Saturday, June 23, 2012

Don't look now, your bias is showing...

Earlier this week a friend of mine who leans decidedly more right politically than I do sent me a link to the latest news on George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. In the video clip you can watch as Zimmerman leads police through his version of what happened that night. And when they sent me the clip they said, "Don't you feel foolish now?" Which of course led to quite the heated debate on what my issue had been all along in this case versus what they interpreted it and then to what they were saying.

Let me break it down for you.  Brent and I actually heard about the story before it broke as big as it did nationwide. When we heard the basic details about it I said to him, "That's just not right. There is no way he shouldn't have been arrested. Dead body on the ground, gun in your hand, that's pretty much all you need to justify the arrest." And that has been my stance all along. It's the prosecution's job from that point forward to see if there is enough evidence to take the crime to trial or to see if there was a crime in the first place. Because of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" laws (which Oregon has as well, to be completely fair, in fact A LOT of states have them) Zimmerman might very well not be guilty of anything. But it's not the job of the police at that moment to make that call. Dead body on the ground, gun in his hand.

Do I believe the media added fuel to this fire? Absolutely. There was the 911 tape that NBC edited to cut out the dispatcher asking Zimmerman for a description of Martin so it sounded like he was just announcing Martin was black out of the blue. Which was so wrong it's crazy. You don't edited the evidence to fit your narrative, if you are the news you just report what happened. YOU have no narrative. There was Fox News insisting that Zimmerman did nothing wrong and that the "mainstream media" was just looking for a victim. Which I have issue with, because see, we had a victim. That would be the body on the ground. And then you had the emails that went out where they showed pictures of Zimmerman in a nice suit instead of his old mug shot (not recent because he wasn't arrested that night) that the media had been using and a picture of a gangbanger with his tattoos throwing his signs and holding a beer that was the most recent shot of Martin. Except it wasn't. The pictures were of some other kid, I guess who ever put that clip together didn't realize that you can't just drop in one black teenager for another and have no one notice. So yes, things got heated. But my stance was still, we have a dead kid and a guy walking around who hasn't been arrested for the shooting which he admits to doing. There is a problem here.

Then Zimmerman was arrested and I was glad. This same friend thought it was just awful and wrong that he had been. We argued about that at the time as well. If he is not guilty under Florida law then he will go free. That's the way it works. We have no doubts that he shot the kid, we just don't know if it was justified. That's the point of the investigation. Yes, I realize that most everyone has an opinion on this, I think he should have stayed in the damn car and all of this could have been avoided, but there is a legal answer to the question. And finally we were going to get to it.

Then the videos of Zimmerman walking the police through his version hit and I was asked, "Don't you feel foolish." Why would I feel foolish? Did we not expect Zimmerman to feel he was perfectly justified in what he did? Just because he says this is what happened doesn't mean this is what happened. Now will it be hard to say anything different? Yes, because the only other witness is, well you know, dead. So no, I don't feel foolish to hear Zimmerman walk the police through a series of events that portray him as acting in self defense. I question it, because it sounds, from his description, that a kid who was smaller than him was kicking his ass pretty seriously right up until the time he reached for Zimmerman's gun and at that exact moment Zimmerman got the upper hand in the fight and was able to over power doesn't seem logical to me. But I wasn't there, and I won't have to decide if he acted in self defense or not, which I am glad of.

I also won't have to weigh in on the fact that even if everything happened the way Zimmerman described it couldn't it be said that Martin was acting on the "Stand Your Ground" laws as well? He was being followed in the darkness by a man with a gun. I would say that's a pretty good reason to be fearful for your life. And in his case it seems he was justified.

My friend said I was just biased. That I was too much of a bleeding heart liberal to be able to say that a young black male was out doing no good and this was the consequence. Which gave me pause. Is that true? Am I so determined not to be prejudiced that I am blocking out everything else? Now, I do have experience in this area as a peripheral player. When I was in college in San Diego the Trolley stop that serviced the school was at the junction of two different area gang territories. They didn't fight at the stop (much) and it was really pretty safe, but you did keep your head down when things were going on. No sense calling attention to yourself for troubles that weren't yours. And in San Diego in this area the two gangs were made up of predominantly young black men. As opposed to the gang problems I was used to in New Mexico where the members were mostly young Hispanic men. Does saying that make me racist? No, it makes me observant. day leaving my business law class the police came screaming up to the side street and grabbed one of my fellow classmates. They put him against the car and started patting him down and he kept asking what was going on. Calmly, quietly, patiently. Much better than I would have done in the same situation but he was a young black male who had been taught to expect this sort of treatment and to know what to do about it. Right as this was happening my professor came out and I pointed out what was happening. He went over to speak with the police. Older white gentleman so he got treated differently from the start. When he also let them know he was a lawyer and a law professor they got even more careful. Seems there had been a robbery down the street and my classmate fit the description. Which was young black male. He wasn't wearing the clothes the robber had been described as wearing. He wasn't running from the area. He wasn't carrying anything but a book and a notebook when they started patting him down and they wouldn't even answer his questions as to what was going on. But they would for my law professor. So yeah, it happens. You hear about it. You see it. Being a young black (or Hispanic depending on the town or part of the town) male is a justifiable reason to worry about your behavior in a lot of people's eyes.

So does it make me biased to try and factor that out of the equation? Am I being a bleeding heart liberal to say that Zimmerman shouldn't have suspected Martin was up to no good because he was walking around while black? I can live with that if that's the case. Because if my bias is going to show I'd rather it show in that way. That people of all colors can commit crimes and it doesn't make you more or less guilty depending on the color of your skin. And that walking to your girlfriend's house in the rain while wearing a hoodie doesn't necessarily add up to being up to no good.

And just so you know, if Zimmerman is found not guilty (which I think there is strong possibility that he will be) I won't feel foolish. I don't think I will ever feel foolish for wanting the right thing to be done. And in my mind the right thing has always been to arrest and investigate Zimmerman. Body on the ground, gun in his hand.

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