For our November Readers' Review: “Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant” by Anne Tyler. As we prepare for holiday gatherings, join Diane and her guests to discuss this master work from the author who has made an art of exploring family love and dysfunction.
The NAACP is pressing the Justice Department to file federal criminal charges in the shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. Over the weekend, the man who shot and killed Martin, George Zimmerman, was acquitted of all charges. The victim was African American and the accused is Hispanic. From the start, prosecutors had a difficult case to make. Details related to the circumstances that lead to the shooting were hard to establish. The not guilty verdict has renewed debate over justice and race. A panel joins Diane to discuss what happens next with this case.
- Erich Pratt director of communications, Gun Owners of America
- Niaz Kasravi director, criminal justice program, NAACP
- Devlin Barrett reporter covering security and law enforcement, The Wall Street Journal
- Elizabeth Megale associate professor of law, Savannah Law School
- Michelle Bernard president, the Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy and author of the recently released, "Moving America Toward Justice, The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, 1963-2013"
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. There were street protests and prayers following the acquittal of George Zimmerman accused of shooting Trayvon Martin to death last year. Martin was a 17-year-old unarmed teenager, but key facts were murky in the case against Zimmerman, a Hispanic. Joining me to talk about the verdict and its implications, Michelle Bernard of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy, and Devlin Barrett of The Wall Street Journal. Joining us by phone from Georgia, Elizabeth Megale, she's associate professor of law at the Savannah Law School.
MS. DIANE REHMBut first, before we begin our conversation, we're joined by Niaz Kasravi. He's director of the criminal justice program for the NAACP. And I wonder, Niaz, would you talk about the petition that the NAACP has circulated. Tell us what you're asking for.
MS. NIAZ KASRAVIYes. Good morning, Diane. It's great to be with you today.
KASRAVISo, of course, there is a lot of disappointment and heartbreak from the community around this, and we were prepared for the decision to come down, you know, in a number of different ways. And one of the things that we were prepared to do is launch a petition asking for the Department of Justice to continue its investigation into the civil rights violations against Trayvon Martin.
KASRAVIAnd they have put those investigations on hold due to the trial, and they have to pick those back up. And the petition really asks for them to look into possible charges against George Zimmerman, including civil rights violations. And, you know, we launched that right after the verdict was announced. Within a couple of hours, we had about 130,000 signing the petition. In 24 hours, we were at a quarter of a million.
KASRAVIAnd I just checked this morning, we're nearly at half a million people having signed this petition to ask for, you know, some sort of justice to be served here given that, you know, people don't feel that that is what happened with the verdict in Florida.
REHMAnd what sort of response have you've gotten from the Justice Department?
KASRAVIThey have assured us that they are going to be looking at what they are able to do and examining the federal laws and statutes to see what the evidence is and what charges they may be able to bring. So they have assured us that they are continuing their investigation.
REHMAnd what would the Justice Department have to prove to go forward with a case?
KASRAVII think and, you know, and I'm not an attorney by training. They would have to -- so I don't know what the standard of proof for the civil rights violations and the federal laws are. But they do have to examine the evidence and see if there is enough that meets their standard of proof that George Zimmerman did indeed violate the civil rights of Trayvon Martin by choosing to be suspicious of him and following him despite the fact that he was told by authorities not to.
KASRAVIYou know, there's a number of things that they could do either civil rights charges. They could look at the federal hate crime statute and see if there's a possibility to bring hate crime charges under that statute as well.
REHMAnd, Niaz, beyond the petition itself, what would you hope to have as additional priorities for the NAACP related to this case?
KASRAVISo I think the petition is really the first thing that we were prepared to do if the decision, you know, came down the way that it did, and it is our first response. I think beyond this it's important to look at the larger picture and make sure that what happened to Trayvon Martin does not happen again. Unfortunately, we see many Trayvons in the line work that we are in. We hear from communities and families all the time.
KASRAVISome of the cases are publicized like the Oscar Grant case, you know, and the Jordan Davis case here in Florida. Many of the cases don't get the same publicity as the Trayvon Martin case does. So we really have to examine how we fix our broken system of justice. So we are looking at pooling together a bundle of laws that really address the relevant issues here in the Trayvon Martin case.
KASRAVIAnd, you know, at the heart of that, of course, is looking at the issue of racial profiling and acting state and federal laws that actually in effectively banned racial profiling, like, you know, implementing and promoting best practices and standards for community watch groups, repealing stand your ground type laws and replacing them with commonsense self-defense laws, right? So it's not argument that people shouldn't have the right to defend themselves, but we need to really look at what commonsense self-defense is, you know, creating effective police oversight because the case of Trayvon Martin, the death, when he was killed, it was so mishandled initially by police officers, you know, and really I think when you take even another step back, looking at sort of the value of the lives of people of color particularly African-American, young men in the criminal justice system...
KASRAVI...so looking at the data and how police departments handle homicides involving people of color.
REHMAll right. Let's bring others into the conversation. Michelle Bernard, it would seem that the court of public opinion is very, very different from that that happened there in Florida.
MS. MICHELLE BERNARDAbsolutely. And one of the things that we will see when in looking at the court of public opinion that is just as troubling as the verdict itself is the way public opinion is being divided among racial lines. So you will see very, very large numbers of people that are members -- that are people of color, particularly African-Americans who are absolutely devastated by the jury's verdict.
MS. MICHELLE BERNARDAnd then you will see the supporters of George Zimmerman who by and large are whites that live in Florida that think that justice was served. So it shows that there's a greater problem in the country when we talk about race. Outside of that, African-American mothers like myself who have black sons are looking and saying to ourselves why is it that that society does not seem to care about the lives of our black boys.
MS. MICHELLE BERNARDIt's a very, very serious problem to think that your child can be basically gunned down in the street walking home after buying a bag of Skittles and a can of ice tea and the criminal justice system will -- which has, for example, locked up Michael Vick because of cruelty against animals but allow George Zimmerman to walk away free after gunning down Trayvon Martin.
REHMDevlin Barrett, the prosecution had a steep hill declined, explain.
MR. DEVLIN BARRETTYeah. The legal standards here are tough, and a lot of it centers around as much as the conversation publicly has been about the stand your ground law. In the actual trial that happened, a lot of it really was about self-defense law. And one of the things that I think is sort of very complicated by this case and highlighted by this case is how the definition of self-defense is pretty broad. And, you know, one of the things that strikes me is people have posed a lot of what-if scenarios.
MR. DEVLIN BARRETTThe main one being what if the child had been white and the older man had been black, what would the criminal justice system have done then? I actually think there's a different what-if scenario that's worth considering, not that we shouldn't consider that one, but I think there's a different one that's worth considering, and that's if you accept for a moment George Zimmerman's account that Trayvon Martin supposedly reached for his gun, think about what self -- the self-defense law says about that.
MR. DEVLIN BARRETTIf you're being attacked by someone with a gun, presumably you have the right of self-defense to reach for that gun in an attempt to defend yourself. And if, if that happened and if Trayvon Martin had gotten the gun somehow and had shot George Zimmerman, he might very well have gone through a similar process and had the same result because the law of self-defense if you believe this was not a racially-based verdict, if you believe this was an evidence-based verdict, the law of self-defense probably would apply just as much to him.
MR. DEVLIN BARRETTSo I think what sticks with me is the notion that in a physical confrontation between two people and one of them has a gun is the law essentially saying it's a jump ball for your life or death. And I think that's a pretty disturbing scenario.
BERNARDOne of the things I wanted to add that was so peculiar about watching the prosecution's case and I say this as somebody who's an attorney by training was that we watched the defense very successfully through the use of media and during the trial put Trayvon Martin's activities and his character on trial. It wasn't until the trial was almost over that the prosecution finally said that Trayvon Martin could have been defending himself.
BERNARDSo they allowed the public and the jury to have the sense that if Trayvon Martin was in fact on top of George Zimmerman, he was perpetuating a crime against George Zimmerman where to anyone else who was watching this and thinking about how this could have truly happened would -- when thinking, well, of course, Trayvon Martin was protecting himself. He was acting in self-defense, just commonsense would tell you if you're walking home and you see somebody following you and they continue to follow you, you're going to be frightened.
BERNARDYou're gonna be fearful, and you're going to think to yourself what can I do to protect my life. And it's plausible that that if Trayvon Martin was in fact on top of George Zimmerman at some point in time in the scuffle, he was defending himself, and we never heard that during trial.
BARRETTRight. And just as an odd aside and this has nothing to do with my work, but I've actually had an incident where someone brandished a gun at me. And I can tell you from personal experience I absolutely felt threatened and I felt like I had a decision to make right then and there about what I was going to do. Now, in my situation, circumstances were such that I just believe I can talk myself out of the situation, and that's what I did.
BARRETTBut I think you have to consider the possibility that the act of having a gun in that back and forth raises the stakes for everyone involved, and self-defense basically gives both of them a justification.
REHMDevlin Barrett of The Wall Street Journal. Short break here. When we come back, we'll let you weigh in. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. As we talk about the verdict in the George Zimmerman case, which did come down freeing him from responsibility in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, that has, of course, set off protests per groups even some police action in some parts of the country where individuals rioted. Here in the studio: Devlin Barrett of The Wall Street Journal, Michelle Bernard of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy.
REHMJoining us now is Elizabeth Megale. She is in Georgia. She is associate professor of law at the Savannah Law School. And, Elizabeth, you heard Devlin Barrett say that self-defense weighed in here more than Stand Your Ground laws. How much do you think Stand Your Ground laws had to do with the verdict?
PROF. ELIZABETH MEGALEWell, thank you, Diane, for having me on the show.
MEGALEI've studied the Florida self-defense statutory scheme. It's actually three statutes. And they're so intertwined that you can't really separate them to say that it was Stand Your Ground or self-defense or one or the other. They're inextricably intertwined. And as far the verdict in this case, I do believe that it was a verdict based on the law. And whether any other scenario had played out, had Trayvon Martin gotten the gun and shot George Zimmerman, this -- the verdict of an acquittal would have been appropriate for either one of them.
MEGALEAnd the reason is that Florida law permits a person to use deadly force against another if that person believes there's going to be a forcible felony committed or that person fears subjectively, whether that fear is rational or not, but if that person subjectively fears that they're going to be subjected to death or great bodily harm. And so Trayvon Martin certainly had or would have had a basis for acting in self-defense.
MEGALEAnd once Trayvon Martin begins to act in self-defense, then George Zimmerman has the -- his fear can be triggered, and then he would have the right to stand his ground. And so the way that the Florida scheme ends up working out is that it becomes a shooting match to the death and can make matters worse. There's no provision for turning off this fear. So there have been cases where someone has been running away, trying to get away from the fight.
MEGALEAnd the law has recognized that the person feeling the fear can chase after that person and even shoot or stab them in the back. And that is justified under Florida's defense -- self-defense statute that does incorporate the Stand Your Ground provision.
REHMSo what you're saying is both laws, Stand Your Ground and self-defense, intertwine here so that by law, George Zimmerman could be acquitted of murder, second degree murder or manslaughter, correct?
MEGALEThat is correct.
MEGALEAnd the other part of that, Diane, is that when we get to what the burden of proof is at trial, even if the state had established beyond a reasonable doubt that George Zimmerman murdered or committed manslaughter, then if once Zimmerman says, well, but I acted in self-defense, and he shows a very low level of proof of that, then the state is required to disprove that beyond a reasonable doubt.
MEGALEZimmerman never has a burden of proving his defense beyond a reasonable doubt. There's just a very low threshold showing is it plausible that this happened, and then the state must disprove it beyond a reasonable doubt. So in this kind of a case, it really is impossible for the state to meet its burden of proof.
REHMSo what if a charge of involuntary manslaughter had been incorporated into the prosecution's charge rather than simply second degree murder or manslaughter?
MEGALEIf they had asked for a charge on involuntary, I think the jury would have had a little bit more to deliberate on. But I think ultimately that the law of self-defense is so broad. And once a defendant assert, I was acting in self-defense, I had the right to stand my ground, and if the state cannot disprove that beyond a reasonable doubt, there's no level of guilty that that's likely to result on any of those charges, involuntary, voluntary manslaughter or any of the levels or murder.
REHMAnd now, Elizabeth Megale, talk about the Department of Justice and the possibility or probability that it might take up this case.
MEGALEAs far as investigating a civil rights violation, I see that as extremely remote primarily because George Zimmerman was not a state actor. And unfortunately, the civil -- an individual cannot be prosecuted for violating the civil rights of another. That's something that is relegated to the state if there's a state actor or certain corporations that are larger entities. But individuals -- there's not really a provision in the Civil Rights Act for prosecuting individuals for being racist or prejudiced if that can even be established.
REHMDevlin Barrett, do you want to comment?
BARRETTYeah. There's just -- there's two potential scenarios, and I think both of them completely agree with Elizabeth. It's -- it would be very, very difficult to bring a case given the facts that we have before us, the evidence we have before us. The one avenue would be Shepard -- through the Shepard-Byrd Act which is generally referred to as the federal hate crimes law that was passed in '09.
BARRETTBut in that, the hurl you have is that you have to show that Zimmerman acted out of a specific racial animus, that there was a specific -- that he targeted Trayvon Martin specifically because he was black, and we have evidence to show it. Now, frankly, the evidence in the case, a lot of people have reached that conclusion based on the totality of the evidence, but you do not have what, for lack or better term unfortunately, what you might call an evidentiary smoking gun to that effect.
BARRETTIn fact, when -- in the 911 call, it's the operator who first asks him what the race is of the person he's following. Zimmerman does not offer that up. And the other potential scenario in which it could bring a civil rights case would be under an older law, but that would apply to scenarios where you believe Zimmerman was attacking Trayvon Martin because of his race and because he was using a public facility like a public street. It is hard based on the evidence that we know of now to think that that is a case you can prove beyond reasonable doubt.
REHMMichelle, George Zimmerman referred to Trayvon Martin as a punk.
REHMWhat did that mean?
BERNARDAnd they always get away with it. I don't know what he absolutely meant about it, and it should be said that there are other people that thought that they heard him say something else and the not the term punk early on when Trayvon Martin was first killed. I listened to the tape, and to me, it sounded as if he called him a coon, which is a racial epithet. So there has been, you know, some controversy of whether the term was punk or whether it was coon. Assuming that he called him a coon on that 911 tape, we know it was a racial epithet. We also know that the...
REHMHow -- excuse me, but how could those two words somehow be mistaken for each other?
BERNARDThat's the question that many of us keep asking over and over and over again. I listened to the tape. I have -- I know other reporters and journalists that had listened to the tape. It was difficult to hear, but you could hear it. But all we have left with today is what the prosecution tells us is on the tape and what the prosecution used in their opening statement, which was the term punk.
REHMSo the tape itself was not played in the courtroom?
BERNARDNo. I don't know if the tape was played in the courtroom. I know what I heard -- that I heard the prosecutor say during testimony and is -- in his opening statements. Also, you will recall during the trial, there were questions asked of Trayvon Martin's father about whether or not he had heard a "tape versus a cleaned-up tape." So there has been some controversy over what was done to the tape. There were, you know, audio specialists who testified during the trial. But they were testifying about who was screaming in that 911 tape...
BERNARD...not so much as to whether or not a racial epithet was used. But early on, that's what I heard in the tape. And if you look at that, and as Devlin was saying, with regard to the totality of the circumstances, that coupled with the fact that George Zimmerman had called 911 so often and every single time he called about somebody who was dangerous in the neighborhood, it happened to be an African-American man.
BERNARDSo you'd look at that and then you look at George Zimmerman's testimony during trial -- actually, it wasn't even his testimony. When he was on television last year, he said that he'd never heard of Florida's Stand Your Ground laws. But it came out during trial by an Army prosecutor who taught Zimmerman, I believe, a class on criminal litigation that he covered self defense and Florida's Stand Your Ground laws in that course over and over and over again.
BERNARDSo the totality of the circumstances would tell a reasonable person that George Zimmerman was stoped to it, you know, by the sense of vigilante justice. You know, if you saw him talk on Sean Hannity's program over a year ago that this was God's plan, George Zimmerman looks like a person who was just looking for the right person to shoot and kill, and he finally did it.
BARRETTYeah. I think -- just to get back to the tape issue for a minute, I think in some ways the tape is the most -- in some ways, the most tragic part of this whole thing because there is that disagreement about what word he used, and the prosecutor decided it was punk. And that, frankly, I think from the federal law enforcement point of view, that makes it much more difficult to argue it was a different word.
BARRETTAnd the other even -- and in my mind, even more sad piece of tape in this whole process is where you can hear in the background someone yelling help. And you basically have two sets of parents saying, that's my son. No, that's my son. And the jury is left with -- and the audio experts can't really tell you because it's a cellphone. It's secondhand. It's -- there's just too much distance.
REHMIt's distorted. Yeah, Right, right.
BARRETTThe sound quality just isn't good enough. And obviously, a person in that situation is not speaking in their normal voice. And to me, that's, in some ways, one of the most tragic parts of the whole thing is you don't know who's yelling help.
REHMBut if this were to go to the Department of Justice, wouldn't the original tape show whether, in fact, one word was used or another world was used? And wouldn't that, in and of itself, provide some basis for regarding this as a hate crime?
BERNARDIf they could get an expert witness that is able to actually do something with the tape so that beyond, again, a reasonable doubt, a jury listening to the tape could determine exactly what word was used because there is controversy. There are people who think that they heard one term and people who think that they had another. And the fact that the federal -- that the state prosecutors in Florida decided to go with the term punk really does help a federal hate crimes case.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Elizabeth and Niaz, I hope you'll both stay on as we take some phone calls.
REHMFirst -- all right. Good. First to Victoria, Texas. Hi there, Elizabeth.
ELIZABETHGood morning, and thank you so much for your show. It's a breath of fresh air down here.
ELIZABETHThank you. I would like to approach this from the viewpoint of a teacher who worked many years with young people in this age bracket and call to mind the fact that we have here a 29-year-old man who reports to the police that there's a suspicious-looking character in the neighborhood, was told by the police to back off and let the police handle it. Nevertheless -- and the guy, who's a vigilante, he brings the weapon that was used to kill a human being.
ELIZABETHHe stalked. In my opinion, he became, at that point, not a vigilante protector of the neighborhood, but a stalker stalking this young teenager. This man is 29 years old. In my opinion, the adult is the responsible party here. We could call it negligent homicide. We can call it whatever we want to. But the result was a young teenager is dead, and this man has been acquitted of any responsibility.
ELIZABETHYoung people, we know from physiological evidence, do not have the same development in the frontal lobe that would allow them to control impulses like fear, and I think this was overlooked in the trial. I didn't hear any discussion of the age differences here...
REHMInteresting point. Michelle.
BERNARDAbsolutely interesting point, but again it will go back to not so much what the jury did because I do believe that the jury followed the law. They didn't have a choice. But there are broader policy implications, once again, for how we deal with hate crimes, racial profiling, gun control and gun violence, which overwhelmingly impacts communities of color.
REHMAnd now joining us from his office in Virginia, Erich Pratt. He's director of communications for Gun Owners of America. Erich, I know your organization have been strong supporters of Stand Your Ground laws. Explain why.
MR. ERICH PRATTWell -- and, Diane, thank you for having me on the show.
PRATTWe have been in favor of Stand Your Ground laws. We've seen all across the country, there have been many cases of overzealous prosecutors who take cases where there have been clear-cut cases of self-defense. And surely there's obviously gonna be some cases where it could go either way, and so it's proper to take it to a jury. But there are some cases that are so obvious, like the 67-year-old man in Oklahoma who was knocked down by an attacker right outside a grocery store, but he fled.
PRATTThe attacker knocked him down again -- in fact, twice more -- and the 67-year-old man was able to flee each time. The guy kept coming at him. Well, eventually the man, who was a security guard himself, took out his gun and shot the man, and yet prosecutors still said that the -- that that elderly man should have done more to escape.
PRATTAnd so he had to spend several thousands upon thousands of dollars in his defense. There was no jail time. There was probation. But you see, it's this type of what we think is really abuse where prosecutors, you know, maybe for political reasons or whatever, have been way overzealous.
PRATTAnd so what Stand Your Ground does is basically takes the Castle doctrine concept, which says, hey, when you're in your home, you don't have to retreat any further, and it then applies it outside the home, saying that if you're not committing a crime and you have a right to be there, then you don't have to retreat. If you are under attack, if you reasonably believe that you need to use deadly force, even, to prevent death or great bodily harm -- this was mentioned earlier in the show -- then it's justifiable. And so for that reason...
PRATT...we have supported this.
REHMAll right. Erich Pratt, he's director of communications for the Gun Owners of America. We'll add him into our mix as we take more calls after a short break. Stay with us.
REHMAnd just before the break, we were talking with Erich Pratt. He is director of communications for Gun Owners of America. Erich, do you expect that any of these laws might be changed in any way, the Stand Your Ground laws, that now I gather are in some 20 states?
PRATTRight. There's almost 20 which have Stand Your Ground laws. And to be quite honest, I agree with some of the comments made earlier. It's arguable that this case was really about Stand Your Ground because, you know, even previous to the Stand Your Ground law, if you were pinned down and had no way to escape, and let's face it, that's what the evidence and the eye witness in this case testified to that George Zimmerman was on the bottom, was being ground and pound and, you know, MMA style.
PRATTEven under previous law -- previous to Stand Your Ground, that would have been considered justifiable self-defense, if you had a fear -- a reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm. And so in our mindset, there's a question as to, is Stand Your Ground really applicable here or not?
REHMAll right. And I want to turn to you Elizabeth Megale...
REHM...because the parents of Trayvon Martin apparently are considering bringing some sort of civil suit against George Zimmerman.
REHMWhat is your thinking in terms of what kind of high bar they'll have to meet in order to do that?
MEGALEWell, it won't be as high as a bar as the prosecution say as in the criminal case because civil cases have lower standards of proof. But they are still going to have to disprove that George Zimmerman acted inconsistently with self-defense which is again, gonna be difficult because of the broad scope of Florida's law.
MEGALEAnd I would like to point out that prior to the amendment in 2005, Florida's statute prevented someone who is an initial aggressor from claiming self-defense unless there was some show that that person had attempted to retreat or had withdrawn from the confrontation or that the matter had escalated beyond non-deadly force. And so that is something that, you know, under the prior version of the law, there likely would have been a deterrent to even getting involved in this situation.
MEGALEI think from the both sides of it, because there's some controversy about, you know, when Trayvon was questioned about, what are you doing here, and then his response back of becoming involved in this physical fight. So, you know, I do think, again, Florida's law is intertwined to self-defense…
MEGALE...and the duty to retreat or intertwined together. Certainly, if you're pinned to the ground, you can't safely retreat into -- under a prior version. But the question becomes, was there a duty to retreat prior to that point? When he just saw him, was he authorized in pursuing him under this statute? Yes. Under a prior version, probably not.
REHMInteresting. All right. Let's take a caller in Indianapolis. John, you're on the air.
JOHNGood morning, Ms. Rehm, and thank you for taking my call.
JOHNI have -- actually, I'm gonna piggyback off what the lady just said or a question. I have two questions. Number one, it's clear that the 911 caller told Mr. Zimmerman, do not get out of the car. So once he pursued Mr. Martin, number one, was he really standing his ground? And number two, it seems like Mr. Zimmerman was coached because some of the things that I noticed that he was saying like, a suspect put his hand in this waistband, that's not what the average person says.
JOHNIt seems like his father, which everyone knows is a judge and is very well-known with the police department, it seems like he was very well-coached in what to say and how this case is really taking, you know, went forward how Mr. Martin was in the morgue for like three or four days and nobody contacted the family. I do have a problem with that and that's all I wanna say. And I love your show. Thank you.
REHMAll right. Thank you so much. Michelle.
BERNARDThe Stand Your Ground law's all over the country. And I think we have them now in some 30 odd states, are really a perversion of justice. And there's a recent Texas A&M study that shows that states that have Stand Your Ground laws have higher homicide rates than states that don't have them.
BERNARDI just wanna give the caller another example of this "vigilante injustice" in Florida because it's another case that, I think, people need to understand how it demonstrates what's wrong with Stand Your Ground laws, particularly in Florida. In 2012, there was a 17-year-old kid named Jordan Russell Davis who was killed by a 45-year-old Michael David Dunn for playing loud music in a parking lot in front of a convenience store.
BERNARDSo these kids pull up in front of the convenient store in Jacksonville, Fla. Michael David Dunn says to the young man, turn your music down. The young man refused to turn his music down, and David -- and Michael David Dunn started shooting, and this kid was shot. He was killed. He was basically murdered in front of a convenient store in Jacksonville, Fla., and what he has alleged is that he felt threatened by black teens and claims that the teens flashed a shotgun at him.
BERNARDThe police were unable to find any sort of a shotgun. And now this man can claim Stand Your Ground in the state of Florida that he was acting in self-defense.
BARRETTWell, it goes to one of the -- I think the genuine, real, big questions that Stand Your Ground laws create, which is -- and Erich refer to this earlier, that it takes the Castle doctrine and moves it outdoors. In my own mind, I don't understand who's defining the castle, like, what are the parameters of that castle? If I'm in at my house, I pretty much know what my castle is. If you're just walking down the street, is your neighborhood -- do you have a bigger castle in your neighborhood?
BARRETTDo you a smaller castle when you go to some other state? I just, in my own mind, I think while I understand the rationale behind it, I don't understand how you apply it in the real world whether these are, in my mind, sometimes imaginary boundaries.
KASRAVIDiane, this is Niaz.
KASRAVIWhenever you have the chance.
REHMYes. Go right ahead.
KASRAVIYou know, I think the other issue to consider here isn't particularly about, you know, individual cases of where Stand Your Ground may have actually been enforced properly.
KASRAVIBut there is, you know, and I reiterate everything that's been said by Devlin and by Michelle, you know, but the totality of Stand Your Ground cases, there was an Urban Institute study that determined that, you know, only 3 percent of the deaths that are, you know, where the black -- the shooter is black and the victim is white are deemed justifiable, you know, compared to 34 percent, you know, when the situation on the races are reversed, right?
KASRAVIWe at the NAACP had a case that we were working on for several years of a man in Georgia who was actually, you know, even claiming the Castle doctrine. He defended himself against an armed intruder on his own property and was given a life sentence. So when you look at the totality of how these laws are applied, you know, people of color, particularly African-American men, always end up, you know, either at the wrong end of the gun or end up getting the wrong end of the deal.
KASRAVIAnd, you know, what message does that send particularly after this young verdict to our young people, right?
KASRAVIDo they not have the right to defend themselves against an armed aggressor, especially as they end up dying?
REHMErich Pratt, do you wanna comment?
PRATTWell, I would just point out that, again, the Zimmerman defense team did not claim Stand Your Ground. So -- and realize we're talking a lot about Stand Your Ground, the media has, and yet, they claimed as basic self-defense. It was stated earlier in the show that guns escalate a situation, but actually, that's inconsistent with what the CDC just found pursuant to Obama's executive order this year and that is when guns are used by individuals under attack that they consistently has lower injury rates than those who use other self-protective strategy.
PRATTSo I think we need to always keep that in focus that guns do save lives. A Clinton Justice Department looked at this many years ago and found that guns are used 50 times more often to save life than to take life. So, you know, a lot of times you get into sticky situations in the sense that you don't have a lot of witnesses, it's proper to take it before a jury and let them hear all the evidence.
PRATTAnd sadly, what happens a lot of times is this gets tried in the press. And just like the Richard Jewell case or the Duke lacrosse players' case, there's a rush to judgment. But I don't think that happened here within -- at least with the jury. I think they were very sober-minded. They looked at all the evidence and spent several hours deliberating this and has been stated earlier according to the law, I think they came to the right verdict based on the evidence that they had before them.
REHMAll right. Elizabeth, I want to...
REHM…go back to the caller's first question, namely that George Zimmerman was told by the 911 responder not to pursue Trayvon Martin.
REHMDoes that carry any weight whatsoever if this case moves on?
MEGALEI don't know if that will have any implications in terms of the hate crime statutes that the Department of Justice will likely be reviewing in determining if they can bring charges. My gut instinct on that is probably not because that alone is not evident if it was a racially motivated crime.
REHMAll right. OK.
MEGALEHowever, if it can be tied in to some sort of racial motivation based on other evidence, then perhaps.
REHMAll right. To Raleigh, N.C. Bridget, you're on the air.
BRIDGETI just -- hi. My question was -- it's been reported that Zimmerman called police close to 50 times over eight-year period. And I was just wondering if prosecutors or investigators looked at some of the people before.
BARRETTSorry. I think you could add a little -- I think you asked if prosecutors looked at some of the people he called the police about before. I -- my understanding is most of those instances, they did not, you know, pair up a Zimmerman call to an actual person that they spoke to who was the subject of that call. I'm open to being corrected if someone else has a different understanding, but I believe he was calling an awful lot and he was reporting what he believed to be suspicious people in the neighborhood an awful lot.
BARRETTAnd that's viewed as -- the people who think that this verdict was just plain wrong, that's the viewed as just proof that this guy was out trying to hunt people.
BERNARDWell, he was out, I believe, looking to hunt African-American males. He looks at a black man, in my opinion, and George Zimmerman sees your race as being a predictor of criminal activity.
BERNARDHe was looking for someone to shoot.
REHMWe don't know that every call he made had to do with a black male.
BERNARDNo. But we do know that a very large number of those calls, it was always a black male that he was calling about, in very large number of those phone calls.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Chris in Fort Worth, Texas. You're on the air.
CHRISGood morning, Diane.
CHRISMy questions for the panel there is just that if George Zimmerman had the right use heavy force because he felt that his life was in danger, at what point did Trayvon Martin have the same right? Because if somebody was following me around the neighborhood and didn't identify their self as a law officer or or anybody like that and had a gun, didn't he have a right to protect himself even just with his hands?
BARRETTYeah. Absolutely. And that's sort of the point I was getting up before that this situation sort of to me looks like a life or death jump ball where whoever wins that struggle and kills the other person is essentially the winner legally as well whatever the circumstances are as long as there's no witnesses to counter what the survivor says.
REHMAll right. I'd like to hear you, Devlin, talk about where, if anywhere, you think this case is going.
BARRETTWell, I think obviously the Justice Department is gonna take a hard look at it.
BARRETTThey will pour back through the trial testimony and see if the trial testimony makes them think about the case any differently. But I'll be honest, from what I've seen at the trial testimony, a lot of it would make it harder, not easier, specifically the lead case investigator essentially saying that he tended to believe Zimmerman's account. I think that's a tough case to make when your lead investigator says he essentially thinks the defendant was justified.
REHMIt's interesting that Alan Dershowitz said on television yesterday, he regarded this as the worst case of prosecutorial misconduct he had ever seen.
BARRETTWell, you know, I've heard people say that. I'll be honest. I think that assumes evidence that we don't know exist. I mean, it would be great if there was, you know, things that have been suggested are, well, that police should have done a better job finding witnesses to the confrontation. That assumes such witnesses exist. Police should have done a better job handling the DNA evidence. That assumes such DNA evidence is getable.
BARRETTAnd maybe it was, but I think it's -- as much as you can say, any loss is a miscalculation. I think you -- on the same time, you can't assume there's some magical evidence out there that they just didn't get.
REHMElizabeth Megale, where do you think this case is going?
MEGALEWell, if I could...
REHMVery briefly, please. We're almost out of time.
MEGALEYes. I don't see this case is going much farther beyond this point, and I don't necessarily see this as a case that the prosecution completely mishandled either. The fact that George Zimmerman had lacerations on the back of his head and injuries to his face would support his theory of self-defense. And there isn't any evidence or isn't really any way for the prosecution to overcome that.
MEGALEAnd, yes, Trayvon Martin had a right to defend himself, too, and he could have killed George Zimmerman. The problem for the law is that it allows those people to defend themselves to the death of the other person. And the last one standing is the one who wins.
MEGALEThat is the tragedy.
REHMNiaz, where do you believe this case could go?
KASRAVIYou know, Diane, we from the beginning rested our faith in the system of justice even though we know that it's broken. I think we failed in Florida. We are hoping for a thorough and transparent investigation by the Justice Department. And we understand that there may be some challenges. But we also know that Eric Holder and his team has been, you know, very good at really pursuing these cases and these claims.
KASRAVINow, if that does not happen then, of course, we turn our attention into changing the laws that allow the Trayvon Martin incidents to happen. And, Diane, I'm gonna very quick about this. We're at our 104th convention here in Florida. We have thousands of African-American young people from our youth and college division who are frustrated and confused, you know, and so we have a duty to try and figure out what we do to protect them.
REHMAll right. Erich Pratt, very quickly please.
PRATTWell, you know, this is a very difficult. And I think, you know, where do we go from here? I think all those involved there need our prayers. I've lost a child, I can sympathize with the pains -- the pain that the Martins are going through right now. And I was virtually in tears watching them on the stand having to talk about this. But I also agree with Alan Dershowitz that based on the evidence, this case should not have been brought...
REHMAll right. Michelle, very quickly.
BERNARDGun homicide is the leading cause of death among black teens between the ages of 15 and 19. This is a civil rights issue. We need to end racial profiling, and that's what I think the future of this case is gonna be.
REHMThank you all so much. And thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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