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Fearing for Your Life

March 21st, 2012 · 142 Comments

Most of the commentary on the Trayvon Martin case has focused on the growing mountain of evidence suggesting that shooter George Zimmerman, far from acting in “self defense,” was the instigator of the confrontation between the two late last month. But I keep coming back to a slightly different question: Are we really supposed to believe that this armed 28-year-old man was afraid for his life in a confrontation with a barely-17 boy who he outweighed by 100 pounds, at 7 o’clock in the evening, with many homes full of people a few dozen yards away?  Because even if we ignored all the evidence and assumed Trayvon Martin had been the aggressor, Zimmerman’s decision to shoot his supposed attacker would only be protected by Florida’s now-notorious “Stand Your Ground” law if he had a reasonable belief that it was “necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself … or another.”

Some personal context here: About a year ago, walking home pretty late at night, I was assaulted—an attempted mugging—by not one but three teens about Trayvon Martin’s age. I wasn’t armed, and I certainly didn’t have Zimmerman’s 100-pound advantage over any of them. I am not anyone’s idea of a badass by any stretch: An unrepentant wonk in mediocre physical shape who had never been in a real fight in his adult life. Nor am I possessed of any extraordinary physical courage—ask my girlfriend how long it took me to work up the nerve to do a cliff jump if you want a chuckle sometime. But for all that, there was no time during the whole encounter when I feared for my life. I did, to be sure, fear a somewhat worse ass-kicking than I ended up having to endure, and was lucky to end up with only a few cuts and bruises. (I had the good fortune of a neighbor who, hearing a cry for help, opened the door to see if I needed help, rather than making a phone call and waiting—and I’m a little surprised not to see anyone remarking that there seems to be a bit of a Kitty Genovese aspect to the Martin tragedy.) But nothing about the circumstances suggested these (seemingly unarmed) kids were prepared to kill me over a little cash and a cell phone, and while I certainly felt entitled to fight back (as I did), it would never in a million years have occurred to me that lethal force was in order.

You always want to give the benefit of the doubt to a victim, who you can hardly expect to engage in perfectly cool rational deliberation in the face of an assault, but surely there are circumstances where  the use of some force in self-defense is justified, but lethal force isn’t, at least as a first alternative. Even when someone “stands their ground,” studies suggest that when a gun is drawn for defensive purposes, an attacker will almost always break off an assault after a threat or a warning shot. So supposing we actually believed Zimmerman’s unbelievable story, could it have been remotely reasonable for him to think lethal force was necessary to defend himself from imminent death or grave bodily harm? He had no hope of holding the boy off for a few minutes until someone else arrived? No “I’ve got a gun” or “I’ll shoot” against an unarmed opponent? Maybe there’s some story he could tell at trial that would at least get you to reasonable doubt, but I don’t see why a jury would be forbidden from concluding that Zimmerman’s response was so wildly disproportionate to the threat that no reasonable person could regard it as necessary, even if they believe Martin threw the first punch. Not to be flip about it, but fistfights happen all the time—and I’ve got to assume that killing the guy who started it would not be a reasonable or justifiable resolution to the large majority of them.

Tags: Journalism & the Media · Law · Personal



142 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Dave // Mar 21, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    The whole thing is disgusting, from the actions of the shooter to the inaction and incompetence of the law enforcement team.

  • 2 Drew // Mar 21, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    Also helps to look at it from Martin’s POV too.

    He was stalked, then chased down by a man who, by all accounts, at the very least wanted to restrain his escape (and may or may not have made physical moves to do so: either by grappling with Martin if Martin tried to push him out of his way, or even grabbing him: we don’t really know though: Martin could have struck first for all we know). That sort of restraint is both a felony and grounds for self-defense (no different than if a man corners a woman in an alley and blocks her escape if she won’t talk to him).

    This man turned out to be armed. We don’t know whether Martin knew that, and at what point in the altercation he knew, but if he knew at some point in the middle of the fight, he had every reason to continue pummeling Zimmerman and try to prevent him from drawing that weapon. If he ran, he could have just as easily been shot in the back (to be fair, that IS often the best move when someone brings a gun into a fight, but certainly not most people’s instinctual reaction).

    By the logic of the Florida law, Martin had every right to stand HIS ground, arguably with a lot more justification than Zimmerman. The problem with the law is that it seems to prevent this conflict of “rights” from ever even coming into a court, de facto siding with whomever uses lethal force first.

  • 3 Drew // Mar 21, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    Sorry, that was somewhat unclear: the best move when someone draws a gun on you is to immediately run.

    On the other hand, the idea that drawing a gun is a good means to communicate information to an attacker, threaten them, or convince them of something is, imho, wrongheaded. You only ever draw and point a gun at someone if you have already made the decision that it’s appropriate to kill them right then and there, and telegraphing your decision is a terrible idea. Warning shots, threats with a gun, wounding shots: these are neither realistic nor wise strategies.

  • 4 Megan McArdle // Mar 21, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    We should be careful about inferring that the prosecution thinks this was justified or a good idea. It may just be that the prosecution doesn’t think they can win, and couldn’t push him into a settlement. That may well be a feature of institutional racism in America, but I’m not sure what’s achieved by putting him on trial if there’s a 95% chance that the jury will come back with a “not guilty” verdict. In general, attempting to goad prosecutors into seeking more convictions through public outrage strikes me as a bad idea, even when the outrage seems justified, as in this case.

  • 5 Kenny // Mar 21, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    Fistfights do indeed happen all the time, but there is also a very real risk that someone will die – what probability of death is enough to warrant a response with lethal force?

  • 6 Julian Sanchez // Mar 21, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    Megan- I agree with the point in the abstract, but it’d have more force in this case if it looked like the police department had made more than a pro-forma effort to discover whether maybe a manslaughter charge could be made to stick.

  • 7 Jess // Mar 21, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    To echo what Drew said, in all the CCW courses I’ve taken carriers are strongly advised not to draw their weapon until they are certain that they have to kill someone. A gun is not a rhetorical tool; it is a tool for killing. I haven’t seen the studies to which you refer, but the weapons training industry hasn’t taken their conclusions to heart. Part of the reason for this guideline is to prevent situations in which more than one party is justified in his use of lethal force. For example, one individual might pull a gun in an attempt to win an argument and his interlocutor might then respond to this lethal threat by double-tapping him. Also, a gun may be wrested from its owner and then used against him, which is another bad result from asymmetric firearm deployment. The wrester in this case would almost certainly be justified in her behavior, so we should consider that the wrestee is not.

    (There are numerous reports of this latter scenario happening to police, and they are supposed to train and practice in secure weapon carry and deployment. Actually police use their firearms in arguments a great deal as well, to the detriment of their safety and especially that of the public they supposedly serve. If neighborhood watch aficionados are modelling police behavior then bad results are inevitable.)

    To be sure, being armed is a good reason not to ever get in a nonlethal fight. In your situation, it was good to oppose the young miscreants in appropriate fashion. If you had been armed, I would recommend running or if that wasn’t possible then just handing over your wallet and other valuables. You would then be prepared for whatever escalation ensued, which could eventually justify using your firearm. If someone tries to take your weapon, that is a lethal threat, and you would be justified in responding in kind.

    I’m not familiar with the Florida law, but if it serves to weaken the civil consequences of shooting someone that’s probably a bad idea. (To be frank, those consequences are another reason you’re supposed either to not shoot or to kill your target: the bereaved don’t get awarded as much as the permanently disabled.) The criminal consequences vary a great deal among jurisdictions because politics vary and prosecutors are political animals. I wouldn’t want to see any more pro-shooting laws in my conservative Midwestern state unless they could somehow be limited to our urban areas, but in Florida such might be a good thing on balance.

  • 8 Cynthia // Mar 21, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    Drew- You are correct. The only time for a private citizen to reasonably draw a gun in a confrontation is when their decision to immediately use deadly force has already been made. If you draw a gun to ward off an opponent, it’s entirely possible that the opponent could reasonably, quickly, and likely legally, end your life with their gun, if not yours.

  • 9 Cynthia // Mar 21, 2012 at 2:22 pm

    lol, Jess beat me to it while I was typing.

  • 10 Sigivald // Mar 21, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    Warning shots?


  • 11 Megan McArdle // Mar 21, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    Julian–fair enough, and I certainly haven’t followed the case that closely. But I understand that Zimmerman was in fact bleeding from what seems to have been a wound incurred when his head hit the ground, and that at least one witness saw Martin on top of him at one point.

    This is not, obviously, to say that I think paranoid neighborhood watch types are justified in hassling and shooting black teenagers they happen to spot in their midst–by any metric, Zimmerman seems to be very much in the wrong. But the facts might make it very hard to get a manslaughter conviction, because the standard is not “did Zimmerman behave badly” but “are you sure, beyond any reasonable doubt, that Zimmerman behaved in a reckless/illegal manner which he should have known could result in Martin’s death”? Prosecutors may think that that’s where the preponderance of the evidence points, but not all the way to “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

    Or they may be first class bastards. But it seems to me that people are inferring the latter on insufficient evidence.

  • 12 Brian Begley // Mar 21, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    I remember reading somewhere that Zimmerman’s account was that during the fight with Martin, Martin saw the gun. During the struggle for the gun, Zimmerman shot Martin.

    That does at least present a scenario where Zimmerman could view the situation as life or death.

    To be clear, it does not excuse his stupidity, and he absolutely should have been arrested. In my opinion, he instigated the situation and he should go to jail for murder. If the Florida law actually allows Zimmerman’s behavior, then the law must be changed.

    Also, to McArdle, he wasn’t even arrested. He chased and eventually killed a minor, and wasn’t even arrested.

  • 13 Gail // Mar 21, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    Wow, if I understand it correctly, Megan McArdle’s comment astounds me.
    If a community is hostile to prosecutions in which a victim is in a stigmatized class of individuals, there may be no sense in bringing a case? The only result of that is increased victimization with impunity. (See: Lynching, the American South)
    Abstract notions of trial by mob or press aside, as bad public policy goes, “goading” a prosecutor to do her/his job seems rather insignificant, no?
    Further, at this time in this case the argument that the prosecutor may have concluded s/he could not prevail is made of straw. Without a proper investigation in hand no prosecution is justified in drawing the hypothetical conclusion Ms McArdle is imagining. There has been no evidence of a competent investigation to date.
    A prosecutor’s duty is to attempt to obtain justice, not just convictions. Sometimes there are worse outcomes than losing.

  • 14 Laertes // Mar 21, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    “Or they may be first class bastards. But it seems to me that people are inferring the latter on insufficient evidence.”

    A number of witnesses have stated that the police on the scene:

    – coached Zimmerman as he gave his statement
    – pressured witnesses into giving accounts consistent with Zimmerman’s story
    – ignored witnesses who gave accounts that weren’t favorable to Zimmerman.

    Given those witness reports, it’s perfectly justified to regard the investigation with some suspicion. To say that such an inference rests on “insufficient evidence” is flatly wrong.

  • 15 jimfocus // Mar 21, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    Meagan, you need to look at the facts, as we now them, more closely. Zimmerman was told by the 911 officer to not follow or pursue Martin when he concluded Zimmerman was doing just that. He directed Zimmerman to stay in his SUV and wait for the police. He then ignored the direction , left the SUV after uttering a profanity — and possible racist slur — under his breath directed at Martin. At no time during the 911 call did Zimmerman report any crime in progress, remotely. It was pure racial profiling. If Martin fought back after getting jumped by Zimmerman, stand-your-ground should have applied to Martin, NOT Zimmerman.

  • 16 jimfocus // Mar 21, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    I’m a former Fed LEO, what the Sanford police engaged in at the crime scene is what’s known as “case dropping,” they had already decided to cover up for Zimmerman. The investigating officers were amazingly incurious and deliberately obtuse, did not protect the evidence at the scene, and did not collect even the most obvious evidence the situation warranted. It’s telling that they did blood and alcohol testing on Martin’s corpse, yet did not test Zimmerman, letting him leave the scene with his gun, and without submitting to an extensive interview. Ridiculous.

  • 17 Dagon // Mar 21, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    Don’t know enough specifics to have an opinion on this case, but you shouldn’t generalize from your experience being beaten up to all confrontations.

    Interestingly, carrying a gun automatically escalates some types of attack. If I am unarmed, I may be beaten and robbed, and suffer no long-lasting damage. If I am carrying a gun, the possibility that the attacker will take it and shoot me or someone else adds quite a bit of risk. The otherwise-same situation now carries some fear for my life.

  • 18 Megan McArdle // Mar 21, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    Jimfocus: we are in total agreement that Zimmerman’s acts were wildly inappropriate. And I’m willing to defer to experts on whether law enforcement was remiss.

    Gail, you do not understand me. I’m obviously not signing off on letting white people go around shooting black people with impunity. Zimmerman behaved very badly, and based on my understanding of his actions at present, I’d love to see him behind bars.

    I’m making a much narrower argument: if prosecutors don’t think they’ve got a decent shot at winning the case, they shouldn’t bring it. How would bringing the case and losing, be better? Wouldn’t that kind of ratify the decision we’re complaining about now?

    Based on what I’ve read, so far, if I were on the jury, I’d have to acquit. Is Zimmerman a racist idiot? Almost certainly (though do remember that the media accounts are not always 100% of the story; they tend to mostly consist of leaks from one side or another).

    But could there be a scenario where he–wildly inappropriately–followed this guy, and brandished his gun, and then much to his surprise, the teenager tried to wrestle the gun away, and in the ensuing struggle, he got shot?

    Does that seem the most likely explanation to me? No. Could I rule it out? Also no. And that’s reasonable doubt. It’s why good rape cases are often hard to win, and why some criminals go free. But no, I don’t think that we should put criminals through unwinnable trials because it makes us feel better. Trials are expensive, and more importantly, a very scarce resource. I’d much rather reserve them for prisoners who there is a reasonable chance of conviction.

    Moreover, I’m generally very uncomfortable that prosecutors should choose their prosecutions based on public outrage (for all that I’m aware that they already do). There have been a lot of remarkably shitty convictions secured that way, mostly against young black men.

  • 19 Laertes // Mar 21, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    “But could there be a scenario where he–wildly inappropriately–followed this guy, and brandished his gun, and then much to his surprise, the teenager tried to wrestle the gun away, and in the ensuing struggle, he got shot?

    Does that seem the most likely explanation to me? No. Could I rule it out? Also no. And that’s reasonable doubt.”

    Reasonable doubt about what, exactly? Those facts support a murder conviction. Had Zimmerman chased Martin down and brandished his weapon, he’d have already committed a very serious crime. Are you suggesting that it’s self-defense to kill someone who fights back when unlawfully threatened with deadly violence?

  • 20 jimfocus // Mar 21, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    Megan, you would vote to acquit? Wow. That’s an amazing read of the FL law — even the authors of that law are now saying Zimmerman should have been arrested, and state that the fact he was directed to not follow Martin, and then ignored that direction, takes Zimmerman out from under the law’s self-defense protections. Even under this clumsily written law, Zimmerman’s overall actions were clearly aggressive, and unnecessary, he put Martin in harm’s way.

  • 21 Gail // Mar 21, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    Ms. McArdle,
    Reading your response to my comment, I don’t think you are understanding me.
    You continue to create straw arguments. This case is not in a posture in which it is logical or informative for anyone to be arguing at length that it is or is not appropriate to file charges. You are actually doing the flip side of what you are critical of. You are drawing conclusions about what appears in the media and suggesting there is a reasonable doubt about you know-not-what charge in a case in which neither you nor anyone of the rest of us not involved in the investigation knows what the evidence reveals in its entirety.
    What we should be expecting at this point is that law enforcement and prosecutors conduct unbiased, thorough investigations of the death of a citizen. There is plenty to suggest that they are not doing that. Citizens have a right to complain about that, and not more than that at this point.
    Conclusions by anyone about whether or not there may be reasonable doubt that a crime has occurred is entirely premature.
    If you are concerned about the amping up of the tone of debates surrounding prosecutorial decisions, (often a reasonable concern) you might consider how you can help lower the tone.

  • 22 Julian Sanchez // Mar 21, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    I think one can agree that one ought not to pull a gun unless one is prepared to use it, but police do often manage to draw their firearms without discharging them—”stop or I’ll shoot” (implying “if you do stop, I won’t) is not some invention of Hollywood. If the claim is that Martin went for the gun and Zimmerman felt he had to shoot before it was wrested from him, then yes, the self-defense claim sounds a lot stronger, though the situation that gave rise to it still sounds like Zimmerman’s fault. If Martin was shouting “no, no” and trying to retreat when the gun was drawn, that’s rather another story. We’ve seen a good deal of evidence coming out—evidence the police appeared to have neglected in their “investigation”— that seems to contradict Zimmerman’s version of events, and therefore undermine any reasonable doubt grounded in that account. I mean, yeah, it goes without saying that you’d probably always have to acquit if you *don’t look for any evidence that disproves the defendant’s version of events*. Here it sounds an awful lot like the police didn’t look too hard for any, because Zimmerman had assured them they wouldn’t find any, so why waste the man hours?

  • 23 K. Chen // Mar 21, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    There seems to be an issue where people are getting confused on who the “first class bastards” may be. We have

    The police who responded at he scene
    Additional police who may be involved in the investigation
    The supervisor of those police officers
    The attorney(s) handling the case personally,
    The supervisor of those attorney(s)

    Ms. McArdle it seems to me is saying based on the information we have, we can further speculate on the attorneys handling the case have to them, filtered as it is by the police, led those attorneys to reasonably believe they couldn’t convince 12 jurors of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

    There may be some reason to believe that the police aren’t putting in the effort and it is possible that they did so at the direction of prosecutors – but I haven’t seen any smoking guns.

  • 24 Julian Sanchez // Mar 21, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    On not putting in the effort:

    You’ve got a homicide where a narcotics detective is sent to take the shooter’s statement, and nobody tests him for drugs or alcohol (as is routine), though Martin’s body IS tested. You’ve got police saying there’s no evidence to contradict Zimmerman’s account, when the recorded 9/11 call seems to contradict it pretty neatly. You’ve got police citing Zimmerman’s clean record as a reason for not charging him, then discovering he’s got a history of battery arrests. You’ve got a dead kids phone that should have shown he was on a phone call just minutes before the shooting, and no indication that anyone had sought out the girl for an interview before the Martin family’s lawyers disclosed it. None of this evinces the kind of dedication you’d hope to see toward fact checking a shooter’s account of why he had to kill an unarmed teenager.

  • 25 Megan McArdle // Mar 21, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    Zimmerman, AFAICT, is not actually claiming that he just popped this guy because he was afraid; he’s claiming that Martin hit him from behind, which put him in fear for his life. Of course, if I’m misunderstanding the law, I’d vote differently after the judge’s instructions, but as I understand it, even if Zimmerman was acting crazy, he has a decent claim of self defense if it was true that Martin did this–it would be a tragedy that he set in motion, not manslaughter, in the same way that if you call a guy’s wife a pig, and he attacks you, and you end up shooting him to ward him off, you’re an asshole, not a murderer.

    I’ve heard a lot of disputing that this is particularly likely (with which I agree), but no one providing evidence that actually rules it out. If there is some, then obviously, they should charge him.

    I think it’s very possible that there was some, and the police missed it. That seems incompetent, and maybe just plain racist. But I’m not sure it then follows that the evidence is still there to be gotten. After all the media hype, I’d be suspicious of anyone who came forward to support either side of the story given what we know about “eyewitness” testimony; the phone calls aren’t dispositive; and the physical evidence is mostly long gone.

    Again, I don’t think it’s likely that Martin attacked first. I’m just not sure I think it’s so ridiculous that it’s actually provably untrue–which means that maybe it’s actually a bad idea to put him on trial.

    Ultimately, I’m very uncomfortable with prosecutorial discretion, but I’ve yet to be convinced that public outrage is actually a better guide to which cases should be tried. It usually seems to me to be much worse, which makes me very leery of relaxing my general skepticism about such public pressure merely because the case happens to outrage me.

    But maybe I’m wrong, or this case is special enough to ignore my general reservations.

  • 26 DougJ // Mar 21, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    Needs more 2×4, Megan.

  • 27 Scott Burton // Mar 21, 2012 at 6:08 pm

    On the subject of Stand Your Ground laws, and of self-defense statutes generally, the scenario that Mr. Sanchez describes (being mugged at fist-point) and non-escalation as a common sense tactic is what drives the laws in California and New York.

    Essentially, you are a.) forbidden to escalate the level of violence in a confrontation (i.e. you may not reach for a knife to meet the other party’s fists), and b.) you must flee any such engagement. Prosecution is entirely at the discretion of the state, but essentially you are legally-bound to turn the other cheek and hope for the best.

    Zimmerman seems to have engaged in vigilantism, and was let off the hook by law enforcement. There’s enough there to be outraged about. But in the abstract, I’d prefer to live in a state where the laws are like Florida’s than one like California’s, where the legality of surviving a lethal attack is entirely up to a DA’s opinion of force escalation.

  • 28 joey // Mar 21, 2012 at 6:26 pm

    The sheer inanity of McArdle’s “arguments” made my head explode and i could only typ…..alkjsdklbmklmblargh

  • 29 chris // Mar 21, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    This is pretty much conclusive proof enough for me to conclude that Megan McArdle is, in reality, a special needs student.

    The fact that one recent publication described her as a economist is one of my favorite examples of inflationary job descriptions ever.

    Surely no one will mistake her for a prosecutor.

    Please stick to overpriced and unnecessary kitchen accessories.

  • 30 Edgar Allahu Akbar Poe // Mar 21, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    Megan McArdle: You are remarkable. Anyone who thinks there isn’t probable cause to arrest this man at the very least, even in the face of the appalling and disgusting unwillingness of the police to collect physical evidence and to properly handle witness accounts, is wrong.

    Zimmerman’s claim is precisely that: a claim of which the only evidence is his own accounting of his actions. The fact that what he now claims happened is directly contradicted by what he told the dispatcher on the phone is also evidence. A jury is able to weigh contradictory claims and draw conclusions about what is and is not credible. That’s what juries are for. It may be the case that he’d be acquitted. It is also plausible that he wouldn’t be. That happens quite frequently. That’s why we have trials.

  • 31 Craig // Mar 21, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    “if you call a guy’s wife a pig, and he attacks you, and you end up shooting him to ward him off, you’re an asshole, not a murderer.”

    This is not even remotely the scenario that you’ve set up in your “there’s reasonable doubt in this case”, Megan. In your scenario, Zimmerman is brandishing his weapon at Trayvon Martin before anything happens between the two men. So let’s re-write the “call a guy’s wife a pig” scenario to match what you’ve actually laid out:

    “if you call a guy’s wife a pig while pointing a gun at her, and he punches you, and you end up shooting him to ward him off, you’re….?”

    (A murderer. Case closed. I bill by the word, I’ll have my assistant send it to you.)

  • 32 Aidan // Mar 21, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    It is completely unfair to invoke Kitty Genovese in a situation with an audible gun shot where multiple people called the police. What the hell were they supposed to do? You can hear the fear of being shot in their voices on the 911 calls, who in their right mind would go outside to investigate the situation?

    Because really, what the situation needed was more people trying to take the role of law enforcement into their own hands.

  • 33 MikeSchilling // Mar 21, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    Megan, you do understand the difference between reasonable doubt and shadow of a doubt, right? If Zimmerman tels a story abut being attacked that conflicts with the testimony of all the other witnesses, including the girl on the phone, the jury can conclude he’s lying. It doesn’t have to invent other scenarios where he was attacked in different ways.

  • 34 Todd // Mar 21, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    Hey, Megs – you should stick to economics and politics, which you also are completely clueless about.

    Your opinions are like a delightfully expensive Armagnac poured into a snifter that has residual soap in the bottom – expensive, yet nasty and pointless.

    Is there any ridiculous act by trailer trash conservatards that you won’t go out of your way to excuse and justify, just so your puppeteers can use them to continue their reign of error?

  • 35 AnnaN // Mar 21, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    God, it’s as if McArdle is paid the big bucks to troll her own blog. The idiocy. The inanity. The vacuous statements designed to stir up controversy and page hits. What a horrid woman.

  • 36 Gail // Mar 21, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    “Ultimately, I’m very uncomfortable with prosecutorial discretion”…
    Perhaps you could tell us what you think “prosecutorial discretion” is.*
    And, what your suggested alternative might be?
    Is reconciling conflicting versions of human behavior reducible to a human-free decision about how to respond?
    *Hint: Properly exercised, it’s not a license. It’s a responsibility.

  • 37 Stu // Mar 21, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    When Jane Galt was on jury duty………
    what could go wrong???

  • 38 AnnaN // Mar 21, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    Whoops, make that, “to troll blogs”

  • 39 Larkspur // Mar 21, 2012 at 6:49 pm

    Aidan: “It is completely unfair to invoke Kitty Genovese in a situation with an audible gun shot where multiple people called the police….”

    Thank you. The original remark struck me as coldly insouciant, and your comment points this out well.

    Megan, we are neither finders nor tryers of fact here, so we are free to speculate to our heart’s content, but it seems pretty ridiculous to theorize about a verdict in advance of an actual investigation.

  • 40 pseudonymous in nc // Mar 21, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    Shorter McArdle: “but Chewbacca lives on Endor!”

    (Isn’t it funny how General Reservations always shows up to lead the charge for the rich, powerful and well-connected?)

  • 41 Warren Jason Street // Mar 21, 2012 at 7:09 pm

    “I’m making a much narrower argument: if prosecutors don’t think they’ve got a decent shot at winning the case, they shouldn’t bring it. ”

    That’s an extremely poor choice of words, and it speaks to just how wrong you really are. No one is saying that the rule of law should not be applied; far from it, if the rule of law is applied to this case, it should lead to changes in the law, especially this whole notion of “stand your ground” being a reason to stalk someone through the neighborhood and execute them.

    What people fail to understand is that Trayvon Martin would have been well within his rights to kill Zimmerman for pursuing him in this manner. But, if he had killed him, is there any doubt in anyone’s mind that Martin would be sitting in jail right now, and no one would care?

  • 42 banimp // Mar 21, 2012 at 7:10 pm

    the fact Zimmerman was straddling the kid on the ground, sounds JUST LIKE him being attacked from behind…
    you should be a judge, your brilliance eludes me

  • 43 Julian Sanchez // Mar 21, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    To clarify: I don’t expect anyone to rush out after hearing gunshots. I just found it weird that people hear someone crying for help and… rush to their phones so maybe someone else can help them when they get there in five or ten minutes, if it’s not too late. I’m not talking about vigilantism here, but maybe, like, opening a door to say “Hey, leave that guy alone!” Are we really at the point where people should never respond to another human being’s pleas for help—even nonviolently—because that’s a job for the official police (whenever they get there)?

  • 44 cbear // Mar 21, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    Dear Ms McArdle,

    I live in Florida and my wife recently threatened to kill me with her $1500 Thermomix Food Processor after I accidently tripped over her Salt Pig and broke her Figural Chicken Measuring Spoon Set.

    Based on your understanding of the Florida Stand Your Ground Laws, would I be justified in beating her to death with a Giant All-Clad Stainless Steel Saute Pan, or maybe stabbing her with a Rabbit Corkscrew ?

    Please advise soonest as she’s in the kitchen again.

  • 45 Alli // Mar 21, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    Are you serious? LISTEN TO THE TAPE WHERE THE BOY IS WAILING OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN AND THEN A SHOT RINGS OUT! Someone wailing like that can’t be physically fighting off someone at the same time. You wouldn’t have strength to do both at the same time.

  • 46 dollared // Mar 21, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    Really, Megan, you came out of retirement from pretending to be an economist, to specifically get on this thread to defend a racist murderer and suggest that he not be inconvenienced with a trial? And in the process you demonstrate the willingness to pretend to be a lawyer, while misrepresenting both the facts and the law? Really? Why? What is your mission in life? To defend gun nuts who murder innocent teenagers? Wow.

  • 47 dollared // Mar 21, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    cbear – nice work!

  • 48 TooManyJens // Mar 21, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    Well, if people know that there’s a reasonable likelihood that someone involved in the fracas going on outside their house has a firearm, WTF do you expect them to do? Breaking up a fight is all well and good when there isn’t a decent chance you’ll get shot for your trouble, but in our gun-soaked society, there is. I’m not saying the onlookers presented a profile in courage, but I don’t blame them either.

  • 49 Julian Sanchez // Mar 21, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    Well, partly I’m thinking of what happened in my case, where all it took was someone half a block away poking their head out long enough to blow a whistle and yell “hey!” to scare off the assailants, which even if they’d been armed hardly put the guy at risk (though he was also pretty clearly ready to intervene on my behalf if that hadn’t done it). If he’d gone to call 911 instead, I’m pretty sure I’d have needed an ambulance rather than a few band-aids by the time official help arrived. I don’t expect people to be heroes, but there’s usually SOMETHING you can do directly without putting yourself at risk.

  • 50 Megan McArdle // Mar 21, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    Warren Jason Street–I don’t disagree with you that if a crazy dude is following you with a gun, and he ends up shot, we should assume that you were in the right . . . though again, not to the exclusion of thorough testing of the scene.

    I’m not arguing against charging this guy. I’m simply arguing against assuming that the prosecutors are doing their job–for considering the possibility that looking at all the evidence they have, just maybe, they don’t think they can make the case. Or don’t think they can make a case yet. And that in general, “Let’s see if we can goad a prosecutor into mounting a weak case” may not be good public policy, however satisfying it feels.

    That’s all. Not defending Zimmerman, certainly not saying that I’d find him innocent if he went on trial and all the evidence was out. Not saying that they shouldn’t investigate further. Just saying that we shouldn’t infer, from the fact that they haven’t prosecuted him, that they think what he did is A-OK. They might just think they’ll lose. They might even be right.

  • 51 TooManyJens // Mar 21, 2012 at 7:41 pm

    I certainly agree that would have been better, although I’m not sure we actually know that nobody tried to holler at Zimmerman. I’m not sure it would even occur to me to blow a whistle or that yelling would be a helpful thing to do. I guess I don’t think of people as being that easily deterred, but it’s something to keep in mind.

  • 52 Scott Burton // Mar 21, 2012 at 7:42 pm

    There’s a lot of trolling going on here.

    What Megan is saying, if I read it correctly, is that Zimmerman shouldn’t be prosecuted unless there is sufficient evidence to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s a reasonable statement.

  • 53 berlihe // Mar 21, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    Jesus, Megan, do you ever, ever, ever get tired of defending the powerful against the weak? When you’re just siding with the rich against the poor, or large corporations against consumers, you just seem like a run-of-the-mill Republican. But now you’re defending the guy with the gun against the unarmed teenager who had every right to be where he was! Oh, you’re not condoning Zimmerman’s actions, you’re just twisting yourself into pretzels to find “reasonable” grounds for forgoing his prosecution! It’s sociopathic.

    Of course, those of us whose only source of information about the case are the media should be careful about making definitive judgments. We can’t know exactly what happened. But that’s why there should have been a thorough investigation to begin with, and why he should be put on trial now.

    You seem almost relieved that the police work was shoddy enough that a trial may be impractical, and your claims to believe that Zimmerman probably belongs behind bars and that his behavior was “wildly inappropriate” come off as disingenuous, especially when one contrasts that insane understatement of “inappropriate” with the bizarre, tortured effort to excuse Zimmerman from prosecution.

    It almost seems as if you were motivated to defer to Zimmerman because he “won” the confrontation.

  • 54 cbear // Mar 21, 2012 at 7:48 pm

    Megan 4:25pm—
    “Based on what I’ve read, so far, if I were on the jury, I’d have to acquit.”

    Megan 7:39pm—
    “Not defending Zimmerman, certainly not saying that I’d find him innocent if he went on trial and all the evidence was out.”

    As always, McMegan says something stupid, gets called on it, doubles down on the stupid, then trys mightily to tailor her writings to wiggle out out of the clown car.
    You just can’t help yourself can you, honey?

  • 55 pseudonymous in nc // Mar 21, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    That’s a reasonable statement.

    If she had the faintest understanding of what “probable cause” and “beyond reasonable doubt” mean, and she’s demonstrated here that she doesn’t. Instead, this is just another of Megan’s Humpty-Dumpty hypotheticals.

  • 56 TooManyJens // Mar 21, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    Scott: Except that her definition of “reasonable doubt” is that “it couldn’t possibly have happened any other way.” That’s not the legal definition nor a common-sense definition. It’s just a way for the guy to never get prosecuted.

  • 57 Not Fan // Mar 21, 2012 at 7:59 pm

    I’m obviously not signing off on letting white people go around shooting black people with impunity.

    In my opinion that is exactly what you’re doing, Ms. McArdle. You are coming up with every possible excuse to take the criminal, the police, and the prosecutors off the hook. Then you piously deny what’s plain to see.

    You imagine yourself cloaked in plausible deniability, but from where I sit, it is indistinguishable from a traditional white sheet and pointed cap. I’d tell you to be ashamed of yourself, but racists have no shame.

  • 58 Kevin T. Keith // Mar 21, 2012 at 8:06 pm


    You haven’t read the statute thoroughly enough. It does not require reasonable fear of “death or great bodily harm”. You can shoot anyone at any time if you (“reasonably”) believe they are going to commit a “forcible” crime of any kind:

    The Section you quote (776.013) deals with the specific case of home invasions. The more general case is given in the preceding Section 776.012:

    776.012 Use of force in defense of person.— . . . a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if:
    (1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony . . .

    So, all you have to do is “reasonably believe” a “forcible felony” is being committed – against yourself or anyone else – and it is “necessary” to kill someone to stop it, and you’re in the clear.


    776.032 Immunity from criminal prosecution and civil action for justifiable use of force.—
    (1) A person who uses force as permitted in s. 776.012, s. 776.013, or s. 776.031 is justified in using such force and is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of such force . . .

    That section also specifies that the police are *prohibited* from arresting the killer unless they can establish probable cause, not that the killer actually did it, but that the “reasonable belief” was invalid. That is, the constitutional protection against arrest not merely to the acts of the killer, but to their legal defense at trial *before* they can even be detained.

    It goes on to establish that – contrary to US civil law practice – the plaintiff must pay all defendant’s costs and legal fees in a civil trial if it is alleged that the use of force was unreasonable and the defendant wins the suit.

    So, nothing about this requires that you fear for your life – only that you fear a “forcible felony” will take place. You can kill anyone, citing your own subjective fear, and the police are prohibited from arresting you unless they can prove *that fear* (not the act of killing) was “unreasonable”.

  • 59 Jay B. // Mar 21, 2012 at 8:19 pm

    Now I’m just a country boy trying to make it in the big city and all this dazzling law-talkin’ here is making my poor noggin spin, but the part about prosecutors not deciding to prosecute based on evidence the police didn’t procure is a bit beyond, as they say back in the country, my ken.

    It would seem, again, that the police would FIRST arrest Zimmerman (or bring him in for questioning) before the prosecutors would have even the first say in the matter — it’s my understanding that’s where the whole actual legal process starts.

    Moreover, jumping ahead to an idiot’s version of “reasonable doubt” isn’t or shouldn’t be the cop’s primary concern in an investigation where there’s a dead kid and a vigilante with a gun. But again, the prosecution had nothing to do with the shoddy investigation OR the lack of an arrest OR the lack of questioning. So the idea of “reasonable doubt” here is an even more meaningless expression.

  • 60 MoeLarryAndJesus // Mar 21, 2012 at 8:24 pm

    Megan has written a lot of incredibly stupid things in her life. This is just the latest and one of the stupidest. But rest assured, folks, she will most certainly go on to write so many stupid things that this bit of dopery won’t even make her Lifetime Top Thousand.

    She’s in it for the long haul. And as she moves ever rightward she’ll be making the jaws of rational people drop more often.

  • 61 Aidan // Mar 21, 2012 at 8:34 pm

    Julian, I understand the point you’re trying to make, but it’s a huge stretch to call this similar to the Kitty Genovese case. I just don’t see any diffusion of responsibility on behalf of people who notified the police and didn’t want to make themselves a target of gunfire.

    What exactly should they have done after Trayvon Martin was shot? He was killed by a single gunshot. Presumably no neighbor could have done anything at that point. Are you holding them responsible for failing to prevent Zimmerman from firing the shot? Should they have ran out into the street and yelled “Hey, you shouldn’t have shot that guy!”

    Living in DC, I’m assuming you have heard gunshots at some point in your life. Do you try to pinpoint the exact location and run toward it in order to fulfill your personal responsibility to intervene in any possible case involving live gunfire? Or do you just poke your head out, blow a whistle, and yell “Hey!”

  • 62 Paul Turner // Mar 21, 2012 at 8:46 pm

    Quoted below is the Florida instruction on reasonable doubt. It makes it clear that the ability to construct a set of possible facts under which a defendant is not guilty is not what the law means by reasonable doubt.

    A reasonable doubt is not a mere possible doubt, a speculative, imaginary or forced doubt.  Such a doubt must not influence you to return a verdict of not guilty if you have an abiding conviction of guilt.  On the other hand, if, after carefully considering, comparing and weighing all the evidence, there is not an abiding conviction of guilt, or, if, having a conviction, it is one which is not stable but one which wavers and vacillates, then the charge is not proved beyond every reasonable doubt and you must find the defendant not guilty because the doubt is reasonable.

    It is to the evidence introduced in this trial and to it alone, that you are to look for that proof.

    A reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the defendant may arise from the evidence, conflict in the evidence, or the lack of evidence.

  • 63 TooManyJens // Mar 21, 2012 at 9:20 pm

    Aidan, I think Julian’s referring to the time before the shot was fired, when people heard a fight.

  • 64 K. Chen // Mar 21, 2012 at 9:24 pm

    There is an impressive amount of nastiness in this comment thread. I mean, it is the internet, and a comment thread, so I’m not surprised, but still.

    Reasonable doubt is an extremely poorly defined concept, perhaps because it impossible to well define, as the jury instruction should indicate. What someone considers “reasonable” will be disagreed on by well, reasonable people. And I have no idea why anyone would be so sure that it would land one way another unless
    They are lawyers,
    with intimate understanding of the facts reported or otherwise,
    and have a decent guess at how the judge will rule on various evidentiary issues, what calibre of lawyer Zimmerman would be able to get his hands on,
    and how the jury pool will shake out.

    I’m willing to believe that that any number of police officers have not been putting in the effort and/or deliberately sabotaging any case, either out of subtle bias or overt malice. The evidence I’m waiting to hear is that of police officers doing so at the direction of the prosecutors. Or even at the direction of higher ups. Because, barring some bit of information, Occam’s razor cuts to various actors, for various reasons including, but not limited to, personal pique, being sympathetic towards vigilantes, unsympathetic for the victim and his various demographic attributes (including racism) and what they had for breakfast that morning did a less than stellar job in an incident that happened to make the news.

    Also, I’m surprised no one has mentioned this guy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernhard_Goetz

  • 65 nitpicker // Mar 21, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    If our current debates are stained by a morally-flexible, ethically-challenged and yet inexplicably-respected writer than Megan McCardle, I’d be extremely surprised.

  • 66 Scott Burton // Mar 21, 2012 at 9:50 pm

    We are still debating reasonable doubt at a time in which no evidence has been presented in a court of law. We’re doing it in a forum where almost every participant presumes the shooter guilty. And along the way, we’re calling each other klansmen.

    We have, until then, a jury of media celebrities, bloggers, talk radio listeners and internet trolls, who are already convinced of whodunnit, what he dun, and why he dun it.

    I can imagine why someone might have a problem with that.

  • 67 TooManyJens // Mar 21, 2012 at 9:59 pm

    What we should be debating is probable cause, not reasonable doubt. As in, did the police have probable cause to believe that the shooting was unlawful?

    We get to discuss this. We have to discuss this. These are public servants who appear not to have lived up to the trust the public placed in them. The city commission of Sanford, Florida agrees, at least with regard to the police chief.

  • 68 Larkspur // Mar 21, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    TooManyJens: I think you are right about what Julian is referring to, but I think Aidan’s point still stands. Not even Kitty Genovese’s actual death occurred within the parameters of the “Kitty Genovese case”. Subsequent extensive analysis showed pretty convincingly that there *was* no cohort of 38 witnesses who saw what was happening but didn’t want to get involved.

    It appears that some people saw some portions of the attack, but that few residents would have been able to see the final attack during which Ms. Genovese was murdered. One of the many heart-breaking aspects of the aftermath was that some of the people who actually did witness some moment of the attack figured that it was a lovers’ quarrel. That is sickening, but it does not comport with the assumption that the witnesses knew a woman was being stabbed to death and *still* chose not to get involved.

    I call bullshit on this whole side discussion, and here’s why. I live in a small apartment building with four apartments sharing the same entryway, two downstairs, two upstairs. Once upon a time my immediate upstairs neighbor was a weird guy who was trying to establish some kind of spiritual counseling business. He’d have group therapy sessions and I’d hear people laughing loudly and sometimes crying. I didn’t like it and I told him so, but it kept on. Then one day I heard screaming from upstairs and I started to get really annoyed.

    The next thing I knew, there were police officers all around and then an ambulance. Well, my immediate upstairs neighbor *was* having some sort of weepy rebirthing session, but the upstairs neighbor next to him was being attacked by her own methed-out son. She was the one screaming. Thank god she survived, but it had nothing to do with any help I gave her. *I didn’t do anything to help her* because I thought it was my obnoxious other neighbor.

    So there’s no shortage of guilt in a typical day on earth, but please remember to consider the specifics, the details, the *evidence*.

  • 69 jitc // Mar 21, 2012 at 10:28 pm

    Ms. McArdle,

    If this was an accidental shooting, then at minimum it is manslaughter.

    Further, if it was in self-defense, then Zimmerman would have to prove it.

    But he admitted to shooting and killing a person. So why in the world has he not been arrested?

    It comes down to incompetent and clearly lying law enforcement, as laid out by Mr. Sanchez in reply #24

  • 70 jimfocus // Mar 21, 2012 at 11:08 pm

    To this point, the Sanford PD, Zimmerman nor anyone else has cited one piece of evidence that shows Trayvon Martin was engaged in any wrongdoing other than walking down the street, which I believe is still legal. Martin was under no requirement to answer Zimmerman’s questions or his directions, at all. This guy was an angry Barney Fife — an amateur one, at that — was way, way over the line, probably under the influence, filled with racist animus (“fucking coon”), and provoked the confrontation, then stupidly exercised lethal force.

  • 71 Meaghen Idiotica // Mar 21, 2012 at 11:09 pm

    Shorter Meaghen:

    Find someone you think is doing something wrong, bother them, shoot them when they react to them bothering you.

    If you cannot handle the repercusions of killing someone with your gun, don’t carry it. Especially don’t go out and do stuff that may require you to use the gun.

  • 72 Zak44 // Mar 21, 2012 at 11:25 pm

    Why is anyone surprised that Blenderella has found a way to exculpate the shooter? In her universe, those with the upper hand—whether their name is Blankfein or Zimmerman—are always the real victims.

  • 73 pseudonymous in nc // Mar 22, 2012 at 12:08 am

    We are still debating reasonable doubt at a time in which no evidence has been presented in a court of law.

    No, we’re addressing the fact that wild speculation does not equate to “reasonable doubt”, while noting that the combination of SYG and who-knows-what motivating the local PD apparently made them reticent to invoke the “probable cause” threshold that would at very least have led them to detain Zimmerman under Florida statute.

    Now you can ride off on your white stallion, oh knight of purity.

  • 74 wetcasements // Mar 22, 2012 at 1:55 am

    Megan “I am libertarian except when it comes to black kids getting murdered and women’s rights to legal health care procedures in general” McCardle.

    Can’t wait to see what wonders await us upon the arrival of your “book.”

  • 75 Skip Intro // Mar 22, 2012 at 7:26 am


    It’s not “reasonable doubt” when you can make up a story in your mind. It’s “reasonable doubt” when evidence is introduced that supports the scenario.

  • 76 Barry // Mar 22, 2012 at 7:53 am

    Megan @18:

    “Based on what I’ve read, so far, if I were on the jury, I’d have to acquit. Is Zimmerman a racist idiot? Almost certainly (though do remember that the media accounts are not always 100% of the story; they tend to mostly consist of leaks from one side or another).

    But could there be a scenario where he–wildly inappropriately–followed this guy, and brandished his gun, and then much to his surprise, the teenager tried to wrestle the gun away, and in the ensuing struggle, he got shot?

    Does that seem the most likely explanation to me? No. Could I rule it out? Also no. And that’s reasonable doubt. It’s why good rape cases are often hard to win, and why some criminals go free. But no, I don’t think that we should put criminals through unwinnable trials because it makes us feel better. Trials are expensive, and more importantly, a very scarce resource. I’d much rather reserve them for prisoners who there is a reasonable chance of conviction. ”

    Actually, this is – well, a lie. The fact that you can concoct a scenario where the shooter is innocent is not *reasonable* doubt, it’s reaching for an excuse.

    And even in your scenario, Zimmerman is at fault – he chased Trayvon down and threatened him with a gun. At that point Trayvon ‘attacking’ Zimmerman would be nothing more than self-defence.

    And as has been pointed out, Zimmerman was not even arrested; the police seemed uninterested in securing vital evidence (his clothes and the condition of his body).

    That, right there, is reason to go after the police as accessories after the fact.

  • 77 Fred Beloit // Mar 22, 2012 at 8:02 am

    In the eagerness to try Zimmerman out of court there is a central, self-contradictory element. Some accusers say the FL self-defense act is bad AND Zimmerman broke the bad law because he wasn’t threatened, in other words the “bad law” made him do it. This is an effort to have it both ways. Both ways doesn’t work logically.

  • 78 Fred Beloit // Mar 22, 2012 at 8:07 am

    Let me try to be more clear: If Zimmerman wasn’t threatened AND he had obeyed the law, Martin would be alive today. Ergo, there is nothing wrong with the law.

  • 79 Barry // Mar 22, 2012 at 8:09 am

    Scott Burton // Mar 21, 2012 at 7:42 pm

    Scott @ 52: “What Megan is saying, if I read it correctly, is that Zimmerman shouldn’t be prosecuted unless there is sufficient evidence to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s a reasonable statement.”

    A clear reading of what she wrote is that she thinks that Zimmerman shouldn’t be prosecuted if there is a conceivable scenario where he’s innocent. This is an unreasonable statement.

  • 80 Bob2 // Mar 22, 2012 at 8:26 am

    I wonder if Megan is writing a book about risk aversion….
    There ought to be a chapter on Trayvon Martin in this book.
    Can’t wait to see if your book Permission to Suck is as bad as Part II of the Elizabeth Warren takedown.

  • 81 Butch // Mar 22, 2012 at 9:29 am

    And Megan, your responses tell me that you absolutely refuse to even consider the possibility that you said something just incredibly stupid.

  • 82 Barry // Mar 22, 2012 at 10:02 am

    Read Susan of Texas, Tom Levenson or Balloon Juice to find takedowns of her writing, where the dishonesty, refusal to admit mistakes and insulting those who find her errors are thick enough to walk on.

    And those are only the ones I’ve read.

  • 83 Butch // Mar 22, 2012 at 10:11 am

    Hey, but Barry, you’re forgetting her stirring defense of her $1,500 blender.

  • 84 Bob2 // Mar 22, 2012 at 10:36 am

    “And I’m willing to defer to experts on whether law enforcement was remiss.”

    But she knows nothing about trials and feels like she can talk like an expert on trials.
    Meanwhile, I know LOTS of lawyers who told me how dumb she is on the subject after I asked.

    Her history of expertise is asking non-experts or biased experts on a subject, whether it’s Paul Campos (lawyer) on obesity or libertarian Derek Lowe on pharma or lawyers on climate science and the one climate scientist no one agrees with. It’s the disease of cult of the savvy (coined by professor Jay Rosen). Looking for contrarian bullshit while claiming to be a journalist.
    It’s why so many pundits have been proven to be less accurate than a coin flip.

  • 85 Dave // Mar 22, 2012 at 10:53 am

    I’m a lawyer, and I can say McArdle is actually on to something. “Reasonable doubt” is hard to come by, but there is a legal standard lawyers sometimes persuade juries to consider, called “Imaginary Doubt.” It’s hard to explain (very technical) so you won’t see it on Law & Order, but sometimes a defense lawyer will just tell juries, “Imagine you have a doubt about my client’s guilt.” Sometimes it works.

  • 86 Spencer // Mar 22, 2012 at 11:02 am

    Gail @ 13:

    You shouldn’t be astounded. Hell, you shouldn’t even be mildly surprised. Megan often displays a willingness to write about things she doesn’t know anything about or have the time/inclination to research. The “tell” is her frequent use of the phrase “it seems to me,” which she often uses to try to hide the fact that she doesn’t actually know any relevant facts but still feels entitled to express her opinion.

  • 87 Spencer // Mar 22, 2012 at 11:21 am

    Now that I’ve read through the entire thread, I have to say this is a perfect example of Megan’s MO. Make shit up in a field she knows little to nothing about, get haughty when people who *do* know something about it call her on it, weasel around a bit, and then drop it.

    This is exactly what her writings on economics are like as well – and I’m qualified to critique those because I actually have training in economics, enough in fact to get me a professorship. She doesn’t. She has an MBA. MBA programs are notorious for the superficial economics content they provide – yes, even MBAs from Chicago, Megan.

  • 88 JM // Mar 22, 2012 at 11:52 am

    Can we please make this something other than the “Megan McCardle is an idiot” thread. I mean, yes, I grant the point, but let’s move on.

    A more interesting question to me is what a libertarian such as JS makes of this case. I don’t want to ascribe views to you that you don’t hold, but it’s interesting to look at the Cato page on gun control: http://www.cato.org/gun-control

    Not surprisingly there are many articles on “the endangered right to bear arms” and the need for individuals to provide “armed resistance” to criminals, but nothing I can see about the dangers of vigilantism to everyday, walking around liberty.

    Would it be incorrect to say that the libertarian response to this tragedy is that Travyon Martin should have been carrying a gun himself? I know that sounds callous, but it makes me surprisingly angry to come to a libertarian blog and find the author shocked and outraged by the predictable consequences of libertarian gun policy taking hold in a very conservative state — with no mention of the connection of theory to practice.

    Here is the Libertarian Party platform on gun control: “We affirm the individual right recognized by the Second Amendment
    to keep and bear arms, and oppose the prosecution of individuals for exercising their rights of self-defense.”

    I’m not saying Cato and the LP represent the views of all libertarians, but I think this case crystallizes seriouss defect in libertarian thought in practice. Both the foolishness of making every citizen a judge, jury and executioner, but also the way that “liberty-enhancing” laws tend to disproportionately favor the freedom of groups that are protected by local law enforcement.

  • 89 stu // Mar 22, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    Dave, that is jury nullification disguised as “reasonable doubt”. That is disgusting and unethical and conflates the standard at trial with the standard to charge.

  • 90 Was George Zimmerman the Aggressor? - Hit & Run : Reason Magazine // Mar 22, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    […] on his own experience with an attempted mugging involving three teenagers about Martin's age (17), argues that Zimmerman's claim is implausible, especially since he outweighed Martin by 100 pounds. But […]

  • 91 Dave // Mar 22, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    stu, oddly enough, Disgusting and Unethical is the name of my law firm. I’m Dave Disgusting and my partner is Ethel Unethical.

  • 92 stu // Mar 22, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    what an unfunny and transparent response, dave.

  • 93 Drew // Mar 22, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    Julian: police officers can do that (legally and sensibly) for a lot of reasons that don’t apply as well to ordinary citizens.

    Just pointing a gun at someone, as a citizen, is a felony that can land you in jail for up to three years (even if the gun isn’t loaded!), unless you can establish that you had reasonable fear for your life. So if you’re questioning whether you have the right to shoot and kill, you probably shouldn’t be pointing a gun at someone in the first place.

    Even if you don’t intend to shoot to kill when you bring out a gun, you’re taking an act that can easily result in you shooting to kill (plenty of people have tried to fire wounding or warning shots and ended up killing someone). And you’re basically saying to the other party “at any second, I could kill you, so all bets are off.” At least to some degree, you know that officers are at least supposed to not shoot you as long as you follow their commands. There’s no such understanding with other people, who aren’t even legally capable of giving lawful commands.

    But forgetting all that: in a violent situation, it’s the job of police officers to get in harm’s way (double meaning!) and confront danger, risking their lives to do so. You, as a citizen, do not have that job, and it doesn’t make sense to act like you do.

    If a non-police officer draws a gun on me, and I have no grounds to trust them, I am going to consider that an imminent threat to my life and feel justified in doing just about anything in retaliation that will ensure my safety.

    Note this application of SYG, where the courts accepted a man’s argument that he merely thought someone was making a stabbing motion at him (we wasn’t, he didn’t even have a knife in his hand) and that justified killing him.


    If Martin knew Zimmerman had a gun, he had even more justification than the defendant in that case to beat Zimmerman unconscious or struggle for that gun.

  • 94 libarbarian // Mar 22, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    “in the same way that if you call a guy’s wife a pig, and he attacks you, and you end up shooting him to ward him off, you’re an asshole, not a murderer.”


    Then again, maybe it’s more like a situation where you push a guy, punch him in the nose, and then shoot him when he takes a swing at you in response. In that case you’d be BOTH an asshole AND a murderer.

  • 95 TomWoolf // Mar 22, 2012 at 1:42 pm

    Oh, WTF, McArdle….

    Let me paraphrase what you are effectively saying: “You know, that black guy *could have* put the whammy on the white one, or maybe crossed his eyes at the guy holding the gun and scared him so much that his only logical response was to SHOOT THE UNARMED BOY.”

  • 96 Bob2 // Mar 22, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    “they always get away”

  • 97 The Florida GOP Would Like to Buy Your Rock - Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money // Mar 22, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    […] to my related point, I submit these metaphorical 2×4 blows on behalf of the exoneration of said racist murderers without […]

  • 98 Eddington // Mar 22, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    Thanks for the article and the discussion. As you and others have noted it certainly seems Zimmerman acted in a criminal fashion. At the very least he exercised incredibly poor judgment. Nevertheless, I am forced to agree with those who have pointed out that a “reasonable doubt” does exist here. We simply don’t know with a high degree of certainty what transpired in those final moments. As to your own experience being assaulted by multiple youths, it is an important point that fist fights happen all the time and that they need not escalate to the level of deadly force. However, fists can be used to brutal effect, resulting in grave bodily harm to the victim. Facing down three younger attackers willing to use violence to take your property, in many states you would have been within your rights to draw a weapon. Did Zimmerman face a similar disparity force? It would seem he did not, but then again I can imagine how he might have found himself on the ground where he could have been seriously injured had the fight persisted. I can also imagine the youth going for his gun in a scuffl. I guess the bottom line for me is that this case is more complicated than it first appeared. I’m not usually one to compliment the police, but it seems commendable that they have approached this issue cautiously and erred on the side of not throwing a man in jail without first gathering the evidence to support a legitimate criminal case.

  • 99 The Trayvon Martin case « Fraser Sherman's Blog // Mar 22, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    […] widely differing assessments, including Naked Politics, the Miami Herald, American Prospect and Julian Sanchez. For bonus links, we have Slacktivist on the case, and Florida Rep. Dennis Baxley arguing that a […]

  • 100 Horatiusonthebridge // Mar 22, 2012 at 10:49 pm


    I call bullshit. There’s a dead unarmed teenager. Arresting and chqrging the self-professed killer is the entire raison d’être for the existence of the police force. “reasonable doubt ” doesn’t even enter the picture at this stage.

  • 101 justaguy // Mar 22, 2012 at 11:02 pm

    “But could there be a scenario where he–wildly inappropriately–followed this guy, and brandished his gun, and then much to his surprise, the teenager tried to wrestle the gun away, and in the ensuing struggle, he got shot?”

    That wouldn’t be self defense. Brandishing a gun on someone is assault – pointing a gun at someone is an implied threat to use it on them. So had Zimmerman started out by pointing his gun at Martin, and then Martin got shot trying to disarm him, Zimmerman would be at fault. In that scenario Martin would legitimately be defending himself – and you can’t claim self defense when someone is defending themselves against your assaulting them.

    It seems fairly clear, especially given the girlfriend’s account of their conversation, that Zimmerman initiated a fight with Martin. If that is the case, his ability to claim self-defense is greatly diminished. Even in a state with such horrible self-defense laws as Florida.

  • 102 wetcasements // Mar 22, 2012 at 11:08 pm

    Cops aren’t lawyers. If there is “reasonable doubt” that’s for jurors to decide.

    When there’s a dead kid armed with Skittles shot by a convicted felon, and witnesses who heard cries for help, and what appears to be signs of witness tampering by the police, well, this is why we have the FBI.

  • 103 Atticus Dogsbody // Mar 23, 2012 at 1:22 am

    @Fred Beloit: #1 Drugdealer takes a shot at #2 Drugdealer. In self-defense #2 returns fire. The shot goes awry, fatally striking a nearby child. #2 faces no charges as he was legally defending himself.

    Good law, Fred?

  • 104 Eddington // Mar 23, 2012 at 7:45 am

    The police do have to make a call on the scene and it seems they made the right one. Dead kid armed with a bag of skittles? Yes. Eye witness who corroborated Zimmerman’s version of events–i.e. that Martin was on top of him punching him in the face and refusing to stop even after he repeatedly cried out for help? Yes to that one too. Did Zimmerman create the situation and deserve an ass bearing? Possibly, but determing such things is what investigations are for. There is no need to immediately arrest the guy if you have reason to doubt his guilt.

    As for the gang analogy, that just strikes me as silly on multiple levels. Stand Your Ground laws have been used by unsavory characters, but so what? I still prefer a legislative arrangement that puts the burden of proof on the government and not the person who engaged in a self defense act. I find it bizarre that, in this world of mandatory sentencing, rampant plea bargaining designed to pressure suspects into foregoing their right to a trial, and prosecutorial misconduct (Ted Stevens rest in peace) that so many people want to make it easier for the DA and tougher on the average joe. Nuts.

  • 105 Barry // Mar 23, 2012 at 7:53 am

    TomWoolf // Mar 22, 2012 at 1:42 pm

    “Oh, WTF, McArdle….

    Let me paraphrase what you are effectively saying: “You know, that black guy *could have* put the whammy on the white one, or maybe crossed his eyes at the guy holding the gun and scared him so much that his only logical response was to SHOOT THE UNARMED BOY.””

    Megan has amazingly slipped farther into the right-wing zone in the past couple of years. I can’t imagine what she’ll be like in a few more years, but I know that in the next GOP administration she’ll go full, ah, ‘make the trains run on time’ mode, if you know what I mean.

  • 106 Drew // Mar 23, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    The gang thing is not just an analogy: it actually happened: there was a shootout between two rival gangs, a kid was killed in the crossfire. They all got off under SYG: BOTH sides of the shootout all claimed they were defending their life.

    SYG is not conventional, affirmative self-defense. It’s actual immunity, with an extremely low bar to claiming it and having that claim succeed. It requires no burden of proof at all: merely stating the claim that you felt justified in shooting to kill for some rational reason. You don’t need to establish that that reason is true, actually happened, was probable or any other conventional burden of proof. Only conclusive evidence that you lied about the specific act that you felt threatened you can overcome it.

    And even that is dicey. In one SYG case, a man stabbed the other in the back, killing him. It was caught on video. His claim was that the other man (a car radio thief that he was actively pursuing) made a motion that he interpreted as a potential stabbing motion. The thief’s hands were empty: he was just flailing. He had an unopened pocketknife in his pocket.

    The case was dismissed. That’s how low the bar is: even when there IS video of the event, a person can just claim that just about any movement at all from the other person was a potentially lethal threat.

  • 107 George Zimmerman, Bill Lee, and the Meaning of Liberty | Scapegoats and Panaceas // Mar 23, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    […] sit down. Take a deep breath. I give to you… Megan McArdle: Based on what I’ve read, so far, if I were on the jury, I’d have to acquit. Is Zimmerman a […]

  • 108 pseudonymous in nc // Mar 23, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    There is no need to immediately arrest the guy if you have reason to doubt his guilt.

    Again, because it clearly bears repeating: “probable cause” is not “reasonable doubt”.

  • 109 Eddington // Mar 23, 2012 at 4:57 pm


    You raise some very good points and I am prepared to concede that Stand Your Ground laws are an imperfect solution to the problem of protecting people engaged in an act of self defense from wrongful prosecution. But what then is the alternative? I suppose the existing legislation could be refined, but I still feel strongly that returning to Duty to Retreat laws would be a terrible mistake.

    You point to instances in which criminals have used self defense laws to shield themselves from prosecution. I can point to plenty of examples of good people being convicted of serious crimes because Duty to Retreat laws:

    1) Shift the burden of proof to the person engaging in an act of self defense.

    2) Provide prosecutors with a hazy, subjective criteria they can manipulate to get a conviction.

    Take the case of Dickey vs. South Carolina that was fortunately overturned last year. Dickey was a night watchman who was attacked by a man he had ejected from the property he was guarding. The man returned with a broken bottle in hand, presumeably to kill Dickey. The prosecutors argued that Dickey should have retreated, although no route of retreat was open to him. Perhaps the prosecutors imagined he could call to his starship in orbit to be beamed to safety. Dickey’s exoneration is good news story, but how many other people are languishing in prison because a prosecutor believed jumping out a window or climbing a fence was an appropriate response to a violent attacker?

    The bottom line is that I am far more comfortable with self defense laws that force the police and the DA to do their jobs — i.e. prove that a person acted unreasonably and/or that they were never in serious jeopardy. Prosecutors have enough power as it is.

    Will some bad guys get away? Absolutely, these laws will also protect innocent people from wrongful prosecution. Whatever happened to the sentiment that it is better that 10 guilty persons go free than one innocent suffer?

  • 110 Eddington // Mar 23, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    pseudonymous in nc,

    If your point is that he should have been arrested and then released when prosecutors decided they had isufficient evidence to convict because eye witness testimony corroborated Zimmerman’s claims then I fail to see what that would have accomplished. Perhaps it would have kept Al Sharpton out of Florida — probably a good thing from the perspective of most Floridians.

    The police had the benefit of examining the physical evidence, interviewing Zimmerman, and talking with “John” (the eye witness to at least part of the fight between Martin and Zimmerman). They made the call that Zimmerman shouldn’t be arrested because he had someone on top of him pounding his face into the ground when he resorted to deadly force. It would seem that even with the bar set low at “proable cause” the decision made at the scene was an understandable one.

    Did Zimmerman deserve to have his face rearranged? I have seen no evidence that he did anything other than act creepy. There is no evidence that he started a physical fight with Martin, only that he followed the young man and asked him what he was doing in the neighborhood. Rude? Absolutely. Paranoid? Yes. Worthy of a beatdown? Not in my opinion. Can it really be said then that he started the fight? If he did start it, I have not seen solid evidence to support the claim. He certainly put himself in a situation where an altercation was more likely, but that isn’t the same as provoking an attack.

  • 111 pseudonymous in nc // Mar 23, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    If your point is that he should have been arrested and then released when prosecutors decided they had isufficient evidence to convict because eye witness testimony corroborated Zimmerman’s claims then I fail to see what that would have accomplished.

    That’s a lot of presuming and projecting.

    Local PD is apparently reticent even to make the standard probable cause assessment that they’d use for other incidents, and that that SYG supposedly permits for an arrest. No toxicology screen for Zimmerman, no concern to ID Martin, no apparent desire to do basic forensics: a cynic might suggest that they were looking to avoid anything that would force them into an investigation.

    (You’ve already embarrassed yourself with your ignorance of the gang shooters who invoked SYG, but you seem intent on digging yourself deeper.)

  • 112 The True-Man Doctrine | Just Above Sunset // Mar 24, 2012 at 2:39 am

    […] And Julian Sanchez offers this: […]

  • 113 juris imprudent // Mar 24, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    JM wonders ” by the predictable consequences of libertarian gun policy”

    There isn’t anything particularly libertarian about initiating [lethal] force. What Zimmerman apparently wanted to be was a cop – you know, one of those people ennobled by the power of the state to use lethal force.

    Is it really necessary to detail the failings of the police and prosecutor? Are we libertarians to blame for that as well?

  • 114 Moral Midgets | The Pink Flamingo // Mar 25, 2012 at 8:08 am

    […] to the tapes of the 911 calls, we hear, repeatedly, the cops tell Zimmerman to leave it alone, to stop following Martin.  According to one of Florida’s really convoluted “Stand Your Ground” […]

  • 115 Drew // Mar 26, 2012 at 11:27 am

    Eddington: “Whatever happened to the sentiment that it is better that 10 guilty persons go free than one innocent suffer?”

    Nothing happened to it. But I just don’t think SYG well serves that objective, because it’s legally sloppy, thoughtless, and broad.

    I agree there are a lot of cases in which people claiming self-defense have too high of a burden to meet in order to exonerate themselves. And there’s something deeply unfair about being attacked by someone, in a fight you didn’t pick, and then having, added to that, the state destroying your life trying to imprison you for defending yourself.

    But a legal system has to balance those sorts of interests _somehow_. Sometimes people are blameless. But other times they very much overreact. And sometimes they outright kill someone unjustifiably and get away with it.

    SYG doesn’t attempt to balance these interests very well at all, especially because the sort of immunity it invokes just isn’t appropriate for ambiguous, on-the-street confrontations where everyone sees things differently. The case for Castle is, again, so strong because it’s not ambiguous at all: someone either invaded your home or not, and the it’s the occupants that have the presumption of immunity in defending their home. Immunity is a very blunt, high bar. But the situation in Castle, a home invasion, justifies it.

    With this case and most SYG cases, however, there’s huge ambiguity as to who has the “right” to “stand your ground.” If everyone in a situation does, that’s a huge, huge mess. And, at the very least, huge messes are probably best resolved by trials, as imperfect as they can be.

    I don’t have any theoretical problem with the idea of lowering the burden of proof to an affirmative self-defense. And that would seem to address the problem without jumping to right to the most extreme solution, ignoring the cost of the opposite sorts of harms.

  • 116 Drew // Mar 26, 2012 at 11:45 am

    I should add, again, though, that standing your ground is, whatever the law says you are entitled to do, an extremely dumb, wrong-headed strategy. Every second you spend in a violent situation is one in which things can turn against you, no matter how much of an upper-hand you may think you have (machine gun vs. knife, pistol vs. skittles, whatever).

    If you have a weapon, great: but the most sensible purpose of that weapon should still be for securing your escape, not defending your territory or “winning” a fight. Territory and property are worthless compared to your life.

    This applies even to if someone breaks into your house, as weird as it may sound. There are many cases in which it would make sense to, as soon as you hear someone breaking in, jump out your own window. Immediately. Even if you’re fully armed. Again, this isn’t a moral or legal obligation. It’s about simple statistics: what actions are most likely to result in you not being killed or injured during a home invasion.

    If more people took violence seriously, and put it in their heads that the second violence or the threat of it explodes, they should do anything they can to immediately escape, a lot more people would survive.

  • 117 Leslie Avery // Mar 27, 2012 at 11:15 am

    Why would we ever need a bullshit law like this in the first place? I think that we all have always and do have the right to defend ourselves. I believe I would be within my rights to shoot an intruder in my home in the middle of the night. I believe even if during the day, I would be within my rights to shoot if I felt threatened. But I also think there is nothing wrong with the inconvience of explaining yourself in the case that you just took another’s life. These obsurd laws, in my opinion are designed to create chaos and controversy. They are written by supposively Pro-gunowners organizations. As a gun owner, I know these laws do not protect my rights to gun ownership, they actually endanger it in the long run. But in the short run, what these laws do, is create such horror, that we have a conflict between Progun and Antigun groups and the memberships and donation flood in to the NRA, ALEC and others. These groups alliance is with the manufacturers and putting a gun in every hand in the country. They do not advocate responsible gun ownership. This tragedy is another example of these organizations total disregard for human life. This child was murdered. Zimmerman should be charged and let him have his day in court. I seriously doubt a jury of his peers will have any problem seeing this for what it is.

  • 118 whatsamatta // Mar 27, 2012 at 11:43 am

    juris imprudent: “There isn’t anything particularly libertarian about initiating [lethal] force. ”

    This is what drives me crazy about libertarians, like their anarchist, communist, etc, cousins.

    The results of a system are shown — and then our genius says “well, those people aren’t True Believers”, as if the world cared about creedal fealty.

    Let’s be clear: Stalin was not a good Marxist. Lenin was a piss poor Marxist himself. The Soviet Union never functioned properly upon Marxist principles. That is not a defense of Marxism — it’s fairly easy to argue that any attempt to create a Marxist state would actually create a non-Marxist totalitarianism.

    The libertarians need to get it through their thick skulls — this isn’t a theological question about the purity of intention, but the practicality of implementing their system without making things worse.

    This is always the excuse of the incompetent ideologue — and Marx himself would have called out these gullible fools.

  • 119 aepxc // Mar 27, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    If it is not (trivially) easy to convict someone for shooting dead an unarmed man on public ground, then the system is fundamentally broken somewhere.

    The response to a threat must be proportionate to the threat to be justified, and individuals who choose to wield overwhelming force implicitly accept additional responsibilities. It’s why I can’t go buy a nuke to drop on my overly loud neighbour…

  • 120 Bradford // Mar 27, 2012 at 2:37 pm


    Your above thinking is as addled as Matt Taibbi and Jon Chait already have hilariously characterized in “get that dirt off your shoulder” blog postings. You are a cheaper, poor-man’s version of your supply-side predecessor, Veronique de Rugy. In your case, this statement couldn’t be more true, “The dilemma is especially acute in the political economic field, where wealthy right-wingers have pumped so much money to subsidize the field of pro-rich people polemics that the demand for competent defenders of letting rich people keep as much of their money as possible vastly outstrips the supply.”

  • 121 The eXiled Gives a Preview of Its Media Transparency Project - FishbowlLA // Mar 27, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    […] of The Atlantic‘s resident Randian Meghan McArdle–who, incidentally, just got into a bizarre argument in the comment section of Julian Sanchez‘s blog, in which she essentially argued that […]

  • 122 Taibbi and McArdle: “Good rape cases” « … And the cow goes moo // Mar 27, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    […] The Atlantic Monthly’s finance/econ blogger Megan McArdle‘s reaction to it in an online comment. (I’m assuming it’s really […]

  • 123 Gandydancer // Mar 27, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    If Sanchez had been carrying a gun when he was mugged he would have been justified in shooting them, not least because he ought not have to risk the result of their getting the gun from him. Would also have prevented the next mugging by the three, which undoubtedly took place not long after, though at great risk and cost to Sanchez, probably more than if he was not carrying a gun. But a rash of such public spirited acts might have reduced the ranks of muggers by considerably more than the number shot.

    Anyway, I don’t get the enthusiasm for arresting Zimmerman, which the police were prohibited from doing if they thought he had a valid SYG claim. It’s not as if arresting him now would require extradition. Maybe they should have asked him for his clothes or a blood sample which, as it happens, there is no reason to think he would have not given to them. But despite Zimmerman’s extra 100 lb of fat the testimony they had was of Martin on top beating on Z when M was shot, and there was a busted nose and head to prove it. There’s no evidence I am aware of for Sanchez’s imagined flashing of the gun. (Odd that they didn’t look at the cellphone’s call log, odder still that it wasn’t ringing. But maybe the ongoing investigations will clarify this… )

  • 124 GaryB // Mar 27, 2012 at 11:07 pm

    And at comment #11 above, Megan McArdle wrote that she understands that there’s a witness who “saw Martin on top of” Zimmerman.

    There are a few — but only a few — commenters on this thread who would not have written more precisely that this witness merely “claims” or “alleges” to have seen Martin on top.

    These little clues add up, Megan.

  • 125 Rack // Mar 28, 2012 at 2:14 am

    I cannot see any way that Zimmerman would NOT be convicted for Murder not Manslaughter. It only requires two simple questions:

    1. Why are you carrying a gun during Neighborhood watch?

    2. Why did you leave your vehicle?

    Both actions SCREAM escalation. The ONLY time that you carry a gun is if you are prepared to use it–not brandish it, not flash it, but to shoot someone with it. And there is absolutely NO reason for him to get out of his vehicle.

    The only reasonable reason to pack a pistol and then to leave his vehicle is because he went out LOOKING for trouble.

    The ONLY reason that Martin is dead is because of these two actions. Everything else is irrelevant. If you are going to carry a gun, then you have to be held to a higher standard.

  • 126 Randy Lee // Mar 28, 2012 at 4:42 am

    I am not entering the debate about what should or should not have happened in this case. I am, however, interested in the the statement by Scott Burton about California and New York law that makes no sense to me: if someone who is larger than me attacks me with his fists, I think that I have every right to defend myself with whatever means come to hand be it knife or gun. Sure in an ideal world, two people could engage in a fist fight, one would win and the other would lose, and both people go home. But the truth is that people can be beaten to death by someone wielding their fists.

  • 127 Randy Lee // Mar 28, 2012 at 4:46 am

    Scott, could you provide some evidence for your claim as to the law in CA and NY? I haven’t been able to find any.

  • 128 vernon // Mar 28, 2012 at 11:30 am

    I thought Reasonable Doubt was something the prosecution aimed to eradicate … in a jury, via a trial. I didn’t know it was something the media had to eradicate in Megan McArdle in order for a trial to take place.

  • 129 skeptonomist // Mar 28, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    Julian Sanchez:

    Muggers are hit-and-run attackers; if they don’t get your stuff by virtue of the first quick shock attack, they are not likely to continue, since the probability of injury to themselves or apprehension goes way up thereafter. There’s not a close parallel to this case.

  • 130 franc black // Mar 28, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    The USA is tanking, and this is one more little anecdote of decline.
    Sharpen up before things get worse !

  • 131 Gandydancer // Mar 29, 2012 at 3:28 am


    1) He was carrying a gun to defend himself. Legal in Florida.

    2) He got out of the vehicle to keep Martin in sight. This wasn’t a city block with houses cheek-by-jowel and the only paths available being the sidewalks next to the streets.

    The only reason Martin is dead is because he got in a fight with a man with a gun. Bad idea.

  • 132 D Cairns // Mar 29, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    This old case seems to have been forgotten. It seems pertinent to me, especially in consideration of whether the SYG law is effective/sane.


  • 133 Richard Edwards Breed IV // Mar 29, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    An admirer of Matt T. Yeow! There’s more brains here than the entire graduating classes of every Ive League school…added up! Your readers, are a testament to your hard works, the amazing group of admirers who participate…and a dedication to something foundational to my beliefs:
    99% of what people think are problems, are merely Symptoms…of a single problem; an example is all the political ‘problems’ being tirade about everyday – most all of them symptoms of one problem: political Corruption, embraced by a corrupt Congressional Duopoly.
    …as my own contribution to ‘save the world’ for my daughter, I formulated a list of ten laws/actions/whatever – which I believe will end 99% of the corruption on The Hill, ( I am not a writer…) and I posted them on a site I built in 30 minutes – unedited (argh, squared…I’m such a lazy hero…) the site above has one version, and another has I believe a slightly edited one. I would Love to see what a team of writers, say my dream-team Sanchez-Taibbi, could do with writing about an actual solution so easy as the number ten. The second site:
    Thank you, for your dedication to the…”
    Evolution of Civilization!
    Respectfully Yours, I am,

  • 134 sanford sklansky // Mar 29, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    By now every one has probably seen the video of Zimmerman at the police station. He does not appear to have been hurt, nod defensive marks. For what ever it is worth because it is Nancy Grace but she had a conversation with the coroner and other than the gun shot wound there were not other marks on the vicitm.

  • 135 Ben Baumer // Apr 1, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    Thank You!

  • 136 preston, of course // Apr 3, 2012 at 7:18 am

    so….anyone else up for a game of stupid or just megan?

  • 137 Eddington // Apr 11, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    pseudonymous in nc,

    (You’ve already embarrassed yourself with your “ignorance of the gang shooters who invoked SYG, but you seem intent on digging yourself deeper.)”

    I never meant to imply that I have complete knowledge of every case in which SYG laws have been misapplied or even applied correctly with seemingly unjust results. You, however, are obviously an astute legal scholar whose unapproachable knowledge should silence all debate on the issue.

    Why would a toxicology report have been necessary if Zimmerman exihibited no signs of intoxication? As for forensic evidence, have you been privy to information that the general public has yet to see?

    The bottom-line is that the only useful eye-witness corroborates the shooters version of events — i.e. that Martin was on top of Zimmerman, beating him. The details of what happened immediately prior to the altercation remain obscured, but the physical evidence (what is publicly known of it) seems to support Zimmerman’s claims. Indeed, his semi-automatic pistol failed to chamber a second round after his first shot suggesting that there may have in fact been a struggle for the firearm.

    But of course you’re going to get your way, apparently Zimmerman will be charged with an as yet unidentified crime later today. That fact alone should encourage to continue offerring up annoying, pedantic analyses.

  • 138 shano // Apr 14, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    Trayvons funeral director stated there were NO marks on his hands or arms that would confirm a “life and death” struggle that chickensh*t George Zimmerman says he experienced.

    And no one has the bullet trajectory as yet. the more facts that will come out on this case, the worse it is going to look for the judges son. imho

  • 139 shano // Apr 14, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    Eddington: there is another eyewitness (quite similar to GZ witness, a young teen) who states he saw Zimmerman trip, fall on the ground, and then point his gun at the standing Trayvon Martin.

    Both cannot be correct, and only the physical evidence will prove which witness is closer to the truth.

  • 140 shano // Apr 14, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    and we have all seen the real condition of GZ at the police station. No blood, no broken nose, no injuries at all that would confirm a struggle for life of an unarmed teen with a gun toting authoritarian pumped full of adrenaline during his stalking chase of his ‘suspect’.

  • 141 Eddington // Apr 19, 2012 at 9:32 am

    Shano: I agree that not all the facts have come out yet. That said, the only credible eye witness testimony I am familiar with came from the witness identified only as “John” who’s story support Zimmerman’s account. The kid’s testimony doesn’t strike me as reliable. His initial account supported Zimmerman. Later his mother claims he didn’t really see what happend and that the police had pressured him to offer up information. I haven’t heard about this latest twist, but it only supports my view that the kid’s testimony is useless for either side.

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