Conspiracy Theory: 'Zimmerman Put On Weight To Look Harmless'
You were holding your breath for The Omnivore's take on the George Zimmerman verdict, weren't you? Here it is.
A few necessary caveats:
- IANAL: I am not a lawyer. This means two things--the first is that you can't take my legal advice but the second is that I am at the mercy of analysts who, presumably, have legal training to get things right. Thus, my legal understanding of things is certainly wrong somewhere and could be wrong everywhere.
- I did not follow the case closely. This was a very "high resolution" case (even for being outside the courtroom). There was heavy blog coverage and a lot of stuff on Twitter. I have done my reading but I do not claim to be an expert--even in the outside coverage of it. I have not followed it as closely as some. This may have skewed my perspective.
- The Ref Needs Glasses. It is very human--and very stupid--to assume that you, at home on your couch, know better what happened than someone who was right there. In sports this leads to calling things differently than a referee (who, in addition to being right there is a also a professional at making these calls--something we, generally, are not). Second-guessing everyone from the cops to the attorneys, to the jurors is necessarily an exercise in narcissism. I do not think I know better or could do better. This is my inexpert and at-a-distance opinion.
What Should The Verdict Have Been?
The Omnivore's best guess is: Manslaughter. You may be asking why that is. Let me explain:
Did Zimmerman Get Out Of His Car Intending To Shoot Martin?
I think the answer is almost certainly no. I do suspect (strongly) he got out of the car intending to confront Martin--possibly to catch him "in the act" (of burglarizing a home) and he might not have done that without a gun--but I do not believe he got out of the car intending to kill him.
There is no evidence of that and nothing in Zimmerman's character. That should take Murder-1 off the table.
But He Did Racially Profile Him, Right?
Zimmerman all but certainly profiled Martin: he sized him up as a young black male who, I would guess, he believed was within the age range of most criminals (around 16-24?). How can I say this? Do you believe Zimmerman would have stopped or called in the report if instead of Trayvon Martin it had been a 65 year old black guy? No--he would not have. Is this because Zimmerman's computer-like brain would have calculated the odds that any given set of racial / age / gender demographics was a criminal and acted only within a given range of certainty?
If you believe Zimmerman possess such a brain and the FBI database of information necessary to make such a calculation you are an idiot.
On the other hand, we can ask if Zimmerman would have gone into Jr. G-Man mode for a 17 year old single black girl walking home. I suspect the answer is: no. I can't be sure--but it's my guess.
We can also assume that everything Zimmerman has ever done or said has been screened for racism. If he ever used a racial slur as a screen name for a video game or attended any meetings with Florida separatists (hey, you laugh--but Key West actually seceded--something that's just a wet dream for most Texas secessionists) we'd know (ask Rand Paul).
This takes a degree of the "racial" out of the profiling off the table. Zimmerman may well be a racist--but if he is, it is likely of the 'garden variety' of racism and therefore I conclude a lot of the people calling him racist are racist themselves by that standard.
The question as to whether any potential white guy (same hoodie, looks rough, etc.) would have triggered Zimmerman is more salient and unanswerable. My gut says 'it would take more than a hoodie' but, again, I can't be certain.
Certainly Zimmerman Ignored a Police Order Not To Follow Martin, Though, Right? That's suspicious.
No--Martin ignored a piece of advice from a 9/11 dispatch. This is very, very different than ignoring an order from anyone and certainly different than ignoring an order from the police. The fact that Zimmerman's story suggests he was in compliance (and was just looking for an address) means little to me. I suspect Zimmerman, like most people, has put forth (over several attempts) the best possible interpretation of his actions (just as the prosecution must put forth the worst). Even if the truth lies somewhere in the middle, his actions still do not constitute "ignoring a police order" (I have seen a lot of people online suggest this is the case).
It is, however, suspicious--and the fact that Zimmerman ignored some good advice is relevant (even if it was weakly phrased as "We don't need you to do that."--something you might say if your mother in law was offering to get you iced tea and you thought you might as well get it yourself). It's what makes me think he wanted to be a hero and therefore was quite willing to risk confrontation.
Wasn't Zimmerman Just a Vigilante?
Vigilantes do not usually call the police. If Zimmerman had exited the car with the intention to bring justice down on Trayvon he would have hand his gun in his hand or at least at the ready (his hand on it). He claims he was hit from surprise--I don't give that much credence but I similarly do not think he was acting in a way consistent with someone who wished to judge (and then execute) Martin.
I do not think that if Zimmerman wasn't being beat up he would have shot Martin.
Do I Think Zimmerman Hit Trayvon First?
I do not. I suspect that Martin hit Zimmerman first. Why? Two reasons. The first was that I think Martin also wanted a confrontation--he was being followed / harassed. He could, as I understand it, just have gone home. The second reason is simply that I don't think Zimmerman could hit very well. Although he may have been bigger (reports I have seen are very different as to who was larger when they confronted each other) I think it is clear that Martin was more athletic and probably more physically capable. Zimmerman's "soft" affect may be mostly for show--but not entirely.
Men, absent alcohol and women, rarely start fist fights with other men they aren't pretty sure they can beat up (go check out all those guys with 'anger issues' in Domestic Violence cases--you will find an ASTOUNDING lack of them losing their precious control against bikers and MMA guys. One might ALMOST conclude that their claims of being "out of their heads" only seem to apply when they have a 100lb advantage on their 'oppressor' ...).
I think Trayvon hit Zimmerman first.
Before you go off on me: I don't think that justifies Zimmerman shooting him.
I'm also totally not sure that happened. For all I know, Zimmerman, backed up by the gun, could have hit Martin first--or pushed him--or grabbed him--or whatever. That's possible--but take it from someone who has carried a gun and pointed it at another man with potentially lethal intent (that is: I would have shot the guy if he'd moved aggressively)--that feeling of power comes only when you are holding the gun. It doesn't come when you aren't--a least it didn't for me.
Why Not Murder 2?
Because the lawyers I read said Murder 2 was a stretch. To my understanding Murder-2 requires evil intent in the acts that get someone killed. Manslaughter requires criminal negligence. I think that potentially trying to stop a burglary or wanting 'to be a hero' doesn't meet the bar for evil intent. If Zimmerman had exited the vehicle planning to beat down Martin and had wound up shooting him, I could go with Murder 2 (no idea what the law says) but I simply don't see the evidence that's the case.
As I said, I think Zimmerman probably wanted to continue to be part of the story--but I doubt he wanted a physical confrontation with Martin--and if he did he would have been far more ready to shoot than he apparently was. I think this was stupid--and, for what I know of Zimmerman's biography, it is part of a chain in a long line of bad decisions--but I don't think he got out of the vehicle intending, specifically, to assault Martin.
On the other hand, I think that his willingness to insert himself into the situation armed with a deadly (if legal) weapon speaks to a kind of carelessness for human life that could well meet the bar for manslaughter.
What's Interesting About The Case?
To me the most interesting thing about the case is how clearly it polarized along electoral lines. Issues of race and gun control produced a near-perfect division down left / right lines that will give this story currency for a long time and far out of proportion to the facts of it.
It's also interesting how you can be tried in the media.
Here is an essay I thought was interesting: Two Males, No Men
Whatever the protagonists may be guilty of they are surely innocent of being men. The six female jurors, not tasked to reach a verdict on the manhood of the central players, nevertheless know the truth of this more than other trial observers. The Venusians know the Martians better than they know themselves. And vice versa — what do they know of x chromosomes who only x chromosomes know?
Apparently Zimmerman wants to be a lawyer (I doubt he'll make it) and has a case against NBC (which he should win for their 'mistakenly edited' tape of him on 9/11). There will be real grief and attempts to politicize the case for some time. We haven't heard the last of it but I think--I hope--we are approaching some kind of closure.
I do not think that the verdict declares, as some have said, open season on black men: no human being would want to go through what Zimmerman has gone through. On the other hand, it is still legal to pursue someone, confront them, and, if you are armed, shoot them if you are losing the fight you provoked. I think that needs to change.