According to the rules and bylaws of the Big Brotherhood of Bloviating Bloggers I am required to write a post expressing my special insights on the Trayvon Martin Tragedy. Unfortunately I don’t have any special insights.
On February 26, 2012, Trayvon Martin was killed by a single gunshot wound to the chest. He was unarmed. Trayvon was a 17 year old black man living with his father in a gated community in Sanford, Florida. Racism has been assumed by many people to be the reason for or at least a contributing factor to his death.
The person who shot Trayvon is 28 year old George Zimmerman. While much of the media refers to Zimmerman as Caucasian, under different facts and circumstances (like if he was being deported) he would be considered Hispanic or Latino. But that wouldn’t fit the racism narrative.
Zimmerman was a volunteer neighborhood watchman. It is unclear whether he had any kind of official status in an organized neighborhood watch. He was armed and had a valid concealed weapons permit. Zimmerman is a cop-wannabe and was enrolled in classes hoping to fulfill that ambition.
Is Zimmerman a racist? I can’t answer that because I have no knowledge as to what exists in his heart and mind. He does fit the profile of something I am familiar with from my days working in security – an overzealous security guard. These types, like Zimmerman, are wannabe cops. Most will never make it. Those who do will make bad cops.
The facts not in dispute tell us this – Trayvon left his father’s house to walk to a nearby convenience store. He was returning home armed with some iced tea and a bag of Skittles. He was wearing a hoodie jacket.
Zimmerman saw Trayvon and called the cops to report a suspicious person. Then he started to follow Trayvon. According to Trayvon’s girlfriend who was talking to him on the phone he knew someone was following him. At some point a confrontation took place.
Zimmerman told the police he stepped from his truck to check the name of the street he was on when Trayvon attacked him from behind. He said he was in fear for his life so he drew his pistol and fired. When police arrived Trayvon was laying face down and was non-responsive.
Zimmerman was bleeding from the nose and the back of his head. He had grass on his back and his back was wet. A witness reported seeing Trayvon on top of Zimmerman beating him up. Other witnesses heard a man yelling for help and then a gunshot.
Many people are outraged that Zimmerman has not been arrested. There are also claims that the investigation was mishandled by the Sanford Police Department. The investigation has been taken over by the Florida Department of Justice and the FBI. The media and other groups have muddied the waters.
Were mistakes made? Probably. The perfect investigation only exists in textbooks and TV scripts. Most police departments don’t have a specialized CSI unit and not every detective is a Columbo or a Monk. The killing took place outdoors on a rainy Sunday night in February. Trayvon wasn’t carrying identification and none of the bystanders recognized him.
The standard for arrest is probable cause. That is defined as “a reasonable amount of suspicion, supported by circumstances sufficiently strong to justify a prudent and cautious person’s belief that certain facts are probably true”. But it is not uncommon for police to delay making any arrests until the investigation is completed.
As soon as you arrest a suspect certain legal rights kick in and the clock starts ticking on their right to speedy trial. Not only that, but a hasty arrest can provide a defense if a different person is later charged with the crime. “Officer, isn’t it true that you originally arrested John Doe for this murder?“
Cops are trained to be patient and methodical, crossing all the “t’s” and dotting all the “i’s”. That way no defense attorney can later claim there was a rush to judgment. Usually the decision to arrest is made by the prosecutor in consultation with the investigators.
Prosecutors have an ethical duty not to bring forward cases they know they cannot win. That’s what got Mike Nifong disbarred in the Duke Lacross case. Sometimes the police sit on cases for years even if they think it is “solved” because they lack sufficient evidence to get a conviction.
There is no statute of limitations on murder so if they find the missing pieces later they can proceed to trial. But if they bring it too early and the defendant is acquitted, double jeopardy protects him from re-prosecution even if he confesses.
There is no law against a private citizen following suspicious persons. They can even confront and question the suspects, as long as they don’t commit false arrest. For instance if you see a stranger in your neighbor’s back yard while your neighbor is at work, you can ask that person who he is and what he is doing there. But without something more you cannot detain or arrest them.
This is what I suspect happened. Zimmerman saw Trayvon and thought he was suspicious. He took it upon himself to follow Trayvon. There was a confrontation. It might have been initiated by either of the men, but Trayvon got angry that Zimmerman was following him. The confrontation escalated into a physical confrontation and then Zimmerman drew his gun and killed Trayvon. That is consistent with all the undisputed facts.
That’s not murder. At best it is involuntary manslaughter (i.e. “imperfect self-defense.”) The issue is whether Zimmerman had an honest but unreasonable belief that using deadly force was necessary. That would be a question of fact for a jury to decide. Whether or not Zimmerman was motivated by racism could be a factor in determining the reasonableness of his belief.
I will wait for an official finding. I got a hunch that nobody will be happy with the final outcome. Even if Zimmerman is convicted of involuntary manslaughter I can’t see a judge giving him much time.
Trayvon’s family might win a wrongful death suit against Zimmerman but I doubt he has any money. Unless they can somehow drag the Homeowner’s Association into it there are no deep pockets to sue.
This case has already turned into a circus. Politicians are making self-serving statements about the case. Geraldo Rivera is blaming the hoodie that Trayvan wore. MSNBC is blaming Rush Limbaugh. Occupiers are protesting in Chicago and on Wall Street because . . . uh, . . . I don’t know why the hell Occupiers do what they do.
None of it will bring back Trayvon Martin.