Religion

There’s a Wrong Way to Talk About Trayvon

Saturday night was a heartbreaking, if not surprising, one for many of us, when George Zimmerman walked away to a legally consequence-free life after having killed an unarmed teenage boy. He currently fears the same vigilante justice he so unceremoniously doled out. As of right now, the NRA has made no calls for young black men to arm themselves in self-defense against vigilantes.

Zimmerman, on the other hand, got to take his gun home.
Zimmerman, on the other hand, got to take his gun home.

If you take issue with my use of the term “vigilantes,” let me fix it for you. I meant “Neighborhood Watch” types who violate their own rules and, if I might venture to suggest, have personal histories that render them terrible candidates for gun ownership.

Others have covered the case better than I can. Bitch has covered six different perspectives on the matter and there are countless other excellent ones. Not among those excellent ones are articles with completely clueless, insensitive titles — titles and content that folks have gone out of their way to defend on the grounds that the title and content of the piece are “factual.”

I repeat: not only is there an article with a title like “The George Zimmerman jury reached the right verdict” on an atheist website, but there exist people who are invested in defending it because it is made of facts.

On the face of it, sure. To say that the verdict reached was legally sound, correct as per the law, in accordance with Stand Your Ground in Florida — that’s all fine. Ta-Nehisi Coates, an incredibly well-known writer and activist on matters including race, knows that the law was followed in the verdict and explains the whys and hows very well. Avicenna at Freethought Blogs wrote all about how the verdict was legally correct, as did Think Progress.

There is a way to talk about how Zimmerman’s verdict was legally sound that doesn’t utterly disregard and disrespect people of color. People of color, like the ones I’ve mentioned above, have been doing so. Indeed, so have those white people who have been paying attention to how the “justice” system serves certain people in certain ways and is far from the neutral(ish) body many would love to imagine it to be.

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The difference is in the approach and the context. A context where the Stand Your Ground law is applied in a racially-biased fashion, where memes like this horrendously racist one make the rounds in the wake of the acquittal of a killer, where reality tells us that race matters whether we like it or not.

The approach of titling a piece that way, especially with its usage of the word “right” (a term that has moral implications), then, is clueless given the context in which it exists. Whether the author intended it to provoke or not, it hit all the wrong notes. On a day when the country was in mourning for a young honor student whose life was taken from him in cold blood, the author approached the matter in a way that utterly disregarded context.

A Utah vigil for Trayvon.
A Utah vigil for Trayvon.

There’s nothing “factual” about writing in a vacuum. The last time I checked, there was no requirement to check in one’s ability to grasp nuance and context at the door when entering into the hallowed halls of (dis)organized atheism.

Why am I fixating on this piece? Because it represents exactly what is wrong with the conversation around racism in general society — a wrongness that seems, to me at least, to be amplified in the white-dominated spaces of skepticism and atheism. Think Atheist carried the piece I’m addressing. The notoriously atheist-dominated Reddit failed to impress, as usual. Those atheist, humanist, and/or skeptical activists and laypeople with whom I am connected on Facebook had to do Racism 101 over and over again, sometimes to the point of un-friending. Too many of us tired on Twitter trying to explain, over and over again, that racism is A Thing, and one that is not the exclusive province of the KKK.

People of color do not have the luxury of ignoring the context from which emerged the verdict that allowed a man to walk after stalking and killing an unarmed minor. White people might often escape this awareness, but that’s where education comes in. Anyone writing on the Internet has access to a wealth of information, perspectives, and resources at their fingertips.

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Here are your tools. For the love of all that is noodly and delicious, use them.

And until more people do, I’m going to retreat to a corner and cringe until someone tells my face and my palm to get a room.

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Heina Dadabhoy

Heina Dadabhoy [hee-na dad-uh-boy] spent her childhood as a practicing Muslim who never in her right mind would have believed that she would grow up to be an atheist feminist secular humanist, or, in other words, a Skepchick. She has been an active participant in atheist organizations and events in and around Orange County, CA since 2007. She is currently writing A Skeptic's Guide to Islam. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

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52 Comments

  1. Okay, so let’s state here exactly why people wanted Zimmerman to get free, it’s because most people when they saw pictures of Trayvon were thinking: “That little punk nigger deserved it”. They didn’t like the black culture represented by his face, and so in the minds of many, this was a deserved lynching.

    The mindsets of many Americans haven’t really changed much since the time of segregation. Most white people honestly just want nothing to do with black people in their daily lives and this was a catharsis for many white Americans.

    Truly sick shit.

    1. Some people — and you might be right, most — wanted him free for that reason.

      Others, myself included, did not really want him free (because he seems like a horrible person in many ways … allegedly violent, allegedly sexually molested his neighbor, definitely carried a concealed weapon and killed an unarmed teenager…), but did think that there was insufficient evidence to remove the possibility that he had a legitimate claim to self defense from the realm of reasonableness. I wish there had been another law that he had broken so that he would not be set free (like, carrying a concealed weapon outside his home), but unfortunately it’s not clear that he broke any other laws (carrying a concealed weapon is, unfortunately, legal).

      1. but did think that there was insufficient evidence to remove the possibility that he had a legitimate claim to self defense from the realm of reasonableness.

        Except that Trayvon Martin is not here to tell us about his own claim of self-defense, where a man he did not know stalked and accosted him at night. After being told not to by the 911 dispatcher. So my question is how does this get turned around so that Zimmerman was the one in danger when he is the one that instigated the situation and he is the one that had a weapon? How is it that Martin fighting him is not self-defense from Zimmerman’s behavior towards him?

        I’m really sick of this fucked up table-turning trick that people like you are doing where somehow Zimmerman’s instigation and the fact that he was out looking for trouble becomes grounds for self-defense because someone he was following and threatened fought back.

        The system is fucked up and it is broken. I hope the parents sue his ass in a civil suit and that the federal government brings civil rights charges against him. But I won’t hold my breath that those things will turn out any better.

        1. Unfortunately, the way the law was written, it looks as if you are both right. In other words, if Martin had happened to be armed, and if he’d shot Zimmerman and later claimed that he felt threatened by the creepy guy followed him, he might also have had a good legal case.

          The combination of legal weapons-carrying and stand-your-ground laws is going to inevitably lead to cases where two supposedly “law abiding citizens” who are both packing heat get into a wild-west style shootout in the street because they both see the other one’s gun and panic. Once that happens in a case unclouded by race, like this one, will people see what a bad law this is.

          None of this is to deny that racist law enforcement and racist Floridians made this whole thing much worse.

          1. if Martin had happened to be armed, and if he’d shot Zimmerman and later claimed that he felt threatened by the creepy guy followed him, he might also have had a good legal case.

            Except that he most likely wouldn’t have because he’s black.

        2. Zimmerman wasn’t actually told not to do anything, he was told he didn’t have to do anything.

          Zimmerman is the one with wounds consistent with being the victim of a physical assault. Martin is the one with wounds consistent with being the perpetrator of a physical assault.

          Why is anyone supposed to draw the conclusion that Martin is the innocent party here? Is there any reason other than that it fits a certain narrative?

          1. dr. dr.’s response to koberulz is an example of the “anyone who believes the law was applied appropriately is a racist” mindset. As much as it makes one’s heart hurt to see Trayvon’s family suffering while Zimmerman is acquitted, given the conflicting evidence presented to the jury how could it have gone any other way? George Zimmerman received the full benefit of trial due process and his rights as outlined by the US Constitution: The jury considered him innocent until proven guilty; the jury considered the evidence instead of their emotion when deliberating; the jury did not consider any other alleged qualities about Zimmerman (see donboc / July 15, 2013, 6:46 pm above); based on this the jury concluded the prosecution did not prove Zimmerman’s guilt (of the crime he had been accused of) “beyond a shadow of a doubt.”

            If we are skeptics we have to concede based on what we know (which is only what was presented at the trial as reported in the media–the same media that does shit like this) it is impossible to determine with certainty that George Zimmerman is a violent, homicidal racist. It is impossible to determine with certainty that George Zimmerman secretly hoped for a chance to kill someone in the performance of his duties as a neighborhood watch volunteer. While we can opine that Zimmerman used extremely poor judgement in deciding to follow Trayvon that night, we cannot say with certainty why he did so, or that he instigated the violence that resulted in Trayvon’s death. The fact that Trayvon isn’t here to tell us his side of the story, while tragic and emotionally wrenching, is not grounds to assume evil intent on the part of Zimmerman.

            The problem in this case isn’t that Zimmerman benefited from the system and was acquitted, the problem is that so many black people DO NOT enjoy the same benefits from the system. Who here believes that denying Zimmerman the benefits of due process and the protections enumerated in the Bill of Rights will somehow make it better for the next young black man standing before a jury accused of a crime?

          2. Zimmerman is the one with wounds consistent with being the victim of a physical assault. Martin is the one with wounds consistent with being the perpetrator of a physical assault.

            Oh, I see. So a fucking GUNSHOT WOUND is consistent with being the perpetrator of a physical assault. Got it.

            Why is anyone supposed to draw the conclusion that Martin is the innocent party here? Is there any reason other than that it fits a certain narrative?

            I cannot believe I have to explain this to you. The reason Martin is the innocent party here is because Zimmerman is the one who instigated the whole event by following and accosting Martin. If Zimmerman had not done that, Martin would not have fought with him. How can you seriously not see that? Me thinks your racism is blinding you! On top of that, listen to the way he was talking to the 9-1-1 operator. He was viewing Martin as a representation of all black kids. Zimmerman went out looking for someone to stalk that night–a black someone because he is a racist fuckface.

          3. @Mark Sletten:

            dr. dr.’s response to koberulz is an example of the “anyone who believes the law was applied appropriately is a racist” mindset.

            No, it is the perspective of those of us who are completely appalled by the utterly broken state of our “justice” system and the fact that people like koberulz think Martin deserved to be murdered because he was a black kid who attacked someone (despite the fact that that someone was stalking him at night).

            blah blah blah the jury did it right they didn’t have another choice blah blah blah

            Again, not the point. The point is that a system is rigged against people of color (specifically black people). See my link above.

            it is impossible to determine with certainty that George Zimmerman is a violent, homicidal racist.

            Except it’s not. He is violent (he was accused of domestic violence in the past (link in post), his neighbors complained about his aggressive tactics in the past, he carried a gun and went out and killed a kid walking in the neighborhood). He is homicidal (he killed Martin, that was never in dispute). He is a racist (see here and here). So, it is not “impossible” to determine that he is a violent, homicidal racist. It is quite possible if you look at his behavior in the past and don’t try to pull this hyperskeptic bullshit where we need a peer-reviewed quantitative study and magical access to his mind before we can draw conclusions about Zimmerman’s character.

            While we can opine that Zimmerman used extremely poor judgement in deciding to follow Trayvon that night, we cannot say with certainty why he did so, or that he instigated the violence that resulted in Trayvon’s death.

            I don’t agree. I can and will say it with certainty. He did it because he is a vigilante who has a fear of people of color moving into what he perceives as his space. This is quite clear if you look at his past behaviors and complaints from his neighbors.

            The fact that Trayvon isn’t here to tell us his side of the story, while tragic and emotionally wrenching, is not grounds to assume evil intent on the part of Zimmerman.

            No one is doing that! We are drawing our conclusions based on the past behavior of Zimmerman. The conclusion we are drawing from Martin’s inability to share his side of the story is that with Zimmerman getting off without so much as a slap on the wrist, the system is broken. Research on this topic backs that position up (again, see the link I posted in comment above).

            The problem in this case isn’t that Zimmerman benefited from the system and was acquitted, the problem is that so many black people DO NOT enjoy the same benefits from the system.

            You don’t seem to understand how those two things are connected such that the way you phrased it is nonsensical. Zimmerman benefited from the system because it is set up so that people of color (specifically black people) do not enjoy the same benefits. So, the problem in this case is that Zimmerman benefited from the system because he is not a person of color.

            Who here believes that denying Zimmerman the benefits of due process and the protections enumerated in the Bill of Rights will somehow make it better for the next young black man standing before a jury accused of a crime?

            No one believes that and no one is arguing that. Get your head out of your ass.

          4. Except it’s not. He is violent (he was accused of domestic violence in the past (link in post), his neighbors complained about his aggressive tactics in the past, he carried a gun and went out and killed a kid walking in the neighborhood). He is homicidal (he killed Martin, that was never in dispute). He is a racist (see here and here). So, it is not “impossible” to determine that he is a violent, homicidal racist. It is quite possible if you look at his behavior in the past and don’t try to pull this hyperskeptic bullshit where we need a peer-reviewed quantitative study and magical access to his mind before we can draw conclusions about Zimmerman’s character.

            I can post links to media reports that offer opposing (and more flattering) views of Zimmerman’s character. For example, it’s been reported he mentored black children and that he dated a black woman. As a skeptic, I’m obliged to admit these “facts,” even if true, do not prove Zimmerman is not a racist–just as the reports you mentioned, even if true, do not prove he is. Our opinions of Zimmerman’s character, however, do not matter. The fact is none of the “evidence” you offer of Zimmerman’s character was presented at trial, which means either the prosecutor or the judge deemed it irrelevant or immaterial. Why would anyone–especially a skeptic–assume you are more qualified to offer an opinion regarding this material’s probative value than the judge or prosecutor?

            No one believes that and no one is arguing that.

            So then you are saying based on the evidence presented at the trial you don’t believe George Zimmerman should have been convicted of a crime? If so, then we are in agreement!

          5. The above was a direct response to dr. dr. professor’s accusing me of the ‘that nigger deserved it’ mentality. I let the page sit too long before responding, and didn’t realise others had posted.

            “Oh, I see. So a fucking GUNSHOT WOUND is consistent with being the perpetrator of a physical assault. Got it.”
            Unless you think he got the gunshot wound *before* he started throwing punches…

            “The reason Martin is the innocent party here is because Zimmerman is the one who instigated the whole event by following and accosting Martin.”
            Following him was not illegal. We don’t know whether he ‘accosted’ Martin or not.

            “people like koberulz think Martin deserved to be murdered because he was a black kid who attacked someone”
            Or, y’know, that there’s insufficient evidence to conclude that he was murdered in the first place. And nobody was stalking anybody, at least in the legal sense.

  2. What aggravates me is that I see many minorities black-bashing. Lot of my family from the minority side loves talking about how Trayvon was a thug and how blacks attack lots of other people. Even some of my mexican friends are saying this.

    Living While Black is a crime it seems…

    1. I don’t think any possible thugishness of Trayvon Martin is relevant to this case at all. For the record, I don’t have any reason to think that Martin was a “thug,” whatever that means.

      But I don’t think that it has been established beyond a reasonable doubt that Trayvon Martin did not start the physical altercation.

      Being racist is not against the law. Getting out of one’s car — even after the police dispatcher says it’s not necessary to do so — is not against the law. Even following a person is not against the law. Sexually molesting a minor IS against the law, but that wasn’t what this trial was about.

      So what we know is that one man had wounds on the back of his head and a broken nose, and the other young man had no injuries except a fatal gunshot wound.

      I think it’s highly problematic that it’s legal to walk around with a concealed killing machine on one’s person. But, unfortunately, that IS legal. And if one is in legitimate fear for one’s life in a physical altercation that one did not start, it is lawful to use force, including deadly force, in self defense.

      I don’t know that that’s what happened. It’s entirely possible that George Zimmerman started the physical altercation and therefore forfeited self defense as a legitimate defense against the charges of murder and manslaughter. But without eyewitnesses to establish whether this in fact occurred, I don’t think it was established that it is unreasonable to consider the possibility that Zimmerman did NOT start the physical altercation, and therefore had a legitimate claim of self defense.

  3. I appreciate this. I’ve found the discussion of Zimmerman’s race highly problematic (coming at the same time as the abhorrently racist portrayals of Trayvon Martin), but in the last few days I’ve been seeing some vary eloquent stuff that does not rely on that kind of thing.

  4. If Zimmerman was innocent then Flordia state law was guilty.

    Zimmerman is only one of the people responsible for Treyvon’s death. Every person who supported the NRA, every person who supported the ‘stand your ground law’ is also responsible. I consider NRA members to be worse than pedophiles. Every week Josh Marshall has at least one, sometimes three stories of a toddler killing a sibling with a gun. Pedophiles only inflict mental and physical cruelty. NRA members cause tens of thousands of deaths every year.

    Membership of the Klu Klux Klan is no longer socially sanctioned in polite society. Membership of the NRA should be held to be equivalent.

    And yes, I am 100% serious here. No hyperbole.

      1. That piece illustrates exactly why we are so angry at the hyper skeptics.

        Hey, the law system has just made a verdict that it is fair for a white man to kill a black teenager just because he *thinks* he is a threat. But for Popehat the biggest problem here is that people are bashing the justice system when it is the better alternative. Really?

        1. I don’t think the law said it was okay for Zimmerman to kill Martin because he thinks he is a threat.

          I think the law says that a person who legitimately fears that his life is in jeopardy and who did not start the physical altercation is allowed to use force, including deadly force, in self defense. And the jury found — correctly, as far as I can tell — that the possibility that Zimmerman did not start the physical altercation and legitimately feared for his life as his head was being hit against the sidewalk and his nose broken could not be ruled out beyond a reasonable doubt.

      2. That piece is exactly what makes me angry about hyperskeptics regarding this case.
        An unarmed black kid has been killed, Zimmerman himself has said he killed him. The case sets precedent that it is perfectly ok to get you killed if you “look scary”. This completely screws up anyone who isn’t the “standard” white dude.

        And yet, Popehat’s main concern about this is that people are bashing the legal system. Really?

        1. mods: Please ignore (don’t approve) the comments by “openId5” , allsocial got confused and thought that my openid with “https:” is different from it with “http:”, also delete this comment. Thank you!

  5. “The approach of titling a piece that way, especially with its usage of the word “right” (a term that has moral implications)”

    It implies that they reached the verdict the evidence pointed to, nothing more.

  6. All this handwaving about how the jury had no other choice and “reached the verdict the evidence pointed to” is bullshit.

    Here is some info from Anderson Cooper’s interview with a juror last night. Highlights (keep in mind this is a jury of 6 white people):

    – The juror thought the medical examiner was credible, but the witnesses for Trayvon Martin were not credible.
    – She insists that it was Zimmerman’s voice on the 9-1-1 call (despite even experts saying it was too hard to tell–so much for evidence!)
    – She believes Martin threw the first punch and that Zimmerman feared for his life (despite the fact that Martin stalked and approached him at night and had a gun)
    – She felt both Zimmerman’s and Martin’s parents would say anything to support their kids (ZOMG THIS IS SO MUCH BASED IN EVIDENCE!)
    She does not think race had anything to do with the case–yes, really. Only an ignorant and privileged white person could think that. And that’s not based in evidence, that’s actually contrary to the evidence.
    – Race did not come up in the jury deliberations. See above.

    Her comments do not portray someone only concerned with the evidence. It shows someone who has built a narrative in their mind that is quite context free and someone who reached conclusions about witnesses based not on the content of their words but on their perceived character.

    So cut the “it’s what the evidence demanded” horseshit.

    1. This is what I don’t get. It seems it doesn’t matter what evidence is presented, you are convinced that the jury decision was racially motivated. That doesn’t seem to be a skeptical position to me.

      Sure, I’m skeptical of the claims that race wasn’t a factor for the jury, but I also feel it is possible that it wasn’t.

      Here’s the problem, as I see it. I am perfectly willing to accept, for arguments sake, that Zimmerman is a bigoted, paranoid, armed asshole. The evidence seems to support that. I am perfectly willing to believe that his preconceptions led him to see Martin as a threat and a potential criminal, even though he wasn’t. I am perfectly willing to believe that Zimmerman took a gun and stalked Martin. And I believe Zimmerman was in the wrong in all of this. He didn’t break any laws doing so, but was still in the wrong.

      Unfortunately, the whole murder/self-defence question boils down to what happened in the last minute of Martin’s life, in the dark, with no witnesses. It’s Zimmerman’s word against a dead mans, and the physical evidence collected didn’t clarify matters to the point of “beyond reasonable doubt”. Zimmerman says he was attacked and was in fear of his life, and Martin cannot speak from the grave to rebut that claim.

      Even if Zimmerman’s claim is correct, and Martin did attack him first (which, by the way, might be completely justified, as Martin’s phone conversation indicated he felt he was being followed by a stranger with a gun), even if Zimmerman truly felt his life was in danger because of the fight, it remains the case (in my opinion) that Zimmerman brought about this situation by overreacting to Martin’s presence and acting the way he did. If he had not followed Martin, after being told he didn’t need to by the 911 dispatcher, if he had not acted like such a paranoid asshole vigilante, Martin would be alive now. But it’s not against the law to be a paranoid asshole, even a racist paranoid asshole.

      If there had been a witness, if the physical evidence had been less equivocal, then it wouldn’t have been so much Zimmerman’s word against…nothing. And he might have been convicted.

      I think it’s reasonable to say that Martin was stalked and ultimately killed in part because he was black, and that race definitely led a role in his death. I’m unconvinced Zimmerman was acquitted because Martin was black.

    2. “She believes Martin threw the first punch and that Zimmerman feared for his life (despite the fact that Martin stalked and approached him at night and had a gun)”

      The physical evidence is consistent with this account. We have no idea when Martin became aware that the gun existed, or what Zimmerman did prior to punches being thrown.

    3. The jury might have reached the right verdict for the wrong reason. Or that particular juror might have. (Or they might have reached the wrong verdict. I happen to think it’s a shame that a piece of $h!# like GZ remains free, but as far as I can tell the jury did reach the correct verdict given the law.

  7. The special problem with racist assholes in the skeptic/atheist communities is that they have practice at shielding themselves behind a false mask of objectivity. They pretend to a cold reading of the facts, and use language to match, but they are really doing no such thing. They cherry pick the facts that suit them, ignore and dismiss the facts that don’t fit their narrative, and use other fairly obvious tricks to disguise the seething hate in their minds. They’ll claim that it is impossible to know anything negative about Zimmerman despite the facts on record, while claiming to know all kinds of things about Martin’s behavior the night he was murdered. Of course, they’ll never admit that their assumptions about Martin are based in their racist biases, because they’ve convinced themselves that taking the title “skeptic” someone transmutes their bullshit into gold nuggets of objective wisdom.

    1. Wow, you must be some kind of mind reader. This sort of blithe, speculative, self-righteous accusation about other people’s beliefs and intent–rather like the kind that put innocent blacks in prison I image–provide an excellent example of the need for due process.

  8. This is a tough issue. And certainly, it’s racially-charged. However, a couple of points, I think:

    We will never really know what happened. Martin knew, he’s gone. Zimmerman knew, but memory is malleable over time and he’s no doubt shaped the memories to a way that suits him. There is no way of knowing for certain what happened. And that’s how trials work – the evidence is presented and the jury comes to the best decision they can. Is it a flawed system? Maybe. It’s the system we have.

    The jury agrees (as do most people, it seems) that Martin physically attacked Zimmerman first. Zimmerman’s injuries are consistent with this. It seems a reasonable assumption. If Martin attacked Zimmerman first, it does seem reasonable to say that Zimmerman was defending himself.

    Did Zimmerman provoke the attack? That’s really hard to say. Zimmerman followed Martin, may have talked to (or shouted things) at him. Martin probably didn’t know that Zimmerman had a gun (’cause if he did, would he have attacked him unarmed? Would anyone who is unarmed attack someone with a gun?).

    So, was Martin’s attack on Zimmerman justified? I’m really struggling with this. I can’t think of anything anyone would say to me that would justify me physically attacking them. If they shout some racist things at me, well, they’re an asshole, but they don’t deserve my physical attack. If I fear for my life, running would really be a better choice (especially if I’m a young athelete, like Martin, vs. an older, chunkier guy like Zimmerman).

    I think Zimmerman was acting like a dick. He shouldn’t have done what he did. But I also think that Martin’s escalation to physically attacking him was wrong, and a really, really bad choice. Martin could have just walked (or ran) away; he chose to physically attack. And that’s what got him shot by a jackass with a gun. He didn’t “deserve” it, but it seems like he absolutely could have avoided it.

    1. Let me clarify:

      I don’t know that Martin started the physical altercation. I agree that the fact that Zimmerman had wounds and Martin had no injuries aside from the gunshot wound suggests that Martin was getting the better of Zimmerman in the fight, but we cannot know who started the fight. It might have been Zimmerman, in which case he had no legitimate right to use deadly force in defending himself. But, in my view, we cannot eliminate other possibilities beyond a reasonable doubt.

  9. Actually, “Stand Your Ground” was NOT an issue in this case. The defense did not rely on it. Rather, the defense stuck with a “straight” self-defense theory and that is the instruction that the jury was given. This is just one of a number of misconceptions that have been perpetuated since the get-go in this case.

    1. Seriously. I have been engaging in the same argument over and over again over the past several days and I am fucking sick to death of it. If I’m fucking sick to death of it, hi white woman over here, I can only imagine..

      It all is just so goddamned familiar. The pattern never changes. The way a certain brand of skeptics just have to argue their way, regardless of what marginalized group is getting crapped on in the moment, it’s gotta be their favorite pet topic for not listening and claiming the floor. Black woman who stands up for herself at a conference? Black honor student doing a science experiment? Black honor student killed in the street? The dialogue presented changes, but the inferences and assumptions contained within stay pretty much the same. The almighty white skeptic right, everyone else wrong, always. “What’s that? No, I can’t possibly be missing any salient points, I’m right, because I am always right, because all my life I have been treated as though I was right! Stop overreacting! Gawd, you’re all so emotional.”

      Grrr.

  10. Something that bothers me about this situation is that, first there were protests demanding an arrest. Then protests demanding an indictment. Thus, we have public pressure on the duly appointed authorities with a veiled threat of more than just protests if the demands were not met. Then we had a three week trial, but that just led to protests (and worse) denouncing the verdict and demanding federal charges. All of which begs the question, why bother having a trial? Just wait and see what “side” can muster the biggest protest and go with what the winner wants. Or try the case in the media, take a poll, and proceed accordingly. It is clear that, from the start, for a large segment of the population, due process was not the desire, it was conviction, but with a show of going through the motions.

  11. Starting a new comment with responses to multiple people above:

    @Mark Sletten

    I can post links to media reports that offer opposing (and more flattering) views of Zimmerman’s character. For example, it’s been reported he mentored black children and that he dated a black woman.

    Mentoring black kids or dating black women does not mean a person does not engage in racism. This sounds like the “I have black friends” argument to me.

    The fact is none of the “evidence” you offer of Zimmerman’s character was presented at trial, which means either the prosecutor or the judge deemed it irrelevant or immaterial.

    Of course, and my question is why shouldn’t such character evidence be introduced? It demonstrates a history of certain behaviors that are indicative of racism.

    Why would anyone–especially a skeptic–assume you are more qualified to offer an opinion regarding this material’s probative value than the judge or prosecutor?

    Because just being a judge or prosecutor does not make people magically immune to the effects of racism on the justice system. Those people are not making decisions in a race-free system.

    So then you are saying based on the evidence presented at the trial you don’t believe George Zimmerman should have been convicted of a crime? If so, then we are in agreement!

    No, you asshole. I said no one is making the argument that Zimmerman should have been denied his right to a fair trial. We’re arguing that the idea of “a fair trial” is a farce in this case. You’re operating under the assumption that the trial was fair, and many of us are not.

    @koberulz:

    Following him was not illegal. We don’t know whether he ‘accosted’ Martin or not.

    I didn’t say following him was illegal, I said following him is what instigated the whole incident.

    Or, y’know, that there’s insufficient evidence to conclude that he was murdered in the first place.

    Except that Zimmerman admitted he killed him. If you want to be cute and say that he wasn’t murdered because you want to use the legal definition of murder instead of the colloquial one, fine. Change what I said to “killed” and move the fuck on from this “gotcha” bullshit.

    And nobody was stalking anybody, at least in the legal sense.

    I wasn’t using it in a legal sense, but in the sense of someone hunting prey.

    @blaisepascal

    This is what I don’t get. It seems it doesn’t matter what evidence is presented, you are convinced that the jury decision was racially motivated. That doesn’t seem to be a skeptical position to me.

    I am convinced that the system is racially biased. I am also convinced that at least one of the jurors is blinded by privilege such that race was viewed as inconsequential to the entire event. Only an ignorant white person could think that race played no role in Martin’s homicide or in the trial and its outcome.

    Sure, I’m skeptical of the claims that race wasn’t a factor for the jury, but I also feel it is possible that it wasn’t.

    You are misunderstanding me. I am not doubting that the jurors did not discuss race in their deliberations. That is part of the fucking problem! It plays into a system that pretends that race is irrelevant and has no bearing. So, it’s not that I think the juror is lying about race not playing a role, I’m saying that a jury of 6 white women of course would probably not consider race because the system is set up that way.

    I think it’s reasonable to say that Martin was stalked and ultimately killed in part because he was black, and that race definitely led a role in his death. I’m unconvinced Zimmerman was acquitted because Martin was black.

    No one is arguing that. For fuck’s sake. What people are arguing–and what the evidence shows as I have linked to earlier in the thread–is that the system is set up such that white people are more often acquitted of crimes when they use self-defense and/or SYG laws than black people are. This poses the question of why this is the case. Zimmerman was not acquitted because Martin was black, he was acquitted because the system is broken and extends the benefit of the doubt to white people while assuming the worst about black people.

    If these two men’s roles had been turned around, Martin would surely have been convicted of 2nd degree murder (or worse). A jury of 6 black women certainly would not have been impaneled to reach that decision.

    The system is fucked.

    @Zoltan

    If Martin attacked Zimmerman first, it does seem reasonable to say that Zimmerman was defending himself.

    Why is it not reasonable to say that Martin was defending himself from a guy that was following him around at night? I mean, as long as we’re making stuff up, maybe Martin walked up to him and yelled at him to STOP FUCKING FOLLOWING HIM and Zimmerman pushed him back and Martin threw a punch. The thing that people are assuming is that landing a first punch is indicative of the beginning of hostile behavior. BUT WE DON’T KNOW THAT. There are lots of physical, hostile actions people can do that would not leave a physical evidence of. So to say that injuries are consistent with Martin instigating the fight is based on an assumption that is not provable.

    So, was Martin’s attack on Zimmerman justified? I’m really struggling with this. I can’t think of anything anyone would say to me that would justify me physically attacking them.

    Again, you’re assuming that it was only words that provoked Martin’s attack on Zimmerman. And again, we don’t know that.

    See, people are making all of these assumptions based on “evidence,” but that evidence cannot possibly be conclusive of what actually happened.

    But I also think that Martin’s escalation to physically attacking him was wrong, and a really, really bad choice. Martin could have just walked (or ran) away; he chose to physically attack. And that’s what got him shot by a jackass with a gun. He didn’t “deserve” it, but it seems like he absolutely could have avoided it.

    Way to victim blame, asshole. A “bad choice” does not mean someone brought on their own murder. Not walking away and choosing to attack someone who is following you around at night does not mean that he deserved to be killed. What got him shot by a jackass with a gun was not Martin’s choice to attack Zimmerman, but Zimmerman’s choice to be a vigilante and stalk and shoot Martin. You do a great disservice to Martin when you say that it was his fault that he died, which is what you’re saying.

    1. I will reply to the items said to me by Will.
      > Why is it not reasonable to say that Martin was defending himself from a guy that was following him around at night?
      Because if someone is following you, that’s not justification to strike them. If someone’s following you, the right choice is to run, or get into a public space, or call 911.

      > I mean, as long as we’re making stuff up, maybe Martin walked up to him and yelled at him to STOP FUCKING FOLLOWING HIM
      > and Zimmerman pushed him back and Martin threw a punch.
      Sure, that’s possible. And it’s also possible Martin begged Zimmerman to kill him, and when Zimmerman wouldn’t, Martin struck him. Ya know, just while we’re making stuff up.

      > The thing that people are assuming is that landing a first punch is indicative of the beginning of hostile behavior. BUT WE DON’T
      > KNOW THAT. There are lots of physical, hostile actions people can do that would not leave a physical evidence of. So to say that
      > injuries are consistent with Martin instigating the fight is based on an assumption that is not provable.
      Okay, seriously, do you know how trials work? Really, do you understand the process at all? Based on the evidence presented, it was agreed by all the jurors that Martin physically attacked first. I said right off the top that without video evidence (which we don’t apparently have) we will never know what happened. That’s a given. But the best guess (which is what we do in trials) is that Martin physically attacked first. The evidence indicates that Martin physically attacked first, so that’s a good hypothesis. You can say anything MIGHT have happened (maybe God interveined!) but the best guess is that Martin attacked first. So to continue a conversation we have to take that as a given.

      > Again, you’re assuming that it was only words that provoked Martin’s attack on Zimmerman. And again, we don’t know that.
      > See, people are making all of these assumptions based on “evidence,” but that evidence cannot possibly be conclusive of
      > what actually happened.
      So basically, you have a problem with, what, literally hundreds of thousands of court cases, yes? Basically any court case that didn’t have a solid, objective, indisputable paper and/or video trail? I don’t know why you’re picking on this court case – do ’em in order. Go back fifty years for every single case that didn’t have hard evidence and complain. I’ll wait here for you to get through them all.

      > Way to victim blame, asshole. A “bad choice” does not mean someone brought on their own murder. Not walking away and choosing to
      > attack someone who is following you around at night does not mean that he deserved to be killed. What got him shot by a jackass with
      > a gun was not Martin’s choice to attack Zimmerman, but Zimmerman’s choice to be a vigilante and stalk and shoot Martin. You do a
      > great disservice to Martin when you say that it was his fault that he died, which is what you’re saying.
      I never said he deserved to die – you’re putting words in my mouth. What I said was, he made a bad choice. And he did. A guy says, “Hey, I know I should ask the mechanic why the “engine check” light came on, but I don’t have time right now.” And then the car blows up. Did the guy deserve to die? No. Did his bad choice lead to his death? You bet.

      When you say, “Zimmerman’s choice to be a vigilante and stalk and shoot Martin” you are claiming to be able to look into Zimmerman’s heart, and only The Shadow can do that. You state it as if Zimmerman chose, from the start, to shoot Martin. There is no evidence to that effect at all. There’s no evidence even to say that Zimmerman planned on confronting Martin directly – he might have only planned on following (hardly stalking) him. You said yourself that maybe Martin turned and yelled at Zimmerman to stop following him – maybe Zimmerman didn’t initiate contact at all.

      I stand by my statement: Zimmerman was a jackass, but if you start with the hypothesis that Zimmerman shot in self-defense after Martin made the first physical attack, there’s no evidence to disprove this hypothesis, and there is evidence to support it. And the jury felt the same way. And that’s how the system works. And if you have a problem with the system (and I do, BTW – lots of them), then don’t bother starting with this trial, there’s decades more to start with.

      1. Zoltan,

        “Best guess” isn’t actually relevant at trials. What’s relevant is, “Is the hypothesis of innocence reasonable?”

        Innocence doesn’t have to be the likeliest possibility, the “best guess.” It just has to be a reasonable possibility in order for the verdict to be “not guilty.”

        “Not guilty” does not mean “innocent.” It means “the state did not prove that the hypothesis of innocence is ruled out beyond a reasonable doubt.”

    2. Mentoring black kids or dating black women does not mean a person does not engage in racism.

      A fact which I acknowledged in the very next sentence of my post, the second part of which you failed to note. To wit, that the mutterings of neighbors deemed immaterial or irrelevant by someone trained and educated to make such determinations are not “proof” of racist intent.

      Because just being a judge or prosecutor does not make people magically immune to the effects of racism on the justice system. Those people are not making decisions in a race-free system.

      I understand you believe that criminal justice in America is does not favor black people, especially black men. I agree with you, although I would go farther and suggest it is not just blacks who suffer injustice, but the poor in general. But I cannot see, and you have failed to offer, any convincing facts that might suggest the major players in this case (judge, prosecutor or jury) were motivated by race.

      See, people are making all of these assumptions based on “evidence,” but that evidence cannot possibly be conclusive of what actually happened.

      Funny, you acknowledge everyone is make assumptions except yourself. It seems logical to me that assumptions based on “evidence” presented at court–true or not–are just as valid as assumptions based on “evidence” presented by the media. Some might even say court vetted evidence is more reliable.

      I cannot speak for the other posters, but for my own part, and unlike yourself, I am not pretending to know the details (those which determine if Zimmerman is guilty of a crime or not) of what happened the night Trayvon was killed. I am saying there is only one person who really knows what happened that night, and you ain’t him. I am saying that absent more definitive evidence of racial bias on the part of the judge, prosecutor or jurors, it is reasonable to assume the outcome of this case was appropriate. I am saying it is not illogical to believe the court behaved appropriately in this case AND believe the criminal justice system is flawed.

      If that makes me an asshole in your eyes I can live with it.

    3. “If you want to be cute and say that he wasn’t murdered because you want to use the legal definition of murder instead of the colloquial one, fine. Change what I said to “killed” and move the fuck on from this “gotcha” bullshit.”
      In which case my argument – that rather than saying he deserved to be killed, I’m saying there’s insufficient evidence to say he was murdered – is no different.

      “I wasn’t using it in a legal sense, but in the sense of someone hunting prey.”
      And did you offer to testify for the prosecution as to your psychic knowledge of Zimmerman’s intent? Further, if Zimmerman was doing nothing illegal, how is Martin justified in attacking him?

      “I am convinced that the system is racially biased.”
      That doesn’t make this case racially biased. Sometimes, black people commit crimes. Sometimes, not-entirely-black people don’t (Zimmerman, of course, is neither white nor non-black, so…).

      ” I am not doubting that the jurors did not discuss race in their deliberations. That is part of the fucking problem!”
      Why should they discuss race? It’s not relevant.

      “Zimmerman was not acquitted because Martin was black, he was acquitted because the system is broken and extends the benefit of the doubt to white people while assuming the worst about black people.”
      This is just bullshit. You’re starting with the assumption that Martin did nothing wrong, because that’s what suits your particular agenda, and then drawing conclusions from there. Instead of starting from ‘we don’t know what happened’ and trying to draw conclusions from there. Martin clearly punched Zimmerman in the face enough to do significant damage. The only evidence of Zimmerman getting in any offense was the gunshot. So either Zimmerman fatally shot Martin, then Martin attacked him (unlikely) or Martin attacked Zimmerman and Zimmerman shot him in self-defense (significantly more likely), or Zimmerman attacked Martin without leaving any physical trace (again, unlikely). There is absolutely no evidence as to what provoked the attack if Martin threw the first punch. We simply cannot know what happened, and therefore cannot consider Zimmerman to be guilty.

      “I mean, as long as we’re making stuff up, maybe Martin walked up to him and yelled at him to STOP FUCKING FOLLOWING HIM and Zimmerman pushed him back and Martin threw a punch. The thing that people are assuming is that landing a first punch is indicative of the beginning of hostile behavior. BUT WE DON’T KNOW THAT.”
      Exactly. WE DON’T KNOW. Therefore, Zimmerman must be acquitted.

  12. More grist for the mill. I found this article published last June in the Tampa Bay Times. In it, the authors refer to a study by the TB Times of some 200 cases involving “stand your ground” in self-defense claims in Florida courts. Some of their findings:

    • Whites who invoked the law were charged at the same rate as blacks
    • Whites who went to trial were convicted at the same rate as blacks
    • In mixed-race cases involving fatalities, the outcomes were similar; four of the five blacks who killed a white went free; five of the six whites who killed a black went free.
    • Overall, black defendants went free 66 percent of the time in fatal cases compared to 61 percent for white defendants — a difference explained, in part, by the fact blacks were more likely to kill another black

    While the authors noted that “people who killed a black person walked free 73 percent of the time, while those who killed a white person went free 59 percent of the time,” they conceded their “analysis does not prove that race caused the disparity between cases with black and white victims” because “other factors may be at play.” For example, “black victims were more likely to be carrying a weapon when they were killed. They also were more likely than whites to be committing a crime, such as burglary, at the time.”

    I’m not suggesting there are no problems with our criminal courts’ treatment of black defendants, but the statistics compiled by the TB Times seem to show a much more nuanced and complex picture than has been suggested by other posters when it comes to self defense claims. And they certainly don’t seem to support the notion that stand your ground laws disproportionately favor whites over blacks.

  13. Isn’t all this talk a waste of time?

    I do not understand that if a white person kills a white person, it has nothing to do with race. The same goes for a black person killing a black person. Even when a black person kills a white person (say the accusations of OJ Simpson), it is not a matter of the oppressed races. However, when a non-minority person kills a black person, then it is automatically a race-related and the person who is non-minority is presumed guilty?

    The law deals with collecting facts and processing them as objectively as possible. The police investigated it like any other case they would come across. If the courts were correct and Zimmerman was innocent, he’s certainly received a lot of negative backlash.

    The real point is how tragic it is that anybody must die before their time. We can’t blame everything on race related issues, as it is our individual selves that matter the most, not others preconceived notions about what race is and isn’t. I am against any form of violence as much as any man can be; but, this endless debate needs to stop.

    1. The law deals with collecting facts and processing them as objectively as possible. The police investigated it like any other case they would come across.

      A simple Google search will show that this statement is, objectively speaking, quite wrong. Here are a few places to get you started with learning about the racial disparities in the administration of justice in the United States:
      http://www.eji.org/deathpenalty/racialbias
      http://www.sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/rd_sentencing_review.pdf
      http://urbanpoverty.qwriting.qc.cuny.edu/files/2011/01/Ronald-Weich-and-Carlos-Angulo-Racial-Disparities-in-the-American-Criminal-Justice-System.pdf

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