Monday, July 15, 2013

The color of justice

Oddly, I wasn't there the night George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin. I wasn't in the jury box either. Some commentators, like Ezra Klein and Ta-Nahesi Coates, are saying the not guilty-verdict was appropriate according to Florida's "stand your ground" law. (Note that they are not saying that the Florida law is appropriate; Klein uses the word outrageous).

If this verdict was appropriate, though, what about verdicts in cases that were similar except for the color of the defendant? What happened to the "stand your ground" law when the jury reached its verdict against Marissa Alexander--an African American woman from Jacksonville?

And anyway, why should fear of attack justify shooting to kill? It didn't in the case of  John White--an African American man from Long Island, New York--who shot a (white) teenager in 2006 (accidentally, he says, when the boy was trying to grab his gun).

John White, it appears, had good reason to fear the boys who showed up on his doorstep that night. That's probably why the governor commuted his sentence after he had served five months. And White no doubt should have served some time, according to New York law--his gun was unregistered, and if he hadn't been holding it when he went to the door, a scuffle probably wouldn't have escalated into manslaughter.

But, some say, the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Is this true?
  • Imagine that Trayvon Martin lived by that principle and was also armed when he met George Zimmerman. Imagine they both pulled out their guns and fired, and Zimmerman went down. Do you think the jury would have found Martin guilty?
  • Imagine that Marissa Alexander's husband had come after her with a gun. Would she then have just fired warning shots? And if she had actually killed him, what would her sentence have been? Remember than Florida allows capital punishment, and that Governor Rick Scott recently signed a bill that speeds up the process.
  • Imagine that the boys who came after John White's family had all had guns. Would they have used them? Would White have been able to stop them?
  • Imagine that none of these people had guns. Who would be dead? Who would be in jail?
As it is, two boys (who may have been innocent) are dead because they frightened armed men (who may have been innocent, apart from the fact that they were holding guns). One man (who looks pretty darn guilty to me) is still alive because an armed woman decided to shoot in the air instead of at him. Two African-Americans were found guilty. One man with a whiter face was found not guilty.

America, we have a problem with race. And with guns.


Anonymous said...

While there is truth that if none of us had guns, this wouldn't be a problem. But pushing for overly stringent gun control won't help either. I used to live in Hong Kong where there were very strict laws about guns. But violence was still present, even more so than where I live now in the US, because the only ones who had guns were a) the police, and b) the gangs.

Anonymous said...

Facts are important here , Zimmerman claimed self defense not stand your ground . The case where the women got a large sentence was totally different and based her defense she claimed stand your ground but went into the garage , got a gun out of the glove compartment and walked back . She was offered a three plea deal but wanted a trial , where the mandatory sentence guidelines had to be used if found guilty . Many states have enacted mandatory sentencing because they have felt Judges have been too lenient . But yes we have a problem with race and guns . But actually violence by guns have actually have been declining for years now , and we have progressed in race . President Obama the first elected black president I believe gives some credence to that , and stats of gun violence shows that is also true. The problem of race and guns I agree with you on , but also we need to make sure we are speaking accurately about the facts of cases like this if we are to be lecturing others on it . We also have a problems with violence , family structure of a mom and dad. sexual morality considered just a choice feeding a poverty cycle of unwedded moms , and of course political parties catering to people as they are victims instead of the church getting together and speaking to guns , race , and yes even to gangsta music that promotes drugs , violence , miss treatment of women and supportive of racism , also gives glory to gangs that causes more black kids to die then the George Zimmermans of today . It’s a big problem . The President spoke elegantly and received much disrespect for from most conservative voices , that’s because in my opinion that the problem is just more then racist attitudes toward blacks as most of the dialogue coming from the protests have been . But yes that is still a problem .


LaVonne Neff said...

Mick, you are right about stand your ground and about the Alexander case, as I learned after I posted - although the jury was instructed to consider "stand your ground" in coming to their decision, so it was indirectly involved. And yes, we have a lot of problems that go beyond race and guns. I found the president's speech very moving, and I hope this incident helps a lot of us understand what life is like for many of our brothers and sisters.