Intent matters in this case
July 9, 2013
Given the highly charged racial implications of this homicide case against George Zimmerman, it is important to review the potential intent of both parties since the facts could go either way. This is key in the defense of a "stand your ground" incident.
Was George Zimmerman a trigger-happy racist? Was Trayvon Martin a juvenile delinquent looking for trouble? Or, could this be simply a tragedy caused by two young men overreacting?
What happened on Feb. 26, 2012, in an Orlando suburb? Could the scenario have gone something like this …
‘Murder begins where self-defense ends.’
Imagine that you walked to a nearby convenience store to pick up a snack from the home of your father's fiancee in a neighborhood that you had only visited a few times. On your way back, at night in the rain, you have difficulty distinguishing one unit from the other in this development with identical exteriors.
You pull up the hoodie on your sweatshirt to keep dry and go in and out of several walkways, looking in a few windows to see if one is familiar, as you try to find your way back. You are walking around a bit erratically because you are lost and getting soaking wet.
You notice a guy is following you in his car. Is he going to attack you? In your neighborhood, that is a real possibility. Why is he following you? Out of fear and concern, you run but are uncertain as to where you are. This guy is coming close. To protect yourself, and to make sure he doesn't follow you home, where he might hurt your family, you quietly slip out of sight, then approach the man from behind and attempt to stop him before he attacks you.
You scream for help as you tackle this guy and he vigorously fights back. He begins reaching for something, and you start banging his head against the pavement. You must knock him out before he can overwhelm you. Then there is a shot. Martin may have left this earth as a hero trying to protect his family from what he might have assumed to be a criminal.
With the recent increase of criminal activity in the area, you have been tasked with protecting the neighborhood. You notice a man walking from building to building, peeking in windows and generally acting suspicious.
Given the recent criminal activity, you follow this person to see where they are going. He doesn't look familiar and he's wearing apparel consistent with that worn by recent burglary suspects arrested in this residential development. There are many senior citizens in the community who have been targeted and are fearful.
When this person notices you following them, he begins to run. Why would he run if he wasn't "up to no good"? Did he just rob someone, is he on drugs?
Whatever it is, it looks bad and the neighborhood has trusted you to protect the community, so you follow in pursuit while dialing 911. This guy heads toward another community exit. Will he wait and then return, possibly harming someone? Should you try to capture him?
911 responds that they "don't need you to do that," so you assume the police are on their way and you head back to your car, ready to provide the police with whatever information they may need but are concerned that you may lose the guy, so you follow him at a distance to see where he goes so that you may direct the police upon arrival.
Then, from behind, you are attacked by this same person. You don't know what he is carrying in his bag — a knife or possibly a gun? It seems heavy enough for either, and clearly this guy is younger, stronger and larger.
Why would he attack for no reason? Something is wrong. You were obviously correct in your concern about him. You struggle and scream for help, but it is late and no one is outside, so you ultimately pull your weapon since you have no idea how far this attack will go or what he may pull out of his bag and you must respond before you lose consciousness.
In the struggle, the gun goes off and Martin is dead. Police evidence indicates that the injuries on Zimmerman and the grass stains on his clothing are consistent with an attack as described by Zimmerman.
Zimmerman was not given an automatic walk on this. After medical attention on the scene, he was handcuffed, brought in to the police station and questioned for five hours before he was released.
The police continued the investigation the next day before reaching their preliminary conclusion that there was no evidence indicating anything other than a tragic incident had occurred and that there was probable cause for Zimmerman to fear for his life. That may change as additional information surfaces. But for now, they concluded that Zimmerman is a man who, given the circumstances, reacted in self-defense.
Ballistics may show that the gunshot was fired up, indicating that Zimmerman was indeed on the bottom. Evidence may also indicate that Martin was not just an innocent kid taking an evening walk, but rather a known drug dealer who could have been doing business and reacted as most dealers would to being followed, by attacking.
There was good reason why the police did not want to file charges and that the political figures in the state wanted to avoid a potential racial riot, so they pressed charges to keep the peace.
If both men had been black (or white), this would have barely made the local paper.
No one knows exactly how this all came down. It could have been two people doing what they normally would on a Sunday night who collided in a tragic situation in which they may each have felt threatened and feared the uncertain. Upon confrontation, they both could have yelled for help. Such a sad situation might not have occurred had they simply communicated to one another prior to reacting.
Martin may have been innocently walking home and Zimmerman innocently patrolling the neighborhood.
There were calls of violence, particularly by the Black Panthers in placing a bounty "dead or alive" on Zimmerman, which was not only irresponsible and dangerous, but also illegal in essentially putting a contract out on what appears to be an innocent man (we don't have all the details yet) involved in a tragic altercation, thus inciting a violent racial response within the community.
Those who claim racism should consider that according to a friend of Zimmerman, Joe Oliver (also black), Zimmerman regularly spent many hours volunteering to help minority children in the area, that he is of Hispanic heritage and has close members of his family who are black.
That aside, not all black and white incidents are racist-based. It also inflames the situation when the media shows old photos of Zimmerman looking like a fugitive and Martin at age 13 (he was 17). Let's not compound one heartbreaking tragedy with another. Let the trial proceed and justice prevail.
Jacqueline Cartier, who has more than 25 years of political communications experience and is the president and CEO of Winning Images, recently moved back to Eagle-Vail from Washington, D.C. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 202-271-4165. Visit her website at http://www.cartier winningimages.com.