July 22, 2013

Some not so black-and-white thoughts on the Zimmerman trial

First, Florida's Stand Your Ground law is problematic, indeed. Not only does it appear to lead to some racially biased shootouts, it also leads to drug dealers firing at one another and getting off, and in at least one case, a jealous spouse blasting away at a lover.

That said, even with all the non-racially biased problems with the law, it's nearly a decade old now, and no Florida Legislature since the one that passed it has seen fit to repeal it.

There's several other things at play, though.

First, a jury trial is not a "search for truth," not even in the common-sense meaning, let alone the epistemological one of philosophy. And, it appears that a certain amount of people who say "he's guilty" don't get this. Some can't get this, apparently, which in turn is another fact that undercuts certain Gnu Atheists, and other practitioners of scientism, about how rational and critical thinking homo sapiens is, or is not, by nature.

Even more scary is the percentage of people who theoreticallly can get it, and somewhere in their brains, even, do get it, but, at the surface level of consciousness, refuse to get it, or refuse to accept it. (Let me use this to point you to my blog post of several days ago, where I note that "atheism does not = political liberalism."

This gets back to Thomas More's words to Roper in "A Man for All Seasons." To paraphrase, in a new and secularly improved way, "If you're only going to selectively apply the rule of law, don't try to hide behind it yourself." (See more below.)

Again, a jury trial is not about a search for truth. It's the adversarial system it's always been billed as being in Anglo-American law. And, the verdict was correct.

Zimmerman, in fact, never should have been charged with second-degree murder. After the local police dawdled one way (and, over handling of the crime scene, the chief at the time George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin should have been fired earlier than he was pushed out passively), the state and its DA overreacted with that charge. Manslaughter was the best they could have won, and even that was iffy with the Stand Your Ground law; something like aggravated assault with serious bodily injury, or something like that, might have worked.

Indeed, Alan Dershowitz says that prosecutor Angela Corey should be charged with professional misconduct, or worse. And others have compared this to the Duke lacrosse non-case. I don't think it's that bad, but it's bad enough.

Even somebody probably more liberal than I, and definitely blacker than I, Ta-Nehisi Coates, agrees.

And, legal scholar Eugene Volokh reminds us of where the burden of proof rests in such cases, and what that standard of proof generally is in criminal law.

That said, even under older ideas of self-defense in Florida, it would have been next to impossible to prove premeditation. (Those ideas actually were the lodestone for the trial; Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law was never actually invoked, another myth about the trial.) Even if any shadow of SYG were gone, Zimmerman still wouldn't have been guilty of second-degree murder. He also wouldn't have been guilty of manslaughter, based on evidence actually available.

A lot of people probably think it was premeditated, already having an image of Zimmerman as a racist.

Well, either worries about police coverups trump racism, or else he's a bit more complex than some people would like him to be. Zimmerman protested loud and long about the Sanford PD covering up the beating of a homeless black person.

And, leave it to the Gnu Atheist types, starting with Greta Christina, to ramp up their holier-than-thou attitude, including the usual Gnu stance of refusing to actually discuss issues. Wonder if she would swear at Coates, too?

Meanwhile, David Simon is not the only person I've seen to hint at the idea of white collective guilt, though he's the most famous. (Coming on top of his attacks on Glenn Greenwald over Edward Snowden, I now officially believe Simon is hugely self-overrated.) A subcomponent of this is white folks telling other white folks to "check their privilege."

One last legal thought: It's trials like this that make me long for Continental European jurisprudence at times. True, a presiding judge with cross-examination powers can run amok (picture Judge Ito in France), but, he or she is theoretically checked by the presence of assisting judges as well as the appeals process. Arguably, the Continental system comes, or can come, closer to a pursuit for the truth than the Anglo-American system. (And, yes, I'm aware of the Amanda Knox case.)

Let me now address this from other personal angles.

We secularists know that truth is never black-and-white. Related to that, those of us who are non-Platonist secular humanists (I'm pretty sure that most Platonist humanists are religious ones, anyway) know that grand, abstract ideas, or Ideas, aren't real, let alone hyperreal. Some of us, who have read Walter Kaufmann, know that guilt and justice are among those unreal abstract ideas.

Also, we don't know the whole story. We do know that it looked like a good "story" to the mainsream media. We do know that Trayvon Martin's parents helped that by spreading a picture of the 10-year-old Trayvon. Even if he wasn't a man at 17, he wasn't a 10-year-old boy, either. We do know that, even at the same time that Zimmerman appeared to have some quasi-racist bones, he had at least one race-blind eye, per the link I posted above.

And, it was a "story." That's why the media lapped it up. White-on-black, until we discovered Zimmerman had Hispanic heritage, which laughably led one TV outlet to call him a "white Hispanic."

Yep, lapped it up. Lawyer and Texas legal blogger Grits for Breakfast notes that CNN probably is laughing all the way to the bank. As is at least one juror.

Well, juror B37 WAS laughing all the way to the bank, until a Twitterer led a bomb on her would-be agent and got the deal killed. It also sounds like the rest of the jurors don't really like B37's giving the impression she speaks for all of them. Given her attorney hubby and other things, I'll venture she thought of the idea early on. And, it would never constitutionally fly, due to First Amendment issues, but it would be nice if jurors, like convicts, could be prevented from profiting off trials. At least, constitutional jurisprudence might weaken this.

We also, also know that stupid, ethically and morally unwarranted killings have been committed in the dozens in Florida since Stand Your Ground. But, none of them had the same media-driven, "compelling" story line, even though many of them were more egregious, or in the case of drug dealer shootouts, more pathetic.

But, people, for whatever reason, didn't find outrage until now.

While not justifying race riots by white, brown or black, I do agree that Sanford police botched this case by not looking at possible criminality from the start.

Meanwhile, there's a sidebar issue. Would a second, federal-level criminal trial on civil rights charges be double jeopardy? That issue has been ruled a negatory by the Supreme Court. However, many long-ago members of the ACLU still said it is ...

Until Rodney King, as this piece notes.

And, while I'm not an ACLU member, in part related to the larger issue of how much it's become a general liberal activist group, and other things, I'll admit to double-jeopardy questions myself, tentatively siding with Ira Glasser and other older members and leaders.

And, I think Anthony Romero, had some other members, or former members, not busted the ACLU's chops, would still like Holder to move forward.

It's worth noting that the Center for Constitutional Rights properly stayed silent. (Any civil liberties charitable money from me in the past decade has gone to CCR.)

That said ...

If you want change, follow the dollar. Tell Florida-based businesses (like orange juice!) that you'll boycott them unless they push the Florida Legislature to change Stand Your Ground. Per a Facebook friend, maybe better than ag companies, don't buy LeBron jerseys. Or better yet, if mechanical breakdowns haven't sworn you off, don't ride Carnival Cruise Lines.

Or, per this list of the Fortune 1,000, don't rent from Budget. Don't get paper at Office Depot. Don't eat at any Darden Restaurants. But, you have to tell the companies that you're boycotting them, and why.

Meanwhile, don't hold your breath over the Department of Justice pursuing federal civil rights charges. In part due to the link I posted above, they'd also be difficult to prove beyond a standard of reasonable doubt. And, might not be warranted. Think about that, too.

Because, although Zimmerman has engaged in some moderately violent behavior in the past, and that link I posted above still might not offset other instances of possible anti-black animus, yet more money beyond legal settlements Martin's parents have already gotten still won't bring him back. Nor is a civil trial an epistemic search for truth, either.

Above all, though, don't be like President Barack Obama. Dear Leader has taken the self-love for his allegedly mellifluous voice to whole new levels.


Anonymous said...

You are wrong on SYG not being relevant in this trial. Fundamentally. It wasn't invoked by the defense because they preferred a jury to a trial by judge -- but also because they knew they were going to get the benefit of SYG in the instructions to the jury under Florida law. Which they did. Go read the jury institutions, which specifically referred to SYG as the standard for determining guilt or innocence, and then recalibrate your essay. You simply got that wrong.

Gadfly said...

The judge citing part of SYG in jury instructions is different than the defense invoking it. The defense never invoked it. And, of course, had no idea what the judge would do in instructions, so therefore did not "know" they would get any benefit.

Nope, I stand by what I wrote.