On February 26th, 2012 an hour before one of the most watched sports events in the country tipped-off a tragedy occurred. Two young people’s lives would intercept with tragic consequences. On one side was a young man, who was serving his 3rd suspension from HS that year. His parents decided to send him to stay at the Father’s girlfriend’s condo, away from his local friends, whom they felt where being a bad influence on him.
On the other side, another slightly older young man, working as an insurance adjuster, and going to college to finish his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice. He was also a volunteer in the Neighborhood Watch Program, establish after a rash of break-ins and other crimes were committed on the gated-community. On this fateful night, ironically he was not on duty, but just on his way to the store doing errands. Those are the objective facts; after these, your objectivity depends on which side your argument falls.
What happened next, is a matter of bitter contention, and will decide the outcome and future of George Zimmerman, his family and closure for the Martin Family.
The State’s prosecutors have made their argument simple:
- Trayvon Martin was temporally staying in the Condo Complex
- Trayvon was returning from the corner store, and entered the Complex
- George Zimmerman observed TM enter the Complex
- GZ “profiled” TM as someone not belonging in the Complex
- GZ assumed that TM was acting suspiciously and called the Police
- The Police instructed GZ that they would respond
- GZ made comments in regards to young criminals coming to the Complex
- The comments were derogatory
- GZ continued to follow TM, disregarding the dispatcher who told him not to follow
- TM was on the phone with a friend, to whom TM describe what was happening
- GZ confronted TM, a struggle ensued
- The neighbors heard the commotion and called 911
- In one of those calls, a voice was heard screaming
- Sybrina Fulton, TM’s mom identified the voice as TM
- One shot was fired, it kill TM
- GZ admits to firing the weapon
This is in essence the State’s case against George Zimmerman. As some familiar with the case will quickly point out, there is a lot that is not mentioned on the Charging Affidavit, where all these points came from. You can read the whole document here:
From an objective point of view this document is incriminating, but very incomplete, as it does not mention GZ injuries, it misstated some of what GZ said on the call to the police, it fails to mention that Tracy Martin, TM’s father did not recognize his son’s voice, when asked by the Investigator. It paints the picture of a vigilante, fed up with criminals getting away, deciding to take matters into his own hands and disregarding the police. This recklessness created a situation that led to the tragedy.
This position has been the middle ground for most people who feel GZ is guilty, but with some reservations. The feel GZ had a weapon, was the older person, could have avoided the confrontation, and did not have to shoot the teen. The only thing they are unsure about is this Murder 2, as charge, or some lesser charge, but guilty of something.
This would be the objective view of the occurrence if only the prosecution’s view would be taken into account. Things are rarely that uncomplicated, and so clear-cut.
George Zimmerman’s Camp
- The Complex had been victims of recent break-ins
- Observed TM entering through a cut-through, not through the gate
- It was a dark cold rainy night, TM appeared aimless walking
- TM approached GZ’s vehicle in a threatening manner
- After which he ran
- GZ was following the dispatcher’s order to maintain visual and inform
- Dispatcher told GZ to stop, he did
- Had lost visual with GZ, was returning to vehicle
- TM approached him and then sucker punched him
- TM pinned him to the ground, slammed his head unto the concrete
- GZ was screaming for help, none was provided
- TM noticed gun, at that point GZ managed to grab gun and shoot once
- GZ was unsure he had shot TM, only did it in self-defense
- GZ had injuries to his face, the back of his head and a broken nose, unlike TM
- He surrendered to the police, answered all questions
- Passed 2 lie detector tests
- Assisted the police throughout
- Provided a filmed walk-through
- Witnesses testimonies was consistent with GZ story
- Cooperated throughout until charged
- Turned himself in to authorities
This is the objectives facts as the Zimmerman’s Camp presents them, they give a much different view of the crime. Are some of these facts in dispute, by the State, yes. The State claims it was TM that was screaming for help, the GZ camp contends why would he, be screaming for help, he was giving GZ a beat-down.
Provided that the truth is somewhere in between, does that mean that reasonable exists? Did the Sanford Police Department do the right thing by not charging George Zimmerman that night?
Yes and Yes. Those that like to inject race into the discussions, claim that had it been the other way around TM would have been arrested and charged. But, here is the truth, unlike some wild stories that were bandied about, George Zimmerman was arrested. He was handcuffed, he was detained, he was interrogated for hours, his clothing was collected, he was photographed all without an attorney present and voluntarily. He was then released. Why?
The object of this post is objectivity, lack of favoritism toward one side or another, so why objectively was GZ released after questioning? Lack of probable cause, as defined by;
- A reasonable belief that a person has committed a crime.
- A reasonable amount of suspicion, supported by circumstances sufficiently strong to justify a prudent and cautious person’s belief that certain facts are probably true.
GZ shot and killed a young teenager, without a weapon, he should be arrested, he was. He should be charged. Now this is the problem, with what. On those first 48 hours what information was available to the Police and the prosecutor’s office?
A resident of the Complex, called to report a suspicious person, the caller was on the phone with the dispatcher describing the situation, the dispatcher decided it merited a response, the caller was later involved in an altercation with the suspect, the caller had noticeable wounds, the suspect did not, the caller was cooperating, the caller did not have any outstanding warrants or on probation, the suspect did not have any identification on him, the caller claimed self-defense, and the evidence gathered indicated that to be the case.
evidence as available that night and early morning, did not rise to the level where;
“A reasonable amount of suspicion, supported by circumstances sufficiently strong to justify a prudent and cautious person’s belief that certain facts are probably true.”
What about the argument that if GZ have been black he would have been charged or not released? It is a sad commentary that young black males are a disproportionately represented in the Justice System. Why is this important?
Often times when black males are not released, it has nothing to do with the crime that was just committed by because of other crimes, or as a result of other crimes. Many are on probation or parole, which means a new charge is enough to hold them, until an investigation can determine whether new charges will be filed, often they have warrants for minor offenses that they did not clear up, or did comply with the terms of release.
The effect of this is that black males, when facing new charges will be incarcerated at a higher rate, before the new charge is even added. This is the objective truth. Couldn’t they hold GZ for 48 or 72 hours while they investigated, yes.
Would this have change anything? Other than the early perceptions and accusations that the SPD was biased, by the time the uproar started about arresting GZ, he would have been released due to lack of evidence.
What made this case different was not the way it was handled, it was the addition of subjective conclusions and assertions that outside forces at the invitation of the Martin Family and with their active participation caused, in my opinion, the Objective facts of the case to be forgotten, substituted by subjective opinions, many with no bearing on the case. Before I talk about the hijacking of the case, there are a few more objective facts that have to be established;
- The family hired a wrongful death lawyer before their son was even buried
- The family hires a PR firm to pitch the case to the media
- The family withheld information about their son to portray him in a better light
- The family obstructed the investigation, even as they were claiming that an investigation was not taking place
I am not passing judgment on the family, as I may have done the same thing, but those are objective facts and are a large reason why the case became so controversial. The family and their lawyers and PR firm created a narrative that was;
Is this an unfair appraisal? I guess it would depend on which camp you are, but the there is no doubt that the strategy revolved around, portraying TM as an innocent child, which he was not, and GZ as an overzealous bully, who hunted TM down and killed him. The created Narrative was very successful in achieving this, and it is still believed by many people as the objective truth.
The hijacking of the objective facts and the consequences
I have tried to give the most objective facts as I know them to be, now let’s talk about the subjective facts conclusions based on a subject’s personal perspective, feelings, beliefs, desires or discovery, and how they hijacked the case, divided a nation, and caused bodily harm to some people.
Once the objective facts of the case were forgotten the story driven by the subjective facts and opinions of others the case took a life of its own. The first and most enduring subjective fact was the racial element and what effect it had on the case, the players, the investigation, the witnesses, the politicians and the media that was reporting it. For some “subjective facts”, they only have to mention for them to be accepted as fact. In this case, race became the first fact that transformed the story.
600 lb. elephant
The shooting had remained a small local story, for over a week, on March 7th the first national story about the shooting was a Reuters story, not a full story, but a brief, that described the first of the many stories about that evening from the Martin family and the efforts of the family’s attorney to get GZ arrested, as Crump’s summarized his efforts in this manner
” Trayvon, a high school junior who wanted to be a pilot, was black and Zimmerman is white, Crump said race is “the 600 pound elephant in the room.”
Silliness of the statement aside, as a 600lb elephant is very small; this is all it took to get the attention of the major networks. Credit must be given to the PR firm, for getting that start, a few days later the story went national. A subjective fact as perceived by the family, with no corroboration, started the media frenzy. The objective fact that Zimmerman is of mixed heritage Hispanic mother and a White Father, and would never be confused for a member of the Aryan Brotherhood was hijacked, ignored, when it was no longer possible to ignore, a rarely used term was applied to describe GZ, White Hispanic.
Stand your ground-License to kill
From the beginning, one of the reasons given for not arresting GZ was the SYG laws in Florida. It was the press and the Family that were insisting that the reason for not arresting GZ was the SYG laws. The Sanford Police Department and States Attorney Norm Wolfinger were saying lack of probable cause, but not one was listening, another subjective fact, that caused contention. The facts about the SYG laws were completely ignored, a review was ordered by the Governor because of the pressure against the law, which few understood and was rarely invoked. A review that decided that there was nothing wrong with the law and that it would stand as it is.
The Hoodie, the Ice Tea, Skittles
Another opinion that became a subjective fact was the Hoodie, the Ice tea that was not Ice tea, and the skittles. All of these became points of contentions, when the objective fact that Trayvon was wearing a hoodie because of the rain, perhaps, were used as symbols to rally for support. The claim that TM had put up his hoodie and was the cause of GZ suspicions of him as a result, where unfounded, as GZ never said that. Even the revelation that TM was wearing his hoodie up when he visited the 7-Eleven, well before he encountered GZ, were not enough to change the subjective fact that GZ was suspicious of TM because he was wearing a hoodie. It spawned a Million Hoodie march, and other Hoodie demonstrations that once again stripped the case of the objective facts and transformed it. The Ice tea that was really a watermelon juice cocktail and the Skittles were transformed into symbols of innocence, as if a criminal could not have those items and still commit a crime or in this case assault GZ.
The girlfriend and “puppy love”
The young woman that was allegedly talking to TM was transformed into TM’s girlfriend and stories of the hours talking in on the phone with the 16 year-old sweetheart another subjective fact, that it is now known was not 16 at the time but 18 and was not TM’s girlfriend at all. She was not so traumatized that she had to spend the night at the hospital as was claimed. Her tale is still evolving.
Aspiring pilot and no criminal record
The portrayal of TM as an aspiring Pilot, little angel, with no criminal record, who was suspended by the school for truancy and was innocence personified. The family spread stories about his aspirations to be a pilot, would not show current pictures of TM, use angelic looking pictures of TM when 5 yrs. Old, a cute picture of TM 8-10 years old in his football uniform, and the most famous was perhaps the Hollister shirt picture of a 14 yr. old TM that was part of every story. Then there was the picture of a young TM in a hoodie which was photo shopped to make him look, lighter and less menacing another clear attempt to hijack the fact that TM was not a cute small kid, but 6+ foot tall young man. TM was young man who had benefitted from the MDSPD’s efforts to reduce the statistics for crime and delinquency within its schools, and was in Sanford serving another suspension. His criminal police record was clear due to those efforts, by the MDSPD; a picture of a troubled young man was appearing.
There are other things that became subjective facts in the case, I won’t go into all of them, instead I will return to the title of my post can Objectivity be maintained in this case? Perhaps, but we have our own perspective, feelings, beliefs, desires and sometimes it is a difficult proposition, to try to divorce ourselves of those, to maintain objectivity. A better goal might be. attempt to distinguish the objective from the subjective, even if the we agree with the subjective, by recognizing the difference we can become better human beings.