July 16, 2013

Topics other than my career: race, politics, etc.

I have been obsessed with my career situation, but, as everyone knows, many other things have occurred outside my little world.  First, was the jury acquittal of George Zimmerman after he shot Trayvon Martin.  One of the more interesting cases of late, and one that has all the hallmarks of our current debate over race--and of course, our debate over gun usage.

The best responses, I think, didn't focus on the jury--though there seem to be some issues there as well--but looked at the problems with the law in the case.  Florida law did not require the court to even acknowledge or address the fact that George Zimmerman ignored police instructions and created the conflict.  Black observers were not wrong to note that this case was about a man stalking and killing a young, unarmed black male--and that the state of Florida said that was ok.  Zimmerman didn't have to prove that his life was actually in danger, merely that he felt threatened.

Eugene Robinson had one of the better posts on this, where he noted that while everyone talked about Zimmerman's right to self-protection, for some reason Martin had no such right.  Further, he and many have noted how this case suggests that young black males simply don't count that much.  I am reminded that capital cases are biased terribly on race--not so much the perpetrator--especially dealing with the race of the victim.  Another dead black boy simply doesn't matter that much, and that makes me terribly sad.

Speaking of that, it is time again to reread To Kill A Mockingbird, but first this excellent essay by Ta-nehisi Coates on the Fear of a Black President.


In other news, the state of Texas continues their war on women by pushing through a draconian law banning abortions after 20 weeks, and effectively shutting down most clinics in the state.  I can't help but wonder if the right wing crazies have not overplayed their hand and miss that they are winning battles, but possibly losing the war.  Overnight, they made a national figure of Senator Wendy Davis, who is attractive, smart, and eloquent--only one of which Rick Perry brings to the table.

Then, we read that North Carolina Republicans pushed through a bill that gives lie to any notion that these people respect hard work or the middle class.  This law would cut taxes on the richest, while raising taxes on the bottom 80%.  Add this to the federal farm bill that gave agri-business subsidies while ignoring food stamps all together (also cutting environmental protection, btw).  Even conservative Rod Dreher sees this for what it is--cruel and horrible policies from a party that should know better.
The Republican Party is throwing corporate welfare at farmers, but telling people who are so poor they qualify for government aid to feed themselves that they are not a priority. As a matter of basic politics, the Republicans have lost their minds. This is Mitt Romney’s 47 percent remark all over again.  
I remain stunned that my friends and family continue to vote for these sociopaths who do not, beyond minor superficial words, reflect their values.


Smitty said...

Ta-Nehisi Coates' article about the Trayvon Martin case I thought was on the mark.

In essence: "Effectively, I can bait you into a fight and if I start losing I can can legally kill you, provided I "believe" myself to be subject to "great bodily harm." It is then the state's job to prove -- beyond a reasonable doubt -- that I either did not actually fear for my life, or my fear was unreasonable. In the case of George Zimmerman, even if the state proved that he baited an encounter (and I am not sure they did) they still must prove that he had no reasonable justification to fear for his life."


Now: I'm not sad The Man has to work really hard to convict me or anyone else of something. Believe me, I'd rather have high burdens of proof for law enforcement, because I would never want to be convicted of some sham at the say-so of a lazy cop and malicious prosecutor. But this goes far beyond that, to where it actually appears to excuse behavior and put an impossible standard on law enforcement.

But as Coates' article points out, even that is missing the point."It is painful to say this: Trayvon Martin is not a miscarriage of American justice, but American justice itself. This is not our system malfunctioning. It is our system working as intended. To expect our juries, our schools, our police to single-handedly correct for this, is to look at the final play in the final minute of the final quarter and wonder why we couldn't come back from twenty-four down."

Streak said...

Well said.

steves said...

While this has been an interesting case, it is also an unusual case. In many ways, it reminds me of the OJ Simpson case, because of how much a circus it has been. IMO, much of the commentary in the media has been off the mark and has just highlighted how misunderstood the laws regarding self-defense are.

GZ stalking and profiling were wrong and likely contributed to the situation, but it is not illegal to follow someone. The jury did hear evidence of this. I can't comment on how much this had an influence.

Zimmerman did not ignore police instructions. If you look at the actual transcript, he was asked where TM was going.

Zimmerman: Shit, he’s running.

Dispatcher: He’s running? Which way is he running?

[Sound of car door opening.]

Zimmerman: [Grunts.] Down towards the other entrance of the neighborhood.

[Sound of car door closing.]

Dispatcher: OK, and which entrance is that he’s heading towards.

Zimmerman: The back entrance. . . . [mutters] Fucking punks [puddles?].

[Wind/breathing noise.]

Dispatcher: Are you following him?

Zimmerman: Yeah.

Dispatcher: OK, we don’t need you to do that.

Zimmerman: OK.

FWIW, 911 dispatchers are not police officers and I am not aware of any state that criminalizes a failure to obey them.

Mr. Coates also doesn't seem to understand common law self-defense. AFAIK, ever state has gotten rid of "fighting words" as a justification for battery. In other words, if I bait you into attacking me, you are just as guilty as if you just attacked me.

As stupid as Zimmerman was, the jury ultimately believed that Martin was on top of him, trying to beat him up. Even if this had happened in a state without stand your ground, he would not have a duty to retreat if he was unable to retreat.

I genuinely don't believe the outcome of this case would have been any different if you applied the law of any other state in this country.

Streak said...

Yeah, I think that is bullshit. The laws in that state allow you to instigate a conflict, and then, whatever the reality is, if you feel your life is threatened, you can use deadly force.

This is bullshit gun culture. The only person not awarded the right to self defense was Trayvon Martin.

BTW, I am aware that the dispatcher isn't a law officer. I am saying that Zimmerman had done his duty. He caused all of this, and now skates. That is bullshit.

steves said...

No, that is just not true and shows a lack of understanding of the laws of self-defense. In no jurisdiction, is it possible to claim self-defense if you are the aggressor. That is not the case here. If you are an idiot or otherwise put yourself in a situation that is unwise, you can still claim self-defense if you use lethal force if you have no other option.

The jury in this case believed that GZ was jumped and pinned on the ground and was repeatedly pummeled.

Again, this case has nothing to do with stand your ground. GZ did not even assert a SYG defense. If this case was tried in any other jurisdiction in the US, the outcome would have been the same.

Volokh does a good job on explaining this here. Another law prof does a good job of analyzing the various legalities of trial and concludes the same thing. This case had ZERO to do with SYG.

SYG did very little to change the law in most states. In Michigan, it did nothing more than make a few procedural changes and did not make any substantive changes to what someone could or could not do.

I guess I also fail to see what this has to do with gun culture, as the common rule for self-defense goes back to Blackstone and predates the gun rights movement by about 400 years.

Streak said...

So he was the aggressor and still an idiot, and still had the right to kill Martin. got you.

Read the jury instructions, btw. They specifically say "stand your ground."

You don't see gun culture because you choose not to see it. And again, you purposefully confuse my usage here to mean people like you. It doesn't seem to matter how often I clarify. Zimmerman is exactly the kind of people who should not have a gun walking around like a vigilante. Yet, gun culture and the NRA have made access to guns easier and easier. And they tell people like Zimmerman that he has to defend himself, because the police won't do it.

Denial isn't pretty.

Streak said...

To be fair, I am not sure the jury made the wrong decision, yet I am absolutely not sure that justice was done.

Of course, we have at the same time the case of Marissa Alexander who is serving 20 years for firing a gun to warn off her abusive husband.

As several people have noted, we don't see the NRA flocking to help her, nor are they talking about if "Trayvon had been carrying a gun, he would still be alive, because, you know, a good guy with a gun is better than whatever."

steves said...

Yes, those are standard jury instructions, but if you watch he case, the defense never asserted SYG, as would have been required under Florida law.

Stand your ground didn't apply because the jury believed that Zimmerman did no have the ability to retreat. Zimmerman acted stupidly, but that does not justify Martin attacking him and attempting to cause him great bodily harm. Sound like you are blaming the victim. Zimmerman had it coming, right?

I am impressed by your ability to turn this into some side bate about gun rights, despite the fact that this outcome would have been the same no matter the jurisdiction.

Streak said...

Ok, that is some clarification. I can see that about SYG.

I actually am blaming Zimmerman for all of this. I don't see him as the victim, because I don't think he ever had to do what he did. And I am not sure any of us really know what happened there, but I still don't quite understand this entire dynamic. One armed guy chases another one despite not having really a need to do so, and because he has decided that Martin doesn't belong there. Isn't it reasonable that this young Black man felt like he was being followed and even stalked by someone he didn't know either, and who presented a threat to him? Isn't it at least possible that Martin attacked Zimmerman out of fear for his life?

As for the gun issue, I apologize. I was frustrated. But to be fair, this is exactly why I fear this push to arm people. I fear people like Zimmerman who carry, and who might get into situations they would not without a gun--and end up killing someone close to me. One of my neighbors did just that kind of thing--used a gun where it didn't belong and was fortunate that he didn't harm anyone.

I have no problem with careful and sober and responsible gun owners. But I think it is undeniable that the NRA and the gun culture I don't like pushes gun ownership on everyone as if that is the only way they can be safe, and they have absolutely no care about my or my other non-gun-owning neighbors.

steves said...

Things like racism and how much race and socioeconomic status play arose in he judicial system are genuine concerns. I just don't think this case serves as a good example. GZ did a lot of things wrong, but TM would likely be alive today had he not gone after GZ and attacked him. He should have called the police or fled. In most places (including Florida), GZ would have had a duty to retreat if they had gotten into a verbal confrontation and he had the ability to flee.

As for the other Florida case you mentioned, there are some huge differences. She had a criminal record of domestic assault against that guy, she never called the police, was caught lying in her testimony, and fired a warning shot, which is generally understood to mean that the person isn't really in fear for their life.

steves said...

I guess I would like to point out that while I agree with the verdict, I don't think GZ acted responsibly or intelligently. He should have made more of an effort to avoid trouble.

Streak said...

I guess I am still unsure why everyone still blames the dead kid here. Had this been reversed, with a young black man following a non-black person and ending up killing him, I doubt everyone would have come to this conclusion.

She had a criminal record? he was the abuser. And regardless of any of that, there is no fucking way that 20 years is just.

Smitty said...

Wow. I'm late to the party.

Sound like you are blaming the victim. Zimmerman had it coming, right?

Woa woa woa. Step the fuck back. Zimmerman isn't the victim! Martin is! HE'S THE DEAD ONE. You don't put the VICTIM of a crime on trial for murder.

Where did I see that phrase: "Only in America is a black kid put on trial for his own murder."

Is Neighborhood Watch something like a real position in FL? Cuz up here in the Frozen Tundra, it' a sign in a neighborhood, and sometimes people will look out their windows if they hear loud noises. But was Zimmerman like a For Realz rent-a-cop kind of Neighborhood Watch guy? Like quasi-deputized?

Or just some armed loser who makes bad decisions out trolling for black kids?

steves said...

C'mon Smitty, seriously? Next time you have a free day, you should head over to the district or circuit court in downtown Lansing. You will find that many times, the victims are not always that clear cut and both "sides" have some degree of criminal culpability.

If Zimmerman had not shot him, Martin would have been arrested for aggravated assault (in MI).

Streak said...

According to Zimmerman, right?

Streak said...

And I really don't understand why gun rights people can't admit that GZ is not the kind of guy who should have a gun. Why is it so hard to admit that irresponsible people get guns? People like this asshole who shot into a car full of teens because he didn't like their music.

Streak said...

Oh, and a gun rights group in Ohio is going to buy Zimmerman a new gun. Isn't that precious? Just so classy. And gun users wonder why some of us think the gun rights crowd is anti-social. It is quite the puzzle.

steves said...

Well, yes, according to what the jury believed. Obviously, I have no firsthand knowledge, but I found his story to be credible based in on the evidence that was presented.

I agree that GZ is a shitty representative for the gun rights movement. On one hand, I can understand why that Ohio group wants o buy him a gun. The trial judge ordered his gun returned and now the AG is saying no, as they are considering other charges. I think if anyone is going to buy him something, he would be better off with some kind of training on how to be more aware of his surroundings or how to avoid conflict.

steves said...

Talk Left has a breakdown of the most likely scenario based on the evidence.

Smitty said...

C'mon Smitty, seriously?

No, Steve, I don't need your lecture about the process. Look: in fairly typical style, conservatives (I'm not saying you, steve, just "conservatives") love them some victim's rights, but depending on the circumstances, they get the victim wrong.

I get that it's the defense's job to establish a good enough reason for the defendant to have - in this case - killed someone. They better do that, or Zimmerman could sue the attorney for poor representation! That's just mounting a vigorous defense.

Zimmerman has been made the victim of this crime. SYG laws look like they make assumptions that a shooter - a killer - was actually the victim, and it's the dead person who's the criminal.

I'm trying to point out a difference: "A" being vigorous defense (proving to a jury that the defendant is not as criminally culpable as it looks), and "B" being laws that turn the tables of victimhood by the assumptions they make or stereotypes they create or work off of.

So...how do I want to say this... Under point "A", a good defense attorney, or even a halfway decent defense attorney, in a state with SYG laws, would be remiss if, in a murder case, they didn't go right to SYG. First thing out of the gate: not guilty, SYG. And then they show what a threat the defendant was to place that kernel of doubt in a jury's mind.

But under point "B," the existence of an SYG law immediately makes the shooter - the person still living, in this case - the victim. Ugh. I'm having trouble finding the right words.

Let me try this: There is some...trait...to SYG that turns the tables on fault and victimization. Why do we need SYG? Why can't a good defense be all of the things that go into SYG, without a law that MANDATES you to SYG? "Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, my client was viciously attacked, beaten, was increasingly afraid for their life, couldn't get away. He had no choice but to kill, or be killed himself."

Why can't that work? Why does a SYG law become necessary? What about how crime and law and trials work makes it necessary for this to be a defense, rather than just an establishment of facts around why the client is innocent, SYG notwithstanding?

There is a consequence of SYG, and it's the immediate reversal of exactly who is the victim in a shooting/death because that very particular defense was raised...rather than having to otherwise establish the facts that prove that without SYG. The invoking of SYG makes us assume that Zimmerman was the victim of an attack, rather than having no assumptions and letting the facts speak for themselves.

Maybe. Just spitballing here.

Before we all assault my last paragraph, let's get to the part where we establish why SYG laws are even necessary to begin with, in the paragraphs just above that.