As I post this, it is late March, and Trevon has been dead for a little over a month. There are new investigations into the case, triggered in large part by an online petition and the publicity generated by social media. The originator of the online petition, as it turns out, is an Irish-American named Cunningham who attended a traditionally black university (Howard). In an article on this interesting footnote, many of the commenters berated Mr. Cunningham for starting the petition “before all the facts were known.”
Their criticism makes no sense to me, because the facts would not have been known if it weren’t for the online petition. You see, the police were done. The investigation was called off. There was not going to be any further attention, and no further facts were going to be discovered in the case, because the case was effectively closed. According to the prosecutor’s office, there was no crime.
That is, it was closed until it was REOPENED by Mr. Cunningham and Trevon’s parents and millions of other people who were outraged by the insane behavior of the Florida elected officials who figured it would be cool to ignore the death of an unarmed teenager whose only crime seems to be the color of his skin.
Some of my friends believe that my outrage in this case is simply hyperbole… that we should all calm down and just trust the justice system. I believe that the American justice system is part of the problem; that it failed Trevon just as it has failed tens of thousands of other people. Unfortunately, I don’t have a nice clear cogent argument to support my belief… until now.
Today, I read the following post from someone who is well educated in legal matters. I’d like to share this contribution with you, and keep it for reference, so that the next time someone asks me why I believe justice was averted in the original investigation, I would have something to point to.
This is a post made by Michael Marowitz in response to an MSNBC news article on Cunningham. I did not edit it in any way.
To those who decry Cunningham’s efforts as unjustified before all the facts of the incident become known:
Under the law of self-defense, the amount of force used to defend must be proportionate to the amount of force used to attack. There’s an old saying that applies here: you don’t bring a gun to a fist fight. Even if everything Mr. Zimmerman says is true, that he was attacked first, his admission that he had shot an unarmed man would have given rise to his arrest in most states of the union. He can use the doctrine of self-defense to defend against whatever charge or charges will ultimately be brought, but that happens in court after charges are brought, and certainly the possibility of raising self-defense as an affirmative defense is no basis for not placing him under arrest and requiring him to post bail to secure his freedom from incarceration prior to trial.
The Florida Attorney General who declined the suggestion of the case detectives that a manslaughter case be charged against Zimmerman and has stopped Zimmerman from being arrested is one villain here. He has used his prosecutorial authority to depart from the norms of criminal law–authorities always arrest a confessed killer who gunned down an unarmed man. And people who have protested against this injustice have every right to complain of disparate treatment.
However limited the known facts are, those facts that are not disputed demanded that an arrest be made. Moreover, this case shows how dangerous stand-your-ground laws are. There’s a concept in constitutional law that says that some laws must be struck down as void for vagueness. In simple words, if a law fails to have clear standards to be applied, the law should not be applied. In Florida, the law allows a gun wielder on the streets to shoot dead anyone who the shooter believes is going to do "harm or commit a violent felony." As stated earlier, ordinary self-defense requires any that the person asserting the defense must show that lethal force was necessary to stop a lethal assault, which plainly wasn’t the case here. Whether its NRA, the ALEC commission, Wal-mart, or gun manufacturers who pushed this Florida law and similar laws in 20 states intended this result of not, it was clearly a conceivable outcome of such a vaguely worded law and it substantially dilutes protections against the excessive use of force in self-defense. In fact, such laws are an abomination of classic self-defense principles that have governed Anglo-Saxon law for centuries.
The only exception of late to the use of lethal force as a defense is the allowance that people in their homes may use lethal force against burglars invading the home. By taking the principle of the use of force outside one’s home, the purveyors of deadly weapons and their supporters have placed every citizen at risk of wrongful killing by wannabe John Waynes like Zimmerman. Stand-your-ground laws are legal abominations that should be eliminated wherever they have been adopted.
Michael L. Marowitz
J.D., J.S.M. (Master’s in law with emphasis on constitutional law, Stanford Law School, 1981)