The trial of George Zimmerman for homicide was a Florida case. As you know, I practice criminal law in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. As we have discussed in the past, however, certain legal concepts are the same (except for some particular details) throughout the country.
The concepts of homicide and self-defense are two such concepts. So is the suggested reluctance to second-guess a jury by folks who were not present at the trial and simply rely upon media accounts to arrive at their own judgment. The killing of Trayvon Martin, of course, has resonated throughout the nation.
And now, so has the verdict.
Massachusetts is no different. Hundreds of demonstrators demanding “Justice for Trayvon” marched through Roxbury yesterday. It was a wave of protests swelling into a parade of more than 1,500 over the acquittal of George Zimmerman.
While there are some who simply write off the verdict as a mistake made by a misinformed jury, others see it as a race issue. Take Khury Petersen-Smith from Dorchester, for example. He proclaimed through his megaphone, “Only in America would a young black man be put on trial for his own murder…This is proof the system is not for us. We have to fend for ourselves.”
“We need to make this a summer of protest!” shouted Lindy Lou, 23, a University of Massachusetts Boston student who organized the rally with a few friends on Facebook shortly after the verdict was announced Saturday night.
Speakers at the rally railed against a range of issues from black-on-black violence to income inequality as well as the Martin killing. The crowd picked up bystanders as the demonstrators marched, apparently spontaneously, toward the Ruggles MBTA station and back.
Speakers included City Councilors Charles Yancey and Tito H. Jackson and mayoral candidates Charlotte Golar Richie and Charles Clemons. Marchers chanted , among other things, “Skittles and tea [items Martin had on his person at the time of the shooting] is not a weapon!”.
Organizers said some protestors were former Occupy members. Others were local anti-gun violence activists. The protest also attracted members of the International Socialist Organization, which has protested handling of the Martin case.
The rally began with about 500 people – many bearing Martin’s hoodie-clad image on T-shirts and signs, some gripping packages of Skittles and Arizona Iced Tea – gathered about 6 p.m. at Gourdin Veterans Memorial Park.
Police held back traffic as the crowd peacefully flowed through intersections.
The Roxbury demonstration was one of several nationwide – with hundreds gathering in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and other cities – in support of the Martin family. The Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton urged peace. However, not all such protests were peaceful. Contrary to requests made by the Martin family, Oakland, California’s demonstration was overflowing with anger as demonstrators broke windows, burned U.S. flags and vandalized a police squad car. In Los Angeles, about 100 protesters surrounded a cop and were dispersed by officers firing beanbag rounds.
Sam’s Take On Murder, Manslaughter And Self-Defense
As you know, I am a Boston criminal lawyer. I admit that I am not terribly unbiased. While I have no professional involvement in the Zimmerman case, I am the one usually pushing for acquittals. I am also the one walking out of the courtroom on such occasions with a free client who everyone in the courtroom figures “got away with” whatever crime with which he had been charged and now stands acquitted.
As we have discussed many times, even when race is not an issue, folks who then hear about the verdict generally figure an acquittal is the result of a bamboozled jury rather than a jury dutifully following such unpopular concepts such as “innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt”.
In other words, while the specifics of this case may touch upon incendiary emotions, the disagreement of the verdict by those who are not in the position to “know” is the same.
Let’s look at the legal concepts involved in the case, then, shall we?
The jury was given the choices of finding Zimmerman guilty of murder, manslaughter or of finding him guilty of neither. There was no issue as to whether he had shot Martin. He did. There was no question as to whether Martin brandished or even possessed a weapon. He did not.
“And so”, you might ask, “how could anyone say it was self-defense?”
One does not need a weapon to put someone else in fear. Sometimes, the age and size can reasonably produce fear.
“What about the fact that Zimmerman approached Martin and not the other way around?”
Well, that is certainly a point worth taking into account. In Massachusetts, an aggressor is generally not able to successfully claim self-defense. Generally…not never.
On the other hand, many people seem to believe that Zimmerman went out hunting that evening. I would submit that, although clearly overly zealous, there is nothing that I heard that would indicate such a conclusion.
So, let’s assume, as the jury likely did, that Zimmerman, once in the confrontation, honestly felt that he was in danger. Let’s assume that he felt that, physically, he was no match for Martin and that Martin was about to attack him.
The question becomes was such a fear “real” and “reasonable”?
That is the nub of the issue.
The jury, who heard all the evidence, found that it was certainly real. Further, the jurors apparently thought such fear was reasonable.
Now, what could that fear have been based on? Do we know that Martin’s race did not figure into the perceived threat?
No. In fact, I would argue that it very likely did.
Is racism a reasonable thing on which to base fear?
In my opinion, particularly for someone who has voluntarily put himself into the position of semi-law enforcement, no, it is not.
I would imagine, however, Zimmerman’s prior experiences, as well as those of the jurors, likely effected such a decision. Of course, I would imagine that assuming someone is likely to attack and kill me would lead me to not approach the person in the first place more than making the determination that I should shoot him first.
But that is me. And I was not present for the trial. I also do not know how persuasive any of the lawyers involved were .
I do know, however, that if the prosecution did not prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, then the jury was right to find Zimmerman not guilty. Similarly, I know that the ability of the lawyers involved likely played a great part in the verdict.
I don’t know whether the jury verdict correctly reflected the facts and the law. I was neither there for the slaying nor the trial. However, I can tell you that we protest verdicts with violence at our own risk.
Anyone can be charged, as we have covered many times. The last thing we want is a jury who will not do its job because if fears an angry mob.
Especially since acquittals are more likely to prompt anger than convictions…and you or a loved one could find yourself in the cross-hairs of a prosecution.
If you would like to see the original story upon this blog is based, please go to