One Minute of James Baldwin…Four Centuries of US History

by Corey Robin on July 16, 2013

Several people have emailed me to ask why no one at CT has posted on the George Zimmerman verdict. It’s a good question. I can’t speak for anyone else; as Chris said, we’re a loose-knit crew. I know that I’ve simply not felt up to the challenge. And not able to say anything as cogent as I’ve read elsewhere.

But this clip from 1968 of James Baldwin on the Dick Cavett Show seems apposite. (The Milton Friedman lookalike trying to get a word in edgewise is the Yale philosopher Paul Weiss.)

 

{ 142 comments }

1

common reader 07.16.13 at 9:01 pm

James Baldwin does not look like Jerry Garcia (but oh, those guys were young then, just like I was).

2

common reader 07.16.13 at 9:01 pm

Did someone just change the video link? Now I see JB.

3

mpowell 07.16.13 at 9:15 pm

Does anybody know about how the legal systems in other countries would handle a case like this? The crux of the matter here is that in many US states, including Florida, to overcome a self-defense plea the prosecution must prove that it wasn’t self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a very dubious proposition in a case where the killer is legally permitted to carry a concealed weapon. I’m curious to know how other systems approach killing in self-defense.

4

John Quiggin 07.16.13 at 9:37 pm

My guess is that it’s the legality of carrying weapons, concealed or otherwise, that’s critical here. In Australia, Zimmerman would have been liable to 10 years jail just for carrying a loaded gun in a public place, and the fact that he was committing a felony would (I think) have defeated any presumption in favor of self-defence

http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/nsw/consol_act/ca190082/s93g.html

The only successful claim of self-defence in a shooting of which I’m aware was an underworld case where the defendant claimed to have taken the gun from the deceased.

http://www.smh.com.au/news/National/Gatto-cleared-of-Veniamin-murder/2005/06/15/1118645852566.html

5

William Timberman 07.16.13 at 9:45 pm

The NRA would no doubt argue that if Trayvon Martin had also been strapped, there’d have been no need to involve the justice system at all. If you want to know what the result of a consensus based on that philosophy might look like, you have only to look to Somalia and Afghanistan under the warlords or Iraq and Northern Ireland at the height of their sectarian conflicts. A neighborhood arms race isn’t what most of us would call civilized — and for good reason — but that’s what we’re likely to get if yahoos in the state legislatures of Florida, Arizona, et al. continue to broaden the codification of an open season on minorities in their state laws.

6

Substance McGravitas 07.16.13 at 10:00 pm

Does anybody know about how the legal systems in other countries would handle a case like this?

In Canada there’s more judicial discretion. Zimmerman would probably go to jail one way or another, others might be able to kill in other contexts.

7

P O'Neill 07.16.13 at 10:02 pm

It’s been interesting watching the cable news bobbleheads slowly acknowledge today that the stand your ground law was a factor in the case, despite the instant post-trial analysis talking point otherwise.

8

Philip 07.16.13 at 10:12 pm

I don’t many of the details of this case but I couldn’t see a self-defence plea being successful in the UK. You would need to prove that the force was necessary and reasonable. His carrying the gun would have been illegal so wouldn’t have helped. However even if he had used a legal object as weapon to kill Trayvon Martin the jury could have decided that the force was excessive.

9

Jeffrey Davis 07.16.13 at 10:26 pm

It was asserted by many that stand-your-ground was only for white people. A black woman was just sentenced to 20 years in Florida for firing a warning shot over the head of her abusive husband.

If this were a pulp detective novel, the hero would be saying, “I don’t believe in coincidences.”

10

Katherine 07.16.13 at 10:34 pm

One of the things that has struck me about the case is the sheer number of different layers and types of murder and manslaughter and the incredibly specific statutory definition of each one. ( In the UK there is murder, not three different degrees of murder. Sure there are different types and circumstances of murder but it isn’t half as convoluted.) And then if you claim that then that then the other then the other. It’s exhausting to follow, let alone understand and I am, or was, a lawyer. Goodness knows what a layperson makes of it.

11

Phil 07.16.13 at 10:50 pm

In England and Wales (can’t speak for Scottish law) the key questions would be “did you kill him?”, “did you intend to kill him?”, “were you acting in self-defence?”, “was it necessary to use violence in self-defence?” (i.e. could you have resolved the situation peaceably, e.g. by running away – no “stand your ground” here) – and, finally, “if violence was necessary, was the level of violence used reasonable in the circumstances?” Even if Zimmerman could persuade the court that he was acting in self-defence, it would be very hard for him to get over the last two hurdles.

It’s also true that Zimmerman would have been guilty of an offence just by virtue of walking the streets with a handgun, but I wouldn’t want to make too much of that – I think, or at least hope, that our laws on homicide wouldn’t change if more liberal gun laws made homicide that much easier.

12

Katherine 07.16.13 at 10:51 pm

Looking at the CPS site Philip linked to above, I think this:

a man who starts the violence, the aggressor, cannot rely upon self-defence to render his actions lawful. Of course during a fight a man will not only strike blows, but will defend himself by warding off blows from his opponent, but if he started the fight, if he volunteered for it, such actions are not lawful, they are unlawful acts of violence.

would leave Zimmerman high and dry.

13

GiT 07.16.13 at 10:57 pm

Maybe. The pro-Zimmerman case is that Martin started the blows and that being a creepy ass stalker isn’t starting anything. That quote seems to be restricted to who starts the blows, not who starts the aggression, as well.

14

shah8 07.16.13 at 11:13 pm

A quick reply to comment five:

The NRA does not, in fact, advocate that young black men should also have firearms to protect themselves from this eventuality.

Now…

There was literally nothing Martin could do to preserve his life in the context of Stand Your Ground.

Lastly, be advised that there have been a number of meme propagations through nominally non-crazy intellectual channels which are intended to protect the status quo, the most prominent being that “Stand Your Ground had no role in the trial, and thus of Zimmerman’s acquittal”. That would be incorrect. SYG had an impact on Zimmerman’s conduct as he committed his actions. It had an impact on how the investigation was (not) carried out. Most importantly, it had an impact in creating a jury instruction that makes it profoundly difficult to contest the defendant’s narrative when self-defense questions arise with no living victim, so as to convict the defendant. What the defense actually did was refuse the Stand Your Ground pretrial hearing (which was not the total of the law), which success would preclude both criminal and civil trials. Martin’s family looks to have a legal means of suing Zimmerman, still.

15

Main Street Muse 07.16.13 at 11:59 pm

I love James Baldwin. Thanks for the link.

I have been gloomy about this since the news broke. (We were watching “Saige: An American Girl – it was the most jarring juxtaposition between fantasy and reality I’ve experienced in a while.)

In reading about this trial, I was astounded to discover that it is legal to bring a gun to the grocery store. Zimmerman packed his gun along with his list as he headed out to Target, stopped from this task by the need to eliminate the “threat” from his neighborhood. I live now in a state that apparently has liberal “open carry” laws (having moved here from IL!) I dread the day I see an AR-15 in the store, as these people did in VA: http://n.pr/13LhLs5.

Why do so many feel the need for armed vigilantes? Or to pack a gun to “protect” against the “threats” out there? Or to legally bring a semi-automatic to the store to prove a point about the 2nd amendment.

I am disheartened that an armed man can trail an unarmed teen on a walk to his father’s girlfriend’s residence, and when an altercation ensues, the unarmed teen is named the aggressor.

Ta-nehisi’s essay is one of the best on this topic.

If you look at Juror’s B-37’s interview on Anderson Cooper, the jury DID use Stand Your Ground as influential in the verdict. (Transcript here: http://bit.ly/12u2nKA)

16

Main Street Muse 07.17.13 at 12:01 am

I also wonder how a man who had once assaulted a police officer and had been charged with domestic violence could get a gun and become the neighborhood watchman in his gated community.

17

Ronan(rf) 07.17.13 at 12:09 am

“It was asserted by many that stand-your-ground was only for white people”

Also appears to have led to an increase in homicide rate in Florida

http://causalloop.blogspot.ie/2013/07/some-more-evidence-that-floridas-stand.html

18

derrida derider 07.17.13 at 12:44 am

Yep, from this distance the verdict looks correct given Florida law. Further, the reluctance to prosecute Zimmerman was justified – it’s no use the coppers charging him if his actions were lawful, whatever they might think of those actions’ morality.

In better jurisdictions Zimmerman would certainly have gone down for something, and quite possibly for murder. But I don’t think race was a big issue in these events (for a start in Florida it’s much more likely the victim would be an Hispanic youth in a hoodie, on simple Bayesian grounds), just the interaction of a stupid guy with some stupid law. Now of course you could argue that those laws would never have been passed if Florida was racially homogenous, but that’s not the same as saying the coppers, the courts or even Zimmerman were racist.

19

LFC 07.17.13 at 1:08 am

d. derider @18
I’m inclined to think race was an issue. Martin was a young black man, and it’s not at all clear or certain that Zimmerman would have reacted in the same way to an Hispanic youth. (See the op-ed column I linked here.)

20

LFC 07.17.13 at 1:11 am

p.s. actually Martin was a 17 yr old kid — “young man” is perhaps stretching it

21

harry b 07.17.13 at 1:28 am

Had Martin indeed had a gun, and used it, killing Zimmerman, what are the odds he’d have been acquitted of homicide?

I love James Baldwin too. Was he really on network television?

22

shah8 07.17.13 at 1:31 am

Remember all those people that thought they just HAD to be out there to make sure everyone knew what they thought about a woman that didn’t please their sense of aesthetics?

23

GiT 07.17.13 at 1:36 am

@19

“it’s not at all clear or certain that Zimmerman would have reacted in the same way to an Hispanic youth”

Maybe…

” dont miss driving around scared to hit mexicans walkin on the side of the street, soft ass wanna be thugs messin with peoples cars when they aint around (what are you provin, that you can dent a car when no ones watchin) dont make you a man in my book. Workin 96 hours to get a decent pay check, gettin knifes pulled on you by every mexican you run into!”

-From Zimmerman’s old myspace page.

24

mdc 07.17.13 at 3:01 am

What racist labor unions is Baldwin thinking of in 1968?

25

Marc 07.17.13 at 3:29 am

The trade unions were virtually all white and all male.

26

Matt 07.17.13 at 3:39 am

Katerine at 10
In the UK there is murder, not three different degrees of murder. Sure there are different types and circumstances of murder but it isn’t half as convoluted.

That’s interesting (if true- are you sure?) as the US rules developed out of British common law. They have changed over time, but that’s the origin.

What makes the US rules particularly complicated is that different states all have somewhat different rules, though they often use the same name for somewhat different crimes. But, in each state, the rules are not really all that difficult or hard to understand, and have a modestly good fit with common-sense moral distinctions (ie, what it an intentional killing, a killing done in the heat of the moment, a wrongful but not intentional killing, a negligent killing, and so on, w/ some other complications, some not as well connected to common sense.)

27

Jexpat 07.17.13 at 3:54 am

@John Quiggin

Chopper Reid was acquitted for shooting Sammy the Turk” Ozerkam on a successful claim of self defense in 1987.

Of course, that these are underworld cases simply underscores the low probability of a vigilante situation (or any of the dozens of other “stand your ground” shootings) occurring here in Australia.

And if or when one does occur, we can rest assured that the offender would earn himself a healthy stint in jail.

See, e.g. Man shot during clash on Raymond Terrace street

http://www.theherald.com.au/story/115948/man-shot-during-clash-on-raymond-terrace-street/

Raymond Terrace killer jailed for 27 years

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-08-03/raymond-terrace-killer-jailed-for-27-years/4175572

28

Alan 07.17.13 at 4:11 am

Make no mistake about it–the FL stand-your-ground law made all the difference here. The jury–assuming rational assessment of evidence and understanding of impartial duty, which I think is satisfied here–could arrive at no other decision given the burden and high standard of evidence on the prosecution.

It was the law that was wrong, clearly (I’d say). Juries have some flexibility to interpret law particularly with regard to how evidence is handled, but in this case it seems it was not exercised in lenient moral ways. (A contrary case? Jeffrey Dahmer’s conviction here in Wisconsin. I leave proof of it as an exercise for the reader.)

But there can be repercussions. The Hinckley trial was decided on similar legalistic contextual grounds (the jury did their duty by the letter of the law and many wept as they left the courtroom). Result (and mostly due to high-profile of the case more than anything): Federal laws drastically changed. (I’m convinced not for the better, but mileage might vary as they say.)

US law is subject to so many economic and social and political forces, and increasingly it seems in that exact order, that there is no telling where our future might go. But on the whole considering the largely harmful effects of luck it’s probably not good.

29

pjm 07.17.13 at 6:05 am

Corey, the Atlantic piece may be thoughtful but it is incomplete. It covers the racism aspect well (“the creation of a pariah class”) but what about gun culture. A society with a militarized antebellum South, Native American genocide, wars of territorial expansion, use of troops (aka National Guard) and heavy weapons to put down labor unrest all must have their impact on the gun culture and the legal system as well.

30

js. 07.17.13 at 6:36 am

The best piece on this topic is quite easily by Charles Pierce.

31

Chris Bertram 07.17.13 at 7:59 am

On the “why has nobody at CT posted?” question … Well I know from my FB feed that this case has completely dominated the US news agenda, people are hardly posting on anything else. But aside from the fact that it is hard to know what to say other than expressing grief and outrage, I’d point out that most CT contributors are not native-born US citizens who are also resident in the US.

32

Salem 07.17.13 at 9:10 am

I don’t many of the details of this case but I couldn’t see a self-defence plea being successful in the UK. You would need to prove that the force was necessary and reasonable. His carrying the gun would have been illegal so wouldn’t have helped. However even if he had used a legal object as weapon to kill Trayvon Martin the jury could have decided that the force was excessive.

This is not correct. You are right that under UK (well, England & Wales) law, force must be necessary and reasonable, but the defendant doesn’t have to prove anything. Rather, the prosecution must prove that it wasn’t necessary and/or reasonable, beyond a reasonable doubt. Note that this is the same burden the prosecution faced in the Zimmerman trial; see relevant section of the jury instruction below:

“The danger facing George Zimmerman need not have been actual; however, to justify the use of deadly force, the appearance must have been so real that a reasonably cautious and prudent person … would have believed the danger could be avoided only through the use of that force.”

This is pretty much identical to a model jury instruction under English law.

33

Jim Buck 07.17.13 at 9:29 am

Kenneth Noye killed twice, in circumstances somewhat similar to the Martin murder:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2000/apr/08/nickhopkins

34

Philip 07.17.13 at 10:08 am

Salem, sorry my mistake, the burden of proof is on the prosecution. I’m not a lawyer so it is all just my common understanding of the law. The quote about the proof needed for Zimmerman only seems to address whether the force was necessary and not whether it was reasonable, this is where I think it would have been different under English and Welsh law.

Matt @24, In the UK there are separate offences of manslaughter and murder, but no different degrees of murder. If someone is found guilty then the judge will take any mitigating or aggravating factors into account for sentencing.

35

Ronan(rf) 07.17.13 at 10:35 am

“Does anybody know about how the legal systems in other countries would handle a case like this?”

Well, this would be the closest case in my lifetime in Ireland

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_John_Ward

With some similarities to the Zimmerman case (public outcry, a hated minority, sympathetic jury looking to find innocent) and a number of non similarities (Ward was not Martin, he was trespassing, had a violent history)
I don’t know how the law works if you don’t shoot a traveller (gypsy) though. Probably better

36

Barry 07.17.13 at 11:40 am

William Timberman: “The NRA would no doubt argue that if Trayvon Martin had also been strapped, there’d have been no need to involve the justice system at all. If you want to know what the result of a consensus based on that philosophy might look like, you have only to look to “

… the number of black men in Florida who shot an unarmed white man on the street and who were not given very. very long prison sentences. I don’t know the count, but I imagine that it’s rather low.

37

matt 07.17.13 at 12:05 pm

Marc @ 25: I know some unions were active in the civil rights movement by the end of the sixties, and others pursued a “Negro/Labor” alliance going back to the thirties. “Virtually all white”– I mean, didn’t huge percentages of black industrial workers belong to unions in 1968, since many steel mills and auto plants (for example) were closed shops?

38

Jeffrey Davis 07.17.13 at 12:44 pm

re: 21 James Baldwin on TV

I remember — unreliably — James Baldwin with Noel Coward and the very old Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. On Dick Cavett.

Cavett watched as the group exchanged private information via raised eyebrows and mumbles and such. It was like overseeing an auction in some exotic foreign market.

Or I could have dreamed it.

39

William Timberman 07.17.13 at 1:36 pm

Barry @ 36

Yes, that’s the reality in Florida, and not just in Florida. If I understand Wayne LaPierre and the NRA’s position correctly, though, they and their allies are arguing — at least here in Arizona, where I live — that all citizens in good standing with the law should be permitted to carry a firearm openly, or concealed on their person, pretty much anywhere they go in public. In some cases — when teaching in schools, for example — they should even be compelled by law to do so. The NRA seems quite content that this implicitly endorses trial by gunfight as a replacement for trial by jury, even though they rarely say so openly unless provoked.

The Stand Your Ground laws, on paper at least, seem to be endorsing the same proposition. If George Zimmerman had approached a black man armed according to the NRA’s preferred rules, with Stand Your Ground applying to both, the outcome wouldn’t have been the law’s business. This, of course, assumes that the survivors — if any — had no criminal intent prior to the confrontation, and that each had a genuine concern for his physical safety before he opened fire. Trayvon Martin was a minor, which complicates the story a bit, but he was also in good standing with the law, and had he been 21, and packing, then as I’ve said, very likely the incident would have had a very different outcome, and according to the NRA’s playbook/Bible, the law’s interest, if any, would have been negligible.

As you point out, the reality is very different. Black people by definition don’t figure into the NRA’s vision of a libertarian paradise, except as prey. Sometimes, though, rubbing the NRA’s noses in the actual social consequences of their fantasies might be politically useful. Even if that doesn’t prove to be the case in practice, the irony — the very tragic irony — is inescapable.

40

The Modesto Kid 07.17.13 at 2:10 pm

Can’t watch this right now, perhaps it contains the same line as the Baldwin quote (from “Go tell it on the mountain”) that I found apposite: “People pay for what they do, and still more, for what they have allowed themselves to become. And they pay for it simply: by the lives they lead.”

41

Trader Joe 07.17.13 at 2:13 pm

@39
“As you point out, the reality is very different. Black people by definition don’t figure into the NRA’s vision of a libertarian paradise, except as prey. “

I agree with you in general, but in this line you go to far. BJS statistics show that 93% of black victims of gun violence were killed by other blacks (Much the same for white on white murders which are 84%)….interracial murders are by far the exception, not the rule which is why when they occur, as they did here, it draws the interest that it does. This notion of “blacks as prey” doesn’t wash ith the data.

42

Fu Ko 07.17.13 at 2:24 pm

Great video clip there.

As for the Zimmerman case, there’s actually little to say about it. It tells us what we already knew. A lot of people are angry, but no one is surprised.

43

jonnybutter 07.17.13 at 2:30 pm

sigh…

@41 I agree with you in general, but in this line you go to far. …interracial murders are by far the exception, not the rule

And that disproves the contention how, exactly? If interracial murders were unknown, then you would have a point, but..it doesn’t and you don’t.

44

jonnybutter 07.17.13 at 2:43 pm

sorry for the mangled grammar above. I am so busy and so disgusted.

45

Trader Joe 07.17.13 at 2:55 pm

@43
The implication of the sentance

“Black people by definition don’t figure into the NRA’s vision of a libertarian paradise, except as prey. “

is that the NRA is sanctioning interractial killing by supporting SYG. The data doesn’t suggest that interracial killing is the predominant form of gun violence and hence the applicability of SYG isn’t likely to routinely be a reason for a race crime, as it was in this case. The far more likely SYG defense would involve a white-white or black-black crime.

I’m not about to begin defending the NRAs motives and I don’t support SYG….but I don’t think SYG was written to be racist legislation – clearly gun oriented and clearly dumb, misguided, plenty of other adjectives, but not inherently drafted to facilitate interracial killing.

If I’ve misread WTs intent with my rebuttal, then he can clarify – As I said, I agreed with where he was going until he got to that particular phrase whichI think overstated why the NRA would have an interest in SYG laws.

46

William Timberman 07.17.13 at 2:57 pm

Trader Joe @ 41

I’m not disputing your statistics, but maybe you should have a look at this part again: …the NRA’s vision of a libertarian paradise… George Zimmerman wasn’t a one-off, and he didn’t arise full-grown from the brow of Zeus. The NRA does conflate black skin with criminality, and they do advocate open season on criminals. If they get their way a lot of people are going to be sorry, and if black people are forced by our laws to live in the NRA’s paradise, not all of them will be black….

47

Katherine 07.17.13 at 3:10 pm

That’s interesting (if true- are you sure?) as the US rules developed out of British common law. They have changed over time, but that’s the origin.

Yes, that’s correct. There are no official different degrees of murder. The differences in circumstances get taken into account at sentencing. The basic sentence is the same – everyone gets life – but life here means the possibility of life. The judge specifies a tariff – I.e the number of years before someone is eligible for parole. The number of people on a full life tariff is quite low

48

Matt 07.17.13 at 3:37 pm

Interesting. Thanks Katherine and Philip at 34. So, it sounds like there are two official grades of murder in the UK- “murder” and manslaughter, and then the rest is left to the discretion of judges. I don’t know how well that works in the UK, but in the US I’d not be happy with it, as discretion is often used to give worse penalties to the disfavored and favorable treatment to the favored more than anything else. In general, I think that formal categories are more likely to lead to equal treatment, though of course there are still lots of places to go wrong. And, once you understand them, the various grades are not especially difficult to understand, though they do vary from state to state (something even people in the US forget all the time.)

49

Jerry Vinokurov 07.17.13 at 3:53 pm

Stand Your Ground is obviously a law with a racially disparate effect, largely intended to feed the fears of white rural gun owners. Why anyone would deny this obvious fact is left as an exercise for the reader.

50

adam.smith 07.17.13 at 4:05 pm

Thanks for the Baldwin video.
As for other countries, leaving the gun issue aside (though JQ is right that that’s almost certainly the biggest difference), at least for Roman law countries the “Stay your Ground” part, taken literally, isn’t actually that unusual. In German law, e.g. you’re not obligated flee (“shameful flight/schimpfliche Flucht”) from an assailant even if you can.
(Not applicable in this case, but this is not true for the “Castle Doctrine”, i.e. the idea that the threshold for legitimate self-defense is significantly lower for someone trespassing in your home. That does not, as far as I’m aware, have an equivalent in most Roman law countries).
What might apply to the case, though, is the importance of prior provocation. The Florida law has an exemption for self-defense if you provoked the fight, but as TNC points out, the exemptions in said clause make this rather flexible.
http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/07/trayvon-martin-and-the-irony-of-american-justice/277782/
This is actually a controversial topic in German jurisprudence, but the increasingly predominant opinion is that you lose your right to self-defense if you provoked a fight.

51

Luke Silburn 07.17.13 at 4:11 pm

“So, it sounds like there are two official grades of murder in the UK- “murder” and manslaughter, and then the rest is left to the discretion of judges.”

Pretty much. There are sentencing guidelines and judicial discretion is subject to review – so if a judge demonstrates an unacceptable pattern of severity towards a particular demographic then this should, in theory, get addressed.

The other wrinkle that is often missed is that there is distinction between the sentence and the tariff. A life sentence is only ever suspended, it never expires – so even if a convict gets a short tariff and is successful at their first parole board they will remain subject to supervision by the probation service (and potentially recalled to prison if they are deemed to be backsliding) for the rest of their life.

Regards
Luke

52

Trader Joe 07.17.13 at 4:13 pm

@49
As I said, I’m not going to defend SYG.If you think its inherently racist you have a right to that view. Some of these state laws date back decades and such laws are hardly confined to either the South or states with a strong record of racial discord.

The data on the topic is sufficiently biased in each direction that both sides can trot out statistics to support whichever stance they choose to take. In Florida, where the state is 58% white and 42% non-white, I have a hard time seeing passage as strictly a sop to rural whites – I wasn’t there though, so maybe it was.

53

jonnybutter 07.17.13 at 4:31 pm

I have a hard time seeing passage as strictly a sop to rural whites –

I assume that’s why nobody said it was.

The data on the topic is sufficiently biased in each direction that both sides can trot out statistics to support whichever stance they choose to take.

Data can’t really be biased or unbiased. Just how people choose to lie with it. But that’s not the point, is it? Aren’t we leaving out some other relevant ‘data’? Namely, that it has been legal or quasi-legal for white people to murder black people in the US for hundreds of years, including well into the 20th century? That is what’s disgusting about this whole thing, and also about the effort in certain quarters to pretend that racism is now magically washed out of our national fabric, or the ‘real’ problem is ‘reverse racism’, etc.

54

mpowell 07.17.13 at 5:22 pm

So it sounds like at least in the UK the burden is still on the prosecution to overcome the self-defense plea. The salient difference is that most people won’t be carrying guns because it’s illegal. I’d suppose that if a society wants to allow people to carry guns, the presumption of innocence in self-defense pleas for gun-toting citizens in public ought to be different. At the same time, I’d think it proper in this case if Zimmerman was bankrupted with a wrongful death suit since the burden of proof there is lower.

55

Jerry Vinokurov 07.17.13 at 5:36 pm

Since 2000, 20 states have adopted some form of SYG-type law which effectively eliminates the affirmative duty to retreat (which is, definitionally, what makes them “stand your ground” laws). Those states (as per this (PDF)) are:

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia.

In what surprises no one who actually pays attention to things, these are, by and large, states with high populations or rural (and, I should have added, many suburban) whites and a history of racial tension (to put it euphemistically). Of course legislation doesn’t come pre-stamped with a label telling you which groups strongly favored it. However, considering that the only major racial demographic that favors lowering barriers to gun ownership is white people, and that along the “urbanicity” axis the only demographic that shares that view is people living in rural areas (source (PDF)), it’s kind of hard to believe any counterfactual according to which this was something that states did because they really wanted to help out urban black or Hispanic voters.

More importantly, and this is something that tends to be sadly ignored when having arguments about guns and SYG and everything else, the actual physical objects which are the guns are almost entirely incidental to the debate. Wherever you fall regarding your views on gun control, the gun debate has never been about abstract notions of ownership of a specific type of physical object. It has always been a proxy for debates about who gets to be counted as fully human in the U.S. Since African-Americans (and women, and Hispanics) are still not counted as 100% actual people whose suffering matters and whose lives have meaning, the right wing, other than occasionally making spastic gestures at “winning over” female voters by talking about how great it would be if every woman was packing heat to ward off rapists, has never cared about their right to own anything, much less anything that would put them at actual parity with white people. Which means that if you’re a black woman firing a warning shot because you legitimately fear for your life, you’re going to get 20 years in prison. Or if you’re a group of black men who decides to stock up on guns because you believe this will help you defend yourselves, expect the governor of your state to say, well, that’s not what we had in mind, and engineer the passage of legislation intended to disarm you.

It’s possible to have abstract debates about the merits of SYG in general, but those are not the debates we’re having now, or that we’ve ever had. The actual running debate is entirely about who gets to be seen as human, and who must suffer being seen as the Other.

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mds 07.17.13 at 5:58 pm

Jerry Vinokurov @ 55:

Or if you’re a group of black men who decides to stock up on guns because you believe this will help you defend yourselves, expect the governor of your state to say, well, that’s not what we had in mind, and engineer the passage of legislation intended to disarm you.

<SARCASM>
Humph. Sounds just like what a typical liberal gun-grabbing California governor would do. I’ll bet he was pro-choice, too.
</SARCASM>

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Mao Cheng Ji 07.17.13 at 6:00 pm

“The actual running debate is entirely about who gets to be seen as human, and who must suffer being seen as the Other.”

To be seen by whom?

If you subtract “African-Americans (and women, and Hispanics)” from the total population of Florida, you’ll probably get something like 28%. Even if all 100% of them are despicable bigots, why do you care? And what is there to debate?

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William Timberman 07.17.13 at 6:02 pm

Jerry Vinokurov @ 55

Thank you. That covers what’s at stake about as well as it can be covered. From my perspective, the rest is either legalistic nitpicking, or outright hypocrisy. I can understand Trader Joe’s point, but it doesn’t accord very well with my own experience. As a white person raised largely in the Jim Crow South, I came to think of myself as a sort of a spy in the house of hate, and much of what I remember from those years of experience accords very well with the what many black people have to say about their own experiences.

Ta-Nehisi Coates has a lot more to tell us about this reality than most white people are willing or able to see, and while he’s not the only articulate black person in history who’s tried to make us aware of the obvious, for my money, his is the most eloquent black voice on such unhappily unfinished matters that’s available to us today. We should heed him, just as we should have heeded Frederick Douglass, James Baldwin, or Fannie Lou Hamer before him.

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Jerry Vinokurov 07.17.13 at 6:41 pm

To be seen by whom?

Come on now.

If you subtract “African-Americans (and women, and Hispanics)” from the total population of Florida, you’ll probably get something like 28%. Even if all 100% of them are despicable bigots, why do you care? And what is there to debate?

I feel like we’ve ridden this ride before, and, no offense, but you simply don’t seem to really understand the American political dynamic all that well. It’s not like you just subtract x% non-white males and somehow you get an overwhelming majority on your side. That might sometimes work in presidential elections, but there’s a reason why state-level Florida doesn’t look very much like federal-level Florida.

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Trader Joe 07.17.13 at 6:54 pm

@55
The list I saw at Wikipedia (copied below) lists 31 states in total.

“Many states have some form of stand-your-ground law. Alabama,Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts (though the term is used very loosely there), Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania , Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming have adopted Castle Doctrine statutes, and other states (Iowa, Virginia, and Washington) have considered stand-your-ground laws of their own. “

I agree your list, which focuses on those with more recent adoption clearly bias towards white and rural populations – Florida, interestingly, being probably the nearest exception. The other 11 states, many of which adopted their laws long before 2000 are quite notable for being pretty strong “blue” states despite clearly adopting a law more commonly associated with “red” states.

It didn’t mean to derail this into a debate on the motives of an SYG law (although its perhaps not much of a derailment). I strongly concur SYG at its core is a “pro-gun” bit of legislation and if, because of the demographics of gun owners that automatically makes it “anti-minority” or “racist” than I’ll conceed the point although I think its a little more nuanced than that. Proponents of the legislation usually point to some theme along the lines of reducing crime as the reason to adopt it, probably to appeal to urban voters, but inevitably that’s a talking point not a motivation.

WT’s clarification @46 (in response to my initial post) made the point “The NRA does conflate black skin with criminality, and they do advocate open season on criminals. ” That was a very fair point and not one I would refute. I think it better expresses the motivation of the NRA than necessarily the motivations of SYG supporters, but perhaps they are sufficiently one in the same that such a view is moot.

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Mao Cheng Ji 07.17.13 at 7:28 pm

“I feel like we’ve ridden this ride before, and, no offense, but you simply don’t seem to really understand the American political dynamic all that well.”

I believe I am aware of the standard political framework. Race, gender politics. But I feel that it’s not necessarily very enlightening. Perhaps you take the political dynamic a little too serious. But never mind.

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Jerry Vinokurov 07.17.13 at 7:36 pm

I found that Wikipedia article somewhat misleading. For example, it claims that California has an SYG law, and links to the penal code. However, that statute is distinguishable from the Florida one in a simple way: it doesn’t contain any mention of the duty to retreat. The Rhode Island law specifies that there is no duty to retreat in the event that the crime is occurring in the person’s house, which is the more standard castle doctrine (California has the same thing but doesn’t use that specific language). That’s crucially different from the statute in Florida, where the “no duty to retreat” bubble travels with the person. I haven’t check the rest (I hit only two states that I’d actually lived in), but this suggests to me that the article is inaccurately lumping all self-defense/castle doctrine laws into a single category.

Proponents of the legislation usually point to some theme along the lines of reducing crime as the reason to adopt it, probably to appeal to urban voters, but inevitably that’s a talking point not a motivation.

Well, of course they do. But the fact that they don’t actually reduce crime (in fact, they increase it) means that one can’t honestly contend that these laws should be kept on the books for that reason.

It’s not just the disparity in gun ownership across racial categories that makes the debate about guns and self-defense a racial issue; it’s the sum of the rhetorical positions taken by large numbers of gun advocate groups (see this (PDF)) for a particularly egregious example), plus history. And that’s where it links with what Baldwin is saying in the video in the OP: we don’t know for sure whether real estate agents “really” hate black people, but somehow, magically, black people end up being directed away from white neighborhoods when they try and buy a home. So with the issue of guns and SYG laws: they might just be innocent measures designed to promote public safety, but to reach that conclusion one would have to ignore a whole lot of context and rhetoric swirling just outside the legislative ambit.

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Jerry Vinokurov 07.17.13 at 7:39 pm

I believe I am aware of the standard political framework. Race, gender politics. But I feel that it’s not necessarily very enlightening. Perhaps you take the political dynamic a little too serious. But never mind.

I don’t know what this means. I’m talking about specific structures of governance that exist in the US; if you seek enlightenment about why particular policies get implemented, and why a state looks one way in presidential elections and another way in state-level elections, you would do well to understand what those structures are. I take that seriously because I take politics seriously; maybe you don’t, I don’t know. I realize that’s a pretty US-specific point, but if you want to talk about politics in the US, I think it’s a good idea to understand the dynamics driving those politics.

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Alan 07.17.13 at 7:59 pm

I’d point out that discussions about percentages of majorities/minorities rural/urban etc. expressing themselves in matter like SYG/Castle laws in the US overlooks a national effect we see now of the 2010 mid-term elections: many states, even if bluish-purple before, turned a much darker shade of red in their state houses and governor’s mansions. That is exactly what happened here in Wisconsin. And now with Republican control of both houses and the governor’s Tea-party sympathies, unions are crushed, women’s rights are under attack, teachers and public employees are vilified, private-school vouchers have gone state-wide, and generally we have turned into a transplanted deep-south state. (Sure we managed to elect Tammy Baldwin thanks to Democratic get-out-the-vote-for-Obama in 2012 but we also replaced Russ Feingold–one of the finest Senators this state ever had–with a total Teapublican buffoon in 2010. ) But here’s my point: once in power the state houses redistricted the state so that, despite something like a statewide 200K victory for Dems in state elections in 2012, both state houses easily were kept red. I’m not at all sanguine that anything of substance will happen soon to turn many states back to even some shade of purple at the state level anytime soon.

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Jerry Vinokurov 07.17.13 at 8:15 pm

I’d point out that discussions about percentages of majorities/minorities rural/urban etc. expressing themselves in matter like SYG/Castle laws in the US overlooks a national effect we see now of the 2010 mid-term elections: many states, even if bluish-purple before, turned a much darker shade of red in their state houses and governor’s mansions.

Whoa, what are you, some kind of American who understands how state-level politics operate?!

Florida is, at the large scale, a 50-50 state; Republicans currently hold the house by almost a 2:1 margin. Pennsylvania easily went Democratic (and has done so for a long time) and its Congressional delegation is 13-5 in favor of Republicans. These things matter.

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Bruce Wilder 07.17.13 at 8:58 pm

I feel the discussion of race (and ideological worldview) in relation to SYG / Castle laws may be functioning as a shiny object, used to distract or hypnotize. We do know the drill, and the litanies tumble out, almost unbidden.

But, the spread of SYG laws, and of the gun culture, is not being driven by some spontaneous race consciousness, even if already existing racism and racist prejudices may be exploited for their emotional resonance, in the same way sex is used to sell soap. The driver behind SYG appears to me to be commercial: the existence of an industry making guns, which has been captured by its own Frankenstein monster, the NRA — the one time hunters’ mass-membership organization, now re-animated as a powerful political lobbying and activist organization. That industry is now selling vastly more guns than this country needs for any legitimate purpose to a deeply frightened minority, and a well-funded organization exists to generate propaganda to keep them suitably frightened.

It is worth remembering that white supremacy had definite economic and commercial motives. The notion of a Southern “national” identity tied to the peculiar institution and, not incidentally, to a proto-libertarian ideology of States’ rights, free trade and limited government, was manufactured to serve the interests of a self-conscious class. And, it got away from them, and destroyed them and much else.

JV: “Stand Your Ground is obviously a law with a racially disparate effect, largely intended to feed the fears of white rural gun owners. Why anyone would deny this obvious fact is left as an exercise for the reader.”

So I ask which “obvious fact” is being denied and which is being ignored? Are the fears of white gun owners being stoked to make them racists or gun buyers? Is racism a goal or a means? Does it matter? Should it matter?

Clearly, there’s plenty of room here for reflexive feedback loops, and, indeed, I think the transformation of the NRA and the gun manufacturers into a manipulative parasite that feeds on fear, racism and gun violence is already well-advanced.

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William Timberman 07.17.13 at 9:17 pm

Bruce Wilder @ 66

It’s good to be reminded now and then (a la Marx) of all the elements that combine to create the realities we experience as individuals. I don’t personally think that the racists left over from the first great manipulation needed the encouragement that they’re now being given by the manipulation sponsored by the NRA, but certainly the industrialization of white supremacy in its modern armed configurations would probably not have developed so quickly, or with such irresistible force in state legislatures without it. ALEC seems to have been the smelter, but the raw ore certainly has been mined where you say it has.

68

novakant 07.17.13 at 9:26 pm

Well, apparently you can kill a perfectly harmless Japanese exchange student in black tie for mistakenly ringing your doorbell and walk free – only in America …

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoshihiro_Hattori

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Jerry Vinokurov 07.17.13 at 9:58 pm

But, the spread of SYG laws, and of the gun culture, is not being driven by some spontaneous race consciousness, even if already existing racism and racist prejudices may be exploited for their emotional resonance, in the same way sex is used to sell soap. The driver behind SYG appears to me to be commercial: the existence of an industry making guns, which has been captured by its own Frankenstein monster, the NRA — the one time hunters’ mass-membership organization, now re-animated as a powerful political lobbying and activist organization. That industry is now selling vastly more guns than this country needs for any legitimate purpose to a deeply frightened minority, and a well-funded organization exists to generate propaganda to keep them suitably frightened.

First of all, it’s clearly a both/and sort of thing, rather than either/or. But be that as it may, I don’t think this is the outcome of purely commercial motives. I mean, sure, obviously the manufacturers themselves do what they do to make money. Hell, maybe they even think they’re somehow helping out black people; I wouldn’t put it past them. But you can’t make money without customers, and the nature of the business is such that you need those customers to live in constant fear of the unknown (despite evidence to the contrary, e.g. decreasing crime rates). As you say, the NRA keeps them suitably frightened and thus contributes to the maintenance of industry profits, but it’s not like there’s any mystery about why the targets of NRA advertisements are mostly rural (and Southern) whites.

It is worth remembering that white supremacy had definite economic and commercial motives. The notion of a Southern “national” identity tied to the peculiar institution and, not incidentally, to a proto-libertarian ideology of States’ rights, free trade and limited government, was manufactured to serve the interests of a self-conscious class. And, it got away from them, and destroyed them and much else.

Again, both/and.

So I ask which “obvious fact” is being denied and which is being ignored? Are the fears of white gun owners being stoked to make them racists or gun buyers? Is racism a goal or a means? Does it matter? Should it matter?

I was responding to the exchange between William Timberman and Trader Joe upthread and particularly what I perceived as TJ’s glossing over the obvious racial aspect of these laws. More generally, this is an obvious fact that goes ignored in public discussions of guns. To answer your other questions, yes, the fears of white gun owners are obviously being stoked to make them gun buyers; racism is a reinforcing factor in that decision, because they are being bombarded with images of scary black and Hispanic people, and told that this is what they need to protect themselves against (c.f. the NRA comic book thingy I linked above).

Does it matter? I think it does, because you have two noxious strands of right-wing thought reinforcing each other. I think both guns and racism would be much weaker if they had to stand on their own; if you could no longer appeal to frightening images of minorities, you might not sell as many guns, and conversely, the fewer people are running around dispensing vigilante justice, the more normal race relations will be.

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Bruce Wilder 07.17.13 at 10:40 pm

William Timberman @67

Seeking after the “reasons” people do what they do can lead to too much emphasis on content and not enough on container, and a failure to recognize rationalizations are effects, not causes. Frightened people tend to adopt authoritarian political attitudes, including in-group, out-group distinctions that govern what little is left of their capacity for empathy and cooperation. Racism, with its garish palette, colors within that paint-by-number outline.

It seems to me that the Trayvon Martin case and the Zimmerman trial were used by the powers that be, for a kind of moral panic. The sheer scale of journalistic resources — combined with the conspicuous careless with which pundits repeated facts and “facts”, making many “facts” suitable fodder for a variety of unfounded narratives —
point to a propaganda purpose. I suppose it could be demand-driven; how far did the fascination reflect mass interest? The proximity to the Voting Rights strikedown by our corporate Supremes has to reflect some kind of synchronicity, no?

70 years ago, lynching a negro for disrespecting a white woman, or perhaps discovering a ring of homosexual predators seducing young men, would be used to reinforce the moral order and white hetero male dominance. Looking back, it seems almost quaint in its unsubtlety.

The sophistication of manipulation has increased remarkably, but to what ends? Why exactly do we have a Department of “Homeland” Security? Why is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s unruly hair featured on the cover of Rolling Stone?

Alan and Jerry, @64 and @65, mention that various electoral discouragements and disappointments, combined with local . . . inattention?, are driving the country against majority sentiment in an increasingly and radically authoritarian direction. Is the proximity of the Zimmerman trial to the Supreme’s strikedown of the Voting Rights Act an instance of synchronicity?

We seem to be re-telling the tales of the 1960s to explain the predicaments of the 21st century, and I don’t quite grasp why.

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mpower69 07.17.13 at 11:00 pm

“apposite”

As a 43 year-old american, your choice of words and use of Mr. Baldwin’s clip here is an insult, i.e. in your eyes this country has made zero progress with regards to race and equality in my lifetime.

I believe you are dead wrong in your perspective/assessment. Frankly, I believe this country was 99% post-racial in 2008… when a certain presidential candidate and his supporters began playing the race card on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

Our president – and his apologists – have sent race relations in this country BACK in time more than 40 years (as your Baldwin clip demonstrates), and this is the true irony/tragedy highlighted by the Martin/Zimmerman case.

Shame on you.

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William Timberman 07.17.13 at 11:11 pm

Bruce Wilder @ 70

I just don’t think that anyone supposedly in a position to influence, let alone control public opinion in the manner we in our darkest hours suspect is actually smart enough to do it, except perhaps locally, and they’re certainly not smart enough to control all the possible consequences. Yes, there does seem to be something driving the Zeitgeist, or the synchronicity, if you like, and yes, if national polls are to be believed, this something doesn’t seem to be a majority of the population, or even a more narrowly drawn political majority.

Should we then look for conspirators among the malefactors of great wealth, knee-jerk authoritarians, or those with a vested interest in wielding secret decoding computers, or decking themselves out in gaudy uniforms and even gaudier weapons systems? I’m not sure, but if I ask myself very carefully, I have to confess that I don’t really believe it. They’re such a disparate bunch after all, nasty enough, certainly, considered separately, but taken as a whole, there isn’t really any whole there that one can analyze with a simple set of parameters.

Something Gramscian, or Marcusian, or perhaps even Darwinian might be more to the point, but honestly, I have no idea where one would even begin.

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Layman 07.17.13 at 11:32 pm

Shorter mpower69: Barack Obama killed Trayvon Martin.

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Jerry Vinokurov 07.17.13 at 11:34 pm

Alan and Jerry, @64 and @65, mention that various electoral discouragements and disappointments, combined with local . . . inattention?, are driving the country against majority sentiment in an increasingly and radically authoritarian direction. Is the proximity of the Zimmerman trial to the Supreme’s strikedown of the Voting Rights Act an instance of synchronicity?

They are points in a rightward trend. Zimmerman doesn’t become possible (or, well, much more probable) without changes to Florida law taking place during the previous decade. The Roberts court is not possible without the election of GW Bush. And so on. It’s not like we suddenly woke up in 2013 and found that the whole place was on fire; conservatives have been piling the kindling and fanning the flames for decades.

It’s not so much discouragments or disappointments, it’s the simple fact that the party in power in the statehouse can literally choose its own voters. A whole bunch of factors have coalesced that makes moderation a bad idea for Republicans; at the same time, they have an institutional lock on power that subverts majority will at the state and Congressional level.

We seem to be re-telling the tales of the 1960s to explain the predicaments of the 21st century, and I don’t quite grasp why.

I don’t know what this means. What tales, exactly? It’s just the opposite: the situation today is radically different than it was in the 1960s, partly for the reasons I mentioned above (and many others).

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Bruce Wilder 07.18.13 at 12:32 am

JV: What tales, exactly?

this clip from 1968 of James Baldwin on the Dick Cavett Show seems apposite

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mud man 07.18.13 at 12:38 am

A local here (rural Oregon), after some recent school shooting, said that he carried so that if he saw someone with a gun running into a school, he could draw his weapon and run into the school to shoot him. I conclude that many of us like the idea of dying by gunfire.

Related, I can’t understand why Martin wasn’t justified by SYG in using force. Except (besides being Black) that he didn’t live to assert it.

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Bruce Wilder 07.18.13 at 1:05 am

if he saw someone with a gun . . . many of us like the idea of dying by gunfire.

It might be a side-effect of watching too much television, combined with too little experience with deliberate analysis, from reading or argument in social settings.

It would not seem like the wisdom of the age-old legal doctrine of a duty to retreat would be all that hard to grasp, but maybe decades of watching television shows that feature deadly violence, but hide the carnage and grief, may have warped minds.

78

adam.smith 07.18.13 at 1:21 am

mpower is like the chipmunk of trolls. I know you’re not supposed to feed, but it’s soooooo tempting…

79

Alan 07.18.13 at 1:34 am

mpower69: 99% post-racial in 2008 but not so afterward??

Me not welcoming you to Bizarro world of politics, so me your good friend.

80

Andrew F. 07.18.13 at 2:34 am

The only real question for the jury was this:

Did the prosecution prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Martin was not on top of Zimmerman, beating him in such a way (by knocking Zimmerman’s head against pavement) that Zimmerman was in reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm and reasonably believed that he had to use deadly force to escape death or great bodily harm?

That’s it. And the evidence didn’t prove that beyond a reasonable doubt. Evidence of Zimmerman’s injuries, and forensic evidence concerning the gunshot wound (angle and distance of the gun at the time of the shot), were enough to raise reasonable doubt. Therefore not guilty.

The jury’s verdict is very clearly the legally correct verdict, regardless of whether Florida’s concealed carry law, or its lack of a duty to retreat before using deadly force in self defense, are good policies.

The event of Martin’s death is a tragedy, and one made possible by Florida’s concealed carry law. But that tragedy would only have been compounded by a conviction for murder or manslaughter when the prosecution’s burden of proof simply was not met.

Outrage about the verdict is based on either lack of knowledge or political opportunism.

Outrage about Florida’s gun laws, however, is well justified.

81

shah8 07.18.13 at 3:03 am

Does it stiffen your member when you say that AndrewF? Can’t imagine your words doing anything else.

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Jerry Vinokurov 07.18.13 at 3:04 am

this clip from 1968 of James Baldwin on the Dick Cavett Show seems apposite

The things Baldwin says in that clip are just as true today as they were in 1968. That’s kind of the point.

83

Alan 07.18.13 at 4:12 am

Andrew F.–I get that, and certainly many others here. The laws drove the verdict, and given the laws the verdict was justified in some sense (I can’t think of a more neutral term than “justified”). But again, think of precedent. The Hinckley verdict produced outrage. Outrage changed laws. (Not for the better, as I’s said.) So outrage is in fact possibly justified against a particular verdict (possibly construed widely since I disagree with the outrage against Hinckley).

As I’ve suggested previously about a particular case, I’m outraged by the jury that found Jeffrey Dahmer guilty, and plausibly because of jury misconduct–they flouted the letter of the law in favor of a “feel-good” outcome. Outrage about that? Nada.

It cuts both ways. Whether outrage about a particular case is justified is not a function the particular case alone–it must engage larger issues of law and justice.

84

Bruce Wilder 07.18.13 at 4:19 am

JV:
“It’s just the opposite: the situation today is radically different than it was in the 1960s”

“The things Baldwin says in that clip are just as true today as they were in 1968.”

Thanks for clearing that up.

85

Jerry Vinokurov 07.18.13 at 4:23 am

Both of these things can be true at once. Especially when you consider what the referents of those twin statements were.

86

Mao Cheng Ji 07.18.13 at 6:04 am

JV: “I take that seriously because I take politics seriously”

I don’t. But I’ll say this: this whole situation looks very bad for the Democrats. If you care about politics, you need to shut up. Demonizing George Zimmerman seems like a very bad idea, politically. This is how the next Reagan wins.

87

Bruce Wilder 07.18.13 at 8:00 am

William Timberman: “I just don’t think that anyone supposedly in a position to influence, let alone control public opinion in the manner we in our darkest hours suspect is actually smart enough to do it”

Smart enough in a technical sense? Of knowing the buttons to press, and how to press them? Absolutely. And, affordable, to quite a number of industries and even individual billionaires.

Look, a single billionaire bought and paid for a multi-year “scandal” to plague a President of the United States, up to and including both a special prosecutor and an impeachment. That’s well-documented political history. Right out in the open, as a practical matter.

This is the world we live in. There are no mass-membership organizations in politics. The closest things we have are little more than the mailing lists of lobby organizations. The power vacuum left by the decline of mass-participation politics has given us mass-manipulation politics.

It is not “new”. Politics has always involved a lot symbolism and manipulation of supporters by politicians, and manipulation of voters and candidates by the press and interested parties. What’s different now isn’t the technology, though technology and costs have changed — what’s different that matters is that the manipulation is less contested.

I’m a bit surprised by the absence of effective contest. That’s certainly a consequence of the extreme decline of social affiliation, in part. But, I thought that there would be more critical challenging of narrative, even, or especially in the anarchism of the web. But, it doesn’t happen as much as I thought it might. People like their tribes a lot, and we stick to our scripts and make excuses for the greatest manipulation of them all, Obama. And, to the Right we march.

88

Ronan(rf) 07.18.13 at 9:59 am

“It might be a side-effect of watching too much television”

I don’t know if wanting to die by gunfire is that recent a phenomenon. It seems to be a reasonably constant aspiration for a certain type of peson since the first gun was developed

89

Walt 07.18.13 at 10:31 am

I feel 100% confident that the Zimmerman trial will have zero effect on the elections, even if George Zimmerman is murdered by the New Black Panthers on Fox News. There will be a million outrages between now and then.

90

William Timberman 07.18.13 at 12:35 pm

Bruce Wilder @ 87

I think we’re looking at different parts of the elephant, that’s all. Yes, they’re smart enough to spend money, and to push buttons, these guys with an exalted sense of their own inevitability, but manipulation isn’t the same thing as control. As you yourself say, or at least imply, no one — no coherent vision, certainly — is behind the events so breathlessly reported on Fox News.

When I say they aren’t smart enough, what I mean is that they don’t understand their own motivations, let alone everyone else’s, and when you look at the entire Gestalt, what you actually is a kind of slow-motion anarchy, the outcome of which no one is in a position to predict, except to say that it’s likely to be both ugly and fragile. In the long run, these grand manipulators will prove to be as powerless to the control the consequences of their actions as we are. Did Brezhnev or Andropov foresee the collapse of the Berlin Wall? Did Gorbachev?

Yes, of course in the long run we’ll all be dead, but the misery they inflict on us in the meantime is hardly a testament to their intelligence. Quite the contrary, I think. In the meantime there’s enough work to do planting what we seeds we can in the ground they’re so busy trying to poison.

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Mao Cheng Ji 07.18.13 at 12:36 pm

It’s not the trial, the trial is fine. It’s the insistence on contextualizing this way, that’s problematic. I understand the urge, but I don’t think this is a right occasion. This is not the James Byrd sort of story, and that’s quite clear.

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Steven J Fromm 07.18.13 at 1:01 pm

No wonder Dick Cavett suffered from extreme depression. Great clip and even though he monopolizes the “conversation” his diatribe had a lot of truth to it then and probably now.
As for the trial, from a purely technical standpoint, it may be that the prosecutor just did not prove the case. The trier of facts, the jury, is the only one that can make this call.
But politically, this is a mess and it is really wrong and points our state of our nation and that we are not there yet; not even close to racial equality.

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Jerry Vinokurov 07.18.13 at 3:52 pm

I don’t. But I’ll say this: this whole situation looks very bad for the Democrats. If you care about politics, you need to shut up. Demonizing George Zimmerman seems like a very bad idea, politically. This is how the next Reagan wins.

Seriously? You don’t know what you’re talking about; the odds that the Martin case is going to make a political impact in the 2014 midterms or the 2016 presidential election are negligible.

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Mao Cheng Ji 07.18.13 at 5:07 pm

“You don’t know what you’re talking about”

Was that really necessary? Something like “I’m quite sure that” would do the work, and without unpleasant odor.

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Jerry Vinokurov 07.18.13 at 5:31 pm

Was that really necessary? Something like “I’m quite sure that” would do the work, and without unpleasant odor.

Yeah, actually.

Look, there’s an Australian politics thread running parallel to this one. Now, I don’t know Australian politics from a hole in the ground, so I lurk, read the thread, and stay quiet, rather than jump in dispensing my wisdom about how Australian politics works. I don’t understand why you are continually compelled to offer sweeping pronouncements on just how this or that development in the US is going to play out despite the fact that, if I recall correctly, you don’t live in the US, and very clearly haven’t bothered to actually learn anything about the system (which I grant is complicated as all hell). I mean, there you are, telling me (indirectly) to shut up because talking about race in America is bad for Democrats, or something. How do you not see how ridiculous that looks from the perspective of someone who actually lives here? If, as you claim, you don’t take politics seriously, why are you even talking about it?

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Bruce Wilder 07.18.13 at 5:37 pm

William Timberman: the misery they inflict on us in the meantime is hardly a testament to their intelligence

People can be highly intelligent, and mean.

Hubris, in our era, attaches to our whole civilization. Our tragedy is collective, and our flaws are collective. That we apparently prefer to passively allow this anarchy is just how the tragedy of the industrial revolution is playing out. We are inflicting this anarchy on ourselves, with denial and passivity. We poison ourselves and our world: this — this elite, this “leadership” — is the poison.

Political societies are organic, and being organic, they age and die and are re-born. The U.S. and the global post-WWII world it fostered, are in a crisis of extreme old age, in their (our?) political life cycle. That’s the context we live in; it calls for demolition and re-founding. So, when you reference the earlier death of the Soviet Union, in political anacyclosis, I’m not sure what you mean to convey. People are often in denial of their own mortality, even in circumstances in which medical professionals are able to give quite specific prognosis. Gorbachev certainly saw that the end had come, and he hoped for renewal, but he acted decisively to bring about a peaceful end — he didn’t personally retain control, or a personal position of supreme power, but that’s confusing the case.

I think much of the center and the centre-left are in a self-deceptive preservationist mode, but much of the right in American politics is self-consciously engaged in demolition politics. Striking down the Voting Rights Act, for example, was sweeping away an anachronism, in the right-wing view.

Part of the preservationism of the corrupt center of American politics, of Bush-Obama, part of pasting wallpaper over the widening cracks in the foundations, is pretending that there’s a Manichean struggle going on between the political Parties, in which the unalloyed evil of one Party redeems the other Party, and, at the same time[!], that our goal should be bi-partisan consensus and comity. It’s the master narrative of a dream and a nightmare combined, with all their logical incoherence exploited to the max to keep the madness going, the population asleep.

I’m saying, “wake up!” when I insist on noticing the manipulation, which has become such a prominent and dominant feature of our politics and political news. I’m not trying to monger conspiracy, or channel Chomsky. If you were to say that an emerging consciousness, or other distributed, amorphous process, drives much of the propagandizing (broadcast and reception) — not deliberate purposeful coordination from a single or few self-conscious, fully intentional sources, I’d probably agree. I think I was making the point that the Trayvon Martin / Zimmerman phenomenon had moved way beyond the efforts of the gun lobby to build a political culture driving high gun sales.

And, what I hear in reply to my “wake up!” — not from Timberman so much, but frequently from others — is often something along the lines of, “let me sleep, let me dream.” I relate that wish to go on dreaming to the preservationist impulse to keep the corpse of the post-WWII order going. When things are falling apart, it is hard to say, “yes” to the falling apart, even when wisdom demands it.

It’s easier for human beings, when the old world just seems to self-destruct on its own, unexpectedly, leaving us with no choices, until it is time to start anew, building anew. Those choices are easier, when the old is just gone, irretrievable, and no one is vested in the past. Maybe, that’s why there’s so much investment in, “this time is different”, and “whocoodenode?”

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JanieM 07.18.13 at 5:40 pm

Was that really necessary? Something like “I’m quite sure that” would do the work, and without unpleasant odor.

That’s pretty rich coming from someone who, just a few comments previously, had written, “you need to shut up.”

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Mao Cheng Ji 07.18.13 at 6:16 pm

Pretty rich? I don’t think so. Maybe an unfortunate turn of phrase, but not in an assholish manner.

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Stephen 07.18.13 at 6:40 pm

Given that the outcome of the Zimmerman case is unsatisfactory, I ask (with considerable reservations, not being an USAian myself) what in the law or practice that from a European perspective seems extraordinary could be altered to stop anything like it happening again.

Only six people on the jury? Odd, but would have made no difference. Since Zimmerman’s defence – when he fired the shot he was on his back with Martin above him, attacking him, he being in imminent fear of death or serious injury – was supported by some of the evidence, and not unequivocaly disproven by any – then a jury of six or sixteen had to hold it was a case of self-defence, under existing law, given the presumption of innocence.

Abandon the presumption of innocence for creepy-assed crackers? Surely not.

No blacks on the jury? Only affects the case if you assume that black jurors should be expected to ignore law, evidence and logic, to bring in a tribal verdict. I don’t want to assume that, and I don’t suppose CT readers do.

Stand your ground? Weird law, but relevant here? Z being on his back with M on top of him, no opportunity for retreat. Surely would have counted as self-defence even if SYG had never been introduced in Florida.

Z lawfully carrying loaded pistol? Now we’re getting near it, to some extent. Looking at it from an UK point of view: having a licence for a pistol for self-defence was I think legal in UK till shortly before Big Mistake II, and with restrictions is I think still legal in Northern Ireland, as Personal Protection Weapon.

Query 1: pre -BM II, why so few murders in UK ref US?
Query 2: is situation in US in general, or Florida in particular, more like UK pre-BMII or NI in Troubles and aftermath?
Query 3: in any case, how did someone with Zimmerman’s record come to have a pistol permit?

Tentative conclusion: USA is very strange country.

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Mao Cheng Ji 07.18.13 at 7:11 pm

Apparently, a cop told him to get a gun. From wikipedia:
“In response to Zimmerman’s multiple reports regarding a loose pit bull in the Twin Lakes neighborhood, a Seminole County Animal Services officer advised Zimmerman to “get a gun”, according to a friend, rather than rely on pepper spray to fend off the pit bull, which on one occasion had cornered his wife.”

“how did someone with Zimmerman’s record come to have a pistol permit?”

What record? His record seems trivial, no more remarkable than that of any working-class murkan.

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Jerry Vinokurov 07.18.13 at 7:20 pm

Given that the outcome of the Zimmerman case is unsatisfactory, I ask (with considerable reservations, not being an USAian myself) what in the law or practice that from a European perspective seems extraordinary could be altered to stop anything like it happening again.

Well, for starters, the law could be changed to penalize someone who instigates a confrontation (although how much that would affect the outcome of the verdict in the Martin case is unclear). One serious problem with this case is that it basically sets the following precedent: you can instigate a confrontation, use a firearm in “self-defense,” and as long as you kill the other person and don’t have a witness, you’re in the clear.

Stand your ground? Weird law, but relevant here? Z being on his back with M on top of him, no opportunity for retreat. Surely would have counted as self-defence even if SYG had never been introduced in Florida.

Two points: first of all, it was relevant because it was in the jury instructions (PDF). The jury was explicitly instructed that Zimmerman had no duty to retreat, if he had, in fact, been attacked. Second, SYG is relevant in the global sense that it has actually contributed to a net increase in homicide in Florida. It’s impossible to give a counterfactual statement about this particular case absent that law, but what’s clear from the data is that it does encourage people to a) carry firearms and b) shoot first and ask questions later.

Query 1: pre -BM II, why so few murders in UK ref US?
Query 2: is situation in US in general, or Florida in particular, more like UK pre-BMII or NI in Troubles and aftermath?
Query 3: in any case, how did someone with Zimmerman’s record come to have a pistol permit?

I don’t know what Big Mistake is, could you explain? Not sure what the answer to the first two questions is, but as far as Q3 goes, it’s quite easy to purchase a gun in many states. I don’t know if Zimmerman even had to pass a background check, but he might have passed it anyway, since he doesn’t seem to have any violent felonies on his record.

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adam.smith 07.18.13 at 7:20 pm

As for changes in law that’d make a difference: yes, gun laws are clearly the biggest one (also fantastically unlikely to change, because, as you so aptly put it “USA is very strange country”.)
As I say above, I think in most European countries Zimmerman could have been on the hook (i.e. lost his right to self-defense) for provoking the confrontation, especially as the European legal system and popular opinion view of “neighborhood watchs” and vigilante justice in general with a lot more skepticisim.

As for your Queries
1: Lots of reasons: less inequality, much fewer guns, if you look at US crime statistics it’s likely prohibition played a major role, and then again the drug war etc.
2. Probably neither. Violence in the US is typically quite isolated and for the most part it doesn’t directly affect middle class people. So that wouldn’t be NI, but the high crime rates in general wouldn’t fit the UK pre WWII (I presume that’s what you refer to as BigMistake?) either.
3: Because Florida’s gun laws are pretty lax. First, as in most (all?) US states, you don’t need a permit to own a gun at all. You do need a permit for “concealed carry” (Florida is actually on of the few states where you aren’t allowed to openly carry) and Florida has regulations that such licenses should generally be granted. While Zimmerman had a couple of altercations with the legal systems (a restraining order and a charge for resisting an police officer that was later dropped) he wasn’t ever convicted, so he doesn’t have a felony record that would likely have prevented him from getting a concealed carry license. My guess would be that the restraining order would probably been enough to prevent him from getting a concealed carry license in a strictly regulated state like Illinois.

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Stephen 07.18.13 at 7:59 pm

Mao Cheng Ji@99

I may be wrong, but if I remember correctly Z’s record included assaulting a policeman. In Europe, even in the more unrestricted times of pistol licences, that would have given you a serious problem.

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Stephen 07.18.13 at 8:07 pm

Jerry Vinokurov@100:
“Well, for starters, the law could be changed to penalize someone who instigates a confrontation (although how much that would affect the outcome of the verdict in the Martin case is unclear)” Very unclear, I think. Change that law: there is no evidence in this case who started the confrontation: presumption of innocence?

“The jury was explicitly instructed that Zimmerman had no duty to retreat, if he had, in fact, been attacked.” True but irrelevant. Since Z had, by his account, no possibility whatever of retreating when he shot M: argument for self-defence would have been valid even if Florida had no SYG law whatever.

Big Mistake I, 1914-18. Big Mistake II, 1939-45. Big Mistake III expected for many years, fortunately averted so far.

From European perspective, yes, by Floridan law Z entitled to buy and carry pistol, but Florida very strange place,

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Stephen 07.18.13 at 8:20 pm

Adam.Smith@101:

Agreed, US firearms laws most useful thing to change but remote chance.

Problem with Z being in Europe in trouble for provoking confrontation; would need evidence, BARD, that he had done so. Evidence (rather than assertion) not obvious.

Inequality in UK pre-WWII, or WWI, not obviously less than in US. Could have interesting argument, come to think of it, which more/less unequal.

RE comparison with US now, UK pre-40s or NI recently: agreed, many middle/upper-class US people not affected by high national crime rates. But does that apply to people in Z’s circumstances? And pre-1940s, low UK crime rates, but carrying guns acceptable, if approved by police. (Have just read bit in Times Literary Supplement in which George Bernard Shaw, of all people, in 1890s makes I think joking reference to putting revolver in his pocket before going to review musical performance in London’s East End.)

Relieved to find that Illinois is more like Europe than Florida is.

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Jerry Vinokurov 07.18.13 at 8:27 pm

Very unclear, I think. Change that law: there is no evidence in this case who started the confrontation: presumption of innocence?

That’s why I said I don’t know how much difference it would have made in this case. But again: look at the perverse incentives of the law as it currently stands. It’s basically a license to instigate confrontation, because at any moment when you feel threatened you can pull out a gun and use it.

“The jury was explicitly instructed that Zimmerman had no duty to retreat, if he had, in fact, been attacked.” True but irrelevant. Since Z had, by his account, no possibility whatever of retreating when he shot M: argument for self-defence would have been valid even if Florida had no SYG law whatever.

I am not a lawyer, so I won’t pretend that my answer is authoritative in any way, but there’s a pretty big grey area here. There’s a good explication of that grey area here, which, keep in mind, is just someone commenting on the internet, just like us. But at least facially it does not seem entirely correct that the SYG law had nothing to do with the defense.

Ultimately, I think it makes very little sense to excavate the legal details of this particular case. What makes more sense to me is to look at what kinds of actions the law (not just SYG, but effectively unlimited license to carry guns, etc.) incentivizes; the answer to that question is, as the data shows, nothing good whatsoever.

Big Mistake I, 1914-18. Big Mistake II, 1939-45. Big Mistake III expected for many years, fortunately averted so far.

Ah, this was some usage I had not been familiar with.

From European perspective, yes, by Floridan law Z entitled to buy and carry pistol, but Florida very strange place,

I would say that from the US perspective Florida is a pretty strange place too. But it’s sadly not at all uncommon in its intersection of crypto-racism and gun-worship.

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Mao Cheng Ji 07.18.13 at 8:50 pm

“In Europe, even in the more unrestricted times of pistol licences, that would have given you a serious problem.”

Even if the charge was dropped? So, it’s enough for a cop to accuse you of something, and that ruins your reputation forever?

108

Ronan(rf) 07.18.13 at 8:57 pm

It depends, if you were a Prussian prince and you hit a Bavarian copper you’d be fine. But if you were a cobbler in the East End, not so much. So context is important

109

Layman 07.18.13 at 9:01 pm

In the media frenzy of the past few weeks, I recall a lawyer commenting that, had Zimmerman followed Martin using his pickup truck, and in the course of following him managed to run him over, he would surely have been convicted of manslaughter; because the notion that he (in a truck) was threatened by an unarmed pedestrian to the extent that he needed to defend himself with deadly force is absurd. Yet, under the law, Zimmerman may follow Martin on foot with a gun, and shoot him with that gun, and claim self-defense. For me this highlights the absurdity of the law.

Of course this comparison holds true only if you grant that Zimmerman was following or pursuing Martin. I’m aware the defense claimed otherwise, but for me the facts of the case permit no other reasonable conclusion.

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Bruce Wilder 07.18.13 at 11:30 pm

Bringing a gun to a fist fight, and using it with lethal effect, is manslaughter.

One could make the argument that Z, by harassing TM, was the instigator of confrontation, and carrying a loaded gun while undertaking the unjustified confrontation, constituted a kind of culpable negligence or even malevolent intent.

I think Z was in the wrong, as soon as he got out of his car, with a loaded, but hidden pistol. Self-defense is subject to a proportionality qualification. Spitting in a man’s face is an assault, but an assault of that character does not justify a lethal response, or excuse one from a charge of manslaughter for a lethal response.

The effect of SYG, by removing a duty to retreat, muddied the evidentiary waters, regarding indications of whether Z was acting responsibly to avoid a use of lethal force. As earlier commenters have pointed out, it’s a get-out-of-jail-free-card for any sole surviving witness. SYG doesn’t explicitly authorize the disproportionate use of lethal force, but makes it much harder to prove otherwise.

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Martin Bento 07.19.13 at 12:29 am

“: first of all, it (SYG – MB) was relevant because it was in the jury instructions (PDF). The jury was explicitly instructed that Zimmerman had no duty to retreat, if he had, in fact, been attacked.”

I think too much is being read into this. The jury instructions also said the prosecution had to prove that Trayvon Martin was dead, that, if a firearm was used, George Zimmerman had possession of it, etc. Obviously, all that was included because it is part of the law, but that doesn’t mean it is at issue in this case.

As I understand it, for Zimmerman to have a SYG case, Martin would have to be in the process of committing a felony, Zimmerman would have to not be, and Zimmerman would have to have an opportunity to retreat that he did not exercise. Absent SYG, Zimmerman would be expected to exercise that opportunity to retreat and with SYG, he would not. But neither defense nor prosecution argued this, and I don’t see any evidence that supports it. Prior to the fight, neither party was committing a felony. If Martin attacked, it is not clear that Zimmerman had any opportunity to retreat. If Zimmerman attacked, he has no SYG claim regardless.

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Martin Bento 07.19.13 at 12:40 am

I had written the above earlier and forgot to post. I see the discussion had progressed further since. So I will look into some of the more recent arguments, if I have time.

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Main Street Muse 07.19.13 at 12:53 am

“Bringing a gun to a fist fight, and using it with lethal effect, is manslaughter.”

Maybe once upon a time, but not any more, clearly.

“One could make the argument that Z, by harassing TM, was the instigator of confrontation, and carrying a loaded gun while undertaking the unjustified confrontation, constituted a kind of culpable negligence or even malevolent intent.”

Yes. An armed adult in a car trailed an unarmed teen walking home at 7pm. The armed adult got out of his car (and if you read the transcript of his call to non-emergency authorities, it’s clear he’s lying about why he was out of his car), got into an altercation with an unarmed teenager. The guy with the gun won both the fight and the verdict.

I remain stunned that Zimmerman strapped on his piece to head to Target (his reason for being out and in his car that night.) And that it is perfectly legal to go grocery shopping with a gun. (Why? Why do we need this right to bear arms to intrude upon the grocery store?!)

In my adopted state of North Carolina, the legislation is pushing to legalize guns on campuses within the UNC system. I don’t know why this is considered a remotely good idea – in fact, I find the idea of guns on campuses with students filled with alcohol to be terrifying – but it certainly takes time away from creating jobs in a state with one of the highest unemployment rates.

In turning the arms debate away from hunters and toward the “need” for all Americans to arm themselves against the dangers that lurk among us, the NRA has unleashed legalized anarchy.

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Eli Rabett 07.19.13 at 1:06 am

matt 07.17.13 at 12:05 pm
Marc @ 25:

It was the AFL and the CIO in those days. The trade unions were the AFL, and were for all practical counting lily white (there were disagreements about whether Italians were white). The CIO was organized on an industry level, and had elements of social democratic unionism. So yeah, the plumbers, electricians, etc (AFL) didn’t accept black members or apprentices while the auto workers (CIO) did.

115

Main Street Muse 07.19.13 at 1:12 am

Just curious – as far as anyone knows, are guns allowed (concealed in a car) on other campuses? Is NC just “catching up” to this trend or are they leading the way?

116

Mario Diana 07.19.13 at 1:12 am

Have any of you heard of the Roderick Scott acquittal? This is a recent verdict of Not Guilty from a court case centering on a homicide that took place on April 4, outside of Rochester, NY. I’ll summarize it for you, but you’re welcome to do a little googling to find the facts on your own.

Mr. Scott, age 42, heard some kids in his driveway one night, and since there had been a recent rash of break-ins of cars in his neighborhood he called 911. But then, instead of staying safely in his house and waiting for the police to come, he grabbed his .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol and went outside to confront them. His explanation for his action is in these words: “I wanted to stop them before they could get away.”

That ought to sound familiar, no?

Mr. Scott confronted 3 teens. One took off immediately to make an escape. Another, Christopher Cervini, age 17, a young man—or child, depending on your preference when it comes to describing 17-year-olds—charged Mr. Scott, allegedly shouting something along the lines of, “I’ll get him!” Mr. Scott fired twice and killed the teen. The young man had never in his life been in trouble with the law.

Note, NY state has no “stand your ground law.” It’s self-defense laws are nothing like Texas, Florida, or any of the other states often maligned as the Wild West. NY has strict laws governing handguns as well. Mr. Scott was arrested, brought to trial, claimed self-defense, and was acquitted.

Had Mr. Scott not acted “the hero”—à la George Zimmerman—and stayed inside, a 17-year-old boy would still be alive. We have to wonder if Mr. Scott would have gone outside in the first place if he hadn’t had a gun. Now, the circumstances of this case admittedly are not exactly the same as those of the Zimmerman case, but the one thing that we really don’t have to wonder about is why this case was not national news, like the Zimmerman case was.

Roderick Scott is black and the late Christopher Cervini was white.

117

Layman 07.19.13 at 1:50 am

@116 “Now, the circumstances of this case admittedly are not exactly the same as those of the Zimmerman case”

One can only admire such a talent for understatement.

118

shah8 07.19.13 at 2:17 am

Also missing a few pertinent facts, too, and one would be advised to google the case rather than read that link. One should also be advised that this was a cause célébre for white people at the time, and this particular trial is brought up fairly often among Zimmerman partisans, plenty of them rather unsavory.

Just remember, those teens were not minding their own business, walking some with candy and a drink. That shooter clearly caught the teens in the act of trespassing/probable theft, and his story holds up much better than Zimmerman’s wrt to sudden charge of the teen that provoked the gunfire.

119

Mario Diana 07.19.13 at 2:49 am

For the record, I’m happy with the verdicts in both cases. Also, for the record, I’ve encouraged people to google the story themselves. But in any case, going by what the laws of each state allow, Scott was far more aggressive an in the wrong. In NY, we’re not supposed to pll guns on people, cowboy style. Moreover, if you wish to effect a citizen’s arrest, you must explicitly announce,“Citizen’s arrest!” (As corny as that may seem, that’s the law in NY.)

The sad truth in both cases is, irrespective of the actions of the men with the guns, two teens are dead because of their own hotheaded impulsiveness. And howsoever unsavory the comments of some anonymous commenters may be, that has nothing to do with the facts of either case—or, for that matter, the characters of the two troubled teens who met their tragic ends.

If there are any “pertinent” facts we’re missing (perhaps because of my “understatement”), let’s hear them.

120

GeoX 07.19.13 at 4:55 am

The sad truth in both cases is, irrespective of the actions of the men with the guns, two teens are dead because of their own hotheaded impulsiveness.

How lovely to see that Suspiciously Black Teenagers have joined the ranks of rape victims as Acceptably Blamable Victims. Any others we should add to the list, just for completeness’s sake?

121

vasvas 07.19.13 at 8:04 am

“How lovely to see that Suspiciously Black Teenagers have joined the ranks of rape victims as Acceptably Blamable Victims. Any others we should add to the list, just for completeness’s sake?”

One of the teens is white, it’s only a few comments upthread. There is such a thing as too much righteous indignation.

122

Ronan(rf) 07.19.13 at 9:27 am

Mario Diana
Personally, from only reading the article you linked to, I dont have a huge amount of sympathy for Scott. But the obvious main difference is those kids were actually stealing a car, while Martin was walking in the street
Anyway, from my reading, most people here aren’t arguing that Z should have gone to jail, but thay by that by the letter of the law the acuittal was the right decision.

123

Ronan(rf) 07.19.13 at 9:36 am

And just to add, there really doesnt seem to be a huge amount of evidence to back up your line that Martin was ‘a troubled teen’ (any more so than anyone else at that age anyway) All evidence points towards Zimmerman being the ‘troubled’ one in that scenario

124

Mao Cheng Ji 07.19.13 at 9:45 am

” That shooter clearly caught the teens in the act of trespassing/probable theft, and his story holds up much better than Zimmerman’s wrt to sudden charge of the teen that provoked the gunfire.”

I googled. Apparently, “trespassing/probable theft” is not very relevant to the claim of self-defense. And the prosecutor “told jurors that Cervini was shot from behind which proves the teen was not coming towards Scott at the time of the shooting.”

In fact, both stories are murky, but at least Zimmerman was clearly involved in a brawl with Martin before he shot him, and had some injuries, while Scott just simply came out and shot Cervini.

http://rochester.ynn.com/content/top_stories/490755/awaiting-verdict-in-roderick-scott-trial–911-call-released/

What causes the outrage, in Z’s case, is that he had become suspicious of Martin in the first place. But if we were to move this far by the chain of causality, then his lawyers should be able to go even farther and make the behaviorist “society made me do it” defense. What’s the point.

125

Collin Street 07.19.13 at 9:51 am

@121: All teenagers look black in the dark.

126

Ronan(rf) 07.19.13 at 10:01 am

Sorry for triple posting and for repeating above what shah8 had said (which Ive only seen now), but Mario I just want to break down my point a little
To my eyes the problem with your linked article is that the cases really arent that similar, except in a very superficial way (it involves a man shooting a teen of a different race) The specifics are completely different. The point about race in the Martin case is that Z assumed Martin was engaged in criminiality b/c of his race, even though there was no evidence to support that assumption. In the Scott case he saw them breaking into the goddamn car! he wasnt profiling the kids, and he wasnt making assumptions.

Your argument that Scott was more guilty in NY than Zimmerman was in Florida is neither here nor there (even taking your analysis as correct) b/c no one is really arguing that Z should have been found guilty by the letter of the law. Just that he’s an idiot,and a coward, and probably a bit of a racist.

127

Tony Lynch 07.19.13 at 11:04 am

So strap on the (loaded/ready)gun, threaten the wife, and when she knocks you down, kill her.

128

Trader Joe 07.19.13 at 11:29 am

@116
Several have posted valid distinctions. The other one not mentioned was that Scott was on his own property and defending it. The Castle Doctrine is the common-law precursor to many of the SYG laws that many states have adopted. In general it extends greater protections to a person who is defending his home or property when he is either within his home or within the boundaries of his land (depends on state).

The interesting thing is, NY doesn’t formally recognize the Castle Doctrine and to the extent it does it has a “reasonable force” provision which my guess isn’t really applicable to .40 caliber automatic weapons. It also only applies in the event of home invasion (i.e. within the threshold of the home), not out in the yard where the actions took place – the notion being “self defense” not crime prevention.

Scott acted to prevent or limit a crime, its unlikely he acted in self defense and the decision (acquittal) should be viewed as every bit as bad as Zimmerman.

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Mao Cheng Ji 07.19.13 at 12:40 pm

” The other one not mentioned was that Scott was on his own property and defending it.”

Actually, he crossed the street and shot the kid in the neighbor’s driveway.

130

Consumatopia 07.19.13 at 12:55 pm

“Now, the circumstances of this case admittedly are not exactly the same as those of the Zimmerman case, but the one thing that we really don’t have to wonder about is why this case was not national news, like the Zimmerman case was.”

As far as national attention goes, here’s a big factor: “Mr. Scott was arrested”. Zimmerman’s case didn’t get national attention until weeks had gone by with no arrest.

To make the claim that a white Martin–a white kid going out to buy candy, stalked as a criminal in his own neighborhood by a gun-carrying wannabe cop, while his killer was never even arrested by the cops–would have received less attention is absurdly transparent race-baiting. That you “encouraged people to google the story themselves” doesn’t make it any less dishonest for you to claim the most pertinent difference re:national attention is that “Roderick Scott is black and the late Christopher Cervini was white.”

“But in any case, going by what the laws of each state allow”

“what the laws of each state allow” is part of the outrage.

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Andrew F. 07.19.13 at 4:56 pm

I understand the sense, and share the sense, that Zimmerman did something wrong here, and that his judgments and decisions contributed to the sequence of events resulting in Martin’s death.

However, the question from a legal vantage in self-defense arguments is usually whether, at the time deadly force was used, the defendant had (i) a reasonable belief that he or another person was in imminent danger of death, great bodily harm, or becoming the victim of some list or category of felonies, and (ii) a reasonable belief that deadly force was necessary to prevent that danger from occurring. As part of (ii), many states impose a duty to retreat, which requires an individual to retreat rather than use deadly force if he can do so with complete safety (with various exceptions).

The justification of self-defense is not always available, however. For example, under a felony murder charge in many states (felony murder occurs when the defendant commits a felony, and the course of that commission causes the death of another – for example, if two men attempt to resist arrest by firing at the police, and the police, in returning fire, accidentally kill another police officer, the two men may be charged with felony murder), the justification of self-defense ordinarily may not be used. So, for instance, suppose a kidnapper held his victim in an apartment, and that, while doing so, a number of the victim’s friends kicked down the door of the apartment, charged the kidnapper, and were shot and killed by the kidnapper. Self-defense would here not be a defense to a felony murder charge, even if the kidnapper was in reasonable fear for his life and reasonably believed that deadly force was the only way to save it.

What many seem to want to impose on Zimmerman’s actions is some variation on the felony murder rule. They want to say that Zimmerman acted recklessly or negligently, that his actions caused the death of Martin, and that Zimmerman should not be able to claim self-defense when his recklessness or negligence created the situation in which self-defense became necessary.

In other words, even if we don’t know who assaulted the other first, even if Zimmerman did fire while in reasonable fear for his life, we know that Zimmerman followed Martin, that Zimmerman left his vehicle while armed, that a fight ensued, and that Zimmerman shot Martin – and this should be enough to charge Zimmerman with something, if not manslaughter.

The problem is that such a rule would imply that, where a person places herself, by lawful though ill advised actions, in jeopardy of becoming the victim of an unlawful homicide, aggravated assault, rape, etc., she may then not be able to claim self-defense as a justification.

All that said, I do think that states with concealed carry laws – at a minimum – should create laws that impose additional duties to avoid physical confrontations when any person involved is carrying a firearm. The duty would be imposed on all persons, whether armed or not. So an unarmed person who assaults a person known to be armed would be as much in violation of that duty as an armed person who, though not using his firearm, assaults an unarmed person. Violations would be felonies, and would carry a high maximum sentence.

I’d also want each firearm carried pursuant to a concealed carry license to contain video and audio devices that would record a continuing interval of time, in addition to automatically saving and transmitting to a data center any data recorded over a two hour window centered at the time that the gun was fired. The devices could be disabled temporarily at firing ranges by authorized personnel using one-time codes, the disabling effect of which would expire within a short period of time or if the firearm exits the range before the effect of the code has expired. Tampering with the devices would be a felony.

These devices would be as much for the protection of the licensed carrier as for everyone else, by ensuring that the licensed carrier will have ample evidence by which to prove the lawful use of the firearm, should that ever become necessary. Call it the Firearm Responsibility Evidence Enhancing Devices Or Machines Act (FREEDOM Act).

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Mario Diana 07.19.13 at 5:24 pm

Andrew F. @ #131

All that said, I do think that states with concealed carry laws – at a minimum – should create laws that impose additional duties to avoid physical confrontations when any person involved is carrying a firearm.

Andrew, even though I consider myself a strong advocate of gun rights, and so my opinion may surprise some who have made up their minds about people like me, I agree with you. Possession of a gun escalates a situation. Let’s suppose, for the sake of illustration, Mr. Zimmerman started the fight, though left his gun holstered. If, while wrestling on the ground, Mr. Martin saw the gun on Zimmerman, I think he would have every right to attempt to take control of it. If you’re in an altercation—even if it seems on the face of it a simple fistfight—there is no way a gun can be safely ignored. A gun in a situation like that is, essentially, a loose cannon.

I am for carry laws, but I think anybody arguing for such laws has to acknowledge that carrying a gun is a huge responsibility to avoid conflict in the first place. Now, how this plays out on a case by case basis is arguable.

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Martin Bento 07.19.13 at 6:10 pm

Regarding the Roderick case, according to http://rochester.ynn.com/content/top_stories/490755/awaiting-verdict-in-roderick-scott-trial–911-call-released/, Cervini and the others were not stealing the car. They were drunk and they were rifling the car for cigarettes. Extremely petty theft. The article is not clear whether they broke in to the car to do this. This is not as innocent an act as buying Skittles, but it is a hell of a thing to lose your life over. The fact of possible petty theft makes no obvious difference to the self-defense claim that I can see. It would, perhaps, if NY were an SYG state (and stealing cigarettes a felony), but it is not. And unless you would have been just dandy with the whole Trayvon Martin thing had Martin been found with shoplifted cigarettes, I don’t think the possible petty theft makes much difference to moral evaluation of the cases.

The Scott case does appear to be worse in several respects: 1) Scott came out with his gun drawn and by his own account had a bullet chambered before he was even threatened. 2) Scott did clearly come out intending to apprehend the teenagers. 3) Cervini did not actually assault Scott, but only ran toward him and said something threatening, according to Scott. 4) According to the prosecution, Scott shot Cervini the first time in the back, weakening the self-defense claim. 5) Scott shot Cervini twice. It would seem once with the threat of more should certainly be sufficient to remove any threat Cervini posed. Perhaps Cervini would have survived a single shot.

I think a lot of claims have been made regarding the Zimmerman case, both here and elsewhere, and one of the most ubiquitous has been that the criminal justice system would never have acquitted Zimmerman had he been black and Martin white. The Scott case would seem to stand as a valid counter-example to that claim.

Which surprises me actually. I do think there is a lot of racism in how the criminal justice system is applied.

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Consumatopia 07.19.13 at 6:17 pm

Re:guns and escalation, it isn’t merely once the fight has started it’s defensible to reach for the other guys’ gun. Even while it’s still at the verbal stage, if the other guy is following and confronting you aggressively, if you see the gun and think violence is imminent, it might make sense for you to start it. Guns work from a distance, fists do not, so a gun-less combatant might decide to close that distance before its too late. Even if that’s inadvisable, it’s certainly understandable why someone would think that way, and therefore it should be considered reckless endangerment to put someone in that situation.

The core problem we have are these situations in which both parties could claim self-defense for killing the other one. Creating those situations should be a crime. Perhaps in some cases both sides acted to create it–in which case both sides, or the surviving side, should be punished for that.

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Layman 07.19.13 at 7:24 pm

@113 “This is not as innocent an act as buying Skittles, but it is a hell of a thing to lose your life over.”

Of course. If ‘just’ means anything, the outcome in both cases was surely unjust. But both being unjust does not mean both are the same. Unless we want to add to Zimmerman’s unbelievable defense the additional assertions that 1) he was in his house minding his own business (rather than trolling the neighborhood looking for ‘suspicious’ people who most often turned out to be young black men), 2) he observed Martin trying to break into his car (rather than observing Martin walking on a sidewalk & talking on a cell phone) , 3) he was not armed at the time he saw Martin and only armed himself after seein Martin engaged in a crime against his own property (rather than being habitually armed with a concealed weapon whenever he went looking for trouble, or apparently whenever he went anywhere at all), 4) Martin was accompanied by 2 other people (rather than alone), 5) he observed Martin and those two others having successfully gotten into a neighbor’s car (rather than never observing any criminal act by Martin), 6) his weapon was drawn and observable to Martin and its presence and threat was insufficient to deter an attack by Martin (rather than being hidden from and unknow to Martin at the time Zimmerman decided to pursue him at night in the dark).

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john c. halasz 07.19.13 at 7:58 pm

7) Roderick called the police after the shooting to report himself and calmly and accurately recounted what had happened. 8) Roderick was charged with murder by the prosecutor, only to have the charge reduced to manslaughter by a grand jury. 9) Roderick was tried before a 12 member jury, which deliberated for 19 hours. Roderick didn’t benefit from any SYG law, and testified credibly on his own behalf. (It couldn’t be determined which bullet struck first). 10) Cervini was found to be legally drunk, with traces of marijuana and methamphetamines in his blood. 11) Cervini was observed in the act of committing a felony and was being detained at gun point until the police arrived, who had already been called. 12) It was 3:30 AM and rainy and windy, not 7:15 PM and well-lit. And so forth.

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Layman 07.19.13 at 8:40 pm

Another thing which struck me about this trial is the extent to which it relied on the ‘testimony’ of Zimmerman without exposing Zimmerman to cross-examination. Both the defense and the prosecution introduced a number of statements by Zimmerman – statements volunteered by Zimmerman to the police & the media. Zimmerman’s self-defense argument was essentially presented in Zimmerman’s own words, yet Zimmerman never took the stand to utter those words. The contradictions between his words and the established facts could not be challenged directly; only obliquely, by counsel argument and inference. Zimmerman gets the benefit of claiming self-defense without ever having to testify to the facts in the case. Seems crazy to me, really.

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adam.smith 07.19.13 at 9:06 pm

Zimmerman gets the benefit of claiming self-defense without ever having to testify to the facts in the case. Seems crazy to me, really.

nonono. Regardless of how upset you are about the Zimmerman verdict, hands off the fifth amendment.
Compelling defendants to testify in their own trial would – among other issues – add yet another way in which less educated folks are disadvantaged by the legal system.

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Layman 07.19.13 at 9:29 pm

@138

I am in no way suggesting Zimmerman be compelled to testify. The remedy, if there is one, is to reconsider the admissibility of some forms of ‘evidence’. Animations created by the defense team which assert Zimmerman’s version of the facts, but which can’t be cross-examined, aren’t evidence.

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js. 07.20.13 at 5:00 am

What many seem to want to impose on Zimmerman’s actions is some variation on the felony murder rule.

Rather than attempting to read people’s minds, you might want to, umm, read their words.

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Louis Lemire 07.23.13 at 12:49 pm

I do not see how getting one’s ass kicked for provoking a fight is grounds for murder.

Z wanted a confrontation, he got it. That a 17 year was likely getting the best of him does not justify murder.

There was NO evidence that whatever TM did to Z was life threatening. For me, that is all I need to know.

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musical mountaineer 07.24.13 at 1:40 am

Thanks to Corey Robin for posting on this topic. I don’t have anything I want to add to the discussion, just thanks for the post.

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