 2013 in Chicago, the home of certain prominent US citizens taking moral high-ground stances in the Florida case.


    17 Jul 13 at 3:42 am

  25. From Mique’s slate link:

    “Zimmerman is guilty, morally if not legally, of precipitating the confrontation that led to Martin’s death.”

    There, in a nutshell, is half the point of what I am saying.

    Would Zimmerman, absent right to carry laws, absent stand your ground laws, been bold enough, foolish enough, to confront what was, for all he could tell in the dark, a grown man?

    Maybe my y chromosome came from the wrong part of the gene pool, but confronting a grown man whom I suspect of criminal intent, alone, in the dark is not high on the list of life experiences I want to put on MY bucket list, or my daily to do list, or any other list of activities I would voluntarily undertake.

    If you think I’m mad at Zimmerman, you haven’t parsed what I’ve written correctly.

    It is completely immaterial whether or not Zimmerman was racist.

    The perfect storm of stupid laws that have been produced in Florida made the occurrence of this incident an inevitability.

    And NOW that there is a blueprint for how to commit a murder out there — it will be followed.

    Florida just became a much more dangerous place for anyone to be anywhere after dark for any reason.

    Oh, and no, I do not think that Zimmerman was in significant danger of being killed simply based on statistics. It’s very hard to kill an adult human with your knuckles. Not impossible, but very, very hard — and the police were, after all, already on their way. Zimmerman might, if he’d not been able to kill Martin, actually ended up needing and wanting hospitalization, or have been in no condition to make an independent decision – he in fact declined admission on the actual night — but EVEN HAD HE STILL BEEN STUPID ENOUGH WITHOT THE GUN to set in motion the events that led to the confrontation – he most likely would still be alive, albeit with a few facial scars.

    Just remember (although it probably, this being America would not have worked for a black man any better than it did in fact work for the black woman) if “being afraid” and being able to use a gun to defend yourself AND not having to retreat, ever, is the law as the verdict says it is, then Martin would have been perfectly justified in shooting Zimmerman.

    Martin was being followed by a creepy guy, in the dark, in a place where he had a perfect legal right to be.

    Yes, Zimmerman under the letter of the laws as they stand in Florida did nothing illegal.

    Nothing good will come of those laws. And as the numbers show, nothing has and in fact more people are dying needlessly. That it is already bad in Chicago doesn’t justify Florida or any place else setting circumstances up to make it worse.

  26. And a bit more an just how stupid the law is:


  27. “It is a complicated thing to be young, black, and male in America,” writes Jefferson. “Not only are you well aware that many people are afraid of you—you can see them clutching their purses or stiffening in their subway seats when you sit across from them—you must also remain conscious of the fact that people expect you to be apologetic for their fear.”
    During the trial, Martin’s mother was asked by the defense whether she was avoiding the fact that Martin’s actions could’ve contributed to his death. Perhaps if Martin had acted differently — if he hadn’t been scared or been angry, or if he’d turned around and smiled and spoken to Zimmerman in a voice that reminded Zimmerman of kids he knew and liked rather than kids he feared — perhaps then, Martin would be alive today. Perhaps if he’d been quick enough and clearheaded enough to apologize for Zimmerman’s fear the night would have all turned out fine. We can see that now, too, and it’s an ugly thing to see.


  28. I’ll try and find a direct link for those without FB accounts, but for now a summary:


  29. I’m perfectly happy with the idea that the law is stupid. I’m equally happy it is profoundly stupid to allow ordinary people to carry concealed weapons, be they guns or knives. Always have been. I would change both in a flash if I could. But, almost inevitably, if such laws were to be introduced, then the public at large would become even more at the mercy of the criminal element because, for all practical purposes, only the crims would be armed.

    I also understand that people tend to be afraid of young black people, and that not only in the US. Unfortunately, that fear arises from long and bitter experience. Wasn’t it Jesse Jackson who made the point that he was relieved to see that someone who had been walking behind him turned out to be white, not black?

    Whatever, it’s a tragedy that doesn’t need to be aggravated by any further pursuit of Zimmermann. Yet it seems that all sorts of people are pressuring the Department of Justice (as if) to take the thing to another level.

    How they might do that without creating a fierce constitutional backlash will be interesting to see. As your academic paper demonstrated, Florida is far from the only state with such laws.

    I disagree with your comment about Zimmermann being at only slight risk of death. As JD demonstrated the other day, earlier in this thread, one punch deaths are a dime a dozen down here, and I doubt if Australian heads are any more fragile than Hispanic heads.

    I think Klein and Soltas summed it up perfectly when they wrote in Wonkblog:

    “Zimmerman’s trial bore a weight it could never carry. It was supposed to bring clarity and course to the events of that night, 18 months ago, when Zimmerman and Martin met in the dark and then things happened and then Zimmerman shot Martin and Martin died. But we’ll never have real clarity on what happened that night. And there’ll never be real closure, either. The legal system promises justice but demands evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt.” When the truth of events can never be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the legal system can’t deliver on its promise of justice.”

    Crucifying Zimmermann as the lynch mob and the Holder DOJ seem hell bent on doing would be cruel and unusual punishment.


    17 Jul 13 at 10:23 am

  30. “… if such laws were to be introduced, then the public at large would become even more at the mercy of the criminal element because, for all practical purposes, only the crims would be armed.”

    Oh, you mean like in the states of the US that are NOT Republican strongholds of wild west gun laws and stand your ground nonsense?


    Places like that?

    Do facts ever matter?? Apparently not. “Stand your ground” plus concealed carry for every yahoo that feels tougher, er, “safer” with a gun results in MORE crime and a LESS safe social space.

    But fuck it, live in your fantasy world. I’ll stay in a disgusting “liberal” state where yahoos can’t carry guns, where you still have a duty to retreat if you possibly can — where it is IN FACT safer to live, whatever your race or skin color rather than the armed camps of the Rethuglcan states.

    The part of the Wonkblog that hits the issue on its head is :

    “Florida’s gun laws, for instance, makes cases like this one likely and even inevitable. Would Zimmerman have left his car and followed Martin without the comfort of the cold steel strapped to his body? It’s unlikely. But Florida’s laws are such that the kind of people who want to get out of their car and tail teenagers who scare them can carry guns when they do it, and Florida’s laws are such that if there’s then a confrontation and the gun goes off the person holding the gun is very likely to walk free.”

    See the discussion on game theory.

    The laws and every flimsy justification for them are simply insane, and every actual fact that can gathered only reinforces their insanity.

  31. You obviously didn’t read what I wrote. I’m not in favour of guns, knives or any other sort of weapon in private hands, Mike. Never have been. But your opinion is only your opinion, and whether it’s objectively insane or not there is nothing you can do about it, without riding roughshod over your constitution. Fortunately, we don’t have anything like your Second Amendment. (Unfortunately, we don’t have your First Amendment.)

    But down here in Oz, where we collected (bought back) and destroyed hundreds of thousands of semi-automatic weapons a few years ago after the Port Arthur massacre, the streets of our major capitals, particularly Sydney, where there are gangs, are awash with illegal handguns, and the crime rate is horrific. Never a day goes by without drive-by shootings.

    That’s not an argument to ease our gun laws to arm the good guys, but just a statement of the reality. Plenty of people, probably a majority in the US, and perhaps even here if things keep going the way they are, obviously prefer the status quo and it’s going to take generations to change things, unless you turn into a police state.

    Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, California’s and Florida’s gun murder rates per 100K in 2010 were 3.4 and 3.9 respectively – virtually identical. Florida’s gun laws are very lax (5 on a scale of 1-100), while California’s are very tight (80/100) – by a considerable margin the tightest in the country. Go figure.

    Let’s agree to disagree where we do disagree.


    17 Jul 13 at 1:38 pm

  32. I meant “perhaps a majority” not “probably”.


    17 Jul 13 at 1:40 pm

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