On the George Zimmerman verdict and being a strange pedestrian

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A few thoughts:

I'm disheartened by the outraged reaction from my liberal friends, who are certain that justice was denied, and that a racist murderer has been set free. NBC, CNN, President Obama, and other public figures and opinionators did race relations and common sense in America a grave disservice in the way they depicted the event, distorted the available evidence, and framed it as a racially motivated killing. If you stopped listening and made up your mind at that point, I can understand why you'd be outraged by Zimmerman's acquittal.

But the testimony in the trial, from both prosecution and defense witnesses, paints a very different picture. Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch captain in an gated townhome community that had experienced several recent burglaries, noticed an unfamiliar man, dressed to match the description of suspects in those crimes. He called 911, described the person, tried to keep him under observation, and requested that the police check out the situation. Meanwhile, Trayvon Martin was on the phone with a friend, complaining that he was being followed by a "creepy-ass cracker." Rather than call 911 and report a stalker, rather than get back to the townhome where he was staying as soon as possible, it appears that Martin chose to confront Zimmerman, wrestling him to the ground and beating Zimmerman's head against the pavement. One witness said it looked like a mixed-martial arts move called "ground and pound." Zimmerman, pinned to the ground, had no means escape, feared for his life, and shot.

Zimmerman is from a mixed-race family and was an outspoken supporter and organizer on behalf of a black homeless man who had been mistreated by local police. He supported President Obama's election. Yet he has been portrayed as a racist who stalked and killed Martin because of his race.

An NBC edit of the 911 call gave the impression that Zimmerman volunteered the race of the person he was watching. In fact, Zimmerman only identified race in response to a question from the dispatcher. NBC retracted the edited version and fired those responsible.

CNN transcribed a comment on the 911 call, putting an old-fashioned, seldom-heard, four-letter racial epithet in Zimmerman's mouth. Monosyllables can be easy to mishear, particularly on distorted low-bandwidth recordings, and once an authoritative source like CNN asserts the identification of an authoritative word, it's hard to hear it as anything else. But CNN later retracted their transcript, and concluded that Zimmerman had said, "It's f***ing cold." Others believe he said, "F***ing punks." But by the time the correction was made, many had already pegged Zimmerman as a racist vigilante and were beyond persuasion.

The use of years-old photos of Zimmerman and Martin also shaped public opinion in a way that framed Zimmerman as a hateful, racist thug who should have had no reason to see baby-faced Martin as a suspicious character.

However the confrontation began, once it advanced to Martin straddling and beating Zimmerman (as corroborated by eyewitnesses and Zimmerman's injuries), it became a matter of self-defense for Zimmerman. All the preliminaries became irrelevant at that point to Zimmerman's guilt or innocence. Zimmerman said he believed his life was in danger, believed Martin would grab Zimmerman's gun and use it against him, so Zimmerman grabbed the gun and shot.

Wikipedia has a detailed, heavily footnoted, and dispassionate summary of the evidence and varying accounts of the incident. Will Saletan at Slate describes the case as a tragedy of misperception and overreaction by both Zimmerman and Martin. The New York Times has a series of aerial photos showing the progression and location of events leading to the shooting.

This case has been portrayed as being about race in America, but there's no evidence that racial animus drove Zimmerman's actions. But if Martin did in fact confront Zimmerman and initiate the struggle that led to the shooting, I have to wonder if Martin's response to Zimmerman's surveillance was conditioned by the racial grievance industry and a chip-on-the-shoulder attitude that he owed no one an explanation of who he was and why he belonged there.

Some may say that, as a white man, I am blind to the realities of race in America, and the suspicion that surrounds blacks, particularly young black men. But as a man, particularly as a man who wears a beard, I am continually aware that my presence in an unfamiliar place could be a source of worry to others, and that my expression, gait, demeanor, and dress can either reassure or stoke fears.

My favorite form of exercise is walking, and I would much rather walk through a historic neighborhood admiring homes than perambulate an oval indoor track. I'm interested in cities and neighborhoods and development, and when I travel I like to walk or drive through interesting areas and take pictures. I know that my strolling and staring and picture-taking may trigger worries, and that I need to be ready to give a calm and confident answer to anyone who questions what I'm up to.

In 2008, I was driving back from visiting relatives near Lawrence, Kansas, at night. As I passed through downtown Ottawa, I was taken by the beautiful neon of the Plaza Theater and stopped (no one behind me) to roll down the window to take a photo. A police officer spotted me and pulled me over. He asked me what I was drinking (Diet Coke) and why I was taking pictures. He thought I might be casing the jewelry store next door to the theater. I was tired and a bit shaken up, but I answered him calmly, and my calm demeanor, along with the sleeping toddler in the back seat in his car seat, set the officer at ease, and I proceeded onward to my destination. What if, instead, I had been incensed at his unwarranted inference, and had responded with hostility?

I recall another occasion many years earlier, when I worked at Burtek. I would sometimes pick up some lunch at a drive-thru (usually Lee's Chicken, Arby's, or Burger Street) and drive to McClure Park, about a half-mile from work, find a shady spot to park the car, and I'd eat, read the paper, and listen to Paul Harvey on KRMG (or if I was late getting away to lunch, KGGF's later broadcast) on the car radio. Once I parked under a tree along the south side of 7th Street, the northern boundary of the park. I noticed a woman who appeared to be from a nearby house striding with determination toward my car. She shot me a nasty look, walked around behind my car, and made a show of writing down my license plate number. I don't recall how I reacted, but I think I asked in a loud voice if there was a problem. She simply walked away. It was odd, but I figured out later that there must have been a burglary or some other suspicious activity nearby, and my presence marked me as a suspect. I think I avoided parking on 7th for a time after that, even though I had every right to park there and there were some very nice shade trees to park under. I didn't want to give anyone a reason to suspect me of wrongdoing.

If I find myself walking down a street with just one person ahead of me, particularly if the other person is female, I will adjust my pace or even cross the street to make it clear to the other person that I'm not going to approach. It's a matter of being considerate and thoughtful of the way my actions will be viewed by others.

Trayvon Martin didn't deserve to die for seeming to be suspicious and that wasn't why he died. He died because of a fight in which he physically beat another person and put the other person in fear for his life. A simple "can I help you?" followed by a gentle explanation would have avoided the confrontation, the fight, and the shooting.

MORE: Robert Stacy McCain reports that Martin's possession of stolen goods and marijuana were treated as disciplinary incidents rather than juvenile crime, in an effort by school police officials to reduce the Miami school district's crime stats:

Both of Trayvon's suspensions during his junior year at Krop High involved crimes that could have led to his prosecution as a juvenile offender. However, Chief Charles Hurley of the Miami-Dade School Police Department (MDSPD) in 2010 had implemented a policy that reduced the number of criiminal reports, manipulating statistics to create the appearance of a reduction in crime within the school system. Less than two weeks before Martin's death, the school system commended Chief Hurley for "decreasing school-related juvenile delinquency by an impressive 60 percent for the last six months of 2011." What was actually happening was that crimes were not being reported as crimes, but instead treated as disciplinary infractions.

McCain says that, had Martin been taken into custody as a juvenile offender in Miami, he would not have been in Sanford, Florida. Instead, he was suspended from school, and he was sent to stay with his father's girlfriend in Sanford.

Breitbart.com reports that Obama's Department of Justice provided logistical support for anti-Zimmerman protests in Florida.

STILL MORE:

I missed this, but Detective Christopher Serino testified that George Zimmerman responded with relief when told Serino mentioned that the altercation may have been captured on video:

Defense attorney Mark O'Mara questioned Serino about Zimmerman's fourth interview with police, when Serino teamed up with Officer Doris Singleton for a more aggressive line of questioning.

Serino stated that, during that interview, he suggested to Zimmerman there were surveillance cameras in the area of the shooting that could have captured the attack.

Zimmerman responded, "Thank God, I was hoping somebody videotaped it."

Singleton, also present during the interview, testified that she did not find any significant differences between Zimmerman's oral and written statements, and found no evidence Zimmerman had any ill will, spite or hatred toward Martin. Singleton added that Zimmerman appeared to be in shock when he learned that Martin was dead.

This YouTube video has the relevant section of Serino's testimony beginning at 30:38. And Legal Insurrection has a detailed account of Serino's testimony.

A year ago, Jack Cashill published a detailed timeline of Trayvon Martin's last hour, based on the 7-11 surveillance camera and phone records.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on July 15, 2013 9:50 AM.

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