Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “good guys”

Zimmerman, Martin, and Legalism – Tom Rossi

The killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, as well as the trial and acquittal of Zimmerman have set this country on fire. There are many implications and many causes and contributing factors being discussed in a civilized manner, or shouted with extreme vitriol.

Today, I want to look at one aspect of Zimmerman’s acquittal. Many people are asking how… how could a jury of six people have come to the unanimous conclusion that George Zimmerman had shot Trayvon Martin as an act of self-defense.

zimmerman images

It’s somewhat clear that some of the jurors went into the trial with that opinion. This was not properly vetted by the prosecutors. But that still doesn’t explain the outcome.

One juror (so far) went straight to video – Anderson Cooper, that is. She said, among other juicy tidbits of insight, that the jurors looked really hard into the law, and just couldn’t find a way to convict Zimmerman, even on manslaughter charges.

From this juror’s description of the deliberations, it’s clear to me that legalism has not only reared its ugly head, but it has taken over the thinking of the average American. What do I mean by legalism? Dictionary.com gives this definition of legalism, which applies here: “strict adherence, or the principle of strict adherence, to law or prescription, especially to the letter rather than the spirit (my emphasis).”

This most likely comes from the constant flood of courtroom dramas on TV. Most of these shows, and even at least one Shakespeare play, feature some tiny technicality – and it’s usually employed by the “good guys.” The good guys are the heroes for either freeing an innocent defendant where there is circumstantial evidence against him, or jailing a guilty defendant who has a great alibi. These would both be good things, of course, but the way this is accomplished in these shows glorifies nitpicking and subverts the intent of the law.

0328zyglis-500

What’s the intent of the law? Generally, “Don’t hurt people.” That’s it. End of story. That means, don’t kill, don’t beat up, don’t steal, don’t kidnap, don’t embezzle, don’t deprive people of their rights, don’t poison, etc., etc., etc.

But it has become an acceptable defense to say, “Well, the law allows us an average of 30 insect fragments per 100 grams of peanut butter, and our average is 29.95, so legally, we’re not hurting anybody.” At the moment that Zimmerman shot Martin, Zimmerman was afraid. If you look at that moment, legalistically, that fear was justification to shoot. It didn’t matter that Zimmerman had caused the entire scene to take place. It didn’t matter that he ignored police instructions to stand down. It didn’t matter that he had pursued and confronted an innocent teenager for no reason.

Ironically (or maybe not) if Trayvon Martin had been carrying a gun, and George Zimmerman had followed him, chased him, and approached him belligerently (just like he did), Martin would have been justifiably in fear for his life and could have shot Zimmerman. Of course, there’s the whole race issue, but this is the way the law reads.

If juries (and judges) would pay more attention to the spirit or intent of the law, and less attention to nitpicking little details that lawmakers couldn’t possibly have anticipated, we might actually approach something resembling a just society.

-Tom Rossi

___________________________________________________________________________

Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

___________________________________________________________________________

The Good Guys and the Bad Guys – Tom Rossi

As I’ve listened to the debates about many issues in our country, most especially the “stand your ground” laws that have proliferated like mad and become so controversial after George Zimmerman chased down and shot Trayvon Martin, one thing has become increasingly clear: in the conservative mind (as in old westerns and their modern counterparts) there are good guys, and there are bad guys.

This appears to be the idea behind many Republican “principles,” the idea that people are either good or bad with little in between. And along with that comes the equally ridiculous idea that other “good” people will instantly be able to tell who is who in a conflict.

Let’s paint a scenario: You’re in a bar in Repubofantasyville, minding our own business (as “good” people always do), drinking American beer, and packing heat. All of a sudden, there is some shouting in the next room. You walk in with gun drawn, like any responsible person would do, and you find two guys in the process of drawing their own guns. It’s clear that each intends to shoot the other. So who do you shoot?

In Repubofantasyville, the good guy will, of course, be wearing a white hat, while the bad guy wears a black hat. Shoot the black hat, justice has been served, end of story. But what if it isn’t so obvious? The idea behind “stand your ground” is that, with everybody armed to the teeth, no one will try to commit a crime because of the fear of being shot.

But this particular sub-fantasy ignores passion. Sometimes, cooler heads don’t prevail and a fight breaks out. It two guys get into an argument and each knows the other has a gun, won’t each be more likely to pull their gun? It would be illogical to wait for a clearly wrong, hot-headed and mentally deficient opponent to draw his gun first. So each knows he has to be first. And if one sees the other going for his gun, the logical thing to do is to pull the trigger – first.

And there you are, having walked in on this situation and intending to prevent the bad guy from shooting the good guy. So who do you shoot?

It’s all too easy to construct scenarios where “stand your ground” laws would be (and are now) misused, abused, and just difficult to interpret – as in the Trayvon Martin shooting. But this entire idea that people are either good or bad is without merit.

If there ever have been purely good people on this planet, they have been few and far between. Almost everybody has acted (or at least thought) selfishly at some point, putting his or her own needs or wants ahead of someone else’s. Speeding in a car, jaywalking, cheating just a little bit on taxes, telling little white lies… these are all imperfections. And the same goes for the other side of this fantasy. There have been very few, percentage-wise people who could be called purely bad.

Most people are somewhere in between. Most people live decent lives but not perfect. And there is no line to cross over from good to bad, there’s only a gradient. This is human nature. We are complex beings and our social interactions are complex, as well. Policies based on simplistic interpretations of reality are doomed to fail.

-Tom Rossi

___________________________________________________________________________

Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

___________________________________________________________________________

Post Navigation

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: