Stand Your Ground, Post-Trayvon Martin America, You’re Not Racist

Stand Your Ground, Post-Trayvon Martin America, You’re Not Racist
July 25, 2013

Peter Ferrara

Peter Ferrara is senior fellow for entitlement and budget policy at The Heartland Institute, a... (read full bio)

After my youngest brother died at the age of 19 from what started as a rare childhood cancer, my mother never recovered.  She bore her grief until the day she died a decade later, even castigating us over moments of merrymaking and laughter years later.  So I can sense from this experience how Trayvon Martin’s mother must grieve over her son’s tragic death.

But that just makes all those exploiting Martin’s death to sow social discord and even violence for political gain all the uglier.  Martin’s life and death would be honored by promotion of racial harmony and good will.  Those who want to say “this is for Trayvon,” should be delivering human kindness and understanding that would teach the principled non-violence that Martin Luther King taught, which empowered the civil rights movement from the moral high ground.  But that won’t serve what the ruling establishment today sees as its political interests.

What the ruling class now sees as its political advantage is the narrative that America is a racist society.  That would maximize white guilt and black resentment, both expected to maximize the vote for more government power to fundamentally transform America.  So the Democrat Party controlled news media doctored transcripts, buried exculpatory evidence as to Zimmerman’s guilt, maximized sympathetic presentations of Martin and his conduct, and manipulated and misled the American people.

This party line is logically at war with the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Evidence at the trial indicated that Zimmerman was only doing what any neighborhood watch would do, which is follow and observe, and report to the police what is happening.  Zimmerman rightly did not recognize Trayvon, walking in the rain and peering into windows, as a resident of the gated community, which had been victimized by repeated recent robberies.  So as the neighborhood watchman, it was perfectly logical for Zimmerman to follow and observe.  This is not even “racial profiling,” as the same would and should apply to anyone in the same position as Trayvon, regardless of race.

When the dispatcher asked Zimmerman what Martin’s race was, Zimmerman’s answer indicated he wasn’t even sure.  Witness testimony, the physical evidence of Zimmerman’s injuries, and even Martin’s physical condition, down to the coroner’s report of the worn knuckles on his hands, all supported Zimmerman’s consistent report of what happened from his very first answers to police questioning.

That report was that Trayvon surprised the following Zimmerman with a punch to the face that broke his nose and knocked him down.  Trayvon then seated himself on top of Zimmerman, and began punching him martial arts, pound and ground, style, and bashing his head against the sidewalk.  Zimmerman began yelling for help.  Only when Trayvon noticed Zimmerman’s gun, and a struggle ensued over it, did Zimmerman grab the gun and shoot Martin.

The logical fallacy behind all the critics of the jury verdict is that the prosecution never remotely proved beyond a reasonable doubt that this legitimate self-defense scenario was not true.  Quite to the contrary, it was the interpretation of the facts most consistent with all of the evidence.  Consequently, the jury had no choice under the law except to find Zimmerman not guilty.

But “progressive” callers to the Chris Plante radio show in Washington, DC in the past week or so seemed to me to be insisting on a new interpretation of the law that if a white man follows a black man walking around the neighborhood, to observe what he is doing, the black man has the right to beat the white man to death.  What would you expect him to do, some callers even asked.  If the white man resists, then he must be held criminally liable for any harm that results.

These callers, expressing a common argument among the ruling Left, base their view on the notion that by getting out of his car to follow Martin, Zimmerman started the fight, and self-defense is not legally available to anyone who starts the fight.  But Zimmerman following and observing Martin, while on the phone reporting to the police, is not what the law means by starting the fight, or “initiating the confrontation.”  Starting the fight is punching someone in the face, as evidence indicated Martin did to Zimmerman, without contradiction.  Following and observing, and reporting to the police, is standard neighborhood watch procedure, highly favored by Left to Right, in recent decades.  The “progressive” perspective on Martin/Zimmerman would suddenly criminalize standard neighborhood watches, legally depriving all those participating of their right to self-defense.

A similar view was expressed by Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson in his commentary this week.  Robinson opined, “To me, and to many who watched the trial, the fact that Zimmerman recklessly initiated the tragic encounter was enough to establish, at a minimum, guilt of manslaughter.”  But there was no evidence at all that Zimmerman did anything that the law would recognize as starting the fight, or initiating the confrontation.

To the contrary, Rachel Jeantel spilled the beans post trial on a nationally televised interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan.  Martin was on the phone with Jeantel in the minutes leading up to the confrontation with Zimmerman.  Jeantel’s recounting of her conversation with Martin just further confirmed Zimmerman’s narrative that it was Martin who started the fight with Zimmerman.  Indeed, Trayvon’s girlfriend Jeantel seemed to encourage Martin to go after the “crazy ass cracker.”

But Robinson continued in his column, “The assumption underlying the approach [of the police] to the case was that Zimmerman had the right to self-defense but Martin – young, male, black – did not. The assumption was that Zimmerman would fear for his life in a hand-to-hand struggle but Martin – young, black, male – would not.”  But so typical of Robinson’s writing, this could not be more silly.

Just what “self-defense” would have been appropriate and necessary for Martin against Zimmerman following and observing him, and reporting to the police?  Beating him to death? And if Zimmerman had knocked down Martin with a surprise punch, and got on top of him punching him pound and ground style, no one would deny that Travyon had the right to self-defense.

But Robinson’s discussion was sophisticated compared to the on air reporting of Al Sharpton of MSNBC.  Sharpton reported repeatedly that the jury verdict was “an atrocity” reminiscent of the brutal murder of the entirely innocent, 14 year old, Emitt Till during the start of the postwar Civil Rights struggles in the 1950s.  According to Sharpton’s on air account, Trayvon was walking home unarmed after going to the store to buy skittles and Ice Tea, and Zimmerman just hunted him down, and shot him dead in cold blood.

No wonder so many have been inspired to race riots and violence in retaliation for the death of Trayvon.  Some thorough legal research is needed into the degree to which those inciting riots can be held civilly liable for the resulting destruction of property, and personal injuries, or even death.  Kudos to Zimmerman for pursuing a defamation lawsuit against NBC for doctoring the transcript of Zimmerman’s 9/11 call on the night of the shooting.  But a test suit against Sharpton personally, as well as against MSNBC and its executives, for those harmed by the racial attacks that Sharpton has already inspired, and those that are yet to come, would be highly desirable.

But the legal discussion has been even more confused than this.  For who started the fight is only relevant to whether a defendant qualifies for the Stand Your Ground defense.  It is not relevant to standard self-defense.  As Jason Riley explained in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday,

“In cases of self-defense, it doesn’t matter who initiated the confrontation; whether Zimmerman singled out Martin because he was a black youngster in a neighborhood where there had been a series of burglaries by black youngsters; or whether Mr. Zimmerman disregarded what the police dispatcher told him before he got out of his car….All that really mattered in that courtroom is whether Mr. Zimmerman reasonably believed that his life was in danger when he pulled the trigger.”

Stand Your Ground just means you bear no obligation to flee from any attack before engaging in self-defense.  But that was expressly not at issue in the Zimmerman trial.  Indeed, how could Zimmerman flee if he was on the ground, on his back, with Martin on top, delivering blows pound and ground style?  All that was necessary for Zimmerman to qualify for standard self-defense is that he reasonably believed his life was in danger, regardless of who started the fight.  The prosecution never showed beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman did not, or could not, reasonably believe his life was in danger.  To the contrary, the evidence all indicates he did reasonably believe so.

In his column, Robinson raised this challenge to his readers: “Our society considers young, black men to be dangerous, interchangeable, expendable, guilty until proven innocent.  This is the conversation about race that we desperately need to have – but, probably, as in the past, will try our best to avoid.”

Almost simultaneously on Tuesday, Jason Riley offered this contribution in the Journal to the conversation Robinson says he wants to have:

“Any candid debate on race and criminality in this country would have to start with the fact that blacks commit an astoundingly disproportionate number of crimes.  African-Americans constitute about 13% of the population, yet between 1976 and 2005 blacks committed more than half of all murders in the U.S.  The black arrest rate for most offenses…is typically two to three times their representation in the population.  The U.S. criminal justice system, which is currently headed by one black man (Attorney General Eric Holder) who reports to another (President Obama), is a reflection of this reality, not its cause….Black crime and incarceration rates spiked in the 1970s and 1980s in cities such as Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, and Philadelphia, under black mayors and black police chiefs.  Some of the most violent cities in the U.S. today are run by blacks.”

Most black crimes are committed against other blacks, so it is black people themselves who suffer the most from these high black crime rates.  Riley adds, “The homicide rate claiming black victims today is seven times that of whites, and the George Zimmermans of the world are not the reason.  Some 90% of black murder victims are killed by other blacks.” Justice Dept. data shows that young black men ages 14 to 24 account for more than one-fourth of all the nation’s murders, even though they are only 1% of the population.

It is so-called “progressive” policies that are most harming the black community.  Obamanomics has maintained black unemployment at or near a depression-level 15% for President Obama’s entire term, and black teenage unemployment at or near a genocidal 40% or more.  Poverty has soared to record levels, with no relief in sight, with real incomes of the poor and vulnerable in steady decline.  What the poor and vulnerable get instead of jobs and rising real wages is “progressive” welfare dependency, which has soared by design under Obama for political reasons.  That plantation style dependency has decimated the black family, which is the real root of explosive black crime.

So who is avoiding the conversation now, Mr. Robinson?

Attorney General Eric Holder also wants a national conversation on race, arising from the Trayvon Martin tragedy.  But he wants to talk about repealing Stand Your Ground laws, in order to impose a duty to retreat, taking away the right to self-defense from those attacked by violent criminals, of any race.

But Stand Your Ground was again expressly not at issue in the Zimmerman trail. Zimmerman’s lawyer expressly waived it, relying on standard self-defense instead, even though Zimmerman had no opportunity to retreat.  Interestingly enough, when Zimmerman defenders asked why Martin did not retreat from the confrontation when he could, Martin defenders responded that Martin had a right to be there, and asked why should the black man have to run?  This response recognizes the fundamental justice of Stand Your Ground laws.

The data shows that the Stand Your Ground defense is raised successfully far more by black defendants than white defendants.  That just reflects that so-called “progressives” do not really care at all about the black community, the predominant victims of crime in America.  Progressives just want to expand government power and control to the maximum, and minimize the independence and self-reliance involved in personal self-defense.

People who believe the Progressive storyline that America is a racist society believe it because they want to believe it, even though racist attitudes, now reserved to the lower classes and uneducated, no longer have any power or influence in American society.  They want to believe it for the same reason that those who cling to illogical Keynesian economics do so, because want to believe it, not because it makes any sense or works at all in the real world.  They want to believe it for the same reason that those who religiously cling to the theory of catastrophic, man caused, global warming want to believe in it, not because of the supposed science.  In all these cases, they want to believe in it, because they believe that such beliefs expand government power and control, which they think is necessary to promote social good and progress.

That outdated philosophy arose in the late 19thcentury, and the lesson of the entire 20th century is that it is grievously wrong.  Social good and progress arises solely from maximum liberty and freedom of choice, in free markets, which produces maximum progress and prosperity.  Government power and control produces just the opposite, social stagnation, retrogression, and decline.  That is what the 20th century has taught us. Our politics has become so nasty because the so-called progressives refuse to accept that verdict of history, just as they refuse to accept the verdict in the Zimmerman trial.

Give them their way, and the so-called progressives will take us back to the 19th century, repealing the industrial revolution in the process.

[First Published by Forbes]

Peter Ferrara

Peter Ferrara is senior fellow for entitlement and budget policy at The Heartland Institute, a... (read full bio)