March 25, 2012

Notes on the Trayvon Martin case

Christian Science Monitor - In 2005, when he was 21, [George Zimmerman] was charged with assault on a police officer during an altercation over the arrest of one of his friends for underage drinking in a bar, but he chose a common route for first-time offenders: A pre-trial diversion that allowed him to escape a felony conviction. Such a conviction could have precluded him from having the permit that allowed him to carry the 9 mm gun used to shoot Trayvon…

Also in 2005, his then-fiancée accused Zimmerman of domestic violence when she filed a court injunction against him. He responded with an injunction of his own. Their court battled ended when the injunctions expired in 2006.

Having worked in the past as a car salesman, Zimmerman became interested in becoming a police officer. In 2008, he attended a four-month course at the local sheriff's department… More recently, he was taking law enforcement courses at Seminole State College, where he had earlier studied to become an insurance agent.. . .

Zimmerman's father, a retired magistrate judge, fought back against allegations in a recent letter to the Orlando Sentinel.  “The portrayal of George Zimmerman in the media, as well as the series of events that led to the tragic shooting, are false and extremely misleading," Robert Zimmerman wrote. "Unfortunately, some individuals and organizations have used this tragedy to further their own causes and agendas. George is a Spanish-speaking minority with many black family members and friends. He would be the last to discriminate for any reason whatsoever."

In an interview Friday, Zimmerman's lawyer, Craig Sonner, told CNN that Zimmerman had recently mentored a black boy, taking him out to play basketball and participating in fund-raisers at the boy's church.

Fox News, FL - A witness we haven't heard from before paints a much different picture than we've seen so far of what happened the night 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed. . . Our sister station, FOX 35 in Orlando, has spoken to that witness.

"The guy on the bottom who had a red sweater on was yelling to me: 'help, help…and I told him to stop and I was calling 911," he said. Trayvon Martin was in a hoodie; Zimmerman was in red.

The witness only wanted to be identified as "John," and didn't not want to be shown on camera. His statements to police were instrumental, because police backed up Zimmerman's claims, saying those screams on the 911 call are those of Zimmerman.

"When I got upstairs and looked down, the guy who was on top beating up the other guy, was the one laying in the grass, and I believe he was dead at that point," John said.

Brad Johnson, Alternet - Zimmerman called the police to report Martin’s “suspicious” behavior, which he described as “just walking around looking about.” Zimmerman was in his car when he saw Martin walking on the street. He called the police and said: “There’s a real suspicious guy. This guy looks like he’s up to no good, on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around looking about… These a**holes always get away”

- Zimmerman pursued Martin against the explicit instructions of the police dispatcher:

- Martin weighed 140 pounds. Zimmerman weighs 250 pounds.

- Martin had no criminal record.

- Zimmerman “had been the subject of complaints by neighbors in his gated community for aggressive tactics” [Huffington Post]

- A police officer “corrected” a key witness. “The officer told the witness, a long-time teacher, it was Zimmerman who cried for help, said the witness. ABC News has spoken to the teacher and she confirmed that the officer corrected her when she said she heard the teenager shout for help.”

- Three witnesses say they heard a boy cry for help before a shot was fired. “Three witnesses contacted by The Miami Herald say they saw or heard the moments before and after the Miami Gardens teenager’s killing. All three said they heard the last howl for help from a despondent boy.”

- The officer in charge of the crime scene also received criticism in 2010 when he initially failed to arrest a lieutenant’s son who was videotaped attacking a homeless black man.

- In a cell phone call moments before his death, Martin told a teenage girl that he was “hounded by a strange man on a cellphone who ran after him, cornered him and confronted him.”

- Zimmerman was not a member of a registered Neighborhood Watch group. Zimmerman also violated basic Neighborhood Watch guidelines by carrying a weapon.

Zimmerman was defended by a black friend
, Joe Oliver, on Good Morning America, who said he couldn’t ‘stop crying’ after the shooting. Also: ‘From the clips that I’ve heard online, I heard George. That sounded like someone who was in dire need of help. It sounded like George.’ This is in marked contrast to several people who saw the shooting and assigned the screams to Martin

Daily Mail, UK
- Other evidence shows Zimmerman in a different light. According to the New York Post, Zimmerman had delusions of grandeur and dreamed of a life in law enforcement. On top of that, the paper noted, he had cases of extreme paranoia. . . He acted out his police dreams by obsessively patrolling the gated community of the Retreat at Twin Lakes, where both he and Martin’s father, Tracy Martin, live. Records show Zimmerman called the police at least 46 times within the last year – many of those times were to report ‘suspicious’ African-Americans within the subdivision.

Florida Times Union - A year after her landslide election victory, State Attorney Angela Corey and many of her employees still appear preoccupied with her predecessor and his administration, interviews and interoffice e-mails suggest.

In June, Corey's chief assistant sent an e-mail urging key office employees to avoid long conversations with former State Attorney Harry Shorstein at the Duval County Courthouse, because they might appear disloyal to Corey. The e-mail noted [Democrat] Shorstein fired [Republican] Corey two years ago and appeared in a commercial opposing her election.

Two days later, after The Times-Union reported Shorstein was seeking appointment as U.S. attorney, Chief Assistant State Attorney Dan McCarthy circulated another e-mail listing negative remarks from readers about Shorstein on the newspaper's Internet site.

And last month, Corey told The Times-Union she hasn't spoken to Shorstein since he fired her and personally won't speak to him even if he is named U.S. attorney.

Now, Corey is trying to derail Shorstein's future prosecutorial career, much like he tried to do to hers…

Interoffice criticism of Shorstein began immediately after Corey took office in January, four months after trouncing Shorstein's former chief assistant in a nasty election. She fired several long-time office employees perceived as loyal to Shorstein or who supported her opponent, Jay Plotkin.

In February, McCarthy circulated a memo stating Shorstein's nationally recognized system for dealing with violent juvenile crime was dangerous and detrimental to the community. Veteran prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda echoed those sentiments in an interview last week, decrying the number of "graduates" from the prior administration's juvenile program that return to the criminal justice system.

Wikipedia - In 2011 Corey's office oversaw a case in which 12-year-old Cristian Fernandez was accused of killing his two-year-old brother. Corey sought and received a grand jury indictment Fernandez on charges of homicide and aggravated child abuse, and decided to try him as an adult. This move, which made Fernandez the youngest person ever to face a murder charge in Jacksonville's history, drew criticism and protests to send the case to juvenile court instead, but Corey held that the juvenile system was inadequate to handle a crime of this magnitude. However, Corey stated she did not intend for Fernandez to stand trial or serve a life sentence, but would rather accept a plea deal. As of February 1, 2012 the defense and prosecution had not agreed to a plea deal, but were still in discussion.

Tremaine Lee, Huffington Post – [Sanford police chief] Lee’s predecessor, Brian Tooley, was forced from office last year following a scandal involving a lieutenant’s son who was captured on video attacking a homeless black man. Police officers reportedly questioned him but did not arrest him. The officer’s son, Justin Collison, 21, later turned himself in after the video surfaced on YouTube and was charged in the attack.

Collison's family paid an undisclosed sum to the homeless man, Sherman Ware, and Ware asked prosecutors to drop the case. They didn't, and Collison eventually pleaded no contest and received probation, according to the Orlando Sentinel….

The 2005 killing of a black teenager, Travares McGill, by two white security guards, one the son of a Sanford Police officer, drove city race relations to a modern low, according to some black residents.

Early one summer morning, security guards Patrick Swofford and Bryan Ansley saw McGill dropping off a group of friends in the parking lot of the apartment complex they were hired to guard, according to published reports. They claimed McGill tried to run them down, and both fired, later claiming self-defense. McGill was pronounced dead at the scene. Swofford was a police department volunteer and Ansley is the son of a former veteran of the force.

The pair was arrested and charged, Swofford with manslaughter and Ansley with firing into an occupied vehicle. But a judge later cited lack of evidence and dismissed both cases. According to autopsy reports, McGill suffered fatal gunshot wounds to the back, and it was unclear if the pair was in danger…

ABC News has reported that a source inside the police department told them a narcotics detective, not a homicide detective, first approached Zimmerman and peppered him with questions, possibly leading his story.

Another officer reportedly corrected a witness after she told him that she heard the teen cry for help, according to ABC. The officer told the woman that it was Zimmerman who cried for help, not Martin.

Shortly after the shooting, the police told the Martin family that Zimmerman had a clean record, Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, told HuffPost.But a public records search shows that he was arrested in 2005 for resisting arrest with violence and battery. The charges were later dropped.

From a June 2011 Orlando Sentinel interview with Chief Lee shortly he had been appointed.

Q: Did officers make the right choice in not arresting Justin Collison, the son of a police lieutenant, on the night he was captured on video sucker-punching a homeless man?

A: The internal-affairs investigation said that they acted properly. … As a result of that investigation, we've had some training with the State Attorney's Office …

Q: If something similar happens again, will you want officers to make the same choice?

A: My preference, unless there's some imminent danger or a safety issue, is that we file a capias [forgo an immediate arrest and file paperwork, requesting that the State Attorney's Office pursue charges].

Orlando Sentinel, August 2011 - The police department on Monday fired Officer Ned Golden II, a second-generation Sanford cop, for lying when he accused a driver of attempted murder, claiming the man tried to run him over.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement recommended that Golden be charged with three crimes, including aggravated assault with a deadly weapon – for pointing his gun at the car - but prosecutors last month reviewed evidence and concluded they could not prove a case, so they opted to file no charges.

That put the matter back in the hands of Sanford police. They informed Golden, 29, on Monday that he was being fired. He was hired in 2008.  MORE

Sam Smith, Progressive Review – A key issue is the police response to the crime. It now appears that the police knew that Martin was running away from Zimmerman and thus neither arguments of self defense nor of the stand your ground law apply.

As for hate crime laws, it is clear that their existence had no positive effect on the Sanford police department. This is on top of the fact that such laws are unconstitutional since they add penalties for thoughts and speech that are constitutionally protected - as despicable as they might be.

Further, there is no indication that they are effective. For example, in 2009 Alternet reported

|||| "Even as national lesbian-and-gay organizations pursue hate-crimes laws with single-minded fervor, concentrating precious resources and energy on these campaigns, there is no evidence that such laws actually prevent hate crimes," Richard Kim wrote in The Nation in 1999. Ten years later, there still doesn't seem to be a lot of data to support this claim.

In 1999, some 21 states and the District of Columbia had hate-crimes laws on the books. Today, 45 states have enacted hate-crime laws in some form or other. Yet the trend has not been a lowering of hate crimes. In 2006, 7,722 hate-crime incidents were reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2006 -- an 8 percent increase from 2005….

Hate groups also appear to be on the rise. According to the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups has increased by 54 percent since 2000. ||||

While it’s comforting to think that new laws will help in such matters, it’s often not the case. One reason that gun laws aren’t particularly effective is that, in no small part,  it is culture and individual character and not weaponry that inspires violence. The idea that a violence inclined person would avoid killing someone because it might add some years to the murder sentence is not particularly logical. Either the perp is narcissistic and doesn't expect to be caught, or is self destructive -  in which case adding to the potential pain makes little difference.

Consider that, according to Datamaster, the states with the lowest violent crime rate per 100,000 - divided by the percent of households with loaded guns - are those with 6 to 13% of the households having these guns. Meanwhile, the states with the highest violent crime rates divided by gun ownership are those with only 1% to 6% of the households fully loaded.

DC is a striking example of this anomaly. DC, with a higher rate of deaths by firearms than any state, also has extra strict gun rules. As John and Maxim Lott pointed out several years ago:

“The [city’s] ban went into effect in early 1977, but since it started there is only one year (1985) when D.C.'s murder rate fell below what it was in 1976. But the murder rate also rose dramatically relative to other cities. In the 29 years we have data after the ban, D.C.'s murder rate ranked first or second among the largest 50 cities for 15 years. In another four years, it ranked fourth. For Instance, D.C.'s murder rate fell 3.5 to 3 times more than Maryland and Virginia's during the five years before the handgun ban went into effect in 1977, but rose 3.8 times more in the five years after it.”

What doesn’t get discussed enough is that, absent good oversight by government and the media, the police essentially have permission to function any way they want. This apparently happened in Sanford and it is happening on a much larger scale in New York City, witness these recent headlines:
NYC cops beat up news photographer

Even the FBI doesn't like the NY cops spying on Muslims

NYC spy police mapped where minorities lived

NYC police wanted to spy on every mosque within 250 miles

NYC police have to pay $15 million for 22,000 false arrests

NYPD shares secret spying center with One Percenters

NYC police throw city councilman to the ground and handcuff him during parade

Detective admits NY police plant drugs

NYC Police stropped and frisked citizens 2,8 million times in five years.
What’s striking about this is how the public, city government and  media have essentially shrugged their shoulders at the behavior. How can we expect anything much different in Sanford, Florida?

This is a problem across the United States. For example, a professional who is connected with the DC public schools told me the other day of seeing two white officers assigned to a school (under a black mayor, majority black city council and black superintendent) brutally scraping a kid against a row of lockers as they carried him down a hall. And of another school officer who weighed about 250 pounds sitting on a young boy he had apprehended. This is not just a problem involving a guy named Zimmerman and some Florida cops. It is a national issue that the public, media and officials generally ignore.

The Zimmermans and bad cops of the world also tend to have low self esteem and often see few alternatives to violence. Many cops, for example, are not well trained in the law, its enforcement or conflict resolution. The social status of the average police officer is not high and thus it is easy to find comfort in finding lower social class groups of humans to denigrate. This cannot be cured without far better training, and in a manner that makes the officers seek professional skill rather than physical superiority. After all, few CEOs, college professors or doctors commit violent crimes or beat up those with whom they come into contact.

As police become more professional – including training not just by officers but by lawyers, experts on various subcultures and mediators – their self respect increases and they less likely to engage in bullying tactics or ethnically discriminatory judgments

One of the best instructions (in its meaning if not its formal language) to a police officer was given by Treasury Secetary Alexander Hamilton in 1796 to the new Revenue Marine, now the US Coast Guard:

"While I recommend in the strongest terms to the respective officers, activity, vigilance and firmness, I feel no less solicitude that their deportment may be marked with prudence, moderation and good temper. . . They will bear in mind that their countrymen are freemen, and as such are impatient of everything that bears the least mark of domineering spirit. They will, therefore refrain, with the most guarded circumspection, from whatever has the semblance of hautiness, rudeness or insult. If obstacles occur, they will remember that they are under the particular protection of the laws and they can meet with nothing disagreeable in the execution of their duty which these will not severely reprehend. . . This reflection, and regard to the good of the service, will prevent at all times a spirit of irritation or resentment. They will endeavor to overcome difficulties, if any are experienced, by a cool and temperate perseverance in their duty -- by address and moderation rather than by vehemence and violence."


Dan said...

Well said, Sam.

I wasn't there, but have no shortage of personal experiences with prejudiced police and apathetic prosecutors.

I can't help but think of the parallels between this shooting and our foreign policy. If our leaders claim that it is legal and necessary to kill pre-emptively merely because someone could pose a threat at some point in the future, why should we be surprised when private citizens adopt the same attitude ?

Anonymous said...

Nobody was there, but everyone knows what happened.

Ray said...

Well organized post and pretty down the middle. I tweeted this out to my following ; )

Anonymous said...

This is on top of the fact that such laws are unconstitutional since they add penalties for thoughts and speech that are constitutionally protected - as despicable as they might be.

Sam, PLEASE engage your excellent brain when reading Libertarian crap. Hate-crime laws punish THE ACT.

Haters can hate whomever they want as virulently as they wish and do so with complete impunity. It's only when they ACT that they become liable.

Would you say that 3 killings resulting respectively from bona-fide accident, a moment's inattention, and actual malice should all be treated the same? I certainly hope you wouldn't. But hard-of-thinking Libertarians and other rightwingers want to ignore mens rea in the case of crimes motivated by hatred. Why would that be, do you suppose? Could it be because they themselves hate the groups usually victimised by haters?

[what follows is a little feedback, FYI and FWIW: because of all the crap you load from google etc., your undernews page takes twice as long to load as my whole system --an engineering workstation in a case the size of a dorm fridge-- takes to boot up from a powered-off state. Twice as long. I wonder how many people do what I often do and just give up before your page finishes.]

Anonymous said...

Anonymous @ 11:30 a.m. 3/26/2012: Sam's page loads just fine with my little Mac system. But I use Firefox with the AdBusters Plus add-on, so I don't see any of the "crap" you are complaining about. Try the Firefox/AdBusters Plus combo - you might like it.

Jose said...

Hate crimes laws are NOT unconstitutional and yet you state this as a fact. Please be clear in the future when you are stating your opinion. No court has found the laws unconstitutional and the argument that it is a violation of your right to your thoughts is invalid. It is ACTS that can be shown to be based on racial or other basis for hatred that will be prosecuted. For instance, shouting "die nigg0r" while beating someone with a bat. Get the difference? Your argument makes no sense, as without some ACT, including hate SPEECH, no prosecution would be possible.

Anonymous said...

Don't let the facts get in the way of your agenda.