Having tried my best to ignore the George Zimmerman / Trayvon Martin trial out of disgust at the race-baiting, trial by media circus that encompassed many weeks of coverage, it’s now worth looking over the case in light of Zimmerman’s acquittal, not least to inject some rational analysis.
A short, sensational and rather empty article in the UK Guardian today, I find exemplifies the emotional-bias that has plagued the mainly mainstream left-wing press.
The cherub-faced photo of a younger smiley Trayvon and the accompanying headline “Open season on black boys after a verdict like this”, is extremely provocative, though completely out of touch with the troubled 17-year old man who knew some martial arts – Trayvon – who was killed.
I won’t be focusing on the backgrounds of the men involved in this article, nor the rumors of their past behavior, arm-chair psychological assessments and opinions on motives, or race. None of this is helpful nor necessarily relevant to understanding the case. You could be the absolute worst person by societal standards and be innocent, and you could be a model citizen and be guilty. Justice is about facts and evidence, and in the absence of facts and convincing evidence – somebody accused of a crime (regardless of whether they had the capability of carrying it out) cannot be found guilty, because the conviction would be based on assumption, and if we assume somebody is guilty then we’re being prejudice. This is the Trayvon Martin case in a nutshell.
Unfortunately Trayvon is dead and there is very little eye witness testimony from the scene of the incident. For the prosecution to prove that Zimmerman murdered Martin or killed him by manslaughter there would need to be some corroborating evidence that this was the case. For example if two eye witnesses claimed to have seem Zimmerman exit his vehicle brandishing a gun, aggressively follow Martin, start a physical confrontation and then shoot him, this would be a strong case for murder. We simply do not have that, and any claim that Zimmerman provoked the incident or was the aggressor is simply a baseless assumption. Take this quote from the Guardian article for example:
Zimmerman pursued him, armed with a 9mm handgun, believing him to be a criminal. Martin resisted. They fought. Zimmerman shot him dead.
Author Gary Younge simply does not know this to be true. He might want it to be true, but no amount of wishing will produce the evidence to prove it true.
Younge employs a number of assumptions and fallacies in this sentence. First off the idea that approaching somebody in public with a concealed weapon automatically makes you guilty of murder if that person dies is stupid. By that logic every legal gun owner carrying their weapon in public is a criminal. It’s what happened after the so called “pursuing” or what others like to sensationally call “stalking” that’s important.
Younge jumps right in and says “Martin resisted”, which is again a gross assumption.
If Trayvon reacted with hostility to Zimmerman’s presence, physically confronted him and then went all out – smashing his head in to the cement, under the applicable laws Zimmerman was acting in self-defense. The gun debate aside, that is simply the law of the land.
If Zimmerman was the aggressor then it’s murder or depending on the circumstances, manslaughter.
The commonly made argument that none of this would have happened if Zimmerman didn’t leave his vehicle, didn’t approach Trayvon, didn’t have a gun etc, is frankly worthless, because a civilized person doesn’t attack somebody in public just because they are walking nearby, talking to them or even acting verbally hostile. A civilized person ignores and walks away, explains they’ve just been out to the shops and reside not far away, or if warranted chats some shit back to this nosy weirdo. Regardless of the Gun or the approach, if Trayvon attacked first then Zimmerman is innocent in the eyes of the law.
The key point in all of this is that nobody knows for certain who the aggressor was. It is up to the prosecution to prove Zimmerman’s guilt, not for Zimmerman to necessarily prove his innocence. If the prosecution cannot establish who the aggressor was then regardless of what really happened, the right decision is acquittal. Could a guilty man have been let off? Yes, but more importantly it means innocent men in the same situation aren’t convicted.
You may not like the outcome, but the focus shouldn’t be about shifting the law in to the realm of assumption, it should be about investigators upping their game and ensuring they exhaust all possible avenues of evidence, and the prosecution putting together a case to their best ability.
In my opinion the case needn’t have reached the question of “was Zimmerman acting in self-defense when he used deadly-force?” because in looking over the evidence it’s impossible to answer. Having it framed this way has resulted in (in the legal sense) the jury concluding he did act in self-defense, which only adds flames to the fire. It’s an acceptance not that we don’t know what happened and that the incident was tragic, but that we do know what happened and that it’s OK to shoot people and hide behind the self-defense angle. In that respect some commentators do have a case when they write about being concerned for angry repercussions, or as Younge suggests a precedent for people to freely shoot others.
The self-defense angle is based on some eye witness testimony of a scuffle and evidence that Zimmerman was injured, however this is problematic because there’s no positive forensics evidence that Martin was the cause of those injuries – none of Zimmerman’s DNA up his fingernails and none of Zimmerman’s blood or DNA on his clothing. It’s therefore a possibility that Zimmerman wounded himself or exacerbated his injuries in order to back-up a false story.
Again we don’t know this for a fact and thus a lack of evidence would have been a more useful outcome, than self-defense, which will be debated for years to come.
This case cannot go any further unless there are witnesses or evidence yet to surface. The responsibility of the media now is not to pick sides or foment racial tensions, it should be to explain WHY Zimmerman was found not guilty to hopefully avert a repeat of the Rodney King aftermath, something the race-baiters on both sides are frothing at the mouth for if you take a cursory look at Twitter.
Keelan Balderson is the editor of WideShut.co.uk, and producer of documentaries 7/7 What Did They Know? and Perfect Storm: The England Riots. Keeping a critical eye on Government, Corporate Power, and the causes of Terrorism, he aims to broaden the Western world view.