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Apr-01-2012 19:09printcomments

Trayvon Martin Killing: Let Investigations Run Their Course

Everyday we hear about the public outrage about the incident. Isn't it time for everyone to step back and wait for the Justice Department and the State of Florida to complete their investigations.

Zimmerman and Martin
Zimmerman and Martin

(SAN FRANCISCO) - On Feb. 26, 2012, Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager, was shot to death by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman captain. The teen was walking inside a gated community in Sanford, Florida, where his father and stepmother lived. Zimmerman claimed self-defense and was not arrested or charged and little or no investigation was conducted by the Sanford police department.

On March 19, the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division and the FBI decided to investigate the shooting.

On March 20, the Seminole County State's Attorney office, which had been handed the case by Sanford police, announced that it was investigating the incident and would convene a grand jury on April 10 to hear evidence in the shooting.

On March 22, Sanford police chief Bill Lee announced he was taking a temporary leave of absence. This announcement came a day after Sanford's City Commission voted by 3-2 "no confidence" in the chief.

Everyday we hear about the public outrage about the incident. Isn't it time for everyone to step back and wait for the Justice Department and the State of Florida to complete their investigations. The Justice Department will determine whether Zimmerman violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which among other things, outlaws major forms of discrimination against African Americans and women, including racial segregation. The 911 tape does indicate Zimmerman might have used the word "coon" when referring to Martin and Martin is Black while Zimmerman father is White and his mother is Hispanic.

Zimmerman was not a member of any neighborhood watch group recognized by the National Sheriff's Association, the parent organization of USAonWatch-Neighborhood Watch www.usaonwatch.org All neighborhood watch programs are not required to be members. Zimmerman violated the central tenets of Neighborhood Watch by following Martin, confronting him, and carrying a concealed weapon.

If he had been a member of a recognized group, he would have been subject to a background check, been psychologically evaluated, and trained. And it is not clear Zimmerman would have been allowed to register with a neighborhood watch program because in the months prior to the Martin homicide, Zimmerman had made over 40 calls to police to report suspicious activities. This overzealousness alone should have raised suspicions about his suitability.

In his article, "America as a Gun Culture," <www.americanheritage.com/content/america-gun-culture historian Richard Hofstadter popularized the phrase "gun culture" to describe America's long-held affection for firearms, with many citizens embracing and celebrating the association of guns and America's heritage. According to Hofstadter, the right to own a gun and defend oneself is considered by some, especially those in the West and South, as a central tenet of the American identity. Given America's gun culture, it is not surprising, but regrettable in my opinion, that the Supreme Court in District of Columbia vs. Heller found that Americans have a Second Amendment right to "keep and bear arms."

In keeping with the Heller decision and our gun culture, Florida makes it easy to own a gun. It does not require a permit to purchase a handgun and there is no requirement to register or obtain a license for a handgun. Florida does require a license to carry a concealed weapon or firearm. I assume that the Sanford police checked whether Zimmerman was licensed to carry a concealed weapon.

Federal and state laws recognize a defense to certain criminal charges involving force (self defense). Under federal and state laws, the use of force is justified when a person reasonably believes that it is necessary for the defense of oneself or another against the immediate use of unlawful force. However, a person must use no more force than appears reasonably necessary in the circumstances. Force likely to cause death or great bodily harm is justified in self defense only if a person reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm.

In 2005, Florida took self defense a step further by enacting a "Stand Your Ground" law. Under this law, persons are not required to retreat in the face of danger. Backed by the National Rifle Association, the "Stand Your Ground" legislation won broad support from Florida lawmakers and praise from then-Governor Jeb Bush as "a good, common-sense, anticrime issue."

Critics of the law call it the "right-to-commit-murder" law.

From 2005 through June 2010, there have been 420 justifiable homicides in Florida.

Sixteen other states have enacted similar "Stand Your Ground" laws.

Recently, Florida’s "Stand Your Ground" law was successfully applied in a case against Greyston Garcia. Pedro Roteta was trying to steal the radio from Garcia’s truck when a roommate alerted Garcia. Garcia then grabbed a knife and chased Roteta for over a block, before killing him. Roteta was unarmed. On March 21, a Florida judge dismissed the case against Garcia, citing the "Stand Your Ground" law. Similarly, the law seems to give Zimmerman several protections. Even though the 911 tape suggests he pursued Martin when the police told him to stay away, he has claimed that Martin attacked him and shot him in self defense. The Florida police are placed in a difficult position when faced with a shooting where there is a colorable self defense claim knowing that the courts will freely apply the "Stand Your Ground" self defense law.

At the very least, states should rethink their "Stand Your Ground" laws, and Sanford should evaluate its neighborhood watch programs.

I understand Zimmerman has gone into hiding. The New Black Panthers have offered a $10,000 reward for his capture. Vigilante justice is not, and never will be, the answer. Let's wait until all the evidence is in and evaluated.


Salem-News.com writer Ralph E. Stone was born in Massachusetts. He is a graduate of both Middlebury College and Suffolk Law School. We are very fortunate to have this writer's talents in this troubling world; Ralph has an eye for detail that others miss. As is the case with many Salem-News.com writers, Ralph is an American Veteran who served in war. Ralph served his nation after college as a U.S. Army officer during the Vietnam war. After Vietnam, he went on to have a career with the Federal Trade Commission as an Attorney specializing in Consumer and Antitrust Law. Over the years, Ralph has traveled extensively with his wife Judi, taking in data from all over the world, which today adds to his collective knowledge about extremely important subjects like the economy and taxation. You can send Ralph an email at this address stonere@earthlink.net

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Anonymous April 2, 2012 9:22 pm (Pacific time)

Florida statute defines “Use of force in defense of person,” as follows: 776.012—A person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if: He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to: (1) prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that stand your ground laws are fair and Constitutional, but the gun-control media wants those laws changed, and they cover this tragic incident from that perspective. Seeking gun control by any means, the media are quick to blame the instrument of force or the innocent bystander or laws put it place to protect our Second Amendment right, each time a tragic incident occurs involving a firearm, rather than blaming the culprit, if indeed there is one. Sometimes bad things happen to innocent people by accident, and it is no one’s fault. Sometimes bad things happen to innocent people on purpose, and the perpetrator should be punished. However, in the case involving the tragic death of Trayvon Martin, our Constitution is clear: George Zimmerman is innocent until proven guilty; and for the purpose of accuracy, the news media should start their reporting there. So far, they have done nothing of the sort.

Anonymous April 2, 2012 3:28 pm (Pacific time)

Trayvon Martin was a boy, I'd hate to know how these idiots standing up for Zimmerman treat their own kids.

Anonymous April 2, 2012 10:04 am (Pacific time)

Ralph Stone, in January, 12-year-old Kade’jah Davis was shot and killed when, allegedly, 19-year-old Joshua Brown showed up at her Detroit house to demand the return of a cellphone from Davis’ mother. When Brown didn’t get the phone, he fired shots through the front door. No one held high-profile street protests to denounce gunplay over such trifles. Everything about the Trayvon Martin case is a matter of contention. About this, though, there should be no doubt: If Martin had been shot by a black classmate, if he had been caught in a random crossfire, if he had looked at a gang member the wrong way, his death would have been relegated to the back pages of the local newspaper. Not a cause, not even a curiosity: Just another dead young black man. Nothing to see here. Please, move on. Jesse Jackson is right that “blacks are under attack.” According to a 2005 FBI report, blacks accounted for 13 percent of the population and 49 percent of all homicide victims. In 93 percent of the cases, the killer was black. Half of the victims were ages 17 to 29. That works out to 4,000 murders of young blacks in one year, overwhelmingly at the hands of other blacks. In the communities where these killings occur there is, to put it in Jackson’s inimitable terms, no justice and no peace. There is no comparable epidemic of half-Hispanic neighborhood-watch volunteers like George Zimmerman shooting young black men. Nor is there an epidemic of cops doing the same. Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute notes that in New York City, there were nine civilian victims of police gunfire last year, whereas there were “several hundred black homicide victims in the city, almost all shot by other blacks or Hispanics, none of them given substantial press coverage.” An allegedly racially motivated killing, though, gins up the outrage machine in a way the routine murder of young blacks doesn’t. Cable-TV outlets get to host fiery debates. Chin-stroking commentators get to urge more “dialogue.” Black leaders get to relive the glory of a civil-rights cause that won its major victories decades ago when it took real courage to be on the front lines. And everybody gets to evade the intraracial mayhem that blights the country’s inner cities. An injustice may well have been done in the handling of the Martin shooting, but let’s not fool ourselves. Zimmerman could be arrested, convicted, and hanged tomorrow, and it will have no effect on the lives of young black people in communities beset by social disorder. Whatever happens to Zimmerman, the drip-drip of spilled blood will continue, all but ignored except in the police blotter. In America, the lives of young black people are cheap, unless they happen to fit the right agenda.

Anonymous April 2, 2012 7:19 am (Pacific time)

It appears the writer did not miss much, Zimmerman and his kind are a scourge on our society and if we don't teach them lessons, they never learn, dig?.

Anonymous April 1, 2012 10:29 pm (Pacific time)

Your statement: "Let's wait until all the evidence is in and evaluated." - OK, but so much seems clear now.  Minors don't have the same expectations as adults, if this was the other way around people would lose their minds. 

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