FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Self-Defense in Florida

An intelligent, self-interested observer of this case, who happens to live in Florida, would not be wrong to do as George Zimmerman did – buy a gun, master the finer points of Florida self-defense law, and then wait.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic, Jul 14

Deliberations in the law court are one thing, often dull, often sterile.  The result can be something else.  George Zimmerman’s acquittal has unleashed a furious storm, though it is a complex one, riddled with overtones of race and legalism.

Among the great U.S. curses is that of race.  Colour blind legal systems only belong to the land of Cockaigne.  Policy makers race to the podium to call for “racial dialogue” after unpalatable decisions where the proverbial black man is deemed the devilish provocateur.  U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was quick off the mark. “This tragedy provides yet another opportunity for our nation to speak honestly about the complicated and emotionally-charged issues that this case has raised.”

Having been acquitted of killing Trayvon Martin under Florida’s expansive self-defence laws, Zimmerman has thrown a good deal of fuel on the fire.  He has insisted from the start that his act of violence, perpetrated as a neighbourhood volunteer, was made in the name of self-defence.

Martin continues in some instances to be portrayed as a violent thug who got his comeuppance after he “weaponised” (odd choice of words) the street.  He attacked Zimmerman. In true instinctive valour, the reaction followed.  What else could he have done?  Observing this reputational drubbing of the youngster, Geraldo Rivera contended that the jury that acquitted Zimmerman would have happily dispatched Martin, given the chance.  In milder language, Jelani Cobb has suggested that the trial’s most “damning” feature was not Zimmerman’s acquittal but “that Trayvon Martin was found guilty” (New Yorker, Jul 13). Should not anyone be surprised?  Hardly.

Zimmerman does have his supporters, not least of all the jury verdict itself in Sanford, Florida.   Commentators like Ta-Nehisi Coates feel that the jury did, for all the problems attending the case, get “it right”, if only “basically”.  For Coates, “any violent confrontation ending in a disputed act of lethal self-defense, without eye-witnesses, the advantage goes to the living” (The Atlantic, Jul 14).  The dead tell no tales.

As for the living, a study done by the Pew Research Centre for the People and the Press found that, while there was “relatively modest public interest overall”, black respondents were more likely to say they had followed the trial than white respondents (a 56 percent versus 20 percent reading).

The Justice Department, having been caught unawares by the verdict, claims it is “investigating” Zimmerman, though it is by no means clear whether the federal government can lay charges against him.  The Obama administration evidently feels some official front of interest has to be maintained in the case.  Ben Jealous of the NAACP has contacted Holder asking for formal federal charges to be laid.

The legal burden here will be a large one, a legacy of the Reconstruction Acts that arrogated power to the federal government in the context of civil rights violations.  “It’s not enough if it’s just a fight that escalated,” argued Samuel Bagenstos, who formerly served as the principal deputy assistant attorney general in the U.S. department of Civil Rights Division.  “The government has to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant acted wilfully with a seriously culpable state of mind” in violating Martin’s rights.  Not merely does the act have to be shown to be unjustified – it must also be proved that Martin was attacked because of his race, and that he was using the street – in other words, a public facility.

The court of public opinion is now in session, and the site is an ugly one.  If one believes Andrew Cohen, trials “can never act as moral surrogates to resolve the national debates they trigger. In the end, they teach only what each of us as students are predisposed to learn” (The Atlantic, Jul 13).  It is also fitting to recall that the case may never have gone to trial to begin with.

Legal trials are not all-seeing pursuits of truth, but exercises of weighing and consideration, judgment made on available evidence.  That evidence itself is strictly controlled in terms of what is admitted.  An imperfect legal system merely reflects an imperfect social order to begin with.  Change and reform has to lie elsewhere. And it is not in Cockaigne.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

 

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
Nyla Ali Khan
Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir
Ted Rall
Stop Letting Trump Distract You From Your Wants and Needs
Steve Klinger
The Cautionary Tale of Donald J. Trump
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Conflict Over the Future of the Planet
Cesar Chelala
Gideon Levy: A Voice of Sanity from Israel
Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled Again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
Lawrence Ware
All Hell Broke Out in Oklahoma
Franklin Lamb
Tehran’s Syria: Lebanon Colonization Project is Collapsing
Donny Swanson
Janus v. AFSCME: What’s It All About?
Will Podmore
Brexit and the Windrush Britons
Brian Saady
Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem
Julian Vigo
Google’s Delisting and Censorship of Information
Patrick Walker
Political Dynamite: Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for a People’s Party
Fred Gardner
Medical Board to MDs: Emphasize Dangers of Marijuana
Rob Seimetz
We Must Stand In Solidarity With Eric Reid
Missy Comley Beattie
Remembering Barbara Bush
Wim Laven
Teaching Peace in a Time of Hate
Thomas Knapp
Freedom is Winning in the Encryption Arms Race
Mir Alikhan
There Won’t be Peace in Afghanistan Until There’s Peace in Kashmir
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail