Zimmerman's Own Words Justify Martin's Punch

Since the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the conventional wisdom among people who agree with the verdict is that Trayvon Martin punched him first, so the teen was responsible for the fight that led to his tragic death. The claim about the punch is entirely coming from Zimmerman and could be a lie -- no one else saw it -- but let's assume for the sake of argument that it's true.

There's still a justification for Martin punching him in self defense, based entirely on Zimmerman's own words in the interview he gave Sean Hannity of Fox News.

Zimmerman told Hannity that when he saw Martin walking on the street while inside his car, Martin reached for something at his waist. This gesture was something he interpreted as a violent threat:

Hannity: You said he started from almost the beginning in that 911 call, you said he came towards you, and he seemed to reach for something in his waistband. Did you think that was a gun?

Zimmerman: I thought he was just trying to intimidate me.

Hannity: To make you think that there is a gun?

Zimmerman: Possibly.

Zimmerman later gave Hannity this explanation for how the fight began:

Zimmerman: He asked me what my problem was.

Hannity: Expletive problem?

Zimmerman: Yes, sir. And I was wearing a rain jacket, and I had put my cell phone in my jacket pocket, as opposed to my jeans pocket where I normally keep it. And I immediately went to grab my phone to this time call 911 instead of a non-emergency, and when I reached into my pants pocket -- because that's where I keep it out of habit -- it wasn't there, and I was shocked. I looked up and he punched me and broke my nose.

Put yourself in Martin's shoes, based on the scenario exactly as Zimmerman described it in that interview. An adult male has been behaving strangely and following him, first in his car and then on foot. It's dark and a heavy rain is falling, making these actions even more suspicious.

He has traveled on foot away from the street to a place behind condos near his residence, and there's Zimmerman again. Martin confronts the man to find out why he's being followed and the man doesn't explain. Instead, he quickly reaches for something in a waist pocket.

At that point, does Martin have any way of knowing the man isn't reaching for a gun?

Zimmerman's own words make the case for Martin punching him first to defend his life. Reaching for something at your waist in that situation is a threat, and we all know that Florida's Stand Your Ground law removed the obligation of anyone to remove himself from a potentially dangerous situation before using force.

If Martin punched Zimmerman believing he had a gun, it was a fear that had a basis in fact.

-- Rogers Cadenhead

Stand Your Ground Let Zimmerman Go Free

There's a lot of talk about how Florida's Stand Your Ground law did not play a role in George Zimmerman's acquittal. His attorneys did not call for a hearing, as entitled under that law, but instead presented self defense as justification for his actions at trial.

But Stand Your Ground rewrote the instructions read to juries on self defense.

Dan Gelber, the Democratic candidate for Florida attorney general in 2010, has offered a succinct explanation for why Zimmerman was able to use self defense after following and shooting his neighbor's son to death: Stand Your Ground changed the rules for what a person in Florida is obligated to do in a physical altercation.

Gelber explains:

If the Trayvon Martin killing was tried prior to the Stand Your Ground law being passed, the jury would have been told that self-defense was not available to Zimmerman unless he had used every reasonable means to avoid the danger. The jury would have been told that even if they believed Zimmerman had been attacked wrongfully by Trayvon, he could not use deadly force if he could have safely retreated or run away.

Here is the actual jury instruction read to Florida juries prior to the legislature's enactment of Stand Your Ground.

"The defendant cannot justify the use of force likely to cause death or great bodily harm unless he used every reasonable means within his power and consistent with his own safety to avoid the danger before resorting to that force.

"The fact that the defendant was wrongfully attacked cannot justify his use of force likely to cause death or great bodily harm if by retreating he could have avoided the need to use that force."

Seth Finkelstein Kills His Blog

One of my favorite writers who covers the societal implications of technology, Seth Finkelstein, is shutting down his blog after 11 years. The closure of Google Reader this morning, which will cost bloggers a huge chunk of readers who follow them over RSS, was the final straw:

It's been clear for a long time I've considered blogging to have been a failure, for me. I'll skip reciting again my delusion. In sum, while I treasure the occasional indication that someone has enjoyed something I've written, the practical matter is overall, the net effect on my life is that I have much more to lose than I have to gain. I'm reaching the same tiny audience over and over, and squeaking in a basement does nothing against those who shout from the rooftops. More importantly, protesting from below has been sadly useless when being trashed from the top.

Finkelstein's a much-needed voice in tech because he's allergic to BS. As an admirer of his writing I hate to see his site close, but I can't argue with his premise that the rewards of running a personal blog with moderate traffic aren't high enough to justify the effort. Blogs don't receive as many comments as they used to, and the amount of conversation a blog post attracts elsewhere seems to be dropping as well. Now that millions of people have social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter, they have a place they can comment with home field advantage. They don't need to play on the road and respond on your blog.

With low comment counts and low reach on other sites, if you aren't making money on ads or promoting a business, the only reason left to blog is the joy of writing. There are other ways to scratch that itch.

(I'm still publishing Workbench because I enjoy having it around. I've convinced myself there's still a sizable quiet audience here, just like political activists who always think there's a silent majority out there that shares their beliefs.)

Finkelstein was a terrific columnist for The Guardian from 2006 to 2009, and I'm hoping he finds a new platform for his thoughts that's more rewarding.

To give you one perspective on how costly the loss of Reader will be to bloggers, here's how many of my current RSS readers on three sites are coming from Google Feedfetcher:

Feedfetcher includes both Reader and iGoogle users. I could just have lost half my RSS readership. I hope none of them are the silent readers who keep me going.

TalkLeft's Unusual Comment Policy on Trials

When I'm interested in a high-profile trial, one of my go-to sources for analysis is the liberal blogger Jeralyn Merritt, whose TalkLeft focuses on crimes with political implications. Merritt is a criminal defense attorney in Denver who has been running the blog for over a decade.

While reading her posts on the George Zimmerman murder trial, I was surprised by a comment she made to a user of her site:

I have repeatedly warned Ricky not to ask readers to help prove the prosecution case. ... He is sounding more and more like a stealth commenter. Commenters may not use this site to try and build a case for the prosecution in areas they fall short.

Despite being a TalkLeft reader, I wasn't aware that comments were treated differently based on what they express about a prosecution. This was such an unusual policy that I asked her about it in email: "Given the way you allow commenters who are sympathetic to the defense to talk, it appears to me that by design you impose more limits on a pro-prosecution commenter than on a pro-defense commenter. If this is true, why do you think that's necessary?"

Here's her response in full:

I have decided to take your question seriously and respond.

TalkLeft is not a neutral site. It's mission is to promote the rights of those accused of crime. Our "about page" clearly states our mission.

That said, I take great pride in the accuracy of TalkLeft's reporting. If I see something that is incorrect or that misstates the known facts or evidence, it is deleted regardless of the views of the person who posted it. If I make a mistake, I correct it as soon as someone makes me aware of it.

Personal attacks are not allowed on anyone. Nor are discussions about prejudicial information that neither side is seeking to introduce at trial. For example, this is one of the few sites where you will not see a discussion of Trayvon Martin's Twitter feed. I have been very strict in not allowing attacks on Martin or his parents. If the defense moves to introduce such evidence it will be discussed in the context of its applicability to issues in the case, not to denigrate him or them.

I am also adamant that TalkLeft will not be used to spread misinformation or to promote guilty verdicts. People can watch the mainstream media coverage if that is what they suppport. TalkLeft views the proceedings though the lens of the Constitution. The point is for George Zimmerman to get a fair trial. Unless the trial is fair, the verdict will lack integrity.

None of us have all the information available to the state and defense. But due to Florida's open records law, most of the discovery is available as is every filed pleading. All of the hearings have been televised and live-streamed. Most readers, reporters, commentators and bloggers have not read every single pleading, examined every piece of discovery that is not under seal (I have because I purchased it from the state), watched every moment of every pre-trial hearing, jury selection and the trial to date, or extensively researched Florida case law and jury instructions as have I and many of those participating in our forums.

Our rules for commenting are clearly stated. Because of the amount of misinformation being spread about this case, and the tendency of commenters to think their use of a pseudonym allows them to engage in gross speculation and personal attacks, I created special rules for commenting on this case. For example, if a witness' identity has been protected by the Court, you will not see it exposed on TalkLeft. Nor will you see them "doxed." If you have not read the rules, they are here.

Our coverage is about the legal aspects of the case, not race issues or larger social justice issues. Zimmerman is not charged with a hate crime and the state never alleged his actions were racially motivated. Unfortunately, because lawyers and a public relations firm with an agenda inserted themselves into the case early on, held press conferences accusing the police of not conducting a fair investigation less than a month after the shooting, announced they had found a witness who "blew the defense claims out of the water" and made unfounded and untested accusations against Zimmerman in their attempt to influence official action and have him arrested and beyond, and the media repeatedly falsely portrayed the facts (like the mis-editing of Zimmeran's call to police), debunking of those efforts has also been included in our coverage.

I have also set up forums where the rules are relaxed a bit and every facet of the case can be discussed.

A lesser factor for not wanting armchair prosecutors opining how they would prove the case: The state combs the internet coverage of sites focusing on the legal aspects of the case. Even if they haven't seen something here, if it's helpful to their case, one of their supporters will send it to them. I have no interest in tipping them off as to how they can improve their case or what they have overlooked.

This is not the only case TalkLeft has covered in depth. The Duke LaCrosse case is probably the most similar to this because of the huge interest in it, the extreme positions people took against the defendants and the prejudical (and demonstrably false) media spin. The only two cases I have had to set up separate forums for are the Duke La Crosse case and Zimmerman.

There are hundreds if not more internet sites covering this case. The information in my posts is accurate and informed. My conclusions and opinions are clearly stated as such. While I monitor comments as best I can, since I have a full-time law practice, I cannot read every comment. Stating the rules upfront, and disclosing we are not a neutral site, allows readers to know what to expect here. If they don't approve, they are free to visit one ot the many other sites covering the case.

I hope this answers your question.

Another Girl Abducted and Killed in Jacksonville

Google Street View

I was jolted awake this morning shortly before 5 a.m. by the squawk of the emergency broadcast system on the television. An Amber alert relayed the news that an eight-year-old Jacksonville girl, Charish Perriwinkle, had disappeared from a Walmart on the city's north side at 11 p.m. Friday night. Police feared she was in the company of a registered sex offender, Donald James Smith.

For hours, the local station provided updates as I half-slept. Around 9:30 a.m., police said the sex offender was caught in his van on Interstate 95 near the Interstate 10 exchange, but the girl wasn't with him. An hour later, the terrible news was reported that her body was found at a church 10 minutes' drive from the store. The cop making the announcement to the media kept pausing to fight back his emotions as he relayed the news.

In the 16 years I've lived in the Jacksonville area, there have been three of these tragedies that happened to girls around the same age. Somer Thompson, 7, was abducted during her walk home from school in Orange Park in 2009, attacked and killed by a 24-year-old neighbor. Maddie Clifton, 8, disappeared from her Lakewood home in 1998 and her body was found a week later in the waterbed of her 14-year-old, next-door neighbor.

I'd like to be an unequivocal opponent of the death penalty, because I believe it's a barbaric punishment that is administered with racial bias, takes too long in the courts, costs too much and occasionally results in the execution of an innocent person -- an outcome no one should be able to abide. But crimes like the one today make it extremely difficult to hold to this belief. Any man who could abduct, rape and murder a child is going to be a monster until he takes his last breath.

The photo accompanying this blog is a Google Street View of Smith's residence. There's a man watering the plants with his approximate build outside the nicely tended house, his face blurred by Google's privacy algorithm. From one angle, the man appears to be watching a child ride past on a bicycle.

At the Annual Dancers' Ball ...

I'm making a second attempt to read The Marriage Plot, a novel by Jeffrey Eugenides about a book-obsessed English major at Brown University in the early '80s. The protagonist, Madeleine Hanna, is given this logic puzzle in a GRE test prep guide:

At the annual dancers' ball a number of dancers performed their favorite dance with their favorite partners.

Alan danced the tango, while Becky watched the waltz. James and Charlotte were fantastic together. Keith was magnificent during his foxtrot and Simon excelled at the rumba. Jessica danced with Alan. But Laura did not dance with Simon.

Can you determine who danced with whom and which dance they each enjoyed?

Frederik Pohl Remembers Jack Vance

Frederik Pohl, one of the founders of science fiction, is still writing novels at age 93 and has a blog he updates regularly. The Way the Future Blogs recently noted the death of another legend of the genre, Jack Vance. Pohl recalls being editor of Galaxy magazine in the early '60s when a Vance manuscript came in:

... "I've got a new story from Jack Vance that I love. It's called The Dragon Masters, and it's about a race of dragon-like creatures from a distant planet who are at war with the human race. The dragons have captured some humans and the humans have captured some dragons and they both have genetically modified their captives to fight for them. Altogether there are around a dozen modified races, and I want a portrait of each, plus anything else you want to draw. I think Hugos will rain for this, so come get the ms."

I'm an avid reader of Pohl's blog. I recently read All the Lives He Led, his 2011 novel, and would like to say good things -- but it was a mess. There's some fun in Pohl describing a world so nihilistic in 2079 that acts of terrorism are committed daily by ridiculously silly groups, but his main character is a passive dolt who makes a series of dumb decisions.

At one point, after he's escaped police forces under a cloud of suspicion and smuggled himself by airship from Pompei, Italy, to Egypt, over the course of several chapters, he just turns himself back in. The protagonist's so inconsequential to the events of the novel that the last third consists of him watching video of what other people did and telling you what he sees.