A Philosopher's Blog

Martin & Zimmerman

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on March 28, 2012

I have been somewhat reluctant to write about the death of Trayvon Martin. This is not because of a great uncertainly regarding the ethics of the matter but rather an uncertainty regarding the facts.

In this case, the ethics are potentially fairly clear. If Zimmerman simply killed Martin without justification, then he clearly acted wrongly.If Zimmerman acted merely in self defense, then he was not in the wrong.

There is, of course, also the real possibility that the death resulted from both Zimmerman and Martin acting in ways that seemed quite justified to each of them and thus it could be the case that neither person was completely in the wrong. To be specific, Zimmerman might have sincerely believed that Martin posed a legitimate threat to the community and acted to address that threat. Martin, of course, might have been acting in complete innocence and became convinced that Zimmerman was stalking him with the intent to attack him. In this scenario, both people would be acting from self-defense as each would legitimately believe that his life was in unwarranted danger from another person.

While, as of this writing, the facts of what occurred during the final confrontation are not known, quite a bit is known about what led up to the tragic event.

It has recently been revealed that Martin had been suspended from school because an empty bag that apparently had contained marijuana was found in his possession.  As such, this is one reason why Martin was there rather than where he normally would be. While this lends some credence to Zimmerman’s view that there was “something wrong” with Martin (that is, he might have been high), even if Martin was high, this does not justify Zimmerman shooting him. After all, a person being high does not, in itself, present a danger that warrants an act of violent self-defense. As such, even if Martin was high, then this would not (by itself) entail that Zimmerman killed him in legitimate self-defense.

It might, of course, be contended that if Martin was acting suspiciously then Zimmerman would have the right to be justly concerned about his presence in the area. This is a legitimate point and if Martin was acting suspiciously,  then Zimmerman was acting in a morally acceptable way to investigate. In fact, such a concern for the safety of the community could be regarded as morally commendable.

However, there is the question of how far that concern should extend to action. The 911 calls indicate clearly that the police told Zimmerman to stop following Martin.

On the face of it, after Zimmerman had done his duty of alerting the police of his suspicion, he should have (as the police said) stopped following Martin. After all, Zimmerman is a private citizen and not a police officer. As such, Zimmerman lacks the training of a police officer, the legal authority of a police officer and (rather importantly) lacks the means by which to identify himself as a legitimate officer of the law. As such, when Zimmerman was following Martin, it seems reasonable to believe that from Martin’s perspective he was being followed by some guy in a car. Even if Zimmerman had identified himself as part of a neighborhood watch, Martin would have no reason to believe that claim and certainly no reason to accept that as proof of legal authority.

While, as noted above, key facts of the case are still not known, it is known that despite being told to stop following Martin, Zimmerman ended up in a situation in which he was allegedly struck by Martin and then apparently shot and killed Martin. Given that at the start of the encounter Zimmerman was in a car and Martin was on foot, it would seem that Zimmerman could have easily avoided Martin. This seems to suggest that Zimmerman forced the encounter with Martin.  Since Zimmerman is not police officer, Martin would have had no reason to think that Zimmerman was acting with legal authority and hence a plausible case can be made that Martin believed he was being pursued and threatened to a degree that put his life in danger. As such, it could very well have been Martin who was using force in self defense.

It might be objected that citizens should have the right to pursue and question people they regard as suspicious. After all, citizens do have the right to self defense and citizens should protect their community.

While self-defense is a right and citizens should act to protect each other, this is distinct from pursuing and questioning people. It is one thing if a person is clearly posing a threat but quite another to take on an investigatory role that can easily escalate. For example, if someone is punching my neighbor or trying to break into her house while she is there, then I would have legitimate grounds to intervene because there is an immediate threat and waiting for the police to arrive could result in her being injured or killed.

However, if I happen to see someone in public  I merely think is suspicious and I go and  harass that person, then I am not acting in response to a clear and immediate threat. Rather I am merely acting upon a suspicion and my behavior could legitimately be regarded as threatening. After all, merely seeming suspicious is not a crime nor is it a threat that warrants acting in self defense.

I would, of course, be within my rights to ask such a person a question or two-but they would equally be within their rights to ignore me. After all, as a citizen I have no right to compel other people to answer my questions. I do, however, have the right to contact the police and they can, if they think my concern has merit, come to sort things out. After all, that is what the police are for. This case, sadly, shows why private citizens should not attempt to take on the role of the police-even if they are part of a neighborhood watch. This is not to say that citizens should not take an active role in protecting the community, but rather to say that citizens should be aware of the limits of what they should be doing. After all, while citizens do have the right to protect their community, they do not have the right to act as if they have police powers. That is why we have a state and a legal system.


47 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on March 28, 2012 at 7:55 am

    Mike, are you saying Zimmerman had no right to keep an eye on Martin while waiting for the police to arrive?

    • anon said, on March 28, 2012 at 9:33 am

      Once the police told him to quit following Trayvon, he had no legal right to do so as he disobeyed a legal command from a police officer (if it was in fact a police officer who told him that).

      • magus71 said, on March 28, 2012 at 12:43 pm

        You have no idea what you’re talking about anon. You’re entire statement above is cancelled out by your caveat at the end—it was a dispatcher not a police officer that told Zimmerman, “we don’t need you to do that.” Dispatchers are not law enforcment officers and that’s not much of an order.

        • anon said, on March 28, 2012 at 2:01 pm

          I don’t? Then why do you agree with my statement then? Why is my caveat correct if I don’t know what I’m talking about.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 29, 2012 at 10:07 am

          While it is not an order, the fact that the police were on the way removed Zimmerman’s reason to keep following Martin. After all, Martin was not actively engaged in doing anything that required that Zimmerman intervene. If Martin had been attacking someone or trying to break in to a house, then Zimmerman would have been within his rights to intervene. But since Martin was just walking along carrying Skittles and ice tea, that hardly seems to warrant a citizen intervention.

        • David Meyers said, on April 11, 2012 at 12:43 pm

          In listening to the call, I do recall Zimmerman say “Ok,” AFTER the dispatcher who IS authorized, say “we don’t need you to do that,” but he ( Zimmerman ) quickly turned the situation from him waiting for police officers to come, to him in pursuit of Martin… so that tells me, he UNDERSTOOD what the dispatcher instructed him, he AGREED, but HAD NO INTENTIONS TO FOLLOW… Why? Saying that the dispatchers are not law enforcement officers, does not make what they are authorized to say, any less FORCIBLE ( they are not working on their own behalf, but are a part of our PUBLIC SERVANTS )

          • magus71 said, on April 11, 2012 at 5:52 pm

            The context of this thread is that Zimmerman was given a lawful order by an authorized person. He was not. If Zimmerman disobeyed a lawful order by a certified law enforcement officer, he would have been subject to arrest for that particular issue–not only for shooting Martin. He broke no law in checking to see what Martin was up to.

            But I guess you’re implying Zimmerman just wanted to shoot a black man that night.

            We can argue about what Zimmerman should have done in this case, but then we also have to argue what Martin should have done.

            In any case, this is one of the reasons I left law enforcement; I can easily imagine myself as a cop in the exact same situation as Zimmerman. And please don’t say that a cop would have more authority to check out Martin–that’s not true. In fact, community policing is all about getting citizens to dime out crooks.

            • dhammett said, on April 11, 2012 at 7:32 pm

              Magus–I understand where you’re coming from. But your last paragraph seems to me to make a highly critical commentary on the role of real, trained, police officers. Community ‘police’ have as much authority as a fully qualified policeman does? Does that authority include the same ability to assess any situation (dress, suspect, etc) and react accordingly? How many hours of training does a community policeman undergo? Does he pass any tests? Meet any standards along the way? Would a policeman likely have found entry into the profession as easy as Martin likely did?

            • magus71 said, on April 12, 2012 at 5:46 am


              I can only say, that trained or not, Zimmerman came to the same conclusions that I probably would have as a police officer: Martin was worth a second glance given the time and place he was walking and his strange behavior.

              I’m not familiar with neighborhood watch training. But it is not at all unusual for members of the Guardian Angels to detain suspected criminals until the police arrive.

              I believe the state is going to lose its case against Zimmerman; there seems to be a lot of reasonable doubt here.

            • T. J. Babson said, on April 12, 2012 at 6:42 am

              The question is whether Zimmerman can get a fair trial. Will jury members feel safe if they vote to acquit? Will the New Black Panthers put a bounty out on them, too? Will Eric Holder care if they do put a bounty on the jury members?

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 12, 2012 at 10:52 am

              His chances of a fair trial are probably pretty good. I suspect that the state will be hard pressed to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. After all, it seems likely that most of the evidence (aside from Martin’s body) will be gone or at least tainted by now (after all, Martin got his gun back). A good defense attorney should be able to get him off, unless there is some particularly damning evidence that has not been mentioned in the press.

              There is, of course, a reasonable concern that finding an unbiased jury will be hard, given that the situation is so polarized.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 12, 2012 at 10:46 am

              True-Zimmerman was not actually ordered by the police to stop what he was doing.

              In this case, it might have been different with a cop. After all, it is not unreasonable to think that Martin had no idea who Zimmerman was or what he was doing. If Martin had seen a uniformed officer, his reaction probably would have been different. Or perhaps not-we don’t know what really happened.

            • magus71 said, on April 12, 2012 at 12:22 pm

              I think there will be a fair trial. Unfortunately the jury will have to live with the ensuing riots, death and destruction that will occur should Zimmerman be found innocent.

              And no, Eric Holder will not give a flip about bounties put out on jurors that found a black man’s killer innocent of murder. Then again, I’m not so sure those jurors should want Holder on their side, since he loses the majority of his big cases.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 13, 2012 at 9:33 am

              I was mildly surprised when nothing seemed to come of Spike Lee’s tweet. After all, he essentially drove those folks out of their home. That should at least be considered some form of harassment. The bounty thing was also a bit of a surprise-I would think that private groups offering bounties on people might be legally questionable and amount to some sort of incitement.

              The trial will have to be conducted very carefully. As you note, the results could have dire consequences. While I do think there are grounds for a trial, there are also reasonable grounds to think that Zimmerman is going to be tried not just for justice, but also for political reasons.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 28, 2012 at 11:24 am

      He does have a right to “keep an eye on him”-after all, as long as he is in a public area he is free to go as he will. However, it is one thing to keep an eye on a person and quite another to pursue a person. From Martin’s perspective, it might very well have appeared that Zimmerman was stalking him. After all, Martin was merely returning from the store and had no reason to think he was doing anything wrong that would warrant being kept under observation. If I was out for a run when visiting my mom or dad and somebody started following me in a vehicle, I would suspect they were up to no good. After all, I would be doing nothing that would warrant being pursued as a suspicious person. In my youth, I might have been inclined to confront such a stalker (old age has taught me the wisdom that strangers might simply shoot me).

  2. magus71 said, on March 28, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    Aside from everything else, the single most important aspect of this case in the eyes of the law will be as to whether Zimmerman felt his life was in danger and if that view was reasonable given the circumstances. The circumstances under which a civilian can shoot a person are no different than those of a police officer.

    Zimmerman stated that Martin attacked him and tried to take his gun. Zimmerman has a broken nose and injuries to his head. Witnesses say there was a melee’.

    I’m also not sure why this ismore significant than the 1000s of other black males who die violent deaths every year. Must be because Barack commented on it. Must he always resort to his community organizer tactics? He made comments on other local issues, too–and made things worse.


    • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 29, 2012 at 10:09 am

      It is also important to determine whether Zimmerman’s live was in danger because he engaged Martin without justification. After all, if some dude came up to me and started accosting me while I was doing no wrong, I might take issue with that-and rightfully so.

      You do raise an important point, namely the matter of how some deaths garner national attention and other people are killed and buried in utter obscurity. This probably has connections to fame in general.

      • magus71 said, on March 29, 2012 at 10:15 am

        “It is also important to determine whether Zimmerman’s live was in danger because he engaged Martin without justification.”

        Yes. Has that yet been determined? It’s also important to know if Martin engaged Zimmerman, no?

      • T. J. Babson said, on March 29, 2012 at 10:33 am

        “After all, if some dude came up to me and started accosting me while I was doing no wrong, I might take issue with that-and rightfully so.”

        Does “taking issue with that” allow you to break his nose and slam his head against the sidewalk? All for asking why you are wandering around a gated community where you do not live?

        Did Martin have to jump this fence?


        • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 30, 2012 at 10:23 am

          Martin, I believe, was there visiting his father’s fiance. I’ve visited friends in gated communities and did not need to jump the fence. If someone came up to ask me questions while I was on the street and doing no wrong, I’d be my usual diplomatic self. However, I would certainly resent the assumption that I am a wrongdoer and would certainly resent the idea of some other citizen thinking that s/he has a right to stop and accost me merely because I happen to be in the area. I don’t go out and stop people who walk through my home owners’ association. Naturally, if I saw them trying to pop open a neighbor’s window, then I would take action.

          I would not, of course, just attack someone who approached me. However, we do not know that is what happened. Zimmerman says he was attacked. If this is what actually happened (that is, Martin ran up and started assaulting him), then Zimmerman acted in self defense (albeit after pursuing Martin). However, if Zimmerman engaged Martin and Martin feared for his life, then Martin would have the legal right to “stand his ground.”

          Until the facts are settled, we cannot justly say whether Zimmerman acted in self defense or not.

  3. FRE said, on March 28, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    Could someone provide the exact words used by the dispatcher who is said to have told Zimmerman to stop following Martin? My impression is that the dispatcher told Zimmerman that he did not NEED to follow Martin. If that is the case, the dispatcher DID NOT tell Zimmerman NOT to follow Martin, only that he was not REQUIRED to do so. That is an important difference.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 29, 2012 at 10:10 am

      He said that they don’t need him to do that. Of course, that could be taken as meaning “don’t do that.”

      • FRE said, on March 29, 2012 at 1:45 pm

        I suppose that it could be taken as “don’t do that,” but that would require interpreting rather than taking the statement literally. In any case, it is a considerable stretch to assert that Zimmerman was DIRECTED not to follow Martin; such an assertion requires making assumptions which are not necessarily correct. The dispatcher could have said, “Do not follow;” that would have left no room for doubt about the intended meaning.

        I am not supporting Zimmerman. Although it would take a court trial to determine with reasonable certainty that Zimmerman was wrong, I’m inclined to believe the he was wrong.

        • David Meyers said, on April 11, 2012 at 1:04 pm

          It is clear the dispatcher spelled out WHAT he ( THE 911 Dept. ) needed Zimmerman to do ( since he is the one that called them )… and Zimmerman said, “Ok” in response. Now whether Zimmerman THOUGHT that is what he needed to do, is quite evident in HIS ACTIONS. What was evident in MARTIN`S ACTIONS ( NOT LOOKS ) that made Zimmerman think he really needed to pursue him?

  4. dhammett said, on March 28, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    Josh Barro, a not-infrequent contributor to NRO and Forbes has this to say about the Trayvon Martin case, racism, and the politics of the right in America.


    “Why do conservatives catch such heat [about race]? It’s probably because there is still so much racism on the Right to go alongside valid arguments on issues relating to race and ethnicity. Conservatives so often get unfairly pounded on race because, so often, conservatives get fairly pounded on race.

    “And this is the Right’s own fault, because conservatives are not serious about draining the swamp.”

    I recall in the dim past having a prolonged give-and-take on this site with kernunos about the state of race relations in this country. He seemed to feel we are a post-racist nation. If we’d stop talking about it, it would go away. That’s a small part of the attitude that Barro is referring.

    I have no specific comments on the Zimmerman-Martin case at this time. Let’s let the bullshit clear and see what facts remain before we begin assigning guilt or innocence.

    • T. J. Babson said, on March 28, 2012 at 7:19 pm

      “Let’s let the bullshit clear and see what facts remain before we begin assigning guilt or innocence.”

      dhammett, you have already made it perfectly clear that in your mind race is central to this case. Why do you believe this?

      • dhammett said, on March 28, 2012 at 10:37 pm


        I believe magus (in his 12:53 above) makes the first mention of race . I offered an article from a conservative , Josh Barro, that deals with conservatives and racism in this country. HE (or his editors) used the title “Trayvon Martin and the Right’s Race Problem”; HE made the connection between the racism and the Martin case—although only somewhat tangentially. . I offered up a specific portion of his article because I think it makes a cogent statement about the state of right wing politics in this country. If you would like to argue with Barro about his conclusions, you won’t even have to get into Martin v Zimmerman. . .

        I also pointed out that we don’t know all the facts yet. That was at 4:54 today. Apparently, the bullshit has not stopped flowing.

        No, TJ, I’m not at all “certain” that race is “central” to this case. I never said I was. But there’s little doubt that the story, not the shooting itself (the case), has raised racial issues that, whatever the outcome of the case, need to be aired.

        Oh. Are you “certain” that race isn’t central to this case? If so, some hard evidence, please.

        • T. J. Babson said, on March 28, 2012 at 11:12 pm

          “I am, however, worried about “captain” George Zimmerman.”

          Exactly what were you worried about, then, dhammett? Don’t make us guess, just come out with it. I assumed it was race, but I could be wrong.

          And about the only thing I am sure of is that it will be difficult if not impossible for George Zimmerman to receive a fair trial.

          • dhammett said, on March 29, 2012 at 9:28 am

            You are wrong. In the context of the question of due process applied to American citizens ( 3/:22 10:58AM Health Care and Compulsion !) , I said I felt comfortable that plenty of ‘process’ was involved in the killing of an American citizen acting as a foreign agent but that “I am, however, worried about ‘captain’ George Zimmerman”. Within that legal context, I’m worried about the apparent lack of clarity of the Florida Stand Your Ground that seems to allow anyone who can get a gun ‘claim’ he’s protecting a neighborhood even beyond the point where 911 told him it wouldn’t be necessary for him to follow any further.

            What is there in the law to prevent an armed neighborhood watch “captain” from “assuming” your 17-year-old daughter in a hoodie “looks suspicious”? What is there to prevent him from following her when he’s been told that such action wouldn’t be necessary. Where are Mr. Zimmerman’s legal limits? What are your daughter’s rights? You’ve taught her to avoid strange people and strange vehicles. Now she’s raped or dead for “looking suspicious.”

            We don’t know if race is “central to this case” (meaning I assume that it was or was not racially motivated)
            You still seem to be searching for some certainty that race is (or is not) “central” to this case. There’s still too much bullshit out there to decide. Unless, of course, you know it is or is not central and you have proof.
            I’ll wait for the BS to dry up and blow away before deciding. Meanwhile, I still believe that the story “has raised racial issues that, whatever the outcome of the case, need to be aired” That should be clear enough.

            • T. J. Babson said, on March 29, 2012 at 10:10 am

              dhammett, why are you so sure that “Stand Your Ground” is even relevant in this case? Zimmerman’s lawyer says he will not use SYG.



              Even if John’s account is accurate, it does not necessarily mean Zimmerman was justified in shooting Martin. But it suggests that the right to “stand your ground” protected by Florida’s much-maligned self-defense law, which critics have blamed for the Sanford Police Department’s decision not to arrest Zimmerman, may be irrelevant in this case. If Martin tackled Zimmerman, who as a result feared serious injury or death (perhaps because he believed Martin was about to grab his gun), the “duty to retreat” that was eliminated by Florida’s law would not apply because Zimmerman would not have had an opportunity to escape. In fact, Zimmerman’s lawyer says he does not plan to invoke the “stand your ground” principle.

              Under Florida law, even if Zimmerman were deemed the aggressor (since he apparently provoked the fight by following Martin against the advice of a police dispatcher), he could still argue self-defense if he claimed the force used against him was so great that he reasonably believed that he was “in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm” and that he had “exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger.” He also might argue, although it does not seem to apply in this case, that he had withdrawn from physical contact with Martin and clearly indicated he did not wish to fight, after which Martin nevertheless continued or resumed the use of force. But neither argument hinges on the right to “stand your ground” when attacked in a public place.

            • dhammett said, on March 29, 2012 at 1:02 pm

              Whether they use the law in Zimmerman’s defense or not is probably irrelevant at this time, since his lawyer is claiming that they won’t. It is relevant to ME, however, whether Zimmerman thought he was enabled by the law and whether these SYG laws get the microscopic review they should have had before they were enacted.

              So many “facts” I’m not clear on as new “facts” come out of the woodwork every day. . .Was Zimmerman following Martin, or wasn’t he? The 911 call:” Are you following him?” “Yeah.” “OK. We don’t need you to do that.”… A bit later Zimmerman says “He ran.” If Martin was running, did Zimmerman follow him after he started running? In what capacity was he operating as he did so.?
              Was Martin ‘standing his ground” with his fists (if he did, indeed, break Zimmerman’s nose) or was Zimmerman “standing his” with his gun when this fatal encounter took place?

              Your “Did he have to jump this fence” link raises some very interesting issues. Perhaps you could clarify some conflicting stories out there with any updated material you may have. Did he jump the fence? He obviously didn’t do so at the end of the incident. He was too dead. The implication would then be that he jumped it to get into the community. But some stories out there indicate his father’s girlfriend (?) lives within the gates and that Martin and his father were visiting her. Then again, the sign very prominently posted at that gate reads “We report all suspicious persons and activities to the Sanford Police Department.” Zimmerman did exactly that in the first sentence or two of his 911 call. At that point, in my opinion, he should have backed off, instead of playing policeman.

              Perhaps this will all be cleared up when the BULLSHIT is washed away.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 29, 2012 at 10:17 am

        I’d say that race is a factor. As folks have said, it is not unreasonable to think that Martin being black was involved in his being seen as suspicious. Suppose I had been walking in that neighborhood wearing one of my track club hoodies. Would the neighborhood watch be afraid I was there to do wrong?

        But, perhaps it was not race, but age and behavior. When I was in high school, my class was “begging” for funds to go to Europe and we did some of our fund raising at the local supermarket. I remember my English teacher coming to the store and telling me to appear less menacing to the senior citizens, since people sometimes find young men to be scary. Mind you, I was a track-debate-D&D nerd at the time, yet still considered potentially frightening to people. I think it was suggested that I should wear a sweater vest.

        • T. J. Babson said, on March 29, 2012 at 7:46 pm

          I still remember reading copies of “Easy Rider” back in the mid 1980s. The main theme was that these bearded, hulking, leather-clad bikers were really very nice people and terribly misunderstood by society at large.

          • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 30, 2012 at 10:30 am

            Some hulking bikers are good folks, but some match the negative stereotypes. But, that is hardly a surprise.

  5. magus71 said, on March 28, 2012 at 7:24 pm

    http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2012/03/28/the_race_card_-_again_113645.html Jonah Goldberg

    “White Hispanic.” That’s how the New York Times, Reuters, and other media outlets have opted to describe George Zimmerman, a man who would simply be Hispanic if he hadn’t shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. The term, rarely if ever used before this tragedy, is necessary in telling the Martin story in a more comfortable way.

    What’s the comfortable way? It’s the way the blame for Martin’s death belongs squarely at the feet of “the system.” And “the system” is a white thing, don’t you know?

    For instance, in a remarkably uncritical interview with the Los Angeles Times, the Reverend Jesse Jackson explained that with the election of President Obama, “there was this feeling that we were kind of beyond racism.” He continued: “That’s not true. His victory has triggered tremendous backlash.” Indeed, “blacks are under attack.”

    Jackson apparently includes in this racist Obama “backlash” record home foreclosures for African Americans and black unemployment. It would have been nice if the L.A. Times had asked Jackson to work a little harder to connect those dots.

    Jackson also laments that “targeting, arresting, convicting blacks and ultimately killing us is big business” in America.

    On the saner end of the liberal spectrum, Reniqua Allen of the New America Foundation writes in the Washington Post that it’s harder to talk about race now that we have a black president (note: not a “white African-American president,” á la the new Zimmerman standard, although both men have a white parent).

    Allen is surely right that having a black president makes it hard to talk about race, particularly if you want to have the hackneyed monologue that hustlers such as Jackson and the Reverend Al Sharpton want to have. Weak-tea Marxist rants about a system that parasitically feeds off black men sound absurdly antiquated when that system is run, at the top, by black men (Eric Holder, let’s not forget, runs the Justice Department).

    But the aging race industry that continues to see the world through a half-century-old prism of Jim Crow, and still wants you to see it that way, too, is determined to bum-rush Zimmerman into his assigned role, heedless of facts or the lack of them.

    Meanwhile, Obama, who promised a new conversation on race, seems happier in an election year to lend heft to the old one. He called for soul-searching — but absent a full set of facts, why does this homicide, of all U.S. homicides, require it? Obama’s comments mostly seem aimed at adding credence to liberal conventional wisdom.

    Zimmerman may well deserve to go to jail. Or this may just be a confluence of horrible mistakes with no criminal intent whatsoever. That’s what a Justice Department probe and a Florida grand jury will determine. But for the forces demanding action, that isn’t good enough. Jackson, as is his wont, threatens there will be “no peace” until Zimmerman is arrested.

    Others are not so patient. The New Black Panther Party has put a $10,000 bounty on Zimmerman’s head. “He should be fearful for his life,” leader Mikhail Muhammad said. “You can’t keep killing black children.” Spike Lee joined the digital lynch mob and tweeted Zimmerman’s home address.

    Yes, absolutely, there are pockets of racism in America. But among the myriad problems with a “blame the system” narrative is that it obscures and often silences far greater problems than white-on-black racist violence.

    Martin’s tragic death is a statistical outlier. More whites are killed by blacks than blacks killed by whites (or “white Hispanics”). And far, far more blacks are killed by other blacks. Indeed, if we’re going to use the prism of race to analyze murder rates, then the real epidemic is that of black murderers. Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute notes that recent data show black males age 14 to 24 commit homicides at a rate nearly ten times higher than that of young white and Latino males combined. Surely that’s worthy of some soul-searching, too.

    And yet, New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow says “the burden of black boys in America” is fear of racist assaults. MSNBC has handed over vast swaths of airtime to its in-house huckster, Sharpton.

    No doubt, white — and “white Hispanic” — prejudice is a problem for young black men, but the notion that it is the singular or chief “burden of black boys in America” is nonsense. Alas, the very people begging for an honest conversation on race will likely accuse you of racism for saying so.

  6. magus71 said, on March 29, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    The only reason that this is a big story is because of people implying this is a racially motivated incident. I’m not arguing over the myriad of details that no one yet knows. I’m not arguing over what Zimmerman should or could have done, though I have referenced the possibilities and corrected falsities (ie Zimmerman was given a lawful order by a police officer–he was not). My major concern is that again, over-zealous race peddlers are jumping to conclusions from facts that do not support those conclusions. That extremist groups like the Black Panthers and opportunists like Jesse Jackson and Spike Lee have enflamed the situtation and even endangered innocent people with their fooling rhetoric.

    What we know most assuredly is that a hispanic male shot and killed a black male in a high-crime city in Florida. All of the rhetoric and publicity have likely damaged the chances that true justice will be done.

    • dhammett said, on March 29, 2012 at 8:58 pm

      “All of the rhetoric and publicity have likely damaged the chances that true justice will be done.”

      I believe it could be reasonably argued that “true justice” is not an absolute and that precious little of what may pass for “true justice” has existed between whites and blacks since the first African owner traded or sold his first ‘property’ to his first white customer. That kind of transaction seriously corrupted the relationship between races, and the mere fact that some still call blacks niggers and seem to feel they’re the root of all evil in this country is a pretty clear indication of how deep that rot runs. True, pure, absolute justice.

      “Zimmerman was given a lawful order by a police officer–he was not”.

      True. As an ex-officer-of-the-law do you think Zimmerman was doing the correct thing to follow the “potential perp” (excuse me for falling into my policeman-wannabe role)? Should that 911 ‘suggestion’ have been enough to remind him of his true role as a captain of the neighborhood watch? That role, as I understand it, is clearly stated on the sign at the community’s gate: “We report all suspicious persons and activities to the Sanford Police Department.” Report. Not follow once the report is completed. Policemen pursue “potential or actual perps”; neighborhood watch captains shouldn’t.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 30, 2012 at 10:29 am

      The incident does serve to provide a very visible focus for the race (and perhaps age) issues that still exist in the United States. It also serves to provide a visible focus for how we address matters of security.

      As you note, the New Black Panthers (who have been repudiated by the real Black Panthers) and Spike Lee are making the situation worse. Ironically, they have been encouraging the sort of vigilantism and “citizen justice” that the supposedly condemn.

      Spike Lee, I would argue, did serious harm with his Tweet and he owes them restitution for his irresponsible actions. A clever lawyer could probably argue that he was endangering them and get a civil suit going.

  7. magus71 said, on March 31, 2012 at 10:51 am

    Many think it was racial profiling–like Jesse Jackson. Has it been established that Zimmerman, whom was drving in his SUV, at night, when he saw a person walking with a hood covering his head, knew that Martin was black.

    But Jackson is a true believer.


    • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 31, 2012 at 4:45 pm

      While Zimmerman did say things that could be interpreted as racist, nothing that was recorded seems explicitly or clearly racist. As such, accusations of his motivations being racist would be rather premature.

      As has been noted, there is an unfortunate assumption that Zimmerman must have been motivated by race, since Martin was black. Given the atmosphere of racism that still exists in this country, it would not be absurd to say that race was a factor. Of course, it is also not absurd to say that age and mode of dress were also factors. After all, imagine that rather than a young black man in a hoodie and sneakers carry skittles and ice tea, there was a middle aged white man in a three piece suit and oxfords carry an expensive leather briefcase and a smartphone. Would Zimmerman have been suspicious that this man was up to no good?

      • magus71 said, on March 31, 2012 at 10:17 pm

        Imagine that it was a 70 year old black woman and not a young black man. Zimmerman, I believe, would not have been concerned. And rightly so. In both cases the people are black. So is race still the central issue?

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 2, 2012 at 12:57 pm

          Race could still be an issue. After all, even someone who is racist is presumably affected by factors other than race. In your example, an actual racist would probably not regard a 70 year old black women as being a grave threat to the neighborhood.

          As I’ve noted earlier, age seems to be a significant factor in judging what people might be up to. I recall from the days of my youth that older folks were often suspicious of me and my fellows, even though we were generally not up to any serious misdeeds. Likewise, a young man in a neighborhood might be regarded us up to something merely because he is a teen.

          Since key facts are not known to anyone living other than Zimmerman, it is rather hard to properly judge what the truth of the matter might be. It could be racism-but there is no solid evidence for that. It could be that Martin attacked Zimmerman and he acted in legitimate self-defense. It could be that Zimmerman hassled Martin and Martin feared for his own life and acted in self defense. It could also have been a horrible misunderstanding on the part of both men, resulting in a tragedy in the classic sense of the term.

  8. dhammett said, on March 31, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    I’ll preface this by repeating what L’ve said to TJ—that this situation is still mired in so much bullshit it’s almost laughable to discuss it. But what the hell;i t wouldn’t be the first so much pure crap garnered so much public attention.

    OK. That’s out of the way,
    I’m just curious. You were a policeman. How do you think a neighborhood watch captain should conduct himself in these circumstances, whether the ‘suspect’ is white, black, yellow or green? . Zimmerman called the police dispatcher (maybe a policeman, maybe not–I haven’t seen official reports one way or the other), and at that point he had fulfilled his “duty” as described on the sign at his community’s gate. I’ve read that he was in an SUV. If, indeed ,that is the case, at any point ,if he felt in danger, he could have shifted into reverse.
    You’re also a soldier and probably more familiar than most with the phrase “beyond the call of duty”. Its connotations are usually very positive. Would you characterize Zimmerman’s actions as “beyond the call of duty”? In the positive or the negative sense?

    Here you can read or listen to the detail of much of what followed his initial report to 911.


    • magus71 said, on March 31, 2012 at 10:25 pm

      From what I know, it was not beyond the call of duty. It was not uncommon for people to call the police and try to keep an eye on a suspicious person until the police arrived. And Zimmerman was not just another citizen, he was part of the neighborhood watch, so he probably felt some sense of duty in staying with Martin. The dispatcher said, “we don’t need you to do that”, probably more out of concern for Zimmerman’s safety than Martin’s.

      Honestly it seems to me that Zimmerman did what he was supposed to do as a watchman. I dont know what happened at a certain important point. Martin phones and told someone he was being followed. Did Martin turn and attack? Some people attack when they feel threatened and some people run away. There’s reports saying that Martin shouted at Zimmerman “you’re going to die”. It is not illegal to approach someone and ask them what they’re up to. The person may not like it, but it’s not illegal. That city is a central drug transportation area and thus high in crime. Sounds like a bad situation. I sure wouldn’t want to be a neighborhood watch guy–you impose enough liability issues as a police officer.

  9. crist said, on April 3, 2012 at 8:09 am

    Zimmerman had the duty as a watchman to follow Martin but not too close that he had to get out of his car. But having a gun might boost his confidence to approach Martin. Martin already sensed the threat to his life when he was being followed by a car. Zimmerman’s getting out of the car, in addition to his carrying a gun, had worsened the situation that for Martin having no weapon , offense was a better self-defense. This was a case of mistaken identity on both parties.

  10. Mojo said, on April 6, 2012 at 7:57 am

    Neighborhood watchmen don’t have authority to stop and question people. Zimmerman should have called police from the car if the kid looked suspicious to him. Instead he chased the kid down, and when Martin decided to defend himself, Zimmerman shot him for it. Cops do this kind of thing all the time, only they’re cops so they get away with it. Zimmerman isn’t a cop, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence to convict him so he’ll probably get away with it too. Now we not only have to arm ourselves against criminals, but also against those supposedly protecting us from criminals.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 6, 2012 at 9:36 am

      As a citizen, Zimmerman can ask people questions. But, as you point out, he has no actual authority to stop people who are just walking in public areas or compel them to answer questions.

      The fact that he pursued Martin is rather important. After all, if a person is afraid for his life, he should probably not pursue the person who he fears, but stay away from them. Zimmerman should have stayed in his vehicle and let the police handle it. While there are incidents with police, they generally do prefer not to shoot people. Also, Martin would have recognized the police as police, whereas he might have seen Zimmerman as just some guy who was stalking him. I am reasonably confident that if Zimmerman had stayed in his vehicle and let the police handle it, Martin would still be alive.

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