1:45 PM EDT, July 18, 2013
Can we — for a minute, anyway — take race off the table in discussing the not-guilty verdict against George Zimmerman? While we're at it, let's leave politics at the door, too.
This shooting death of 17-year-old, unarmed Trayvon Martin by an adult male was a case about personal responsibility and accountability. Pure and simple. Zimmerman, a self-styled block watch volunteer, made a grave miscalculation when he suspected that the hooded teen he saw in a Florida neighborhood was up to no good. Zimmerman followed him; called police — and was told to stop his pursuit.
It seems like we all agree on the material facts up to this point — and the fact that Trayvon ended up dead. The accountability rests solely and exclusively with Zimmerman. He had the gun. He was the adult. He was the man in pursuit, even after being told by a police dispatcher to stop.
I can't understand why this case got so complicated, even if you want to lean on the muddled defense of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law.
I don't believe Zimmerman set out to kill Trayvon. The murder threshold of "intent," as former President Jimmy Carter noted in his comments this week, was too high. If I were a juror, I would have found Zimmerman not guilty of murder. But he certainly committed manslaughter, the unlawful killing of another person without premeditation.
If Stand Your Ground allows a defendant to be the aggressor — and also play victim — then it is a law in need of an overhaul.
As the debates rage nationally about the verdict, there is often the interjection of race, politics and public policy. Race still matters, folks. Does anyone believe that convening a jury with no African Americans was mere coincidence? C'mon. We don't know if George Zimmerman, whose mother is Hispanic, would have had the same sense of suspicion if the kid wearing a hoodie and packing Skittles on that Florida night was white. We do know that at least on two occasions black men, using a defense similar to Zimmerman's, were convicted for shooting an unarmed white person.
• In 2010, Trevor Dooley, 71, was convicted in Tampa, Fla., of manslaughter after killing David James, 41, during an argument over a skateboarder's use of a community basketball court. Dooley, 5 feet 7 and 160 pounds, claimed the 6 foot 1, 240-pound James had his hand around Dooley's neck and was reaching for Dooley's gun as they wrestled. Dooley, whose attorney used the Stand Your Ground defense, was sentenced in January to eight years in prison and is out on appeal.
• In 2007, in Suffolk County, N.Y., 54-year-old John H. White was convicted of manslaughter for fatally shooting an unarmed white teenager after a late night altercation outside White's home. Daniel Cicciaro, 17, and several friends came from a party. They reportedly hurled profanities, threats and racial epithets in an attempt to challenge White's 19-year-old son Aaron to fight. There was apparently a misunderstanding about an Internet chat room posting. White viewed the boisterous assembly on his lawn as a "lynch mob'' and said he fired his unlicensed gun after Daniel lunged at him. White was sentenced to 20 months to four years. He served five months in 2010 before then-Gov. David Paterson, who is African American, commuted his sentence to time served.
Outside of the race angle, the two incidents share another commonality with Zimmerman-Martin — the conflicts were about trivial and eminently resolvable matters. Yet, tempers flared and, ultimately, lethal force came into play.
We'll go through the Stand Your Ground dance again in Florida in September. Michael Dunn, a 46-year-old white man, faces murder charges in the November 2012 death of Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old unarmed black male. The beef this time was about loud music coming from an SUV occupied by Davis and his friends at a Jacksonville gas station. Dunn says the teens initially lowered the music at his request, but at one point he saw a gun and opened fire. Police did not find a gun.
Stand Your Ground deflects us from another conversation. Why are gun owners of all colors finding themselves in "self-defense" scenarios in which they are personally responsible, yet don't want to be held accountable?
Stan Simpson is host of "The Stan Simpson Show'' (www.ctnow.com/stan and Saturdays, 6:30 a.m., on FOX CT).
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