Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Trayvon Tragedy

Having watched most of the trial on TV, and carefully considered the evidence, I firmly believe:
  1. Had Trayvon Martin (TM) been white, he would most likely be alive today, and
  2. The jury decision that George Zimmerman (GZ) was "not guilty" was fully justified by the available evidence.
Although the above conclusions appear to be contradictory, they are not.


I utilized as my main source for quoted testimony and forensics, but the following speculations and conclusions are my own.

There are many "ifs and buts" in this tragic case of the unnecessary death of a teenager.
  • IF GZ had not profiled TM, TM would be alive today.
  • IF TM, after noticing that GZ was following by car, had taken the good advice of his girlfriend and gone straight home to the townhouse at which he and his father were staying, TM would be alive today.
  • IF GZ had followed the non-emergency police dispatcher's good advice not to leave his car and follow TM, TM would be alive today.
  • IF TM, after noticing that GZ was following him by foot, had gone straight home, TM would be alive today.
  • IF GZ had made it clear that he was a Neighborhood Watch volunteer, and if TM had accepted that information and avoided a physical confrontation, TM would be alive today.
  • IF TM had not sucker-punched GZ, TM would be alive today.
  • IF TM had run away after punching GZ, instead of continuing the fight and causing two lacerations on the back of GZ's head, TM would be alive today.
  • IF GZ had not shot TM in the chest, TM would be alive today.
  • IF GZ had not shot TM, GZ might have sustained severe bodily harm, or even death.
Much has been made of the fact that "TM did nothing illegal". Yes, TM had every right to purchase candy and a soft drink and wear a hoodie while he walked home in the light rain of the early evening through the gated community where he and his father were visiting. He had no obligation to dress differently or to run home or change his plans when he noticed he was being observed and followed, first by car and then by foot. TM had every right to be there. He had every right to verbally challenge GZ when they approached each other along the dark concrete walk behind the two rows of townhomes.

Indeed, TM did nothing illegal until he sucker-punched GZ. That is what started the physical part of the confrontation. That is what led to the injury to GM's nose and, ultimately, lacerations to the back of GZ's head. The evidence of the eye witness Jonathan Good makes it clear that TM was beating the heck out of GZ. The forensic evidence shows that all the injuries of the fight were suffered by GZ, except for two light cuts on TM's knuckles (and, sadly, the fatal gunshot wound).

On the other hand, GZ did nothing illegal either! According to available evidence, GZ had every right to profile TM and report him as a suspicious person to the non-emergency police number. He was not legally required to follow the dispatcher's good advice that "we don't need you to do that" when he said he was going to follow TM.

According to TM's friend Rachel Jeantel, who was on the phone with him at the first visual encounter, she urged him to run to the townhouse where he was staying, but TM did not follow that good advice. Furthermore, she testified that when TM and GZ came within talking distance in the dark behind the two rows of townhomes, TM verbally challenged GZ, saying "What are you following me for?" According to her account, GZ returned the challenge with "What are you doing around here?" (GZ's version of the verbal encounter also has TM challenging first, saying "You got a f---ing problem, homie?",GZ replying "No", and TM following up with "You got a problem now" and punching GZ in the nose.).

According to the closest eye witness to the physical encounter, Jonathan Good, GZ got the worst of the fight, calling for "Help" with TM on top of him.

GZ could have submitted to the beating. Had he done so, both GZ and TM would most likely be alive today. On the other hand, the way things were going, GZ might have suffered serious head injury or even death. We will never know.

But GZ did not submit to the beating. Reasonably fearing for his life (or serious bodily injury), GZ drew his handgun and shot TM in the chest. According to the forensic evidence, when the fatal shot was fired, the gun barrel was touching TM's clothing, but the clothing was two to four inches away from TM's skin, indicating that TM was on top and facing downwards, with gravity pulling the clothing down and away from his skin..

Alternative Scenario Where TM is Totally Innocent

Although I generally accept GZ's account of the incident (with some reservations about his claim that he walked past the dark area behind the two rows of houses because he was looking for a street name and an address to provide to the police dispatcher), I have searched my imagination for a scenario that fits all the available testimony and forensics and that shows TM totally innocent. I stretched my brain to come up with the following:

TM purchases candy and a soft drink and, while walking home, he notices GZ stop his car, look at him suspiciously, roll up his windows, and make a cellphone call. TM is also on his cellphone with his young lady friend and tells her that GZ looks like a "crazy ass cracker".

Although he is close to the townhome where he and his father are visiting, TM does not go directly home because he is fearful that GZ may be a sexual predator or otherwise dangerous and that he will track him there and possibly cause trouble. So, TM runs to the dark area behind the two rows of townhomes and hides there.

GZ, walking and searching in the dark area with the aid of a flashlight, slips on the rain-soaked grass, landing face-first on the concrete walk (or a hard plastic sprinkler cover or a tree branch). This accounts for the injuries to GZ's nose.

As GZ struggles to his feet, he notices TM hiding in the shadows. GZ angrily challenges TM and grabs him in a bear hug. TM cries for "help" and tries to get away. In the struggle, they fall down, with GZ striking the back of his head against the concrete walk (or other hard object). This accounts for the lacerations on the back of GZ's head and the eyewitness report of TM being on top.

TM manages to break GZ's bear hug grip and pulls himself up, preparing to run away. At that point, with TM still on top, GZ draws his gun and shoots TM in the chest, killing him.

Although the above scenario is possible, it does not appear as reasonable as the defense account. In any case, GZ had to be judged "not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt", and there are many reasonable doubts about the scenario I sketched!

Does "Stand Your Ground" Apply To This Case?

The common law version of self-defense allows a person who is challenged by another person, in their own home, to use deadly force if they reasonably fear death or great bodily harm, even if it would be safe to retreat. However, if in their vehicle or public place, there is a duty to retreat if it would be safe to do so.

The Stand Your Ground extension to the law of self-defense expands the concept to vehicles and public places. Thus, under Stand Your Ground, a person who is challenged, in their vehicle or public place, does not have a duty to retreat, even if it would be safe to do so, but may use deadly force against the person challenging them, if they reasonably fear death or great bodily harm.

Much has been made of Stand Your Ground in the Zimmerman/Martin case, but it does not seem to apply. Once the physical confrontation started, and GZ was getting the worst of it, he no longer had the option to retreat, safely or otherwise. At that point, if he reasonably feared death or great bodily harm, he had the right to use deadly force. (It is true that Zimmerman's defense team initially requested a Stand Your Ground hearing, but later decided to bypass that hearing and go to a jury trial.)

Was George Zimmerman a Racist?

There is no doubt in my mind that GZ profiled TM, using a combination of what he was doing, where he was, how he was dressed, the fact that he was a young man, and ... YES ... the fact that he was black. In other words, TM fit the profile of the young black men who had recently been observed committing burglaries and a home invasion in the gated community.

But, GZ was not any more of a racist than any of the rest of us. I think it is an undisputed fact that most of we Americans (sadly including black Americans who are more often the victims of urban crime than white Americans) are more suspicious of young black men than they would be of young white men, and more suspicious of young men of any race than they would be of older men or of women of any age.

In fact, there is reason to believe that GZ was actually less of a racist than most of we Americans. His voter registration lists him as Hispanic and a Democrat. His mother, from Peru, has both Hispanic and black ancestry. His next-door neighbor in the gated community was a black woman who praised him as a good friend. According to the local ABC TV station, "George Zimmerman accused the Sanford police department of corruption more than a year before he shot Trayvon Martin, saying at a public forum the agency covered up the beating of a black homeless man by the son of a white officer." (

 Ira Glickstein

1 comment:

ron said...

It is not possible that you missed even the smallest detail about that trial. It is also not possible that you missed any likely scenario.
It was great reading and I am much more informed than I was before reading this.