Zimmerman, Martin and a Question of Options

Someone like myself, who has reached the age 79, easily settles into the illusion that “I've seen it all.” I was born into the era of America’s Great Depression, and lived through the violent age of World War II, not to mention all the wars since. I've seen something as mundane as electric lighting evolve from Edison’s incandescent bulbs, to neon signs, to fluorescent lamps, and now into the ultra-high efficiency world of the LED. My life’s journey has enabled me to marvel at our advances in communications, medicine, food production, transportation, and all of the sciences that have fed the expansion of our technologies.

Then too, I've witnessed with deep satisfaction our sociological advancements in the fields of civil liberties, which while not yet having achieved its proper level of equality and justice for all, had at least demonstrated a forcefully determined drive to that ultimate goal. And through all of this evolutionary change, I’d felt a sense of fundamental stability, in spite of the superficial chaos. While many decisions and events along the way had displeased me, concerned me, or even frightened me, I felt more or less secure in the idea that we were at least heading in the right direction..

Then, every so often, my comfortable world, which was held together by a sense of fundamental stability, got knocked off its pins - and I found myself forced to look around, to shake my head and ask... “What the H- - - is going on around here?”. Most recently, my sense of a well settled social stability has been shaken to its core, in the realm of civil and criminal law. Only in the past couple of years, I've found myself astonished that, out of the blue, a number of states have adopted (or should I say resurrected) a bit of legal nonsense, which seems to have been dredged up from the realm of the wild and woolly west, called “stand your ground”.

Even before the present case, involving Mr. Zimmerman and Mr. Martin, there had already been a number of incidents, in states which have adopted this Neanderthal trick of law ­deadly incidents which involved serious questions as to whether the event was truly a case of self-defense, or was instead a case of murder, which had simply been hidden behind a convenient legal device. After all, the only survivor in such incidents is the fellow who pulled the trigger. That’s when this particular legal axiom comes into play - “When killers start saying ‘I am guilty’, they can turn Harvard law school into a Turkish bath.”

In light of the obvious potential for abuse, and the fundamentally questionable nature of the concept, it was inevitable that the Zimmerman, Martin case would come to pass. There was a man with a gun, and an unarmed kid who, in the incident, was shot dead. In any civilized situation, the self-confessed shooter would at least have been held for investigation. Yet in this instance, this man would not even have faced trial, if it wasn't for the public’s furious reaction to this very-questionable incident. There really is much to be said for VOX POPULI.

So, here we are in the midst of a trial of nation-wide interest, in the question of whether or not Mr. George Zimmerman is guilty of second degree murder, in a case in which that defendant arguments, “self-defense”. And while in this case, there is no “literal” claim to Florida’s “stand your ground” statue, its shadow hovers like a specter over the entire proceeding.

This writer suggests that - aside from the jury - much of public has already reached a verdict - but a verdict based on what? For some number of us that judgment is a simplistic one, dictated by the simple fact that Zimmerman had a gun, and Trayvon did not. Or perhaps some conclusions have been driven by prejudice - on either side of the issue. That is, to some Trayvon was black kid on the streets at night, and therefore must have been up to no good - or Zimmerman was by nature prejudiced against black kids, and took his first opportunity to kill one. But actually none of these emotion-based opinions rings true, as a valid basis for judgment. That final judgment, if justice is to be achieved, must be based exclusively on the facts.

At the same time, as in all such cases the facts and the evidence, for and against conviction, are deliberately shown to be in conflict, both by the prosecution, and by the defense. These argumentative devices, used by both sides, often introduce serious questions of “priority” into the minds of those who are trying to understand what really happened. In other words, which pieces of evident are truly important in this question of guilt or innocence?

Yet, throughout these events, from the night of the tragedy to the present time, one single question at issue appears to have had remarkably little exposure - the question of “options”. Mr. Zimmerman (as the only survivor of the incident) has claimed that Trayvon came at him “out of the shadows” and confronted him. And then, without cause or provocation attacked him and drove him to the ground, and in the process was maneuvering to grasp the man’s gun from its holster. In that process, Zimmerman claims, (not to put to fine a point on it), Trayvon was proceeding to beat the crap out of him.

Let us now assume that everything that Mr. Zimmerman claims is absolutely true. And if so, now ask the question “What were the man’s options?”. Whether or not Trayvon was trying to grab the man’s gun, in the end, that gun wound up the hand of George Zimmerman. After that, what choices were available to him? By shock effect, for example, the man could have attempted to end the conflict by firing a shot into the air, or into the grassy ground. Or in a most extreme circumstance, Zimmerman could have put a bullet into Martin’s arm or leg - which would certainly have driven the boy off of his attack. In light of this, according to the evidence, did Mr. Zimmerman choose any of these options? No. Instead, he shoved the muzzle of his pistol into the center of the boy’s chest - and fired.

So - now that we've raised the question of “options”, let the reader decide - is this a case of self-defense - or a case of deliberate murder?