Friday, April 13, 2012
Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, and the Law of Self Defense
When may one legally employ deadly force in self defense? There are three criteria that must all be met in order for a citizen to legally employ deadly force. A failure on even one of the three means that deadly force is not called for, and one can expect to be prosecuted if one employs it. The criteria in a nutshell: (1) the person against whom the force is employed, the attacker, shows intent to inflict deadly harm, (2) the attacker has the means and ability to do so, and (3) there’s no easier solution than employing deadly force in defense. The "stand your ground" principle reduces the difficulty of meeting the third criterion, but doesn’t eliminate it. It simply says that if a person is attacked, or has reasonable grounds to believe s/he is about to come under attack, s/he can't be prosecuted for not having fled.
If the facts that have been reported are correct, it seems obvious that George Zimmerman cannot establish even one of these criteria were met. But even worse for him, if one initiates the conflict, one can't then rely on these three criteria for a defense. You can't start fights and then claim self defense if your victim resists.
If the accounts reported in the press are true, then by his own admission, and against police advice, Zimmerman started the fight... if there even was a fight, which is doubtful. Trayvon Martin was walking on a public street, minding his own business, when this armed thug approached him with hostile intent. Zimmerman trailed and approached his unarmed victim after having been told by police not to do so. By his own account Zimmerman then challenged Martin and provoked a confrontation. Martin did not wield deadly force (but possibly was entitled to do so). He might or might not have resisted Zimmerman, but regardless, it's an open and shut case against Zimmerman. Zimmerman armed himself and then initiated the conflict, while Trayvon Martin was not engaged in threatening behavior, but in entirely innocent and unsuspicious behavior. Martin was unarmed. Zimmerman has no defense, and "stand your ground" is irrelevant to the matter.
That Zimmerman was not charged initially is outrageous. It is completely unbelievable to me that this was anything other than the police and prosecutor saying "we don't prosecute white men for killing black teens." For all these reasons I signed the petition calling for the State of Florida to go after Zimmerman, and I'm glad they did.
I could stop here but for the crazy discussion and commentary in the press over this vicious crime. Somehow, instead of focusing on the obvious malfeasance by the local authorities in this case, the press, commentators, and political hacks of the left have tried to pin blame on the "stand your ground" law. This is simply, well, crazy. Under Florida's "stand your ground" law, Trayvon Martin had no obligation to flee Zimmerman. Had he managed to grab Zimmerman's gun and kill him, he'd have had a perfectly good defense with this law protecting him. The law does not provide any justification for Zimmerman's action. Local authorities didn't fail to prosecute Zimmerman because their hands were tied by the law, they simply refused to enforce the law, presumably for racial reasons. I think this will be clear when the Special Prosecutor, Angela Corey, wins an easy conviction in the case.
The entire episode has been a sequence of outrages, beginning with Zimmerman's attack, followed by the refusal of the local authorities to do justice, and then followed by the insistence of the media and commentators to try the case (e.g. I heard one Michigan Public Radio newscaster refer to the "murder of Trayvon Martin" early in the case), misrepresent the Florida law, and attack scapegoats such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Paul Krugman, once a respectable economist, chose to lie boldfacedly about the law, falsely describing it as a law that allows you to shoot anyone you consider threatening and not face arrest. He also manages to blame ALEC, the Koch brothers, Exxon-Mobile, and their conspiracy to destroy democracy. He so misrepresents the law and the situation that it's hard to know how to respond, other than to note he's become a despicable scoundrel who will say anything for political points.
The "stand your ground" principle is important. There's no reason at all that honest citizens, minding their own business, should be vulnerable to prosecution for insufficiently getting out of the way of their attackers. An honest application of the law would find that Trayvon Martin had no obligation to flee Zimmerman. If progressives like Krugman or the hacks in the media really cared about justice, they would defend the law and be screaming for investigation of the local authorities for refusing to prosecute Zimmerman. Instead, they are using this to demonize and attack their political opponents. There's something ironically Zimmermanesque in their behavior.