This column by ACRU General Counsel and Senior Fellow for the Carleson Center for Public Policy (CCPP) Peter Ferrara was published April 18, 2012 on The American Spectator website.
How do you stand your ground if you are lying on your back getting pummeled in the face?
That one question alone shows that Stand Your Ground laws are not at issue in the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin controversy. But the tragic death of young Trayvon is only seen by those on the left as a valuable media opportunity to further exploit the millions of gullible Americans to advance the left’s political interests and agenda. Indeed, we have some people in positions of influence, both leading politicians and figures in the major media, who see their interest as exploiting the death to incite race unrest across America.
There is only one solution to this budding insurrection. Enforce the damn law!! That applies most directly in Florida now, where conservatives are in power, and they have to start acting like it.
The Perfect Resolution for Zimmerman
Enforcing the damn law is exactly what is happening now in the Zimmerman case, and it’s the perfect resolution for all concerned.
This case needs to be resolved by a jury, and can only be resolved by a jury, which is the only way to satisfy the public interest in this matter. There are too many people in America today who will not listen to the evidence, and will follow only their own racial prejudice.
But the evidence needs to be laid out in a court of law, and resolved by a jury of Zimmerman’s peers. That is the only way to satisfy the fair minded that justice has been done. I will discuss those who are not fair-minded below.
Despite what I say about the evidence below, this is not too much of a burden for Zimmerman. Even staunch advocates of gun rights and self-defense need to recognize that if someone is shot and killed even in self-defense, the ensuing investigation is not going to be easy for the shooter, in any event. Indeed, it should not be. Moreover, a jury trial gives Zimmerman the opportunity he needs to clear his name.
But based on what the established evidence on the public record indisputably shows, Zimmerman is going to be easily found innocent of the charges. That is more than well proven by eyewitness testimony and the physical evidence, despite what those who think they will benefit politically or socially from race turmoil want to believe.
Zimmerman himself is from an ethnically mixed family. He has a history of positive relations with African-Americans, even voluntarily tutoring black children at his own expense. He also has a distinguished history as a neighborhood watch captain, providing evidence leading to the capture, arrest, and conviction of criminals before.
On the night of the shooting, Zimmerman going to the store himself observed a black youth, 6 foot plus, high school football player walking alone in the rain and looking around, possibly for opportunity, in a gated community that had been robbed many times before. Zimmerman knew the community’s residents, and correctly identified the youth Trayvon Martin as not one of those residents.
Zimmerman properly called 911 to report a suspicious person in the neighborhood. When Zimmerman indicated he was following the youth, the operator told him, “You don’t need to do that.” Zimmerman was not legally obligated to obey that suggestion. There is nothing illegal about following what you think is a suspicious person in your neighborhood. Based on these facts, this is not even a case of racial profiling.
But Zimmerman obeyed the suggestion anyway. The taped conversation with the operator showed he left the trail to go find an address so a cop could come by and pick up the investigation. While Zimmerman was walking back to his car after reporting the address to the 911 operator, as he later told police, Trayvon Martin came up behind Zimmerman and asked Zimmerman if he had a problem with him. Zimmerman whirled to say “No.” Martin replied, “You do now,” and proceeded to punch him in the nose, breaking the nose and knocking him down.
Martin then jumped on top of Zimmerman, grabbing his head and repeatedly slamming it into the ground. Zimmerman is recorded on a 911 call repeatedly screaming “help!”
Zimmerman was licensed with a conceal and carry permit to carry a handgun, which he had with him that night inside his waistbelt. One news report stated that Martin saw the gun and said, “Now you’re dead,” going for the weapon. But Zimmerman got there first, using it to shoot Martin in the chest once, killing him.
These facts are corroborated by the physical evidence as well as eyewitness testimony, medical and police records, and taped recordings, including Zimmerman’s own uncontradicted testimony, which is part of the record. The police report recorded the broken nose and head injuries, which are apparent in a video tape of Zimmerman at the police station thereafter. The police report also records grass and grass stains on the back of Zimmerman’s shirt. The coroner’s report stated that the gunshot was at close range.
Regardless of the facts, we can say that it was a tragedy that the young Trayvon Martin died in any event. But the boy was not well served by a national social culture that led the cute kid we see in the photos celebrated in the national media to identify with gangsta culture as he matured into his later teens, which is also confirmed by photographic evidence.
We will see the full evidence at trial, but I don’t know of any evidence that even contradicts the above statement of the facts. And if these are the facts, then what Zimmerman did was fully justified under the law of self-defense to save his life. That does not involve any stand your ground defense. As noted at the outset, Zimmerman at the time of the shooting was flat on his back struggling for his life, not standing his ground. So stand your ground is not even an issue in this case. What is involved is just standard, common law, self-defense.
Moreover, the legal standard for conviction is beyond a reasonable doubt. There is just no way that standard can be met with all of the evidence supporting the above facts. In addition, note that for a conviction the jury must be unanimous. It takes just one juror to insist that the evidence does not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt for the defendant to go free. You can’t stuff the jury box with votes from illegal aliens to win.
I predict the prosecutor will argue that in following Martin, Zimmerman lost his right to self-defense. Under the law, an attacker cannot claim the right to self-defense for what ensues thereafter. But a neighborhood watch patrol captain following a suspicious person in the neighborhood whom he reports to the police has not committed an attack that forfeits his right to self-defense under the law. That would amount to saying that when Zimmerman was attacked by Martin he had a duty to die. That is the position of Al Sharpton and Joy Reid, and the Washington Post and the New York Times. But that is not the law. Such a ruling would effectively hold that every neighborhood watch volunteer in America loses his or her right of self-defense just by monitoring the neighborhood.
Zimmerman has worthy defense counsel. They need to ensure that the case is decided by a multi-racial jury with each member of the highest intelligence possible. If the prosecutor tries to eliminate all Hispanics (Zimmerman’s mother is South American) from the jury, such a discriminatory practice has already been found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The judge will instruct the jury that they must unanimously find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to convict, and on the legal standard for self-defense.
The Justice of Stand Your Ground
Over a century before the NRA began promoting Stand Your Ground laws
in 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court held in 1895 in Beard v. U.S. that an innocent person under attack was “not obliged to retreat, but was entitled to stand his ground, and meet any attack upon him with a deadly weapon, in such a way and with such force as… [he] honestly believed, and had reasonable grounds to believe, was necessary to save his own life, or to protect himself from great bodily injury.”
Stand Your Ground laws only became necessary when states began to adopt laws, through either the legislature or the courts, imposing a duty to retreat whenever possible on victims of violent attacks in public. At least one state, Massachusetts, even adopted that duty to flee when attacked in your own home, which is the rule in England.
The point of Stand Your Ground laws is to eliminate the duty to retreat when you are attacked in public. That has now been adopted as the law in half the states. Almost every state I believe has adopted the Castle Doctrine, which says you do not have the duty to retreat from your own home when attacked there.
The duty to retreat would not apply to the Zimmerman case in any state, however, because the duty only applies when it is possible to retreat. For Zimmerman lying on his back with a 6 foot 3 high school football player sitting on top of him slamming his head into the sidewalk, there was no possibility of retreat. So Zimmerman would qualify for self-defense under the laws of every state, even Massachusetts.
Stand Your Ground laws only involve the simple logic of justice. The attacker does not have the legal or moral right to attack the victim. The victim has the moral and should have the legal right to remain where he is if he wants to do so. But the duty to retreat says the violent attacker has the legal authority to impose a legal obligation on the victim to flee the scene. That is not moral or just.
Liberals argue that if victims will just flee when possible then that will reduce deaths or injuries to violent attackers. But the violent attackers can eliminate any possibility of their injury or death from such incidents by simply choosing to stop attacking innocent victims.
Moreover, economist John Lott, an expert in applying regression analysis to use of guns and violent crime, rightly argues that the most important issue is, “Did the [Stand Your Ground] laws increase total deaths? More criminals might be killed in justifiable self-defense, but if the number of innocent lives lost falls by more than the deaths of criminals rises, is that really a bad thing?” The answer to that question is not only no, but Hell No!
Lott reports that the latest edition of his book, More Guns, Less Crime (University of Chicago Press, 2010), includes the only published, refereed academic study of Stand Your Ground laws, which “found that states adopting Stand Your Ground/Castle doctrine laws reduced murder rates by 9 percent and overall violent crimes by 11 percent. That implies an annual drop in murders that is about 10 times more than the entire measured increase in civilian justifiable homicides from 2000 to 2010 — and it isn’t even clear that there was an actual increase.”
Lott argues the supposed increase in civilian justifiable homicides since 2000 is due to increased reporting of that statistic from states and jurisdictions within states, not because of an actual increase. He notes as well that between 2000 and 2010 the much more numerous justifiable homicides by police increased by 25 percent, and that statistic does not suffer from any change in reporting practices during that time.
Lott further explains why the Duty to Retreat imposes an unreasonable burden on victims, saying, “There have been many cases where victims have been chased and knocked down a couple of times before firing in self-defense, but prosecutors thought that the victim still could have done more to retreat before firing their gun.” He adds, “forcing victims to take time to retreat puts their lives in jeopardy,” which is supported by the above statistics showing that replacing Duty to Retreat with Stand Your Ground actually reduces overall deaths sharply.
Enforce the Damn Law
Florida is governed by top notch conservatives, such as Attorney General Pam Bondi, who has tremendous future political potential, and Tea Party Governor Rick Scott. They are the ones with the clear duty now, to enforce the law and maintain public order.
What is on the horizon is that race hustlers like Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and the New Black Panther Party will attempt to intimidate judge and jury by agitating mob violence. Even more obvious is the threat of extreme mob violence when the jury acquits Zimmerman.
What Bondi or Scott or both need to do is to hold a press conference and announce that the public order will be maintained and mob violence will not be tolerated. They may think they are in a tough spot now, but their political futures will be obliterated if they stand by while Sharpton, who has incited mobs to kill before, and/or Jackson or the New Black Panther Party incite racial riots that result in the death of innocents.
Scott needs to announce that the integrity of the legal and jury process, and public order, will be enforced by the National Guard if necessary, which will be armed and on high alert until after the jury trial is completed. And Bondi needs to announce that if Sharpton or anyone else does incite racial violence, the agitators will be arrested and prosecuted under state laws.