12 April 2012

Quick thoughts on Zimmerman v Martin

1) I'm glad this is finally going to be adjudicated. This to me was the foremost problem with the situation, that it was (apparently) decided that a story was sufficient with minimal investigation. I'm not very concerned with the outcome per se, more that it there seemed more than enough here to require a more thorough processing of the facts available than was done.

2) I'm not so glad that there's been a lot of racial tinge added to this story. I realize that there are two racial components (profiling behavior of authority figures for racial minorities, and the local police's apparent indifference to running proper investigations where deaths of racial minorities occur) and that we should certainly and by all means discuss and debate the social importance of resolving those issues. But the rest of this crap has gotten out of hand.

3) While there have been a few right-wing blogosphere attempts to paint both the victim as "not-victim" and the general community as indifferent to other related problems (violence within ethnically defined communities), those have been either a) absurd and stupid, bordering on outright racism (Geraldo/Hanson/Derby especially) or b) forgetting the actual problem (the investigation or lack thereof and proper legal accounting for someone's death) in favor of straw men or imputing the impact of Obama/Jackson/Sharpton onto the scene itself, often incorrectly there too (as in the case of Gingrich or Juan Williams) or c) portrayed the "victim" status as though the rash behavior of teenagers is somehow deserving of death in the first place. Being a jerk isn't something you deserve to get shot for. Being black and wearing a hoodie isn't either.

4) I do not understand the rush to vilify the "stand your ground" laws. I think it is possible these are being misapplied or misinterpreted, sure. I don't see how they are necessarily the cause of violence in this instance or in some others, nor are they much related to the relative indifference/incompetence of running proper police investigations into shooting deaths. Even if the law might excuse the event as self-defence, it still seems important to have some accounting for the facts to make sure. These laws, as interpreted by their architects, aren't intended to allow for someone to stalk and pursue another person and then, in the inevitable conflict, shoot them. That entire episode is clearly distinct from a case where a person might defend themselves or a neighbour/friend/etc from a violent assault with force, even potentially lethal force. I suspect this has to do with discomfort with guns generally. While I share that discomfort, I'm not opposed to our laws permitting the ethical deployment of them for defensive purposes. If they need to be clearer or more distinctly termed laws so they can be properly enforced, so be it. But I'm not sure this is the case.

It's also important to know what we don't know in all of this
What we don't know: If Martin struck first, in an apparent attempt to defend himself against an incited attacker/follower or out of some undisclosed factor. If there was a scuffle, where Martin was at least perceived as an aggressor, it's probable that Zimmerman could claim a self-defence for the actual crime of the death and the decision to shoot and that this claim might be accurate or convincing enough that he doesn't go away to prison. I'm prepared to accept that there's a lot we don't know about the most pertinent portions of the case and that there may be enough in that empty box that a man may be judged innocent or may be guilty only of much lesser crimes than premeditated violence and murder.

I don't think that ought to excuse much of the rest of his behavior leading up to the incident if so, but it's also not clear that much of that behavior was inexcusably criminal either. Just incredibly stupid and possibly racist.
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