Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

Florida shooting highlights folly of “amateur hour”

Post by Brian O'Neill on March 21, 2012 at 6:25 pm with 32 Comments »
March 21, 2012 6:44 pm

The alleged shooting death of a Florida youth by a citizen watch volunteer has officially crossed over from tragedy to spectacle.

Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-0ld African-American, was reportedly shot after being confronted by Robert Zimmerman, an armed resident voluntarily patrolling the gated community in Sanford. Zimmerman said he shot Martin in self-defense, but the 911 tape and excerpts from Martin’s last phone conversation suggest otherwise.

As a result, Sanford, a suburb of Orlando, is currently hosting an armada of civil rights tourists, including the NAACP, the ACLU, the National of Islam and the Justice Department’s Office of Civil Rights. The swelling numbers have also attracted hordes of media as well as local and state policitians. It may not be Disney, but it is a circus.

Nevertheless, many fair questions are being asked of this shooting: Was race an issue? Was self-defense involved? Was the new Florida “Stand Your Ground” law a factor? Was Zimmerman acting in the capacity of law enforcement?

The answers may be frustrating for a while, because it may be difficult to prove racist motivations in Zimmerman’s actions, even if such exist. And without eye-witnesses,  we may never know exactly how the last few seconds of Trayvon Martin’s life played out. As for Florida’s 2005 law, its stated purpose permits residents to use deadly force if a person “reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm…or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.” That standard contains no language capable of stretching to cover the unreasonable situation of shooting a person without such reasonable fear.

So what do we know? We know that Zimmerman, a volunteer on neighborhood watch, was not acting as a police officer.

George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin/ AP Photo

In this particular incident, Zimmerman was perhaps many things: a self-important busy-body; a wannabe cop with self-esteem issues; an angry individual with a twisted sense of right on his side. That much could be surmised from the 911 tapes. When the emergency center call receiver directed Zimmerman to stop following the young black male he considered suspicious, he continued to do so. If he had followed that simple directive, had Zimmerman chosen the better part of discretion, then it seems clear that there would have been no shooting, no death, and no public outcry.

The exact circumstances leading to this shooting may not be known, but scenarios such as these play out every minute of every day on the streets of our country. In each case police officers must make decisions about the motivations, mindset, and physical capabilities of individuals whom they contact. From almost the first day at the academy until the last training session in their careers, cops have to stay abreast of the law regarding the detention of individuals; they must practice non-lethal defensive tactics and maintain currency on their defensive tools, such as pepper spray, batons, Tasers and firearms; they must also continually exercise the judgment portion of their mind in order to make split-second decisions on the use of force in situations that juries will be able to handle at their leisure.

The fact remains that using force, deadly or otherwise, is a difficult choice. In the academy, recruits are put through “mock scenes,” so called because these true-to-life training sessions are conducted in a sterile situation with actors and practice weapons. Nobody gets hurt. Nobody dies. The students learn from their mistakes, and they sure do make a lot of them.

I was one of those students many years ago, and I made many mistakes in training. Those mistakes have given myself and other cops a healthy understanding of the best methods, the do’s and don’ts regarding situations such as George Zimmerman insinuated himself last month. When he allegedly chose to pull the trigger, what frame of reference did this self-appointed security guard use to guide his actions? For the record, righteous indignation doesn’t count.

Perhaps it is too soon to put all of this on George Zimmerman’s shoulders, because there is so much we don’t know. We do know that, with the police on the phone in one hand and a gun in the other, Zimmerman chose the gun.

If that turns out to have been the wrong choice, then the civil rights circus will – and should – have a field day.

Leave a comment Comments → 32
  1. Chevrolet1 says:

    Brian, your ignorance and ineptitude in conjunction with your institutional identity are obvious. Would you care to elaborate on a Civil Rights Circus?

  2. Here in Washington state, caselaw goes back quite a bit on the no duty to retreat.

    State v. Redmond (2003)
    http://caselaw.findlaw.com/wa-supreme-court/1244581.html

    State v. Studd (1999)
    http://caselaw.findlaw.com/wa-supreme-court/1441280.html

    State v. Hiatt (1936)
    http://wa.findacase.com/research/wfrmDocViewer.aspx/xq/fac.19360810_0040174.wa.htm/qx

    State v. Meyer (1917) cited here
    http://digitalcommons.law.seattleu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1143&context=sulr
    The ancient doctrine of the common law, that the right of self-defense did not arise until every effort to escape had been resorted to, even to the point of retreating until an impassable barrier was reached, has been supplanted in many of the American states, including the state of Washington, by the more reasonable doctrine and the one more in keeping with the dictates of human nature, to the effect that, when one is feloniously assaulted in a place he has the right to be and is placed in danger, either real or apparent, of losing his life or of suffering great bodily harm at the hands of his assailant, he is not required to retreat or to endeavor to escape, but may stand his ground and repel force with force, even to taking the life of his assailant if necessary, or in good reason apparently necessary, for the preservation of his own life or to protect himself from great bodily harm.

  3. Brian O'Neill says:

    Chev- You get a point for assonance (repeated “i’s), but your point is less than obvious. Because I’m a cop I’m ignorant and inept? Is that some way of questioning my decision to describe the huge gathering of media, feds and civil rights groups as a spectacle or circus?

    Did you even read the whole column?

  4. Chevrolet1 says:

    May I submit to you, at no point in your commentary did you refer to the gathering as a spectacle. Great article, until the backhanded circus comment at the end.

  5. APimpNamedSlickback says:

    Chevrolet1:

    Read the first sentence of the post again.

  6. Brian O'Neill says:

    Chevy- Your righteous indignation, critical reading error and insulting comments notwithstanding, I appreciate your positive comment.

  7. Chevrolet1 says:

    Pimp…I posted the first and last sentences of the article for you…now read my original comment.

    The alleged shooting death of a Florida youth by a citizen watch volunteer has officially crossed over from tragedy to spectacle.

    If that turns out to have been the wrong choice, then the civil rights circus will – and should – have a field day.

    We may surmise a spectacle for those of us on the outside looking in, when civil rights are called a circus act I have to wonder.

  8. APimpNamedSlickback says:

    Chevrolet1:

    The comment I was referring to was: “May I submit to you, at no point in your commentary did you refer to the gathering as a spectacle.”

    Read in context, Brian’s first sentence does just that.

    His last sentence — again, read in context — does not reference civil rights as a circus, but the gathering of many groups clammoring for attention and using this tragedy as a platform to get that attention.

    As for his specific choice of words in that final sentence, well, you got a point for assonance in your first comment; Brian gets one for consonance.

  9. “ignorant and inept? Is that some way of questioning my decision to describe the huge gathering of media, feds and civil rights groups as a spectacle or circus?”

    Both. While there is substantial attention from the media and the organizations mentioned, they are all appropriate given the actual spectacle. This horrible investigation and/or the lack of it. There hasn’t been the absurd level of attention to more trivial affairs or the craziness associated with other matters. This attention is deserved for something like this happening at this point in history. Your lack of appreciation for that is what the writer discussed.

    The lack of recognition for that only adds to the inept description. Moreover, it is compounded again by the claim that merely being a cop was the author’s premise. Rather, it was YOUR individual bias towards the institution. Others in the field would not mockingly refer to the legitimate outcry and response an a civil rights circus.

  10. as though it is a circus that may happen to be on the right side of the issue as though it were a clock that’s correct twice a day.

  11. Every mistake that the police make, (and they do make a lot
    no matter what the magic word ‘training’ means) is cause for a
    lawsuit and every mistake that a citizen makes is cause for
    the police puffing up and deciding they are the only
    competent organisms in the universe. Having run out a too
    long sentence let me say that I’ve met a lot of fine flesh and
    bone police officers but none that were SuperMan.

  12. The only long term solution is gun control, period. The idea that some fella, any fella is policing his area on his own, and without training, or registration is ludicrous.

  13. Brian needs to stop speaking in code, and just come out and say it.

  14. Objective says:

    Brian,

    I did not see anything in your aricle above regarding a police investigation.

    Was one conducted? Especially when I believe the victim (Martin) in this case, was found dead and no weapon (unless you consider a bag of candy a deadly weapon) to be found.

    Kind of hard to claim self-defense in that case.

  15. cclngthr says:

    Several questions I have is did the kid have a right to be in that gated neighborhood? What was he doing in there? Did he live in the neighborhood?

    It appears Zimmerman did not recognize the boy, who probably did not live in the gated community.

  16. reformedliberal says:

    Well, even with there still being so many unanswered questions about this case, there is one thing we know for sure… if Zimmerman was a police officer (on-duty or off-duty), he wouldn’t be facing charges.

  17. Brian O'Neill says:

    Thanks for pointing that out, refliberal. The major point of this column was to point out that if Zimmerman had waited for the police (or were himself a cop), instead of an amateur with an inflated sense of self, no one would be charged with a crime because Trayvon Martin would be alive and well.

    And yes, I’m aware you were being sarcastic.

  18. Was an Indian carver on a Seattle street alive and well?
    It’s like designing the space shuttle to be bulletproof.

  19. alindasue says:

    cclngthr said, “Several questions I have is did the kid have a right to be in that gated neighborhood? What was he doing in there? Did he live in the neighborhood?”

    Apparently you haven’t read any other articles on this case because its been mentioned several times that he and a sibling were there visiting their father who lived close by in the community. He had every right to be there.

  20. Hypothetical scenario: I live in Florida. I retreat, and retreat and try to walk away from a situation, and someone follows me until I can retreat no further. I feel threatened for my life because the other person has a gun and I have a bag of Skittles. I try to push the stalker out of my way or grab his shooting arm.

    Is the stalker now free to kill me because he feels threatened?

    That is the only scenario I can think of that would allow the police to justify not finding probable cause to arrest the shooter on the scene for assualt, at least, until the results of further investigation.

    If the Florida law actually exonerates this shooter, then the law is as dangerous and stupid as its critics pointed out when it was introduced.

    Of course, the real issue, as Geraldo pointed out, is that hoodies are so dangerously threatening, that any black youth wearing one should be shot on sight.

  21. cclngthr says:

    alindasue,
    The reason for the questioning is Zimmerman should have recognized the boy if he were there regularly. If he regularly patrolled the area, he should have known its residents by sight. If you are patrolling the neighborhood, the best thing you can do is get to know the residents. If you live in the neighborhood, yes, you do need to be aware of WHO lives near you. Common sense there.

  22. rivitman says:

    In spite of my entreaty, Brian isn’t going to clarify his version of the dead sea scrolls, So, I am going to respond to my best interpretation of what he wrote, and translate it for the massed.

    Brian thinks that you suck. He is better, via training, and so you should wait for him and his colleagues instead of defending yourselves. And given these magical powers, you should be hiding behind his cape, cowl, and utility belt.

    Of course it is well known that the police usually arrive after the fact, and you may well already be dead, injured, or relieved of your property. Because, by nature, the police, as far as response times go….. suck. This is not their fault, and is the natural state of things. They can’t be everywhere.

    But when seconds count, the cops are only minutes away. Unlike Brian’s unsupportable potshots at the NRA, the fact that the police very likely won’t be there to save anyone’s life in a immutable fact, an absolute metaphysical certitude.

    Now if this incident had occurred between 2 black men, it would barely be news. If the Hispanic George Zimmerman’s name had been say, Jorge Ramirez, it might have gotten fifteen seconds on the eleven o’clock news. If a knife or bare hands had accomplished the deed, instead of a gun, it may have only resulted in a obituary being published.

    Based on what is known, including the reference witness statements, this still does not rise to a legitimate claim of self defense. There was insufficient disparity of force, no weapon, and no claim of a felony in progress as a basis to interfere with, or detain Martin.

    Was this a botched encounter, a bad defensive gun use? Oh yes, in my opinion. One guy, Zimmerman, blew it and someone died. Does that indict the law? No. Does it indict the gun? Nope. Does it mean that the thousands of legitimate defensive gun uses each year somehow didn’t happen? Hardly.

    Does it mean that if you choose to carry, you should have good self control, and knowledge of the law concerning self defense? Absolutely.
    Do you need to conduct yourself to a higher standard? Yes, because like it or not, fair or not, the sheeple will hold you to one.

    But you are not there for me to judge. Neither are you there for Brian to pass judgment on. If you choose to go armed to protect yourself and especially others? I salute you. Have a permit? Don’t leave your gun at home. Read all you can on the subject of defensive firearms usage. Study the laws. Get some training if you can afford it. But don’t let anyone tell you you shouldn’t carry, or oppose or interfere with a felonious act. That’s a decision that is YOURS ALONE.

    The cops (always perfect) blew the investigation. They should have, and could have held Zimmerman for 48hrs pending investigation. The DA further blew it by not filing a lesser charge immediately. Justice demands it.

    What it was, was a brawl gone wrong. That the shooter may have thought his life in danger (no matter how incorrect that notion) may save him from a murder 2 charge. What we really have is a case of voluntary manslaughter.

    Is Zimmerman evil? No.
    Racist? No.
    And while malice probably had no role either, he DID exhibit extremely poor judgement in pursuing and accosting Martin, who no doubt offended, decided to deliver a simple schoolyard style beatdown in response. This shows poor judgement as well, but not nearly to the level of Zimmerman. And I don’t see how FLA’s SYG law was even remotely a factor here.

    Now it’s a pathetic circus of racial disputes, lead by all the usual suspects, who are going to inflame things to the point that a REAL racially based crime(S) will occur.

    I’ll tell you this though. If Zimmerman were given the same consideration as the police who have been involved is some recent shootings and maiming’s around here, he would never have to worry about jail time.

    We would, rightly so, give a cop in the exact same situation the benefit of the doubt. But Zimmerman has no commission, so the double standard applies. Again, rightly so. Where Brian loses me is asserting the public is always incompetent versus his asserted super competence. What Brian claims as “folly” has only one alternative. YOU or ME, face down on the pavement, bleeding to death.

    His use of the case in question to try to belittle those who see a greater role in self defense and crime prevention for themselves is the real fool’s errand.

  23. cclngthr says:

    Here is my take on the situation:

    1. The gated community has had a HIGH crime rate, and the Homeownera Association set up a block watch type of patrols.

    2. Zimmerman chose, likely legally, to carry a firearm during the patrols on his shift because:
    A. You don’t know if someone else has a weapon. You generally assume they do.
    B. Unrecognized people in a gated community have a high chance of being detained or questioned why they are there.

    Trayvon was not recognized by Zimmerman, and in a gated community, where specific people only have access to that area, was in a position where he being unrecognized by sight, walking and wearing clothing similar to gangbangers, where he was considered someone who don’t belong in that neighborhood.

    Why didn’t his dad take him to the store when it was known that the area has a high crime rate? I know I would NOT be walking, at night, in an area that has a high crime rate.

  24. Zim didn’t heed advice not to persue. He should have waited for cops. He screwed up, persuit is not self defense. Ignored trained advice. If there is justice his goose is cooked. “Where there is no justice, there is no law” !!!

  25. There IS at least one account of Zimmerman being on the retreat before being assaulted by Martin, and screaming for help as Martin had him down and was beating him. Plus, the cute young boy photos the media seems to love look a little different that the one Martin had on his FB page.
    Note, this link is getting heavy traffic and sometimes goes down:

    http://trayvon.tk/

    None of this would exonerate Zimmerman of a manslaughter 2 charge is this state. The physical attack by martin amounted to assault 4, which is a gross misdemeanor I believe, not a felony. No felony, no weapon, no disparity of force equals wrongful killing but nowhere near close to murder.

  26. alindasue says:

    rivitman,

    Try providing a link with more neutral sources. Yes, the kid was 17 and pretty close to adult size, but that doesn’t justify being pursued and eventually shot just because he walked to the store and back while visiting a relative.

    cclngthr,

    Nowhere in any of the articles did I see mention of the neighborhood being a high crime neighborhood. Even semi-affluent moderate crime neighborhoods, as most gated communities are, can have a neighborhood watch.

    Besides, what if he wasn’t visiting relatives. What if the family had just moved into the neighborhood. I’ve heard of people not trusting strangers, but this case clearly took it to the extreme.

    Given that Mr. Zimmerman was in no need of “self defense” when he called 911 safely from his car, I suspect when the investigation is through, tuddo’s theory will be close to what the investigation will find.

    Yes, that even fits in with the ‘facts’ put forth on that blame-the-victim website you provided a link to, rivitman.

    If Mr. Zimmerman had stayed in his car and not pursued the ‘suspect’, as he had been instructed by the 911 operator, he never would have been in position to need “self defense”. Instead he decided to play cop (the “amateur hour”) and a high school kid armed with nothing but Skittles is dead because of it.

  27. Dave98373 says:

    rivitman-
    The police in Sanford did not “blow the investigation.” They tried to have manslaughter charges filed but the local prosecutor declined. That local prosecutor has since been removed from this case. I think the police responded properly. The issue is with the current Florida law (aka “stand your ground”) and how it is interpreted and applied.

  28. DearTacoma says:

    I just figured Zimmerman was diabetic and felt threatened by the skittles

  29. Earth_watch says:

    If anyone had a right to act “in self-defense” it would have been Trayvon, as it sounds like he was the one pursued and confronted by Zimmerman, not vice versa.

    If that gated community had some enforceable rules regarding non-residents on their streets, then the people Trayvon was visiting were negligent in letting him walk outside, unidentified… more than likely, though, there was no such set-in-stone policy and Zimmerman’s own statements in his phone calls describe Trayvon in an exaggerated and concocted way in an area which fully allows for pedestrians.

    Very, very sad situation and completely avoidable.

  30. Dave98373, accounts have police officers altering the testimony of witnesses. If that doesn’t undermine a case, I don’t know what does. That is a giant screw-up.

    Was Martin defending himself? That’s unlikely. Beating someone to the ground and then continuing the assault isn’t really defensive in nature, it’s hostile. Justified? Maybe if Zimmerman laid hands on him, but we may never know that. We also don’t know at what point the the physical confrontation the weapon was drawn.

    Maybe we can ask Brian what he would have done. What if a suspect got the best of you physically, a real terminator beat you to the ground and continued the attack and you had no less than lethal weapons accessible, and no backup?

    Would you let him beat you unconscious, or to death, or would ordinary protocol indicate use of lethal force?

    What if the suspect attempted to grab your sidearm? I already know the answer to that one. I just would like you to say it instead of myself.

    So, what would the “PRO” do versus us pathetic, lowly amateurs?

  31. Dave98373 says:

    rivitman-
    There were no witnesses.

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