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July 16, 2013

Let's Have That National Conversation about Race (and Crime)

Zack Beauchamp (along with pretty much everyone else on the Internet today) is calling WaPo columnist Richard Cohen a racist. To help you identify the more blatantly dishonest parts of this epic paean to idiocy, we've helpfully bolded the relevant parts of his opening paragraph:

In a piece that contains the telling (even in context) line “I am a racist,” longtime Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen employed a mishmash of poorly explained statistics and bafflingly ignorant mathematical reasoning to argue that Trayvon Martin was “understandably suspected because he was black” — that is, Americans should assume any young black men they meet are criminals.

Let's step through the "ZOMG He's such a racist!" nonsense. Does Cohen's op-ed actually contain the line "I am a racist"? Even if it did, would that actually make him a racist? It may help to see what Cohen actually wrote:

...I'm tired of politicians and others who have donned hoodies in solidarity with Martin and who essentially suggest that I am a racist for recognizing the reality of urban crime in America...

We're not entirely sure in what alternate universe objecting to being called a racist is the same as admitting you're a racist, but all will no doubt become clear once the reader discards his principles and jumps on the "WOOHOO -- LET'S ALL GANG UP ON THE JEW!!!" bandwagon.

See what we just did there? It's pretty offensive, isn't it?

We deliberately ignored what we can only presume to be Beauchamp's actual point (he thinks it's racist to consider the real world rate at which crimes are committed by various identity groups when dealing with complete strangers about whom you know nothing) and went straight to the name calling. By this logic, a woman walking alone down a dark alley at midnight should be just as careful around a 5 year old little girl as she would around a young man in his sexual prime. There's no reason to view one as more threatening than the other.

In the real world, of course, everyone knows that 5 year old girls don't rape too many adult women. In fact, we can't think of a single case where that has ever happened. But it could happen, and considering the actual probabilities that a complete stranger will turn out to be a rapist would be sexist, wouldn't it? Herr Beauchamp could just as easily have pointed out the perceived flaws in Cohen's op-ed without resorting to base ad hominid epithets, but it's much more fun to be ugly and divisive.

Certainly such posts generate more traffic.

Beauchamp proceeds to "debunk" the notion that young black men commit a disproportionate share of violent crimes by noting that they smoke pot at the same rate as whites, but are arrested 4 times as often for that offense. Again, we're not sure what pot smoking has to do with property or violent crimes, but why let a few ugly facts interfere with a raging case of confirmation bias?

Is it really racist to take real world crime rates into consideration when dealing with complete strangers? Should police ignore the descriptions given to them by crime victims and target everyone equally? Most people would say this makes absolutely no sense, but then most people don't go around calling people they disagree with racist, either. If it is racist to talk about real crime rates, then Larry Elder (who was still black last time we checked, but the press are good at applying WhiteOut to Melanin-Having Individuals who dare to subvert the preferred story line) must be motivated by a deep seated hatred of people who share his racial heritage. In a post called Five Myths of the 'Racist' Criminal Justice System, Mr. Elder identifies and debunks several popular misconceptions about race and crime:

1) Blacks are arrested at higher rates compared to whites -- but wrongly so.

Not true. While only 13 percent of the population, blacks accounted for 28 percent of nationwide arrests in 2010 and 38.1 percent of arrests for violent crime (murders, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault). But are they unfairly arrested? Studies find that arrest rates by race are comparable to the race of suspect identification by victims.

For example, in a given city, x number of robbery victims describe their assailants as black -- whether or not the suspect has been apprehended. It turns out that the race of those arrested matches the percentage given by victims. This has been found repeatedly across the country, in all categories of crime where the race of an assailant is identified. So unless the victims are deliberately misidentifying their assailants -- unconcerned about whether the suspect is apprehended and knowingly give a false race -- blacks are not being "over-arrested."

2) Blacks are convicted at higher rates and given longer sentences than whites for the same crime.

Not true. Differences in conviction and sentencing rates by race are due to differences in the gravity of the criminal offenses, prior records or other legal variables. A 1994 Justice Department survey of felony cases in the country's 75 largest urban areas actually found lower felony prosecution rates for blacks than whites and that blacks were less likely to be found guilty at trial.

...5) More blacks are in jail than in college.

Not true. "More blacks (are) in jail than college, in every state," said Jesse Jackson in 2007. That same year, presidential candidate Sen. Obama, echoed: "More young black men languish in prison than attend colleges and universities across America."

If Jackson and Obama refer to black men of the usual college-age years, their claim is not even remotely true. The Washington Post "Fact Checker" wrote: "According to 2005 Census Bureau statistics, the male African-American population of the United States aged between 18 and 24 numbered 1,896,000. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 106,000 African-Americans in this age group were in federal or state prisons at the end of 2005. ... If you add the numbers in local jail (measured in mid-2006), you arrive at a grand total of 193,000 incarcerated young black males, or slightly over 10 percent.

"According to the same census data, 530,000 of these African-American males, or 28 percent, were enrolled in colleges or universities ... in 2005. That is five times the number of young black men in federal and state prisons and two and a half times the total number incarcerated. If you expanded the age group to include African-American males up to 30 or 35, the college attendees would still outnumber the prisoners."

In a subsequent article, Mr. Elder compounded his thought hate crime by wondering who was really profiling whom on that fateful day?

The most important witness was Trayvon's friend, the young lady he was speaking to on his cellphone shortly before he was shot. The prosecution needed her to establish that Zimmerman was the aggressor, and that Trayvon felt stalked and threatened.

Rachel Jeantel, a 19-year-old high school senior, said Trayvon told her that a "creepy-ass cracker" was following him. She said he also referred to Zimmerman as a "n--ger."

Doesn't this, suggested the defense, show that Martin was the one doing the racial profiling, a teenager with a chip on his shoulder, spoiling for a fight? No, said Rachel. Neither "cracker" nor the "n" word is a "racial comment." Both words, she said, are simply descriptive race-neutral words.

Really? So had Zimmerman used the "n" word to describe Martin in his police call, this would have been a non-event?

Of course not. So, what are the relative violent crime rates for whites and blacks? The 2011 FBI Homicide numbers tell an interesting story. We graphed up the percentages of inter- and intra-racial homicides here:


As several more mathematically sophisticated pundits have noted, white on white and black on black crime appear to occur at about the same frequency. But these numbers are not adjusted to reflect the fact that our population is 74% white and only 12.6% black. Unnormalized, the murder rates seem comparable. But when we adjust them to reflect the actual frequency of each race in the population, they're not comparable at all:

Whites are over 74% of the population, but in 2011 they committed only 47% of the murders.

Blacks are 12.6% of the population, but in 2011 they committed 49% of the murders.

During the Duke Lacrosse case (another manufactured racial controversy) we took a look at 30 years of DoJ statistics on inter- and intra-racial murder and rape:

The key points to take away from the DOJ graphs are these:

- Statistically speaking, the proportion of blacks who commit homicide is far larger than the proportion of whites who do so (25 per 100K vs. 5 per 100K makes it roughly 5 times higher).

Regarding Obama's grandmother,

- The data suggest that (at least statistically speaking) blacks are far more dangerous to each other than they are to whites (40+% vs. approx. 10%)

- But this is hardly surprising: the vast majority of homicides are intra-racial (i.e., black on black or white on white)

- Blacks about twice as dangerous (again, statistically and hypothetically speaking) to Obama's white grandmother as whites are to blacks. (10+ % vs. <5%)

The important points here are that correlation does not imply causation and that racial groups don't commit crimes; individuals do.

At the same time, if you know absolutely nothing about an individual (the 'random black male on the street' vs. that job candidate who has submitted a resume and can be interviewed) it is perhaps not unreasonable to substitute empirically verifiable observations of the real world for the far more comforting pablum that one should completely ignore race unless it explains behavior we would otherwise find completely unacceptable by any objectively and consistently applied moral standard.

The real irony here is that the media have bent over backwards to portray Martin's death as that of a white predator, motivated by racial animus, profiling an young black man. But the facts tell us that whites and blacks are far more dangerous to our own kinds than to people of other races. Violent crimes are crimes of opportunity - they happen to people who live and work in the same areas. You know, people like George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin.

The story, viewed honestly and without the deliberately misleading descriptions of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, is actually quite consistent with what we know about intra-racial violence. It makes perfect sense when you ignore terms like "White Hispanic" and "self-described Hispanic" and take into account the fact that George Zimmerman had a mixed racial heritage that included Hispanic, White, and yes - Black ancestors:

He was raised in a racially integrated household and himself has black roots through an Afro-Peruvian great-grandfather — the father of the maternal grandmother who helped raise him.

A criminal justice student who aspired to become a judge, Zimmerman also concerned himself with the safety of his neighbors after a series of break-ins committed by young African-American men.

Though civil rights demonstrators have argued Zimmerman should not have prejudged Martin, one black neighbor of the Zimmermans said recent history should be taken into account.

“Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. I’m black, OK?” the woman said, declining to be identified because she anticipated backlash due to her race. She leaned in to look a reporter directly in the eyes. “There were black boys robbing houses in this neighborhood,” she said. “That’s why George was suspicious of Trayvon Martin.”

People shouldn't be called racists for speaking the truth. So let's have that conversation, and let it be an honest one. Maybe then we'll have a real chance of fixing the problems we're so scared to talk about.

Posted by Cassandra at July 16, 2013 07:47 PM

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"...just as careful around a 5 year old little girl..."

Not all little girls are equal, yanno.

Posted by: Snarkammando at July 17, 2013 06:01 PM

I'm sorry, my friend, but the *master* baiters and hustlers of this administration and their minions want anything but an honest conversation about skin color. They want the bullhorn all to themselves. They flogged this dead horse (It's dead, Jim!) until it rose as the zombie persecution that won't die, and they are not about to let their monster tap dance "Puttin' on the Ritz" down the memory hole until it's been drained of every drop of political ooze...."For the Children"!

Posted by: DL Sly at July 17, 2013 06:15 PM

I'm sorry, my friend, but the *master* baiters and hustlers of this administration and their minions want anything but an honest conversation about skin color. They want the bullhorn all to themselves.

Hence this post, which (though few will ever read it), took a long time to write. I do what I can.

Vox clamantis... and all that :p

Posted by: Cass at July 17, 2013 06:21 PM

There's also the developing story that Martin was profiling Zimmerman as a gay prowler, that Martin made it all the way home before coming back out to confront Zimmerman, and that the beating that got Martin killed was basically a purported gay-bashing engendered by rage and sexual panic.

Posted by: Texan99 at July 17, 2013 08:15 PM

A nice lady that I used to work with was an African American. Her son, 18 years old in 2011, was shot riding an old beat-up bike back home at 10 or 11 pm at night, because a gang drug war was raging in the east side of my city, and a couple of AA Gang Bangers wanted that old bike, and shot the lady's son.
He managed to crawl up on someone' porch, they called 911, and the ambulance and cops got there. The cops thought he was a gang guy, and interrogated him while the paramedics were treating him, prior to a drive to the hospital. He wasn't a gang member, because he's too stubborn to have anyone tell him what to do.
He recovered, and is fine now. Where is the justice for him? What are the hapless police supposed to do, if the perps are AA? Turn their heads?
The overwhelming number of victims of black crime by poorly socialized young men are.....African Americans. Where is the justice, protection and the rule of law for them, if we decide we should "look the other way" and black youth crime?

The lady in the apartment community where George Zimmerman was on Neighborhood Watch, that had been victimized by a home invasion, whose perp description was similar to Trayvon Martin, was.....an African American. Where was justice, the law, and protection for her?

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at July 17, 2013 08:23 PM


Posted by: Texan99 at July 17, 2013 09:28 PM

Hi Cass,
Yes, the race baiters are doing their worst, and the MSM is buying it all . . . or worse, are actually singing the chorus.
I still do not believe for a moment that people are inherently more violent or prone to criminal activity because of the color of their skin. This is a classic example of assuming causing due to statistical correlation. Blacks are much more likely to grow up in poorer socio-economic circumstances, and vastly more likely to be living in high crime areas (especially in Northeast and upper Midwest.
> I am quite sure that it is life experience, not inherited genes that are determining these outcomes.

Hi Dan,
Your anecdote illustrates my point perfectly.

Best Regards,

Posted by: CAPT Mike at July 17, 2013 11:16 PM

I don't buy the causal connection between poverty and violent crime. We're not talking about a starving man stealing a loaf of bread.

Also, doesn't the pattern of growing up in high-crime neighborhoods sort of beg the question? Why would blacks be more likely to grow up in high-crime areas?

But I agree with you that race doesn't explain anything; culture does. The culture that sends a huge percentage of young black me to prison is not, thank Heaven, universal among black people -- but it is far too prevalent among the ones who end up in prison, or shot dead in the street. When whites, Asians, and Hispanics adopt that same culture, they end up the same way.

Posted by: Texan99 at July 18, 2013 12:02 AM

Why should we even be having this conversation? Violent criminals are put behind bars every day. Not because of their race but because of what they have done. The fact that it skews based upon race does not mean the violent criminals didn't do it.

As a friend of mine says, "my people, my people what are you thinking?"

Posted by: Allen at July 18, 2013 12:29 AM

FWIW Capt. Mike, I don't believe the color of anyone's skin "causes" criminal activity either. This is typical underclass behavior - Thomas Sowell has written about it, and it's not at all unique to blacks. The Irish in America had similar problems earlier in our history.

Too often, we conflate culture/nurture/class with biological predisposition. I've been making the same argument wrt a lot of what is widely assumed to be "natural" male or female behavior... except it isn't, universally. And certainly we're seeing a lot of blurring of gender lines in young people raised in a completely different culture from the one we grew up in.

Anyone who has ever raised teenagers to adulthood hopefully understands how easily kids can go astray. If there's no father in the home, if they fall in with the wrong people, if they don't have firm standards, if their parents didn't benefit from any of those things...

The older I get, the more I appreciate the power of family to counter popular cultural influences on kids. When the Unit was still in the Marines, we knew so many strong black families. The parents worked hard to make sure their kids got good grades, were kept busy with sports and church activities on weekends or after school so they didn't get into trouble or fall in with the wrong crowd, and had strong ties to family and community. These kids were courteous, highly intelligent, and confident.

But then these are all attributes they developed with the help of their parents - they were passed down from generation to generation. When that cycle of high expectations is disrupted, the results are not good.

Posted by: Cass at July 18, 2013 06:47 AM

Violent criminals are put behind bars every day. Not because of their race but because of what they have done. The fact that it skews based upon race does not mean the violent criminals didn't do it.

I agree, but that's exactly the argument that's being made - that they aren't doing these things. Or that just as many whites are committing crimes, but somehow they get off scot free.

That's one reason I like to use homicide stats. Robberies are easier to cover up but 30% more dead bodies would be hard to cover up :p

Posted by: Cass at July 18, 2013 06:49 AM

Yeah, you'd need a truck with a 30% bigger bed and a really big place out in the woods -- although the swamp would save you the trouble of having to dig....

Posted by: Snarkammando at July 18, 2013 11:53 AM

I'd settle for knowing where the bodies are buried at the IRS...

Posted by: Cass at July 18, 2013 12:13 PM

Tex, I think the homophobia angle is hysterical :p

Kind of like kryptonite, if it's true. Not that the press will cover it, mind you...

Posted by: Cass at July 18, 2013 05:42 PM

Yes, strangely, the MSM seems uninterested in pursuing that angle. I'm sure DOJ is all over it, though. Maybe they'll help Zimmerman sue Martin's parents for a hate crime?

Posted by: Texan99 at July 18, 2013 08:03 PM

It may be kryptonite to the Left, but it's of no use to a fair-minded person if it's true. If he were under a real and reasonable fear of being raped, then he has the rights and duties of a person who is under a fear of being raped. That excuses much.

Maybe it would be in some sense fun to pit the gay lobby against the black lobby, but the game isn't worth the candle. Insofar as we think he might really have been afraid of rape, it's a serious concern that might even justify what was otherwise a highly aggressive response. It's why I think we may be engaged with a tragedy, not a crime.

Posted by: Grim at July 18, 2013 09:02 PM

If he were under a real and reasonable fear of being raped, then he has the rights and duties of a person who is under a fear of being raped.

It's hard for me to understand what kind of reasonable fear could come from simply observing that a man was following you outdoors. Most women have experienced this situation many, many times. We don't attack people on mere suspicion b/c they're male.

What's funny here is the media's determination to ignore anything that doesn't fit their preferred theme of white on black persecution. Just a short while ago, Rachel Jeantel could do no wrong. Now she has not only said she thinks Trayon may have struck the first blow, but she's hinted that he was acting in a manner in which (had this been anyone else) would cause them to throw the homophobia card.

So yes, it's amusing to watch the press squirm. And no, I don't particularly believe her.

Posted by: Cass at July 18, 2013 09:42 PM

Hi Tex, and Cass (again),
Shame on me, sometimes I blog late after a few adult beverages, and my choice of terms suffers. The point I was seeking to make was not simply the 'race' issue (humans are fundamentally similar genetically), but that most of the variance in human behavior is due to how we are raised . . . and people use different terms and codewords to describe those differences.

For my earlier post I chose the rather secular 'socioeconomic' differences, but freely admit that learned values are actually much more important. Beyond that, I'll cheerfully volunteer that a significant exposure to religious values (specifically Judeo-Christian, plus maybe Confucius/Buddhist)is a very strong predictor of life success.

Also cheerfully volunteer that the somewhat related issue of broken families has been a huge societal issue. The societal foundation of the nuclear family actually predates 'modern' religions with obviously noble social values by tens of thousands of years.

Very Best Regards,

Posted by: CAPT Mike at July 18, 2013 10:16 PM

It's hard for me to understand what kind of reasonable fear could come from simply observing that a man was following you outdoors. Most women have experienced this situation many, many times.

That's why I was wondering, at the Hall, about when Zimmerman's gun became known to Martin. We know the girl was worrying about a rapist on the phone; and then the man following him proves to have a gun?

Well, it's not known if that is how it happened. If it had happened that way, though, a reasonable man might have gone after the gun in an aggressive way. I don't find it unreasonable, at least.

We don't know what happened, not for real. There's a good chance both parties did what seemed right to them, and we got the tragedy anyway. That's what tragedy is.

Posted by: Grim at July 18, 2013 11:08 PM

We don't know what happened, not for real. There's a good chance both parties did what seemed right to them, and we got the tragedy anyway.

I agree, Grim. That's why I was being such a stickler earlier about "what we do and don't know".

My point was that I wasn't laughing at Martin or Jeantel here, but at the media's obvious unwillingness to consider (or even inform the public of) anything outside their narrow good guy/bad guy framework.

They tried Zimmerman and found him guilty long before the trial ever started, and when inconvenient evidence began coming out, they mostly buried or glossed over it.

That makes me very angry. I don't have much of an opinion about Martin. It sounds as though he wasn't quite the cherub the media portrayed, but that doesn't mean he was a bad kid.

He may well just been a confused one who got in with the wrong crowd. No mother can look at what we know about him and not feel a tug at the heartstrings. At least I can't.

But that doesn't translate to wanting to see the law perverted.

Posted by: Cass at July 19, 2013 07:19 AM

...sometimes I blog late after a few adult beverages, and my choice of terms suffers

I have the same problem in the morning after my first cup of coffee... :)

Posted by: Cass at July 19, 2013 07:21 AM

Grim: does that argument really work, do you think? Even if Martin had some reasonable cause to fear that Zimmerman was a rapist, does he get to go up to him and starting pounding him half to death just in case? Zimmerman had reasonable cause to fear that Martin was a burglar, but he didn't lay a hand on him; he called the police to report him and then tried to keep him in sight. Martin might have done the same. The streets are going to get hairy if women can start popping caps at guys they suspect of rapist tendencies before they've even done anything.

Zimmerman is accused of being a profiler because he dared to draw even the most provisional of conclusions about some suspicious behavior and called in the cops for help in checking the situation out. Martin is given a complete pass for being so certain that this "creepy-ass cracker" was a rapist that he had to pound him into the concrete before he even got a chance to start any trouble. Zimmerman is a subtle racist because he associated loitering and a hoodie with burglary. But it's OK for Martin to associate a cracker driving around slow with rape?

Zimmerman is being held to the standard of a reasonable adult. Martin is being held to the standard of a subhuman who can't moderate his judgments or control his impulses.

Posted by: Texan99 at July 19, 2013 09:36 AM

I can imagine cases in which it might be reasonable, depending on body language and so forth. ("I thought he was reaching for his gun," for example, would justify an aggressive response because once the gun is drawn and pointed at you, your odds of being raped or killed are much higher.)

The point is that, if Martin had been the survivor and had been the one on trial (and thus entitled to the reasonable doubt standard), I think there are reasonable cases in which his aggression could be justified. And that's assuming he was the aggressor, which isn't clear (but seems more likely to me).

Posted by: Grim at July 19, 2013 10:11 AM

The fact that Zimmerman was the one on trial also, I think, goes to the concern you're raising about Zimmerman being treated like an actor and not an object, or like an adult. It's necessary to think of him as an actor in order to judge his actions. If Martin had survived and been on trial, he would have been treated like an actor, and his actions would have been questioned and judged.

So I don't know that I believe an unfair double standard is at work here. I think that, if he had been in the same situation, he would have been treated in much the same way. The prosecution would have questioned his judgment and his actions very thoroughly, and the defense would have defended them. (Of course, it's possible he might not have been held to an adult standard, being 17.)

Posted by: Grim at July 19, 2013 11:25 AM

Not at 17 and not at any other age is anyone permitted to pound someone else into the pavement because of vaporous fears that he might be about to do something bad. That includes a mistaken apprehension that he might possibly be reaching for a gun.

There is a very great danger of conflating two situations here. One situation is defending oneself with deadly force when one's head is being slammed into the concrete. The other is initiating potentially deadly force because someone is punching your gay-panic and/or racist buttons and might conceivably at some point in the future commit an overtly threatening act. If Zimmerman hadn't pulled a gun and Martin had succeeded in giving him a fatal skull fracture, I'd have had no trouble convicting him of murder, no matter what kind of "I had to hit him; he might have been about to do something bad" explanation he offered in his defense. Self-defense is about reasonable apprehension of grave bodily injury or death, not about the vapors.

Posted by: Texan99 at July 19, 2013 12:10 PM

I'm not talking about vaporous fears, but awareness that you were being followed in the dark by a large man who had a gun and seemed to be reaching for it. At that point, I'd think you could hit him, and do what it took to get the gun away from him. You wouldn't even need the excuse that he might be a gay rapist. In fact, you'd be justified enough that I would (in such a hypothetical situation) put the burden on the large fellow with the gun -- he ought to be explaining who he is and what he wants.

But this is all imaginary. We can imagine situations in which it would be legitimate, or slightly different situations in which it would be murder. My only point is that there are possible situations in which it could be reasonable, and if he had survived he would have been tried in much the same way.

It could be that he was a bad actor, but we don't really know. If he were on trial, reasonable doubt might well allow the small set of known facts to acquit him.

Posted by: Grim at July 19, 2013 12:26 PM

I'm pretty sure I'm neither legally nor morally entitled to launch a pre-emptive strike on a guy because he's big and it's dark outside and I imagine he's reaching for a gun. Can I pick up a 2x4 and bean him? Can I shoot him? No. If I do any of those things, I'd better be prepared to prove a lot of specifics. I'd like to have video proving that I objected vocally to his getting too close, that I asked him to stop and state his business, and that he nevertheless advanced in a way that a reasonable person would find menacing. Even then, I'd be on thin ice.

There is a world of difference between those scenarios and one in which he actually started swinging away, knocked me down, sat on me, and pounded my head in to the pavement. They aren't even in the same logical universe.

Posted by: Texan99 at July 19, 2013 01:25 PM

Whether you think you're morally entitled to do it, there are cases in which it's legal -- especially if you actually have seen the gun, and think he's moving to draw it.

I say it's especially strong if you have seen the gun and are reacting to what seems to be an attempt to draw it, but I think there are cases in which you don't even have to see the gun. Once in Atlanta I had a crazy-and-bedraggled guy run up to my car while I was stopped at a light, at about eleven at night, when nobody else was around, reach behind his back and pull out a gun shaped object that he pointed at my window, right at my head! It was a window-washing squirt bottle; apparently he wanted me to give him a buck or something for washing my windows in the middle of the night.

I didn't shoot him, but I had a pistol pointed at him where he couldn't see it. I hesitated to be sure. If I had shot him in that instant that he seemed to be pulling a gun and pointing it at my head, though, I'd be surprised if a Georgia jury didn't find that was a reasonable fear of immediate death for self-defense purposes. And he didn't really even have a gun.

Posted by: Grim at July 19, 2013 01:39 PM

By the way, just because it's interesting, I don't think I'd shoot a man who was on top of me and beating my head into the pavement. I'm not saying it wasn't justified, but only that I think I'd respond to it without reference to arms. Zimmerman tried to study martial arts but apparently wasn't good at it; his instructor says he was kind of soft, and didn't like to hit people. Another person in the same place might have been more, or less, justified depending on build and skill and temper.

So even in imagining the case, we can see that a small change in the way we imagine it might make a difference in the outcome. With reasonable doubt as the standard, it's hard to see a clear and indisputable position that lets me feel good saying, "This guy was in the wrong; that guy was in the right." It may be they were both trying to do what seemed reasonable and right to them. At least, I think it may be.

Posted by: Grim at July 19, 2013 01:50 PM

I'm pretty sure I'm neither legally nor morally entitled to launch a pre-emptive strike on a guy because he's big and it's dark outside and I imagine he's reaching for a gun.

Well, the standard would be if a reasonable person believed you were immediately at peril of an attack.

Depending on exactly the circumstances that led you to "imagine he's reaching for a gun", maybe it meets that standard and maybe it doesn't.

Case 1: "Hi, my name's YAG, I don't believe we've met, you live around here?" *reaches into pocket*

In this case, no, you wouldn't. Regardless of your belief the person is a gay rapist.

Case 2: "Alright nigger, I'm gonna fuck you up!" *lifts shirt to reveal what appears to be a gun*

In this case, yes, you would. Though, this too is regardless of your belief the person is a gay rapist. When you couple a verbal threat with an act of brandishing, I think a reasonable person would conclude that you would have a legitimate fear for your life.

But you are correct that your belief this person is a gay rapist is insufficient in and of itself. There must be more than that.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at July 19, 2013 02:09 PM

BTW, if the police had shown up prior to Zimmerman firing his gun. I think I would have to acquit Martin of battery, assuming he claimed Zimmerman attacked him and he was just defending himself.

While it is more likely that Martin had thrown the first punch, more likely isn't the standard. The theory that Zimmerman got mad, threw the first punch and Martin got the better of him is not likely, but also not unreasonable given that there are absolutely no witnesses to the start of the fight, only the end.

Additionally, proving that Martin had used lethal force (which would *not* be justifiable self-defense for a punch) would be difficult given the *armed* guy had not reacted as if he were in fear of his life.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at July 19, 2013 02:26 PM

Let's turn the tables for a moment. What if Martin had walked up to Zimmerman looking like a potential burglar who was casing houses and made some kind of gesture that made Zimmerman fear he was armed and might be about to pull out his weapon? Would it have been OK for Zimmerman to start banging away at him? Or would we then be hearing how awful it was that Zimmerman was a bad racist who jumped to completely unwarranted conclusions about a sweet little boy?

Because that's the equivalent of how Martin acted. But because of the pernicious habit of excusing a black teenager (the poor underprivileged darling) and excoriating a man who carries a gun (that mean-spirited wannabe cop blowhard), the public discourse is turning all reasonable standards on their heads.

So we have the spectacle of excusing Martin for jumping to totally unwarranted conclusions to justify beating the pulp out of what turned out to be an innocent and nonviolent man, but blaming Zimmerman for defending himself when he's getting his skull cracked on the concrete, by a guy who has gone beyond merely looking dangerous and has now proved himself clearly dangerous.

One of them was jumping at shadows, and it wasn't Zimmerman. If anything, Zimmerman made the mistake of assuming he was dealing with a guy who was into mere property crime instead of personal violence, and let him get too close.

Posted by: Texan99 at July 19, 2013 04:00 PM

BTW, if the police had shown up prior to Zimmerman firing his gun. I think I would have to acquit Martin of battery, assuming he claimed Zimmerman attacked him and he was just defending himself.

Yes. The same evidence issues apply.

Posted by: Cass at July 19, 2013 04:09 PM

Interesting part about Yu-Ain's scenario is that it would be a "he said/he said" and would hinge on credibility. But reasonable doubt can survive a fair amount of doubt as to credibility because the standard isn't, "which of these two do you believe" (that would be preponderance, I'm guessing) but rather "are you SURE, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the defendant is lying"?

Those are two very different questions.

Posted by: Cass at July 19, 2013 04:11 PM

What if Martin had walked up to Zimmerman looking like a potential burglar who was casing houses and made some kind of gesture that made Zimmerman fear he was armed and might be about to pull out his weapon? Would it have been OK for Zimmerman to start banging away at him?

Depends. What gesture? And from this gesture would a reasonable person conclude that Zimmerman was in fear of death or grave bodily harm?

Flipping him the bird? No.

Martin: "What's your problem?"
Zimmerman: "No problem".
Martin: "Well, you gotta problem *now*!" *lifts shirt grabs at something in his belt*

Then yes.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at July 19, 2013 05:33 PM

YAG is right. There are cases in which it would be reasonable, and cases in which it wouldn't. The law says you have to be reasonably in fear, with the judge or jury sitting in judgment of whether the circumstances warranted your action.

I realize that some Americans are treating Martin as if he weren't capable of wrong, but I don't think anyone here is doing that. Of course he could be wrong; there just also are possible cases in which he could have been acting reasonably. We aren't really judging his actions in the same way, or by the same standard, because he isn't the one who ended up on trial (and we never heard his side of the story from which to form a judgment anyway).

Posted by: Grim at July 19, 2013 06:43 PM

I seriously doubt that's why we're not judging his actions the same way.

Posted by: Texan99 at July 22, 2013 10:18 AM

Here's what leaps out at me about this case.

Zimmerman is accused of profiling this young man.

We are told that he was under a 10 day suspension from school, and furthermore that a search of his backpack yielded not only pot (not terribly germane to this case) but 10 or 12 pieces of jewelry.

For which he was not charged, and which it seems was never reported to the police

Now I do not know about you, but I cannot think of ONE SINGLE LEGITIMATE REASON for a teenaged boy to be carrying jewelry in his backpack. The "profiling" Zimmerman is accused of here is of suspecting, in the context of patrolling a neighborhood that had suffered several breakins perpetrated (not sure how this came out) by young black males, that a young black male might be engaged in the kind of activity that this neighborhood had been plagued by in the past.

IOW, he suspected a young man who just got into trouble (but wasn't reported to the police) for something that would lead ANY reasonable person to suspect he had some involvement with theft.

Now of course Zimmerman didn't know that. But it remains a salient point. We can't (and shouldn't) try this kid posthumously for theft, but that doesn't mean we should ignore it, either.

I don't understand why this angle hasn't been explored further, either to clear this kid's name or to clear up the question of whether or not he was in with the wrong crowd. Maybe it's outside the scope of the narrow legal question, but it's certainly pertinent to the issue of whether it was reasonable to suspect him in the first place.

Posted by: Cass at July 22, 2013 10:31 AM

The reason why the jewelry was never reported was because the school didn't want their crime numbers for blacks to look *bad*. This was why he was suspended. Up until the day of suspension, he had been living with his mom. After he was suspended (for the second time, from the second school), his mom sent him back to live with his dad in Sanford.
Here's an interesting take-away question:
Suppose, just suppose, those idiots in the school had been more concerned with doing the right thing instead of covering their asses, and had called the police to report the recovery of stolen jewelry -- would TM have even been walking the streets of Sanford that night in the first place?

Posted by: DL Sly at July 22, 2013 12:23 PM