Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Tragedy in Florida

By Chester Campbell

As mystery writers, we're accustomed to delving into the finer points of criminal law, or criminal activity, to prove why our bad guys are guilty. Sometimes our protagonists are involved in proving one  of the good guys is innocent. In contrast to real life, there's rarely any doubt as to what actually happened when it's all over. We control the action.

What happened in Florida a year ago is different. There are doubts in many minds as to what transpired that night, but it's difficult to imagine unless you've been caught in a similar situation. George Zimmerman has told his story, and there has been nothing offered to prove otherwise. It was enough to constitute self defense.

Lee Lofland, in his The Graveyard Shift blog yesterday, analyzes the case and why the jury returned a verdict of not guilty. As for the main charge of second-degree murder, Lofland, the retired lawman who runs the Writers Police Academy, had this to say:

"Second-degree murder in Florida is defined as a killing carried out with hatred, ill will, or spite, but is not premeditated. Basically, the only thing separating this charge from 1st degree murder is the lack of premeditation. There absolutely was no indication of Zimmerman having any hatred, ill will, or spite toward Martin. None. Unfortunately, it appears that the special prosecutor succumbed to political pressure and charged Zimmerman merely to…well, I’ll leave opinion out of this and stick to the facts I know. And that means I have no way of knowing what Angela Corey was thinking when she brought the charges, no more than she could’ve known what thoughts were zipping through Zimmerman’s mind on the night he shot Trayvon Martin."

Lofland points out that despite the lack of evidence to prove Zimmerman was guilty of the charges, many people across the country believe the shooting was racially motivated and are taking to the streets. The young man's death was a tragedy, and I agree that Zimmerman made a poor decision in choosing to follow Travon Martin rather than merely observe his passage through the neighborhood. But the tragedy has been heightened by being blown all out of proportion by the media.

I learned from Lofland's blog that the initial impetus for turning it into a racial circus came from an NBC news report that edited out portions of Zimmerman's call to the police dispatcher. He was reported as saying, "This guy looks like he’s up to no good….He looks black.” That makes it sound like profiling. What actually occurred in the call was this:

Zimmerman – “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.”

Dispatcher -  “OK, and this guy – is he black, white, or Hispanic?”

Zimmerman - “He looks black.”

Lofland points out this is standard procedure in police work to narrow down a description of a suspect. It had nothing to do with racial profiling.

I spent several years as a newspaper reporter back in the forties and fifties, at a time when reporters concentrated on presenting the facts of a story and left opinions up to the reader or editorial writers. Unfortunately, too much of what appears these days as "news" is merely the writer's or speaker's take on what the story really means.

As a law professor quoted in the local paper yesterday pointed out, the real tragedy is the large number of black youths being killed every day by other blacks. There has to be a change in the culture regarding the value of a human life. Gun control laws won't do it. Concerned parents, families and communities need to act.

No comments: