Disappointed and angry, but not surprised by the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case would be the most accurate feeling on Saturday night as I watched the mindless talking heads on HLN reveal the verdict after a six person all female jury deliberated upwards of 17 hours.
I wish I could say that I was shocked at the not guilty assessed to George Zimmerman, but a legal system as flawed as Florida's paved the way towards the demise of the prosecution who were up against it from the beginning. The reluctance to prosecute this case maybe served as foreshadowing to its inevitable conclusion as it took 42 days for charges to to be filed against Zimmerman. Add in one of the most dangerous, ludicrous law on the books, the "Stand Your Ground Law" and combine that with extremely loose gun laws, and you have the recipe for an acquittal.
The "Stand Your Ground Law" allows a 29 year old man armed with a gun, and driving a truck to disregard the advice given to him by a 911 Operator and shoot an unarmed 17 year old and claim self defense. While I hold the office of Neighbourhood Watch Volunteer in the highest esteem possible, I'm not sure when "Neighbourhood Watch" became "Neighbourhood Vigilante". The defense painted a wonderfully elaborate story of Trayvon Martin, armed with a soft drink and Skittles as an aggressor who lay in wait for the poor unfortunate Zimmerman, a man who obviously did not listen well to this MMA instructors as he somehow ended up ambushed, flat on this back and in a fight to avoid serious harm. This jury dutifully bought this argument and the interpretation of "Stand Your Ground" which basically allows lethal fire if the one victimized feels that they are in imminent peril.
It was also a difficult case to prosecute as there were no clear eyewitnesses to the altercation between the two. Zimmerman, who managed to eliminate the eye witness in young Trayvon Martin was the last man standing. It was his tale to tell, and to spin and somehow an altercation with two people in the dark consumed 58 witnesses, certainly enough to muddy the legal waters.
Here is the bottom line: An unarmed 17 year old black teenager sporting a hoody was walking home in a familiar neighbourhood before being targeted, profiled, and followed by a wannabee 29 year old portly tough guy. He drove a truck, carried a gun and thought that he could operate independent of the law under the guise of Neighbourhood Watch Volunteer. At the exact time that George Zimmerman chose to ignore the advice of the 911 Operator to not follow Trayvon was the time he crossed the line to vigilante. Who was more likely to initiate the confrontation? The guy with the gun and the truck or the young man on his way home to his father's house?
Its a sad state of affairs on all fronts, and the worst part is that people can, and are debating civil rights and the laws, but very few are talking about how much power a Stand Your Ground Law can give a citizen of the United States, especially one armed with a gun. In Canada self-defense is vague, but it legally normally only allows lethal force if someone feels that their life is in danger and there is no other option.
Here is a comparison of Florida's Stand Your Ground Law and the Canadian Criminal Code's Self-Defense Laws:
Florida: 776.013 Home protection; use of deadly force; presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm.—
(1) A person is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another when using defensive force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another if:
(a) The person against whom the defensive force was used was in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or had unlawfully and forcibly entered, a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle, or if that person had removed or was attempting to remove another against that person’s will from the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle; and
(b) The person who uses defensive force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring or had occurred.
Defence — use or threat of force
- 34. (1) A person is not guilty of an offence if
- (a) they believe on reasonable grounds that force is being used against them or another person or that a threat of force is being made against them or another person;
- (b) the act that constitutes the offence is committed for the purpose of defending or protecting themselves or the other person from that use or threat of force; and
- (c) the act committed is reasonable in the circumstances.
- (2) In determining whether the act committed is reasonable in the circumstances, the court shall consider the relevant circumstances of the person, the other parties and the act, including, but not limited to, the following factors:
- (a) the nature of the force or threat;
- (b) the extent to which the use of force was imminent and whether there were other means available to respond to the potential use of force;
- (c) the person’s role in the incident;
- (d) whether any party to the incident used or threatened to use a weapon;
- (e) the size, age, gender and physical capabilities of the parties to the incident;
- (f) the nature, duration and history of any relationship between the parties to the incident, including any prior use or threat of force and the nature of that force or threat;
- (f.1) any history of interaction or communication between the parties to the incident;
- (g) the nature and proportionality of the person’s response to the use or threat of force; and
- (h) whether the act committed was in response to a use or threat of force that the person knew was lawful.The key in Canada's law is the fact it considers multiple scenarios and really does not justify any sort of lethal force at all, unlike Florida's in which it is detailed in the law. An interpretation of The Stand Your Ground Law appears in the state laws of 31 states with the potential to add three more to the list. In Florida it got to the point in which someone set up a web-site warning all incoming tourists of the new law when it hit the books back in 2005.
Take one extreme liberal interpretation of self-defense, add in lax or non-existent gun laws, and you get a verdict that disappoints, rather than shocks.