Thursday, July 11, 2013

Responding to the Questions

The author's article, linked here, is very good. I've considered his questions, answers are below.

"So, by extension, the conversation is about whether each of us has a moral responsibility - laws notwithstanding - to do all we can to prevent a tragedy like the one that occurred in Sanford. Regardless of who initiated the physical altercation between Martin and Zimmerman, the two never had to come into close contact. If Zimmerman had stayed in his vehicle and not pursued the teenager, Martin would have made it home for the second half of the N.B.A. All-Star Game he had been watching and today he would be one year older."
**We do have that responsibility, mostly to make sure our children are safe. Not that I'm suggesting we shouldn't care for the children of others, but the effect we can have on the children of others is only a minute fraction of what we can for our own.

For the record, I think his presumption - that if GZ had stayed in his car TM would have "had time" to make it home - is incorrect. Based on my review of the evidence the state has presented, TM had the time he needed to get home, but he chose not to, which allowed GZ to get close enough for TM to assault him. We can only guess why he made that choice. Based on the physical evidence, it was that choice and his choice to attack GZ, and keep on attacking him, punching him not once but many, many times, that led to his death. It appears possible, even likely, that if at any time prior to being shot he had stopped trying to injure GZ, he would be alive today. I could be wrong in believing that - perhaps GZ would have been mad and injured enough to shoot TM just because he could; but I have not seen any reason to think that's what would have happened. TM texted about his excitement of hitting people. He told a friend his girlfriend left him because she was afraid of the fights TM got into. GZ had a longer period of time to demonstrate any such tendency but he had none, perhaps just because he wasn't a good enough athlete.

In other words, it appears that GZ shot TM because he felt like he was out of options - he called for help, but got none. He maneuvered off of the sidewalk to stop TM from cracking his skull on it, only to have TM try to stop him from breathing by covering his nose and mouth. What was left for a man who was scared, struggling to breath, was completely physically dominated, and was unsure what TM would do after promising to kill him?

I know many will disagree with my interpretation of the evidence. That is an inevitable fact of human experience.

"Technically, only Zimmerman is on trial, but in the broader debate, particularly among people who think Zimmerman innocent, is Martin also on trial? And if so, does that mean that all teens who look and behave similarly to Martin are also on trial? What precedent, if any, would a not-guilty verdict set?"
***I don't think Martin is "on trial", at least in the sense that Martin at this point has nothing to lose, and no rights to defend. GZ's rights are at stake. One need not believe that TM was a monster to have been the aggressor; he was a 17 year old boy in much pain with a taste for fighting. He made bad choices that led to bad outcomes, horrible outcomes. Many of us have made choices as bad but were luckier. However, any teen that attacks a person for "following them" will be as criminally and morally wrong as TM was for attacking GZ. The same physical evidence that is being used to defend GZ could easily be the physical evidence that would have been used to try TM had he survived the evening. Aggravated assault charges would have been easy to make.

"Even if you believe that the teenager at some point during the night's events did something wrong - the defense contends that he "sucker punched" Zimmerman, banged his head on cement and pummeled his face - that teenager is now paying the ultimate price for those alleged mistakes. Does that mean that the person who shot him is guiltless and deserving of no legal punishment?"
***This is an interesting question. Were I in George's shoes, I think I might be filled with regret and pain about the young man's death, even if I felt very, very angry that I was attacked for no reason by the same young man. His punishment is the fear that he and his family will live with from now on. I don't believe the state need provide punishment for a person to suffer punishment for their choices.

"Should "not guilty" as charged (if that were to be the verdict) be read the same as "without guilt" in general? Is there some moral space in which Martin can, as the defense contends, be solely responsible for his own death?"
***This is like a trial of a man who, on a foggy morning, drove at normal speeds through a red light and killed the 21 year old son of the priest at my parents' church. The man was acquitted at trial. In this case, the son who was killed bears zero culpability, the killer all of it. These things happen, and they are not always about race. They may never be about race. This GZ and TM issue only became a matter of race after the fact.

I believe the right to own a gun and carry it is a natural right, conferred by birth. The existence of cars means that most of our lives have been enhanced, but some of our lives are broken or taken by cars. Warplanes mean that we live in peace, but those who operate them are killed, and many civilians have been killed because the planes were used in war to defeat an enemy. Guns are the same - an estimated 500,000 times each year, a person uses a gun for self defense without ever having to fire a shot. TM is dead, though, because GZ chose to have a gun. If the gun weren't present, perhaps GZ would have stayed in his car, or perhaps GZ would have been killed by TM. We don't know what would have happened, we only know what would not have happened.

"The conversation is about people's emotional investment in a version of events and a particular verdict, and why that investment has racial and ideological leanings. It's about the likelihood of one verdict over another. The bar for finding of guilt is particularly high here. The defense doesn't need the jury to see its client as completely innocent, just not completely guilty."
***This is quite true. Based on the articles I have read, the conversations I have had, it is nearly universal - those who most identify with the 17 year old young man strongly believe in GZ's guilt. "He should not have gotten out of the car", "He shouldn't have followed TM." Those who most identify with GZ are horrified that GZ has been charged for murder when he was clearly attacked and severely beaten, apparently without provocation. Sadly, it is doubtful that these two sides will understand each other's perspective, or consider that a perspective other than their own may be valid.

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