It seems the nation is rushing to judgment on the guilt or innocence of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of young Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla. Some are also rushing to judgment on whether or not Zimmerman is a racist, and/or whether police were wrong or perhaps corrupt when they did not immediately arrest him, in light of Florida’s 2011 statute on “justifiable use of force.”
The law basically spells out the legal definition of self defense. If someone is entering your dwelling or the vehicle you’re in, and you feel in danger, you have a right it defend yourself. The law continues: “A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”
Concerning this news story where meaning is read into every word chosen or omitted, an NBC news producer was fired for a poor editing job on a piece about Zimmerman’s call to 911. The edited audio clip that aired March 27 on NBC’s “Today” Show implied that Zimmerman shot Martin because he was black. He’s heard saying, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.”
Later a transcript of his actual words was released:
Zimmerman: “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.”
911 dispatcher: “OK, and this guy – is he white, black or Hispanic?”
Zimmerman: “He looks black.”
The April 16 issue of Time magazine corrects a mistake that publication made in it’s April 9 article, “The Law Heard Round the World.” “We said police in Sanford, Fla., had not brought George Zimmerman in for questioning on the night of Trayvon Martin’s shooting. In fact, video footage released after our deadline shows police did question Zimmerman that night.”
In this emotionally charged case, it’s only natural for the public to want more information. If for no reason other than the pressure of deadlines, information in the media may sometimes be wrong. Or it may all be correct, but incomplete. It is information, but it is not evidence.
Here in Barton County, many rushed to judgment as Adam Longoria was headed to trial for murdering 14-year-old Alicia DeBolt. Some were ready to proclaim him guilty unless proven innocent. Attorneys for both sides carefully screened potential jurors in an attempt to find 14 people who would follow the law, presuming him innocent until the prosecution could prove otherwise.
Information from any source — trusted or not — is not evidence, and juries must base their decisions on evidence, and the law.
It remains to be seen whether the Zimmerman case will go to court. There could be a plea or it could even be thrown out. For the bigger picture, the residents of Florida may need to decide if the so-called “stand your ground law” is flawed, if there is a problem in the police department and if people of different races need to work harder at overcoming their prejudices. (Of course they do.) But George Zimmerman is an individual, with a right to due process. Justice for Zimmerman and for Trayvon Martin won’t come by rushing to judgment.