Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Trayvon Martin Post ...

I have been paying attention to the Trayvon Martin / George Zimmerman case for some time. Not actually being in the media, per-se, I have not had to render an opinion on what happened. That's good--because I still have no clear idea what happened. What I have to go on is:
  1. A number of pieces of information I consider "facts." These are things like audio of 911 tapes, police surveillance video tapes, and the basic elements that have been recorded (such as: the date this happened, the people involved and facts about their names and ages, that Trayvon Martin is really dead, etc.)
  2. A much larger amount of data that I consider "reported facts." These are different from "facts." Just because something is reported doesn't make it so. In this category are things like what Trayvon's girlfriend says she heard. What I've read an eye-witness said. What the police report says, and so on. These "reported facts" are, to my mind, generally accurate--but they can contain bias--or they can be poorly sourced.
  3. Then I have analysis. This consists of, for example, people examining the police video and saying either Zimmerman does or does not look hurt. A voice expert says he doesn't think it's Zimmerman on the tape screaming. Other experts cast doubt on that analysis, and so on. I consider analysis the most biased of all data since it is just someone's thinking. It isn't an artifact I can examine myself (like an audio tape) and it isn't usually presented as a reported fact (unlike, for example, the police report which is presumably created the night of the incident before it became a national media story and is therefore possibly less tainted).
There's one more key element here: how much information I seek out and process. If I am addicted to the story I may learn different things than if I simply use one or two vectors of information. It is also possible that some vectors of information (partisan blogs, for example) may consciously omit things that don't suit their narrative. So I have to ask "how balanced are my sources?"

But The Problem Is: Facts Aren't Facts
NBC apologized playing a doctored tape of one of the 911 calls for Trayvon Martin. What they omitted was pretty important. See for yourself
What They Played:
     Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.
Here’s how the actual conversation went down:
     Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s  raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.
     Dispatcher: OK, and this guy — is he black, white or Hispanic?
     Zimmerman: He looks black.
In this case I could listen "to the audio" and, since it has been altered, hear something that makes the situation completely different than the un-altered piece. Specifically Zimmerman goes from being a racist racial profiler to someone answering a 911 dispatcher's question. We will never know for sure what was behind NBC's alteration of the tape (they claim it was some kind of processing error--that doesn't really pass my sniff-test) but it makes the point: what I believe to be entirely true must still be questioned.

What Seems To Be Fact?
For me there are two things that I give substantial credence to in the case:

  1. I heard 911 audio of someone screaming for aid (I think), what sounded like a gunshot, and immediate silence. This, I believe to be the shot that killed Trayvon.
  2. Enhanced video seems to show that Zimmerman was in fact wounded in the back of his head. 
What Reported Fact Do I Believe To Be Accurate?
  1. I believe that Zimmerman was injured according to the police report (bleeding from the nose and back of the head). I believe that the above link is, in fact, the real police report.
  2. I believe there was an "eye-witness" to some of the events. I'm not sure, however that her account is accurate--eye witness accounts are notoriously unreliable. However, I count her testimony as reasonably sincere.
  3. I believe that George Zimmerman had a fight with an ATF officer (undercover) around 2005, was required to attend anger management classes, and has friends who report he could get 'out of control.'
What Analysis Do I Believe?
So far I believe none of it. I am intrigued by the voice analysis (the analyzer says "Not Zimmerman") but a counter-expert says it's apples and oranges (and, to be fair, the audio is over a cell phone from a great distance  recorded on a 911 tape--not exactly a crystal clear report). I think the eye-witness will be an important part of any court case--but I'm not de facto swayed by what I've heard of her narrative of events.

What Do I Think?
Interestingly one of the most substantial pieces of information I have comes not from the press but from his own lawyers--who are dropping him because he has not been in contact with them and did speak to Sean Hannity  and ... his web site. Yes, Zimmerman has his own web site. The site is an amateur design which serves to funnel you to his PayPlan donation page. It contains the following quote at the bottom of each page:
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing." - Edmund Burke
Its background is an American flag. His link called The Facts contains this:
"People have a right to their own opinions, but not to their own facts. Evidence must be located, not created, and opinions not backed by evidence cannot be given much weight" - James W. Loewen
I am grateful to my friends that have come to my aid, whether publicly or personally, never questioning my integrity or actions, understanding that I cannot discuss the details of the event on February 26th, and allowing law enforcement to proceed with their investigation unhindered. Once again, I thank you for your patience and I assure you, the facts will come to light.
And that's it.

To me this paints the picture of someone who is somewhat unstable. To be sure, what he is going through is torturous and terrifying and, to be honest, not very fair. On the other hand, plenty of other people have gone through this and have (a) done what their lawyers told them to (b) not talked to Fox instead of their lawyers and (c) started their own amateur web site for no really good reason.

I am therefore inclined to believe that:
  • Zimmerman is prone to making bad decisions (as he did when he continued to follow Trayvon and again with his lawyers and the web site)
  • Zimmerman is prone to over-use violence (ATF agent, possible reports of friends)
  • Zimmerman believes himself to be heroic or potentially heroic (which would suit with the armed neighborhood watch as well)--his use of the quote about good men doing nothing seems to indicate to me that he feels he is responsible for taking action
As such, I am slightly more likely to hold him suspect. But only slightly the turning point will, I think, be whether or not the voice analysis can be further conducted. Also: if that eye-witness is credible--however accurate she is--he's done for.

I will also note:
  1. I see no way that the Stand Your Ground law features into this. If his version of events were proven accurate and he was about to be killed by Trayvon he'd be within his rights to shoot in self defense. If he assaulted Trayvon Stand Your Ground does not apply.
  2. The case has been clearly and badly politicized in the worst possible way. NBC "editing" the tape seems to me to be agenda driven
UPDATE: As I was writing this, the prosecutor decided to charge Zimmerman with 2nd Degree murder. The speech specifically called out them not prosecuting based on public opinion. If that is the case, that's good: as Megan McArdle once wrote, the justice system should not be a pinata that we hit until we get what we want out of it. However, just because they said that doesn't mean it's so.

I'm right here with Legal Insurrection:
It will be interesting if substantial new information is released. Until I hear more about what the prosecutor has, I’ll not speculate.


  1. “Just the fact” and “trust the system” seem fine attitudes to have. However, had there not been people who got angry over this, and who shouted their anger from the rooftops — and let us be honest, that anger was about race — this case would have vanished. Trayvon would be nothing more than his parent’s painful memory. So, yeah, NBC screwed up and deserves whatever condemnation comes their way. But I will not criticize those who stormed the beaches angry over this killing. What if no one had?

    1. I don't condemn the publicity. Or the people who shouted about this. I believe, based on what I have read, that it is -likely- that Zimmerman is at fault (i.e. shows a history of violence, bad decisions, exited the vehicle, etc.)

      I do not think that implied threats of violence if there is no "justice" are a good idea for a variety of reasons (bad tactics, bad philosophy, bad optics)--but all kinds of stuff happens and people get away with bad things when there is no one watching.

      The problem with NBC's screw up is that it's blatantly and bleakly partisan or, at least, really appears that way. If I have a mega-media outlet giving me tapes that change my perception of events by 180-degrees, what am I supposed to think other than "I'd better be -really- careful who I trust here because once this becomes politicized I guess I can't trust -anything-."

      That's a *big* problem. I am not a mainstream-media hater. I think they are, in general, more reliable than the alternate media which is, if anything a -least- as biased and has no reputation to protect--but stuff like NBC's edit makes me go back to square one and re-evaluate -everything- about the case.

      I don't like having to do that. It's unpleasant--but I think it's the only rational response to NBC doing what it did.

      Oh, and also: I don't especially trust the system. I think we have to have some faith in the justice system as a whole or else we're nowhere--but this seems to be a textbook case where a lot more investigation was required and would not have happened.

      If the prosecutor comes forward with new evidence (or even the present evidence in a cleaned up, well presented format) I hope -strongly- that the material gives credence to a proper investigation over a response to local politics.