Friday, March 23, 2012

Murder, Manslaughter, or Justifiable Homicide

President Obama has weighed in on the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida.

"When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids."

"If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon."

The alleged actions of George Zimmerman are highly questionable. It appears that while on a neighborhood watch patrol he chased down the teenager Trayvon Martin and shot and killed him, even though Trayvon was armed only with an Arizona iced tea and a bag of Skittles.

The news media lynch mob forming outside George Zimmerman's house has focused on the harmlessness of the bag of Skittles. But that can or bottle of Arizona iced tea could pack quite a wallop. Nonetheless, it seems to me that when you shoot someone you need to take care that the person needs shooting, whether or not the kid bears some resemblance to a hypothetical son of the President of the United States.

What crime was committed here? That's for a Florida jury to decide, and whether that's to be a state or federal jury may come down to a racial slur allegedly uttered by George Zimmerman while on the phone with a 911 dispatcher. CNN put its best audio enhancer on the case:

But what exactly did he say? I think you can hear that several ways:

(1) Fucking coons
(2) Fucking cunts
(3) Fucking goons
(4) Fucking guns

We'll probably find out that "Fouk King Koontz" is a common Peruvian phrase that George Zimmerman learned from his mother. Or that Trayvon heard the word "coons" or "cunts" and in a rage attached Zimmerman. My point is that we only think we know exactly what happened.

The Sanford police were wrong not to book George Zimmerman. I think we're talking about manslaughter, not murder, here. But that's still a serious crime, and no need to make a federal case out of it. I'll stand my ground on that.

Because if the killing was justified, where does that lead? I should be in reasonable fear of my life whenever I'm approached by a neighborhood watch captain. And I would have every right to shoot him before he shoots me. I would have every right to shoot anyone else who approached me on the street who I think might be a neighborhood watch captain. That guy in the Prius looks kind of twitchy...

The other aspect of this case involves cell phones. While all this was going down, George Zimmerman was on his cell phone with 911. And Trayvon Martin was on his cell phone with his girlfriend. The 911 operator was telling Zimmerman not to pursue Martin. Martin's girlfriend was telling him to get out of there. Damn good advice all around.

I have some personal experience in a situation similar to George Zimmerman's. I was sitting on the back porch having a few beers at an acquaintance's house with a few of his neighbors when some teenagers tried to break into the garage of the house across the street. They didn't realize we could see them. We gave chase and they fled through the backyards and across the next street over, where we broke off pursuit. The important principle in that situation is to not run so fast that you catch the perpetrators.

One of the others guys I was with, who lived in the neighborhood and was incensed these kids were breaking into garages as they had been making trouble all summer, picked up a baseball bat left on the porch from a game earlier in the day as he took off in lead pursuit. I realized even in my semi-inebriated state that my job, if we were so unlucky to catch anyone, was to make sure he didn't bean them with that bat.

I was also in Trayvon's situation once. My youngest brother gave my youngest sister his Ford Mustang and it fell to me to teach her how to drive a stick shift. She was living in Arlington, Virginia and we found a subdivision where she could practice. Well, after we had been around the subdivision a couple of times a gray-haired lady appeared behind us in a Buick and began to tail us around. I couldn't figure out why until at a stop sign she gave me the "I know you're casing my neighborhood" look over the top of her steering column, from the classic scrunched-down over-seventy driving position.

Fortunately, we were able to exit the subdivision before the old lady opened fire. In that situation, you don't get out of your car to explain yourself. You don't stand your ground. You just leave, as quickly as possible.

Update: In my first draft I wrote that the "important principle in that situation is to not run so fast that you catch the perpetrators." Before publication I changed "is to not run" to "is not to run" because of concern for irrational prejudice against split infinitives. There are some prejudices that as a country we just need to get over.


MuddyValley said...

My guess is that we will find that George is your average redneck cracker who couldn't keep his mouth shut & unfortunately was carrying a gun. Sanford, like many of Florida's small towns, has more that it's share of rebel flags flying on pickup trucks. The clan was big in central Florida and may still be. One more reason why I left.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

It's looking more and more like a Keystone Kops situation, stemming from the police releasing their suspect before they had even identified the body of the victim.