Posted in The Ayoob Files | 21 Comments

Lessons From The Zimmerman Case

Situation:

Artful manipulation by the mainstream press turns a routine shooting into a media lynching, complete with show trial.

Lesson:

There are many — tactical, legal and even social.

On the night of Feb. 26, 2012 in Sanford, Fla., a single 115-gr. 9mm Sellier & Bellot jacketed hollowpoint bullet exploded from the muzzle of George Zimmerman’s Kel-Tec PF-9 pistol. It was a shot that would divide a nation and begin a chain of events to captivate our country like no murder trial since the one involving O.J. Simpson. It ended the life of a 17 year old who was led to the bullet by a downward-spiraling lifestyle of drugs, violence and machismo.

The evidence, including cell phone records and Facebook messages of the deceased Trayvon Martin, showed he called himself a “gangsta” and nicknamed himself “No Limit Nigga.” He was negotiating to illegally buy a handgun, and was apparently involved in marijuana trafficking. These breadcrumbs also revealed his interest in street fighting, and he was angry an opponent beat him using a “martial arts mount” — making him want a rematch. Also, he was disappointed one person he punched out didn’t bleed enough.

Trayvon had been expelled from high school and was caught with drugs and stolen jewelry. These acts didn’t go through the criminal justice system because school authorities wanted to keep their crime statistics down. He was so out of control his mother kicked him out of her home in Miami Gardens, and sent him to live with his father, who was seeing a woman in Sanford. Hence, why young Mr. Martin was there on the fatal night. Evidence revealed he had a penchant for “lean” — a drug cocktail made with codeine or other cough syrup, and candy and sweet beverages such as the Skittles and Arizona Fruit Juice Cocktail Watermelon drink he was carrying at the time of his death.

None of those facts would be seen by the jury in the Zimmerman case for the simple reason he didn’t know about them when he shot Trayvon, and therefore weren’t foundational to the act for which he was being judged. Trayvon’s grieving parents hired plaintiff’s lawyers Natalie Jackson and Benjamin Crump, who in turn brought in public relations expert Ryan Julison, who brought their theory of the case to TV talk show hosts and other powerhouse media personalities. Almost overnight, the plaintiff’s theory had been presented to the entire country as if it was fact. The evidence showed otherwise.

The Prosecution Meme

The plaintiff/prosecution theory was this: Trayvon Martin was a harmless child (1) walking home from the store with Skittles and iced tea (2). He was then profiled for being African-American and for wearing a hoodie in the rain (3) by a white racist vigilante (4) named George Zimmerman, a wannabe cop (5) and self-appointed captain of the Neighborhood Watch (6). Zimmerman called the police (7), who ordered him not to follow Martin, but Zimmerman got out of his car (8) and pursued him anyway — violating a lawful police command (9). He then confronted Trayvon Martin (10). There was an altercation (11) during which Zimmerman sustained some minor injuries (12), before he shot the unarmed youth (13).

The issues were parsed more finely in the trial, which began with the opening of jury selection on June 10, 2013, and ended with a complete acquittal on the following July 13. Those 13 issues cited above were the foundation of the State’s charge of murder in the second degree — a foundation needing to be destroyed, brick after hollow brick, and replaced with facts and reality. The defense team, led by attorney Mark O’Mara and his co-counsel, Don West, went to work with this angle. Let’s look at their success, and some teachable moments for law-abiding armed citizens.

Issue By Issue

Part 1 and 2 above have already been discussed. Though legally a minor, Trayvon Martin was old enough to enlist in the Marine Corps at 17. He was at least 5’11″ tall, according to the autopsy. But according to reporters, his mom described him as standing between 6’2″ and 6’3″.

In a family portrait, Trayvon is the tallest person in the picture, while in the security camera inside the 7-Eleven where he bought the Skittles and watermelon drink, appears to tower over the clerk who is on record as being 5’10″.

Profiling? Scratch this third point. Zimmerman explained, on the night in question, Martin’s aberrant behavior — loitering in the pouring rain, walking aimlessly and looking in windows — made him suspect a possible burglar casing a future job. Though one TV network edited the dispatch tape to make it sound otherwise, Zimmerman didn’t even mention Martin was black until the dispatcher asked for a description.

What about Zimmerman as white racist? Au contraire. Zimmerman was one-eighth black himself, on his mother’s side. Just 60 years ago, he wouldn’t have been served in a white restaurant in Sanford. With the Klan riding high, the sheet-heads would have called him an “octoroon.” He was first deemed “white” by the press, but when they learned he was listed on official documents as Hispanic (his mother is from Peru), the media coined the term “White Hispanic.” One fellow claimed to have searched the computer archives of the entire history of a major newspaper, and learned the paper had never printed the term “White Hispanic” until this case.

A squad of FBI agents assigned to thoroughly investigate Zimmerman for evidence to make this a hate crime, determined in the spring of 2012 there was nothing there. Zimmerman had many black friends, had mentored African-American children and had publicly taken up the cause of a black man who had been beaten by a white — and Zimmerman thought the police were covering for him. This pushes the fourth issue off the table.

The jury was able to see there was no vigilante element to this incident. Vigilantes dispense their own justice; they don’t call the cops as Zimmerman did. Besides, Zimmerman knew those cops could appear at any moment — and they did, about a minute after the fatal shot. While Zimmerman had taken relevant classes in the past and considered a career in criminal justice, the Sanford Police Department’s Neighborhood Watch coordinator had offered him a uniform and a patrol car, and he turned both down.

He had also been elected to lead the Neighborhood Watch by his neighbors, and was not at all self-appointed. In any case, at the time of the shooting, he was not on any kind of patrol, but merely driving to Target to buy groceries. He was wearing the pistol he was licensed to carry, just as any of us reading this magazine might likely do. Cross off allegations 5 and 6, above.
“Pursuit”?

Zimmerman did call the cops (actually, the non-emergency dispatch number), hardly the act of a man filled with malice or intending a crime (item 7). However, he never violated a lawful order because no lawful order was given. The dispatcher testified he had no authority to give orders, and it was policy not to. The dispatcher asked Zimmerman what direction the suspicious person had gone.

After, Zimmerman can be heard exiting his SUV on the dispatch tape. He becomes short of breath and there’s wind in the background. The dispatcher figures out what’s happening and asks if Zimmerman is following the man. Zimmerman replies, “Yeah.” The dispatcher says, “We don’t need you to do that.” Zimmerman says, “Okay,” and the wind quickly stops and normal breathing returns. This is solid evidence he stopped following at this point, and is consistent with his statement to police. He then began to return to his car … and was ambushed en route.

Those who sought Zimmerman’s conviction said he “pursued” Trayvon Martin. No, he merely followed him briefly to see where Martin was going, and then stopped and turned back. “Pursuit” implies intent to capture: Police pursuit is intended to end in arrest, pursuit of game implies intent to kill and eat the quarry, and we’re allowed the pursuit of happiness so we can possess happiness. Whether or not it’s smart or tactically sound for the private citizen to follow someone who might be a burglar to report a location to police, it is in no way against the law.

Why did he do it at all? Consider while the dispatcher has no authority to give orders, a dispatcher is the one who answers and is therefore a voice of authority. This voice asks you for information. You have been through Neighborhood Watch training, which emphasizes you act as eyes and ears. Would you not feel a need to gather the information to answer this question? This is why points 7 through 9 carried no weight in court.

The Confrontation

Even among gun owners and the concealed carry community, Zimmerman received heavy criticism for confronting Martin. However, the overwhelming majority of the evidence indicates it was Martin who confronted Zimmerman. Rachel Jeantel, the female friend Trayvon was talking to on the phone in the moments before his death, said he told her he was almost to the place where he was staying.

Trayvon was a long-legged athlete, a 17-year-old football player. The 5’7″ Zimmerman, 11 years older with a long-standing weight problem, wouldn’t have been able to chase him down — especially with Trayvon having a head start to get out of view. Therefore, the location where the deadly encountered occurred meant Trayvon Martin would have doubled back.

In the brief exchange of words before it went physical, both Ms. Jeantel and the defendant said Trayvon uttered the first challenging words. Put it all together, and the instigator of the confrontation has to be Martin, not Zimmerman. The only injuries on Martin — except for the single gunshot wound — were on his knuckles; Zimmerman’s nose was smashed and swollen in the pictures taken at the scene, and the back of his head lacerated and bloody, consistent with having been banged on the sidewalk as Zimmerman described. Ms. Jeantel testified before the phone went dead, she heard Trayvon shout “get off.” In street slang, “get off” can also mean a command to fight, short for “get off the fence,” and would be consistent with the evidence of Trayvon Martin’s fascination with, and participation in, street fight culture.

Being watched or followed with obvious suspicion, solely because of your race, is a common experience among African-Americans — and enough to make anyone legitimately angry. Ms. Jeantel testified Trayvon told her he was being followed by a “creepy-ass cracka,” and young Martin also referred to Zimmerman as a “nigga.” She later said on “Piers Morgan Live” in her culture, “cracka” was no longer a derogatory word for white people, but a term to identify someone like a security guard. I have yet to hear this definition anywhere else.

However, if one accepts the definition of Ms. Jeantel, we have it from her own lips Trayvon thought he was being followed by someone with a security-related function … and knowingly attacked him anyway. Ms. Jeantel also told Morgan “nigga” was not a racial pejorative, but merely a word for any male. If Mr. Morgan believes this, he’s invited to drop by the New Black Panther Headquarters, shout “Hi, niggas,” and get back to us with his report of how it went for him.
The overwhelming weight of evidence and common sense alike tell us Trayvon Martin initiated the physical confrontation. And that’s what counts in both law and logic. No matter how righteous it may seem at the time, anger never justifies physical assault. Thus, the 10th point of the plaintiff/prosecution trope is struck off the list.

Altercation & Minor Injury

Elements 11 and 12 as listed above are classic examples of minimizing the other side’s argument to make your own point — which is something of a “dirty debate trick.” Words mean things. One could call the Vietnam conflict an “altercation,” but the word insults the loved ones and the memories of the more than 50,000 Americans who died there. Surviving Vietnam vets will tell you, “No, sir, it was a war.”

This is why so many in the criminal justice community rolled their eyes when they heard this event called an “altercation.” Within the first 48 hours, trained and experienced police investigators determined Zimmerman had been beaten by Martin, was down under his attacker in a martial arts “ground and pound” he could not escape, and was getting his skull smashed against a hard surface.

It was, in my opinion, disingenuous for the prosecution to try to convince the jury the shooting wasn’t justified because Zimmerman hadn’t been hurt badly enough yet. Any graduate of Logic 101 — let alone law school — knows or should know the whole purpose of self-defense with lethal force is to prevent death or great bodily harm. If you wait until you’ve been shot to return fire, for example, you’ve failed in prevention.

Similarly, if you wait until your brain has been turned to jelly or is leaking out of your head through an open skull fracture, you’re too late. Indeed, an unscrupulous lawyer might argue if you waited until after you believed you were mortally wounded to pull the trigger, you acted out of unlawful revenge rather than perfectly legal prevention. The extent of injuries already received — except as a reasonable predictor of more and worse to come — was irrelevant, and it appears the jury saw it as well. Scratch elements 11 and 12.

Disparity Of Force

Many people, even some who should have known better, could not get past the 13th and last element mentioned earlier here: the perception if an armed person kills an unarmed person, it must be wrong and punishable. The courts have long since recognized a principle called disparity of force. This is a situation in which the ostensibly “unarmed” person has such a great physical advantage over their opponent, death or crippling injury is likely to result the longer the conflict continues. This disparity becomes the equivalent of a deadly weapon, warranting the other person’s choice to use a deadly weapon in self-defense. (See American Handgunner’s Ayoob Files entry titled “Fist Vs. Gun” in the Sept/Oct 2013 issue in the online digital editions, for more on this topic.)

Disparity of force can be illustrated in a variety of scenarios: unarmed attackers outnumbering a victim, huge size and strength disparity, much greater skill in unarmed combat or any of several other elements. One such element is position of disadvantage. Here, pinned in what eyewitness John Good described as a “ground and pound” by Martin, Zimmerman was all but helpless to stop the beating.

Zimmerman couldn’t escape — the reason why the “stand your ground” principle was not applied by the defense, even though the pundits erroneously linked this hot button topic to this case — and he had no reason to believe the potentially fatal beating was going to stop. Moreover, his head being smashed against concrete was really little different from a man with a concrete block smashing him in the head; either way, the contact was likely to result in death or great bodily harm if not brought to a halt immediately.

Defense co-counsel Don West alluded to this in his opening statement, when he told the jury Martin was “armed with the sidewalk.” And this is all before you look at Zimmerman’s statement declaring Martin saw his gun and was reaching for it! The jury came to understand this, too — which is why the clueless meme of “unarmed murdered by the armed” fell on its face in the end.

Lessons

There are several learning points here. After this highly publicized case, I wouldn’t be surprised if enrollment in Neighborhood Watch programs dropped significantly. Lesson: Few good deeds go unpunished.

Despite the furor this case raised among gun prohibitionists, the Kel-Tec PF-9 obviously saved Zimmerman’s life. Lesson: You never know when you’ll need the gun you’re licensed to carry — so carry it wherever you legally can.

It’s popular to say, “Never talk to the police.” But if Zimmerman hadn’t, he likely would have been arrested that night. The recorded interviews and reenactment saved him the ordeal of testimony and cross-examination, while still getting his story across. Hell, Zimmerman even took a lie detector test at the police station (voice stress analysis) and passed. Had it not been for the freak firestorm of politicized publicity, it’s unlikely he would have ever been charged. I personally would have said much less before having legal counsel with me, but talking to the police worked in this case. Lesson: Let the police know it was the other guy who attacked you, so they know what to look for as they investigate.

In the world of iPhone cameras, consider using yours to record at least sound and even video if possible. If Martin’s attack on Zimmerman had been recorded, I doubt he ever would have gone to trial. Conversely, if the plaintiff’s meme had been true, a discreet camcorder in Trayvon’s pocket would have sent George Zimmerman to prison by now. Lesson: Patrol car dash cams and TASER Cams have saved many cops from false allegations … and can save you, too.

There’s much to learn from this case. Books will be written about it, and I hope my friend Attorney Andrew Branca writes one. He sat through the trial in the courtroom and blogged about it daily at www.legalinsurrection.com. His insight as a lawyer, and particularly the comments of the countless trial attorneys who posted their take on things there, are most instructive. My own observations on the matter are found in more detail in my blog, beginning mid-July 2013, at www.backwoodshome.com/blogs/massadayoob.

I wish to express condolences to the families involved on both sides. If Trayvon Martin’s mother didn’t love him, she wouldn’t have practiced tough love and kicked him out and sent him to his father when he became uncontrollable at home. The Zimmermans have been through financial devastation, death threats and public excoriation — all undeserved. There are no winners in things like this. Finally, congratulations to Mark O’Mara and Don West for the defense, and to the honest witnesses called by both sides … and to a jury, which I believe did Justice.
By Massad Ayoob

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  1. Jack Betz says:

    With the fall of the american press comes the fall of america. Gone are the days of unbaised reporting of the facts. The people who run newpapers are interested in money only. The fact that their is more money to keep the pot going and print haf truths and outright lies. When we cannot trust the press we stop paying attention to the press. That could mean the end of the press. My two bits.

  2. Lesson: Few good deeds go unpunished.

    This comment alone disgusts me and disrobes your faults and agendas. The simple fact of the matter is Zimmerman did no good that night and should have saved us all the headache and stayed home. He ruined many lives that evening and only solidified one thing in my mind; dead people can’t speak.

    There aren’t any witnesses, Zimmerman’s word is all we have and I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw you.

  3. First I would like to say that the loss of the young man’s life is certainly a tragedy. Thank you for shedding some light on the Zimmerman case with this article. The details you provided painted a much clearer picture of the whole story. thank you

  4. Michael McMillan says:

    read your take on the Zimmerman case with great disappointment. I read you for years, and thought of you as someone who gave objective, well informed information and opinions. In the case of this subject, its clear where your biases lie. You describe Trayvon Martin like you are a psychologist; of course you are not. However, I am. You use information that would be legally defined as hearsay to bolster your argument about a legal case. What you have written supports the opinions of many conscious and unconscious bigots, who few those of other races, particularly African-Americans. Like the St. Louis County police officer who told a class who were seeking to qualify to carry a gun, that he didn’t intend any racial slur, but you were justified in using extra force to subdue a black suspect with your night stick because it was a scientific fact that blacks had thicker skulls than whites. Yet he didn’t think of himself as a bigot. Instead of focusing on Martin, who most psychologists would view as not having a fully formed personality, and who’d understand that all adolescents engage in behavior that may not reflect good judgment. Yet you reserved the harshest judgment for the adolescent. Why not look as critically at the adult in the picture? Who judged Martin on sight as suspicious? You even amplify his size, to cast him as more threatening. Using your bigoted approach, you could justify 41 bullets being pumped into unarmed Amadou Diallo, or the shootings of two African-Americans, one male, one female, who knocked on the doors of whites seeking help after auto accidents, and were killed by the residents. Or the resident of Baton Rouge who killed a trick or treating Asian LSU student who came to his door; shot him with a 44 magnum and it was ruled as justified. But whites shooting blacks and getting away with it is an American tradition; to my knowledge, a white person wasn’t executed for killing an African-American until the 1990′s. And there always has been someone to justify those killings; you’ve joined those ranks. And you have the nerve to characterize the scrutiny that sociopath Zimmerman got as a lynching. If there had been a lynching, Zimmerman would be dead, not Trayvon. Psychologists call what you have engaged in confirmatory bias; here it masquerades as reason. I remember visiting the NRA headquarters back in the 90′s while traveling on business; the all white staff looked at African-American me like I was going to steal something; with the same kind of suspicion Zimmerman reserved for Martin.

    • Dr. McMillian points out that Massad Ayoob is not a psychologist. That is true. Mas has better qualifications for evaluating the dynamic in this case: 30 years experience as a cop, researcher, and instructor. I am not a psychologist either. I have practice criminal law for 26 years. Based on my experience, I found Massad’s dissection of the evidence in the case to be methodical, insightful and reasonable.
      Hearsay, Dr. McMillian, can be admissible for any of a number of exceptions. It is a term of art which you have misused. Massad did not rely upon out of court statements by third parties to establish the truth. He quoted testimony of witnesses, all of which was admitted in court. I don’t know what hearsay you are referring to.
      “Who judged Martin on sight as suspicious?” I didn’t read where Mas said that. Martin drew suspicion because he was seen looking into windows of residences in the a manner commonly used by burglars.
      “You even amplify his size…” No…Mas cited to video and autopsy evidence to establish Martin’s size. You use the word “amplify” to imply exaggeration. I found none of that in this article.
      “…most psychologists would view as not having a fully formed personality, and who’d understand that all adolescents engage in behavior that may not reflect good judgment.” Are you implying that special consideration be given to a larger, stronger attacker who is slamming a man’s head into the pavement in a manner likely to kill or seriously injure just because he is young? The person with the crushed skull would still be just as dead, age of attacker notwithstanding.
      The focus is on Martin because the question is whether or not Zimmerman had the right to use deadly force in self defense. There was no bigotry involved in this legal analysis. Massad made no remark remotely resembling the St. Louis officer you quoted. As a psychologist, I would expect you to understand that you should not label someone a bigot absent evidence of same. Where is the nexus between Massad and the fool from St. Louis? There is none. Your mention of that officer is a cheap trick designed to make Massad look guilty by association. What a misuse (and a transparent one at that) of psychology.
      “you could justify 41 bullets being pumped into unarmed Amadou Diallo…”. So could I. So did the jury who heard that case. Diallo was the spitting image of a wanted, armed rapist. A neighbor told the police that said rapist had been seen in the building where Diallo resided (obviously mistaking the two). Diallo failed to obey the commands of the officers to stay still and keep his hands visible. He reached for his wallet in a place where many carry a gun, and then withdrew it and thrust it in the direction of the officers. He appeared to be the rapist. He appeared to be disobeying the officers’ commands, and he appeared to be armed. The number of shots was not the issue. The issue was whether or not the officers had reasonable cause to believe their lives were in danger and thus used deadly force. They thought they did. So did the jury who judged them. Were they also all bigots? Your reference to this case is another attempt to impute guilt by association. These two cases are different on many facts, but they hold one thing in common: In each, a jury of 12 heard ALL the evidence (not just what you read in the papers) and made a judgment.
      You play the race card because Massad has demonstrated that the facts are not on your side. You claim to be a psychologist, yet you label Zimmerman as a “sociopath” (the DSM has replaced that term with anti-social personality disorder). Did you perform tests on Zimmerman–the MMPI II…or conduct a clinical interview? No? Then how do you have the right to diagnosis him?
      Your willingness to label Massad as a bigot and label a man you never examined, tested or interviewed with a clinical diagnosis shows me that your arguments are not based on reason, but on personal bias. Your judgment of Massad’s article includes faulting him for using hearsay when in fact he did not. It is not Massad Ayoob who has unjustified “nerve”. It is you.

  5. Randal Harrison says:

    I believe justice was served in this case. I also believe the responder before me, Mr. McMillan, wasted his time and money in college.

    • Michael McMillan says:

      Au contraire; no time or money wasted. A full tuition scholarship and fellowship to a university neither you or Ayoob would have been accepted in. BTW, Zimmerman just got arrested on domestic violence charges; you, Ayoob, and all the Zimmerman cheerleaders are great judges of character…

      • Zimmerman’s character was not the issue at trial. Whether or not he was in imminent danger of grave bodily harm or death at the hands of an attacker was the issue. The jury heard the evidence and acquitted. As someone who went to law school and has practice law (you have done neither), I understand why. Your trumpeting your qualifications as a psychologist while passing medical judgment on a man you have never met or clinically interviewed is not responsible, in my view. You have shown you don’t understand the law or the dynamics of a deadly encounter.
        What Zimmerman has done after he went thru the incredibly stressful ordeal of surviving a violent attack, intense public and media scrutiny and a long trial is not the issue. People act out due to stress all the time. To judge his actions on the night he shot Martin based upon what he allegedly done months later enjoys no support in the law or in psychology.

  6. Richard L Puckett says:

    The previous comments show just how this situation is viewed. True only one individual survived to tell his story, we will never know exactly what happened that fateful night. Both Zimmerman and Martin were within their rights to be at that location. Zimmerman was within his rights to be armed with a pistol and Martin was within his rights to be walking with his candy and soft drink. Did Zimmrrman follow Martin perhaps , did Martin acost Zimmerman definitely. Did Zimmerman have the right to self protection, definitely. Are there consequences for your action, definitely. This is a lesson which Martin had not learned, tragic that his indifference to this fundamental of living contributed to his untimely death.

  7. There are three travesty’s here, a police chief looses his job for doing his job according to the law. A detective looses his job for reporting the facts as they were uncovered. And the biggest is a corrupt state legal system forces a court case that they know in advance, that once the facts are presented as they happened, there is no chance for a conviction. All to appease a corrupt news media. The corrupt media insisted on showing a picture of Martin that was several years old. Long before he became a “self styled GANGSTA”. If Martin would have succeeded in killing Zimmerman by bashing his head into the sidewalk, I’m sure the media would have not even mentioned it.

  8. The Zimmerman/Martin case will henceforth be a means test for determining who has the reasoning skills of a “flat earther” and who can qualify for at least room temperature IQ status.

    Sadly, several of the commenters here failed the test.

  9. As usual “Mas” did a wonderful job of accurate reporting. However, either being kind or merely politically correct, he didn’t mention the disgraceful roll played in this whole mess by the three stooges, Obama, Biden, and Holder.

  10. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/07/14/why-do-black-and-white-americans-see-the-zimmerman-verdict-so-differently.html

    Post as commentary on the Daily Beast, July 17, 2013:

    A lot of emotion has been expended on this incident, and the media has had a field day for almost 18 months making all kinds of points—Many of them fraudulent if you consider the faking of 911 calls and the doctoring of photographs as a way to get people upset.

    TM and GZ each apparently had their own attitudes and either of them could have prevented what happened—But that is all hindsight and second-guessing by all of us who hope we never behave that way or have something similar happen to us.

    Considering what has been said about the sequence of events that night, each of them had the opportunity to defuse the initial tension if either of them had simply initiated a friendly exchange when they first saw each other and TM apparently walked toward GZ in his truck. However, they each had mindsets that hindered them and caused them to use bad judgment.

    And if TM was concerned about being watched/followed, instead of being resentful(?), why didn’t he simply use the cell phone he was talking on and call 911?

    Neither one of them had a “right” to assault the other. The trial did not bring out anything about TM’s history and what kind of person he was, and it portrayed GZ as probably being a wimp. People have simply lined up on one side versus the other, and would excuse the predisposition and behavior of the person they want to support. But however the fight started, it looks as if it was a one-sided thing—Words could have been exchanged with no foul committed, but whoever threw the first punch was at fault. If that was TM, that alone—again in hindsight—was probably not enough to justify shooting him. However, read on.

    For the sake of trying to understand what happened, say TM did throw the first punch and flattened GZ’s nose. At that point, TM had “won the fight.” GZ had apparently never been in a real fight, and even if he had been the pain from that injury would have stunned him, his eyes would be watering, his sense of balance would be thrown off, and the darkness would have further disoriented him. He might have been wondering “What the heck was that all about!?” TM could have walked away at that point, having demonstrated to the person who was watching/following him that he did not want any part of that.

    Here is where what is called the “stand your ground” issue kicks in.

    The phrase “stand your ground” is a misnomer that is misused by the media and others to get people stirred up. It is a short-hand way of describing an element of the self defense law that holds that someone who is attacked does not have a duty to retreat. The purpose is to avoid prosecution/persecution of a person who might use force to defend themselves or others against attack. The law generally allows someone who is not the cause of a violent encounter to respond with force if that is necessary to prevent grave bodily harm or death to himself or to another. They cannot claim self defense if they initiated the use of force.

    [Notice that an exchange of words is not a justification for replying with either the threat or the actual use of physical force or violence.]

    If a person might want to disengage and not do injury to their assailant, but the circumstances prevent them escaping harm to themselves, then not only is there no “duty to retreat”—There is no ability to retreat. “Duty to retreat” or “No duty to retreat” is meaningless in that situation. In dire circumstances like this, what is relevant is being able to survive.

    In this situation, a person who is not inclined to harm another even in self defense only has two choices: Either take whatever continued harm their assailant might do to them, or use whatever means is available to end the assault on themselves.

    If the TM/GZ incident went the way it was described in the trial, then the argument could be made that GZ would have been justified in using his weapon immediately upon first being hit—After all, he could not have known whether TM was armed and might use a weapon against him; he could not have known how far TM’s attack would be pushed and whether he would survive the physical assault; and he could not have known whether TM might get his gun away from him and use it on him or someone else in the vicinity. From a survival perspective—GZ could be said to have taken undue risk in letting the assault continue for as long as it appears to have gone.

    Although many want to take sides over the TM/GZ incident, and some make their living trying to exploit and exacerbate divides in society, if each of us tries to put ourselves in the position of TM and GZ we might have a better understanding of why things happened the way they did, and perhaps be more sensitive to how to avoid outcomes like this.

  11. Raymond Ploeger P.E. says:

    What no one has pointed out is that Trayvon Martin told his girlfriend after saying he was being followed by a “Creepy Ass Cracker” that “He would take dare of it” i.e. he was in effect saying he was going to attack George Zimmerman. I don’t understand why everyone has missed this point. I heard her testimony.

  12. Hope Carter says:

    I wonder if any of these comments from obviously white people would be even similar if Trayvon was white and Zimmerman was black. Never mind. Do not respond or comment. We all know the answer.
    I do not want you to lie.

  13. Hope Carter says:

    Correction. I do not wish to be the cause/reason for your lying.

  14. Hope Carter says:

    Correction of errors in my last post. What I meant to write was:
    Justice has never been the true raison d’être for the law in the US or, perhaps, any country. The obvious bias in this article as well as the comments from presumably white Americans coupled with unequal laws as well as unequal enforcement and unequal administration of those laws appear to illustrate this statement. This is, in one sense, a nation of laws but the nature of some of the laws, the prosecution and enforcement of laws and the judgements used in administration of penalties of laws makes it a nation of influential persons; persons that, in far too many cases, base their judgments on biased and unjust notions. For some time Ayoob has served as a light; a positive reminder that some people of influence buck the trend. Sadly, this article has served as notice that my views WRT Ayoob were in error.

  15. That was an excellent article. I followed the case closely since I have a Texas CHL and pretty much always carry. However, I have not seen anything that breaks down the case in such detail. I hope someone sends this article to all the folks that wanted Zimmerman’s head – not that I think it would change their opinion.

  16. This is another case of “the truth hurts.” Let’s let it go at that.

  17. It is sad to see someone like MacMillan, claiming to be a Psychologist, who can’t seem to demonstrate any knowledge of the street, statistics, violence, and most importantly any insight into human nature. He reminds us that Zimmerman has since been picked up on DV charges. As a Psychologist, I would expect him to understand that when you are not a public figure by choice, and you have been reviled, threatened and put into a public fishbowl for over a year, that you might just be a person in crisis, who doesn’t react the same as he once did, and who may be an emotional basketcase from more than a year of non-stop stress. Not to mention that he was charged, not convicted.
    When the case was first brought out by the news and everyone was rushing to judgment, I was saying “wait – this isn’t going to be what you all are assuming.” As a man with extensive street experience, an attorney who no longer practices criminal law, with a father who was a scrupulously honest prosecutor having more people on death row than anyone else in California, I understand street violence. Having been a long time reader of Massad Ayoob (can’t count how many years back), I applaud his article as one best synopsis on this sad situation.
    Yes Dr. MacMillan, Travon was a yet fully developed brain, but that makes him potentially even more dangerous. I don’t necessarily agree that Zimmerman’s life was saved by his gun. I don’t agree that Travon had formed the mental intent to kill Zimmerman. However, on the street without others around, brain damage and death occurs quite often, as the news sometimes even bothers to report (San Francisco paramedic beaten at baseball game). A man being knocked out while standing many times strikes his head onconcrete with sufficient force to create subdural hematomas that cause coma and death. Banging someone’s head on the ground is actually not as dangerous as it may seem, if done carefully and methodically, but a young man in rage with an undeveloped brain is not likely to have that understanding, or restraint. Regardless, does anyone who is defending himself, which clearly the hapless Zimmerman was, have to risk brain damage or death, even if unintended, before using deadly force. It is easy enough to sit back in an armchair and quarterback after the fact. “Gee, why didn’t Zimmerman just take his street beating like a man?” That kind of thinking indicates a complete lack of understanding with respect to street violence and medical science. It is kind of like looking at a caged tiger and saying what is the big deal. Well if you encountered that caged tiger in his element in the bush from 10 feet away, you would understand what the big deal is. That is what happens on the street.
    The only reason this case is even known, is because the race baiters took up the sword. It wasn’t about race.
    Finally, thank you Massad for ending with the final truth. A boy, no matter how misguided and undeveloped his brain was, is dead, never giving him the chance to be what hopefully would at some time have been a productive individual in society. His parent will grieve every day and their pain cannot be assuaged. George Zimmerman’s life has been ruined, as clearly he was not emotionally ready for the ugly reality of street violence, and must have so many new emotional issues to deal with that it will be wonder if he ever becomes stable again. And then there is his family who must suffer as they watch their son/brother/etc. changed and in pain every day. Not to mention that Zimmerman’s family has been castigated and threatened.
    In the end, a huge opportunity to start a national conversation on the unintended consequences of street fights, especially with young adults, was completely lost in the carnival atmosphere inflamed by disingenuous media and race baiters. This situation could have, and should have, been used as an example to all young men, that what may seem like a simple testosterone fueled “lets get in a fight,” can have devastating unintended results. Does anyone think that Zimmerman would have approached Martin if he had known the future in advance? Does anyone think that Martin would have done anything but tool along on his way, or even answered simple questions about who he was and where he was going, when asked, if had known what could happen. In this mess, that lesson has been lost. And that is the saddest thing of all.

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