Blue Byline

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

Making the case for a civil rights case

Post by Brian O'Neill on March 25, 2012 at 1:20 pm with 20 Comments »
March 25, 2012 1:39 pm

The anger radiating out of Sanford, Florida, is palpable. The killing of Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, has energized the country unlike any single death in recent memory.

The rising tide of anger has washed up in other parts of the country; thousands have gathered for protests against Martin’s killing in cities such as Los and New York City, Miami and Chicago. His death is largely seen as a racial issue involving a Hispanic shooter and a white police department that has so far failed to deliver justice in the form of an arrest. Groups such as the ACLU and the NAACP, civil rights leaders and the friends and family of Trayvon Martin want justice, and they want it now.

Protesters demand Zimmerman arrest/ AP Photo

Amen, I say. If only it were that simple. The circumstances are anything but cut and dry.

The investigation conducted by the Sanford Police Department uncovered no eye witnesses to the killing. Cell phone transcripts and verbal testimony from passersby were examined, but apparently little was found to contradict Zimmerman’s statement that he acted in self defense. In fact, the physical evidence found actually supported Zimmerman’s assertion.

As critics and their questions mounted, Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee released an answering statement, but in the ensuing mayhem his reasoned response, based on state law, was lost in the vortex. Those screaming for justice only wanted to hear the words, “We have arrested George Zimmerman for the homicide of Trayvon Martin.” Logic cost the Sanford chief his job.

Throwing the baby out with the bath water is a useless endeavor, and in the end it resolves nothing. No amount of political pressure can change the fact that the police and prosecutors lack probable cause to arrest Zimmerman for murdering Trayvon Martin. That fact remains true whether or not one looks at this case through the lens of the so-called “Stand Your Ground Law.” Absent that probable cause, no cop or prosecutor is going to make an unlawful arrest if that action carries the risk of a lawsuit, the loss of a job or a stint in federal prison.

This explains the presence in Sanford of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Civil Rights. Their arrival would seem prescient if the lack of evidence for state charges were not already a given. In the heated atmosphere in Sanford, the feds wisely chose to check in early. Instead of watching Florida riot, much as Los Angeles did when four police officers were acquitted on state charges for the beating of Rodney King, federal officials are trying to stay ahead of the curve on this one.

There’s good reason to have the Office of Civil Rights (and the Federal Bureau of Investigation) handle the Martin case. Federal law enforcement officers can make arrests for crimes that are unique to the federal criminal justice system. This is a part of criminal law deeply saturated with constitutional standards, and it is the realm where Zimmerman’s actions, his potential racial bias and his use of a firearm, will be looked at with much greater scrutiny.

Most of us can only imagine the pain which the family of Trayvon Martin is currently experiencing. Their shock, sorrow and anger is raw. The killing has ignited a large number of people whose voices are loud in their rage. They want it to be clearly understood that our country’s struggles with its cancorous problem – racial prejudice – are far from over.

Understood. But let’s move forward with due regard for the limits of the law, even if those limits frustate us. Let’s wait for the federal investigation to make a case against Zimmerman where the state investigation failed. Let’s not push past the boundary of sense and decency by twisting the law into a shape we require for that moment.

The law doesn’t work that way. We need to be patient.

Leave a comment Comments → 20
  1. I believe you may have unintentionally misled your readers with this statement:
    “As critics and their questions mounted, Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee released an answering statement, but in the ensuing mayhem his reasoned response, based on state law, was lost in the vortex”

    because the Sanford FL City Manager, Norton N. Bonaparte, Jr did not release the statement UNTIL MARCH 23rd!! This was LONG after the facts of the tragedy were lost in said vortex.

  2. I do see this as a civil rights situation. I don’t know if it is in this particular case, because the evidence is not in. However, Geraldo’s remarks about hoodies stikes a cord with many individuals who can claim they feel threatened by the mere presence of a black person. Many whites feel “threatened” by blacks being around them, threatened by the clothes they wear, threatened by their language, etc.

    If this law is interpreted in this case as a justifiable homicide, then a modern form of black lynching will be created by self defense claims. Or, all sides will make sure that they do the killing first so they can be the one to claim self defense. I am sure many blacks will feel as threatened by unrecognized white persons who show up in their neighborhoods as white individuals do in theirs.

  3. Oh, I failed to mention, other than my previous comment, which is not meant to detract from you article you are right on point, IMO. Thank you for your words of wisdom. Everyone needs to take a deep breath and let the justice system work as it is intented. Unfortunately, it might not always be what we want. Dare I say, I’d rather see an arrest made or not made based on sound legal authority, then some sloppy rush to judgment ANY DAY.

  4. adulltsagainstbullies says:

    As we all know, racism did not end with the election of a black President, although the bullies and cowards would like to hide their immature acts under this pretense and shame on you who refuse to do something against it by speaking up! Yes, including you who are in power and once or maybe still condome this type of behaviour. Yes, unbelievable as it may seem bullies and cowards grow up and land important and influential positions. We must police ourselves and put an end to the blind eye towards RACISM !!!!….OR THE WORST IS YET TO COME…WE MUST CONTINUE TO STRIVE FOR A WORLD WHERE ALL CAN LIVE IN HAPPINESS WITHOUT FEAR OF BEING TREATED WRONGLY, JUST BECAUSE OF THE PIGMENTATION THAT GOD HAS BLESSSED US WITH!

  5. tombaxter says:

    If only the National Rifle Association had been as successful in having an armed populace as passing Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground Law’ Trayvon Martin would be alive and George Zimmerman dead. When Trayvon noticed and felt threaten by Zimmerman stalking him in his vehicle, Trayvon had the right to kill. When Zimmerman got out of his vehicle and went yelling after Trayvon, Trayvon had the right to kill. When Zimmerman got in Trayvon’s face close enough to get socked in the nose, by a man forty pounds lighter, if Zimmerman did not punch himself, who could argue it didn’t deserve a deadly response? Trayvon’s mistake after being verbally abused and physical confronted. was his failure to kill Zimmerman, We all need to remember, if you are stalked, feel threaten and afraid, in a place you have a legal right to be, shoot first, the life save may be your own. Make sure you safe your witness. You don’t want any contradictory testimony in court. Thank God for the NRA and the freedom it has protected and provided.

  6. Congratulations to the News Tribune for being one of the first news organizations to correctly note that this is not a white on black killing, but a Hispanic on Black killing.

    Now if we can get all the news organizations to put up a current picture of the victim. Perhaps his facebook picture would paint a more accurate picture than one which is perhaps as much as 5 years old.

  7. Bucks2: Well observed!

    Most in neighborhood watch have the best intentions, and usually observe and report to police. Some dedicate themselves to the cause to the point they feel they need to patrol to look for suspicious activity.
    Unless you are defending yourself, your family, or property, or your neighbors life, there needs to be serious consequences for killing someone.
    Suspicion does not constitute guilt. Self defense needs to be proportional to the threat. It is impossible to gauge propriety. If someone punches you, at minimum you should be able to punch them back. If you feel they will do it again, you should be able to punch them back until they no longer provide an immediate threat, such as being on the ground or giving up.
    If you are not able to fend off an attack with physical strength and ability, you need a weapon. With the myriad of weapons choices ranging from visual, auditory, chemical, electrical, piercing, and projectile, there is a measurable response available for most any circumstance. Why there wasn’t something used before lethal force is what I question.
    A cop friend of mine has available to him a super-bright flashlight, flash bang devices, pepperspray, taser, knife, and his service weapon. The most important thing he has is TRAINING and JUDGEMENT!

    If the neighborhood watch people want to do anything besides observe and report, they should be prepared to be charged when they resort to lethal force due to lack of proper tools and training.

  8. tombaxter,
    My take on the Stand Your Ground laws is it enables citizens to have the upper hand when criminals are involved. Without such statute, criminals have an easier time getting the upper hand in the situation.

    It depends on the INDIVIDUAL whether they can defend themselves without potential lethal force being used. I have CP, often am in a wheelchair. I also weigh less than 100 pounds, and if someone wanted to, they could easily push me over and do things to me than a non-disabled person who is physically able to overpower the criminal. Me using pepper spray or taser requires a close distance between me and the criminal; something I want to avoid. Having that distance requires a devise that is easily carried and has the potential stopping/dropping power to drop a person in their tracks (also anyone else for that manner). I am licensed to carry a weapon, and may choose to apply it if the need fits.

    With Trayvon being where he was, if it truely was a high crime area, and Zimmerman considering him suspicious; yes, I do believe Zimmerman did not recognize the bou, and considered him a suspicious person in a high crime area.

    In my apartment complex, I consider all those individuals I don’t recognize and have not seen before suspicious, particularly if they peer in any residents windows for any length of time.

  9. Another example is a person being in a place he/she does not have any business being in. I don’t have any reason to go to certain places in town, and if I do, I technically would be considered a suspicious person in that environment.

  10. It’s simple,Zimmerman had a gun.

  11. ccingthr, you are meaning Zimmerman, aren’t you? Zimmerman was told by officials not to follow the victim, so he had no business being near the victim. The victim was returning to his dwelling and had every right to be exactly where he was.

  12. I truly wonder just what outcome would satisfy some folks in this country screaming for “justice”. Do you keep investigating this crime until you find someone willing to prosecute Zimmerman, even though the facts show complete innocence? Why is the “stand your ground” argument brought up, when Zimmerman was (allegedly) sucker punched, beaten, bloodied and fearing for his life? This isn’t a stand your ground issue, it’s a self defense issue. If you’re being attacked by a 6’2″ football player, having your head bashed against the cement, you have the right to be able to defend yourself. Why is the race card being brought up, when (inconveniently for the left) Zimmerman is hispanic, well, as hispanic as Obama is black?

    It’s obvious from just the comments in this thread that apparently there is little concern for “facts” in this case. Some black person was shot in cold blood, so racism was involved and someone must pay for it. There doesn’t have to be any explanation, just mob rule. When the police look at the facts and draw the conclusion that Zimmerman was acting in self defense, that’s obviously just whitey looking to cover up the race crime.

    Yes, by all means let’s go back to the good ol days of mob vigilante justice. Hang Zimmerman by the nearest lamp post. Perhaps toss in a riot or three, just for good measure. Oh, and get rid of those pesky gun rights while we’re at it.

  13. Gandalf you say the facts show Zimmerman is completely innocent. You yourself even point out that what we know are not facts but allegations. Here is the definition of “alleged”:

    Adj. 1. alleged – declared but not proved;
    2. alleged – doubtful or suspect;

    The days when a vigilante can stalk an innocent man returning home from the store, continue the pursuit even when told by officials to abandon it and then claim self-defense should be over, but this case shows they are not.

    The facts that we do know say that Trayvon was the one who felt threatened and Zimmerman was a persuer, not a defender.

  14. Objective says:

    KSinCFL- Dare I say, I’d rather see an arrest made or not made based on sound legal authority, then some sloppy rush to judgment ANY DAY.

    I agree with you on this one. But I believe it is too late for sound legal authority, they should have exercised that immediately. Now that there has been a nationwide uproar over this event. Mob rule is in full swing, and most likely with good reason. Regardless of what happens, even if there was video, 50 witnesses to mysteriously appear. Zimmerman will be most likely prosecuted anyway. Just like the LA riots, were those 7 officer convicted of wrong doing? Or was it the courts did not want the rest of LA burned down?

    Brian in his previous post with “Amateur Hour” stated even though Zimmerman claimed self defense, the 911 tapes suggest otherwise. Then above he mentions the lack of evidence. We all know, he does not want to admit the investigation was botched from the beginning, and blames it on the “stand your ground law”. Just like Seattle Police going through that federal probe for their conduct.

  15. No witnesses?:

    “One witness, who has since talked to local television news reporters, told police he saw Zimmerman on the ground with Trayvon on top, pounding him — and was unequivocal that it was Zimmerman who was crying for help.

    Zimmerman then shot Trayvon once in the chest at very close range, according to authorities.

    When police arrived less than two minutes later, Zimmerman was bleeding from the nose, had a swollen lip and had bloody lacerations to the back of his head.”

    If all this is the case, there was no assault by Zimmerman, nor was their mutual combat. A simple punch to he face would have indicated assault 4, a gross misdemeanor. However, pounding another human being’s head against concrete indicates at least intent to do serious bodily harm, (Assault 3 or better, all felonies).

    In Washington, you can use lethal force to stop a felony in certain circumstances. But you won’t be told this by the “media”:

    “RCW 9A.16.050
    Homicide — By other person — When justifiable.

    Homicide is also justifiable when committed either:

    (1) In the lawful defense of the slayer, or his or her husband, wife, parent, child, brother, or sister, or of any other person in his or her presence or company, when there is reasonable ground to apprehend a design on the part of the person slain to commit a felony or to do some great personal injury to the slayer or to any such person, and there is imminent danger of such design being accomplished; or

    (2) In the actual resistance of an attempt to commit a felony upon the slayer, in his or her presence, or upon or in a dwelling, or other place of abode, in which he or she is.”

    It’s quite easily to make the tiny jump from having your skull beaten against concrete to believing the assailant intends you great bodily harm. In fact, it’s no leap at all, large or small.

    Everything that happened up to the point where the physical assault began is now irrelevant, as is Martin’s somewhat checkered behavioral history, and peculiar habit of visiting his fathers girlfriend. It’s doesn’t even matter if Zimmerman said something, or did something to provoke the assault.

    If the facts back up Zimmerman’s account, or thin evidence fails to undermine it, the race hustlers will have to look for another issue.

  16. Earth_watch says:

    The title of this piece doesn’t make sense nor match the content.

    However, regarding the actual incident…

    Zimmerman defied law enforcements’ recommendation and continued to make chase even though Trayvon was not in the act of being a danger to anyone at the time. Zimmerman was the aggressor at that point.

    Even if the witness account above is true (that Trayvon made physical contact with Zimmerman), if Zimmerman was the one who pursued and approached an unarmed person, didn’t that person have a right to defend himself or herself (and since Trayvon had no weapon, wouldn’t that would have to be with fists)?

    It’s the person prowling at night with a loaded gun, imagining the worst, which was obviously the greater danger of the two.

    Considering that a man is now dead, it seems like there’s enough evidence to hold Zimmerman during the ensuing investigation since he seems to be the one who deliberately brought on the confrontation. Not holding Zimmerman suggests what he did was okay… and if so, then what’s to stop anyone else from pre-meditatively picking a fight just to push someone far enough so that they have to react and then “deserve” to be shot?

    Is it really “self defense” if you were the one caused the situation to become volatile in the first place?

    Is there no law against consciously causing unnecessary confrontations (or at the very least defying authorities’ orders to step down)?


  17. rivitman says:

    “Zimmerman defied law enforcements’ recommendation”


    “Zimmerman was the aggressor:

    Keeping a suspicious person under observation is not aggressive:

    noun \ə-ˈgre-shən\
    : a forceful action or procedure (as an unprovoked attack) especially when intended to dominate or master

    “didn’t that person have a right to defend himself”

    Was Martin defending himself? Against what? Being watched on a public street?

    “It’s the person prowling at night with a loaded gun”.

    Zimmerman was legally carrying a concealed pistol, in his own neighborhood. There is no evidence so far that is was drawn, brandished or used to intimidate Martin. So much for attempting to characterize Zimmerman actions as “prowling”.

    “he seems to be the one who deliberately brought on the confrontation”

    He was following and observing a suspicious person. Current accounts have him retreating, and martin initiating and carrying out a brutal physical attack. He had every right to be where he was, doing what he was doing. martin by accounts, had no legitimate reason to attack Zimmerman.

    “what’s to stop anyone else from pre-meditatively picking a fight just to push someone far enough so that they have to react and then “deserve” to be shot?”

    That’s a wild stretch of the imagination, and constitute illegitimate conjecture. And that wildly imaginative scenario which is not applicable here, is generally called murder in the second degree.

    “Is it really “self defense” if you were the one caused the situation to become volatile in the first place?”

    It is when you are having your skull bashed on the concrete, very possibly yes. In that case you are answering the threat of death or serious bodily harm. Would you feel better if they had found Zimmerman dead, his brains spattered on the pavement? Keep in mind, all the evidence points to the notion that this was NOT mutual combat, but a vicious assault. In a case where it WAS mutual combat, such a killing might qualify for second degree murder. But there in zero evidence of that so far. Again, What did Zimmerman do to rate such a beating? Oh, he ticked off martin. Made him mad. Zimmerman is totally responsible for martin’s rage and lack of self control right?

    “Is there no law against consciously causing unnecessary confrontations (or at the very least defying authorities’ orders to step down)?”

    “unnecessary confrontations” Hmm. I wonder what those are.

    Defying the Authorities?

    I do it all the time, so do you. Want to live under marshal law, a police state? Not me. I’ll listen to their recommendation, but in the end run, I will make my own call.

  18. Objective says:

    If Martin was shot at close range as police supposedly reported. Wouldn’t you think there is a possibility Martin was fighting for his life. Thus inflicting a bloody nose, fat lip and other cuts on Zimmerman before being shot?

    The only reason, why I could see Zimmerman following Martin. Is if Martin had just busted somebodys window, caused damage to somebody’s car or maybe even attacked somebody. Then I could see him following up and possibly confronting Martin, but that was not the case. He just happen to be walking down the sidewalk to his father’s house.

    Has anybody heard from Brian the past few days? He sure has been quiet.

  19. ransteth says:

    Not holding a suspect prior to charges being filed does NOT equate to approval; it means he is not considered to be a flight risk or serious threat to public safety.

    Also, Zimmerman was NEVER told or instructed to not follow Martin. The 911 dispatcher (who is not a cop) said, “That won’t be necessary”. That hardly sounds like a command.

    As for self defense; If I am carrying a lethal weapon, and someone overpowers me, I am at risk of them using said weapon on me; I am, at that point, at imminent risk of being mortally wounded.

    All this is conjecture, of course, until the rest of the facts are presented. There is a lot of conflicting information at this time, so I will wait for all the facts to come to light.

    I will, however, be very upset if the original facts that we were fed turn out to be a bunch of BS. I don’t like being used by the mainstream media, trying to pump something up to be sensational. Again, I will wait and see what the Federal Investigation uncovers.

  20. BlaineCGarver says:

    Business for Jackson, Sharpton, and various other militant Black groups has been REALLY slow since Obama got elected….just follow the money and you will see the root cause of all this extra-legal drama. Putting a large bounty on Z’s head was a nice touch…no doubt roving bands of hopeful young urban gentleman will be busy trying to collect. Does one REALLY need to speculate what would happen if Whites put a price on the two that set that White boy on fire awhile back?

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