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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Zimmerman: A dark and labyrinthine dream

by John MacBeath Watkins

What does the acquittal of George Zimmerman mean?

I can't say I'm surprised by the outcome. It's really as simple as this:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/criminal-justice/is-there-racial-bias-in-stand-your-ground-laws/

In theory, the laws about killing people apply regardless of your race. In practice, if you're black and shoot a white person, "stand your ground" laws decrease the chance you'll be found justified in killing someone, and if you're white and shoot a black, they increase the already high chance you'll be found justified.

Stand your ground laws change the bar for use of deadly force. In the 30 states that don't have them, you are required to retreat, and in general to try to avoid killing the person you're in conflict with before you can justify the use of deadly force. In the 20 that do have such laws, you can stand there with your shootin' iron, dare him to attack you, and shoot the bastard. If there are no other witnesses, it's your word against no one's that he attacked you.

But when the police decide whether to file charges, when the prosecutor decides whether to go forward with the case, and when the judge or jury decides whether the killing was justified, human judgments come into play.

And where there's human judgment, there's human frailty.

I don't know whether Zimmerman, who was armed and followed Martin, confronted him, but that seems likely. I don't know if he grabbed him by the shoulder, but if he did, it's quite possible Martin thought he was about to be mugged.

But when it comes to connecting the dots, a judge or jury must decide what scenario lines up with the evidence. Had Martin, armed with a gun, followed Zimmerman and shot him, I suspect the scenario suggested above, where Martin grabbed Zimmerman's shoulder and Zimmerman thought he was about to be mugged, would occur more naturally in most Floridians' minds, for that matter, in most Americans' minds.

Of course, Martin can't testify, he's dead. And Zimmerman is the only one who knows what happened. The jury had to decide what happened based on his testimony, scanty forensic evidence, and witness testimony that could not even say with certainty which man was which in the fight that occurred before the shooting.

They made a judgment that was in keeping with most judgments where white shoots black. Would they have made the same judgment if the roles had been reversed? That seems statistically unlikely.

Zimmerman got his gun back after the trial. Perhaps he's wearing it today. After all, he was acquitted, so the law supposes there is no reason he should not carry a gun.

Perhaps Dickens can help us out with that question. Over to you, Mr. Bumble: "If the law supposes that, then the law is a ass, a idiot!"

Whatever the result of his trial, Zimmerman has shown himself not to be a responsible gun owner. In my opinion, he followed his vigilante fantasy into the dark and shot a man. We all write the stories of our lives, and he was writing a cop thriller. It didn't turn out that he was a hero, but he did get to exercise the  kind of power that goes with that fantasy, the power of life and death.

It's a fantasy of the ultimate power, a fantasy that is best kept between the pages of a comic book. It's part of the reason police departments give psychological tests to people who, like Zimmerman, want to be cops.

 It seems Zimmerman didn't get that far when he applied to be a police officer with the Prince William County Police Department, because of his credit history  Apparently, cops with money problems are corruptible, in the experience of that police department.

His wife, Shellie, is facing charges of perjury at a bail hearing for claiming the couple had little money to pay bail. She didn't mention the large amount the couple had raised on-line. It appears the couple used some of the money to pay bills. Who knows, maybe she'll be acquitted, too.

I congratulate the Prince William County Police Department for their personnel policies. Citizens have a right to policemen who are honest and accept responsibility.

But the real problem with Zimmerman seems to me a uniquely human one. I think he wanted his life to follow a script, to be the story of a righteous man smiting the sinners. No other creature on earth lives in such a fantasy. Only humans, living out their stories, have such dark and labyrinthine dreams.

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