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how do we protect our castle without allowing murder?

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Here’s a story that I’ve been following a little.

A 17 year old kid, Trayvon Martin, went to the store to get some Skittles. He was walking in the rain on his return, when a 26 year old neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, saw him.

Zimmerman didn’t like the look of the kid, in his hooded sweatshirt in the rain. Zimmerman called a non-emergency dispatch, who told him to wait in the car. Then Zimmerman chased after Martin, who ran. He caught him, and the two fought.

Someone shouted for help, there was a gunshot. People showed up to the scene, where Zimmerman was bleeding from the nose, and Martin was dead. Zimmerman told the crowd and the police that it was self-defense.

That’s the story. Under the Stand Your Ground laws in Florida, Zimmerman cannot be arrested unless there is evidence that Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense is wrong. Said the local Sheriff: “Until we can establish probable cause to dispute that, we don’t have the grounds to arrest him.”

This is so sad. But what can the cops do? This is the law in Florida. There is no witness to the shooting and no evidence other than the survivor’s word. A kid went out to buy Skittles, was pursued, fought with a man, and that man shot and killed him. Maybe, after the fight started, it really was self-defense. Or, maybe Zimmerman wouldn’t have needed self-defense if he didn’t chase Martin in the first place, like he was instructed.

Then you start reading the news coverage, and you start to lose your faith in what’s happening. In the cops. In the laws. You think, a white man killed a black kid, and now what will happen? You follow this thinking, knowing it too is not fair.

But you read:

After the shooting… a narcotics detective and not a homicide detective first approached Zimmerman. The detective pepppered Zimmerman with questions, the source said, rather than allow Zimmerman to tell his story. Questions can lead a witness, the source said.
Another officer corrected a witness after she told him that she heard the teen cry for help.
The officer told the witness, a long-time teacher, it was Zimmerman who cried for help, said the witness….
The Sanford Police Department refused to release 911 calls by witnesses and neighbors.

and you think, what the hell? Why not follow the rules on the scene? Take down the story, take down the witness testimony, release the calls.

You read:

Lee publically admitted that officers accepted Zimmerman’s word at the scene that he had no police record.
Two days later during a meeting with Trayvon’s father Tracy Martin, an officer told the father that Zimmerman’s record was “squeaky clean.”
Yet public records showed that Zimmerman was charged with battery against on officer and resisting arrest in 2005, a charge which was later expunged.

And you think, why would you tell that to the father whose kid was just killed. And what does this matter anyway?

In Minnesota, we have the Castle Doctrine, meant to protect one’s home and family against threats or perceived threats. Just this month, legislators passed an expansion of the protections offered by the Castle Doctrine, which was thankfully vetoed by Gov. Dayton.

Florida’s Stand Your Ground laws are based on the same philosophical underpinnings. But they are broader and offer more protection upon killing an individual. The statute protects a person who is “presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril” to one’s self or another. I don’t know how one can ever disprove a person’s presumed reasonable fears. The statute only requires that a person have “reason to believe” that an unlawful act had occurred or was occurring. Really. I’m not a lawyer, but this is bad law, that will have a sad legacy.

I have no idea what actually happened in the confrontation between Mr. Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. But it seems the tools at hand, and the rules as created, are more interested in protecting someone who shot a youth than ensuring that justice is served.

Written by Christopher ZF

March 14, 2012 at 11:21

Posted in Castle Doctrine, crime

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