Friday, July 19, 2013

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) Detroit filed bankruptcy yesterday. Yes, you read that correctly. I’ve visited that city, if you can call it that. No, this isn’t going to be a diatribe about the people who live there or who left there…well, maybe a little of the latter. It’s going to be a diatribe about a city that forced itself to be the car capital of the world.
It’s less of a city than a series of island-towns connected by enormous highways and broad boulevards. There’s downtown, right on the waterfront, with its monorail and arenas and hotels made famous in the movie Robocop.

If you want to get anywhere, say the industrial section of town (which is why I was visiting, doing an investigation), you have to get on a freeway and drive. And as you drive, you get a sense of place: inner cities, burned out and abandoned, littered along the highway like so many dumps, and then these grand and glorious suburbs, like Grosse Pointe. Beautiful little towns that suck the life out of the city proper.

So long as GM and Ford and Chrysler stayed local, in Dearborn and especially River Rouge, there was work to be had (yes, I know, Rouge is still there which may be the only thing that kept this from happening earlier.) And those plants didn’t just employ their own, they were responsible for lots of businesses around the city, which benefitted from the good union wages paid to workers, and in turn employed huge numbers of people.

The shame of Detroit is not mayors like Kwame Kilpatrick. The shame of Detroit is that folks like Roger Smith couldn’t give a damn about Detroit. Or America.

2) Stay classy, Batboy. Perhaps some “philanthropist” would be kind enough to start buying guns for the minorities in Florida. That’s what got gun control passed in the first place. Watch the NRA suddenly demand it.

3) Speaking of Florida, the DoJ has asked that the evidence in the Trayvon Martin case, including Zimmerman’s gun, be held while they investigate a civil rights case.

4) It was 84 degrees when I woke up at 4AM this morning. I think I moved to Nicaragua.

5) Speaking of New York, these may be the coolest photo-art I’ve ever seen.

6) As goes China, so goes the US economy. This may be a smart move for us.

7) Monkeys remember.

8) Do you smell a sex scandal? I smell a sex scandal.

9) Bankstahs may still do time.

10) John Hinckley did it better.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Hm. Buyer's Remorse?

An interesting interview on Anderson Cooper’s show last night with one of the jurors on the George Zimmerman panel:

The woman, known as Juror B37, told CNN's Anderson Cooper that when the jury began deliberations Friday, they took an initial vote. Three jurors -- including B37 -- were in favor of acquittal, two supported manslaughter and one backed second-degree murder. She said the jury started going through all the evidence, listening to tapes multiple times.

"That's why it took us so long," said B37, who said she planned to write a book about the trial but later had a change of heart.

Said “change of heart” was forced upon her, by the way as first her publisher, then her agent, dropped her like a shit-covered rock.

People disgust me, but I digress…or maybe not a digression. Let’s look further into the AC360 interview.

When they started looking at the law, the person who initially wanted second-degree murder changed her vote to manslaughter, the juror said. Then they asked for clarification from the judge and went over it again and again. B37 said some jurors wanted to find Zimmerman guilty of something, but there was just no place to go based on the law

Now, all that may be true, but it seems to me that if you stood your ground – no pun intended – the judge would accept the verdict, and appealing that verdict would be very hard for the defense. It’s easy to appeal errors in the trial, errors of procedure, but if a jury sifts through the evidence and determines that, despite the law, a crime was committed, then there’s nothing to be done about it.

Better legal minds than mine (e.g. actual lawyers…I’ve only played them on the TeeVee) have told me that the law gives this jury cover, and it’s true, it does.

Still, it wouldn’t be the first time a jury has broken ranks with the law to do the right thing. And that’s something this woman and the other two will have to spend the rest of their lives living with: a young man died, and they had the chance to punish the killer, but let him walk free.

Shameful. Absolutely shameful.


Monday, July 15, 2013

The Tragedy of the All-Too Common

As the anger builds over the verdict in the George Zimmerman case, one thing leaps off the page to this actor and public speaker: the prosecution.

Before I get to my thoughts on that, let me just say that it’s fortunate, I think, that the protests and demonstrations have been overwhelmingly peaceful, with scattered violence. It makes it hard for the right wing to paste “savages” label over this and forces them to move mountains to do so.

Moving on…

The facts supported one slam-dunk verdict: manslaughter. A case could be argued for murder in that Zimmerman saw Martin, started stalking him, aggravated an assault then in a panic shot Martin dead, meaning that he brought this on himself with at least a felonious assault. Killing someone in the commission of a crime is by definition in most states murder, and I’m sure Florida has had enough fatalities during bank robberies and such that this statute exists there, too.

That’s a hard case to make when the victim can’t speak for himself, can’t give his side of the story and there’s precious little evidence – either forensic or eyewitness – that conclusively determines this is what happened.

Which brings me to my point.

The prosecution attempted to try this case strictly on facts, but they missed a golden opportunity to get the jurors’ sympathy for Martin, leaving Zimmerman and the families to be the only emotional totems in the entire courtroom.

His opening statement focused on the actions of Zimmerman, which it should, but he presented it from an objective, third party standpoint, and threw in a few obscenities to boot. On a jury of six southern women, this was a mistake. He needed to make an emotional connection with them, make them feel for Martin. Here’s what I would have said:

“Ladies of the jury, I want you to put yourself on the streets of Sanford that rainy, dark night. You’re walking home from the store, carrying a few groceries. Maybe you’re chatting with a friend on the phone, minding your own business, when you notice that creeping up behind you is a car you don’t recognize. It’s moving slowly. It makes no effort to pass you. If anything, it seems to be following you. You walk a little faster. Maybe you mention to your friend on the phone that there’s this car creeping behind you. You duck down a side yard, hoping to get away.”

You walk on a little further and realize now there’s a man walking behind you, following you. You don’t know who he is, but you recognize him as the driver of the car. You don’t know what he wants, but you’re scared, terrified. It’s a cold night and windows are closed, no one else is out on the street. You shout at him, more to get him to leave you alone than to find out what he wants. He yells back. Words are exchanged and you panic out of sheer terror, trying to force him to stop following you.”

“We’ve all been in situations like this. We’ve all been stalked, hunted, by someone who means to do us harm, no matter how nice we might be. It’s frightening.”

Imagine now, six women jurors. They’ve been to pools and beaches, walked past construction sites. Maybe they’ve had *that guy* as a boyfriend, the one who follows them after they break up, demanding answers. It made them angry. It was terror of the most personal and destructive kind.

And you’ve just won your verdict by being honest about Trayvon Martin.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Bitter Pill

I fell asleep last night just as the jury in the George Zimmerman trial reached a verdict. I knew it would take another hour or so for all parties to gather and to announce the actual verdict, and I was pretty tired already. I'm glad I did. As it was, I only read about it this morning when I looked at my phone to see what time it was around 4 AM, and got so angry that I couldn't fall back to sleep.

A few thoughts:

1) Finding someone guilty on a charge of manslaughter entails two conditions: first, someone has to be dead and second, that death has to occur because of the deliberate actions of the accused. Unless you buy the ludicrous self-defense charge, that's clearly what happened here.

2) To buy the ludicrous self-defense charge means willfully ignoring the entire incident up to the point where the struggle between two men begins. It also means that the prosecution failed miserably to put the jurors in the scenario. A young boy is walking home, minding his own business, when a creep starts stalking him, first in his car, then on foot. He's terrified, not knowing who or what this is about. As he is still just a teen, he acts first and questions his actions later (sadly, he never gets that chance.) He turns and confronts his assailant, and demands to know what his problem is. Things escalate.

3) The trouble with the jury system is jurors. When your jury pool is the state of Florida, you are going to be hard pressed to find even six modestly intelligent people. That they asked to have the charge of manslaughter read back to them and then didn't respond to an admittedly stupid request of the judge, that told me the prosecution was in trouble.

4) My suspicion is the jury, unable to find sufficient cause to convict on murder (I might give them this. It's hard to know for sure that Zimmerman set out to kill this particular kid.) and completely confused about what constitutes manslaughter, threw up their hands because they wanted the trial over and to go home.

5) Zimmerman is far from off the hook. For one thing, the parents have recourse to a civil suit -- you may recall this was the trial that actually did find O. J. Simpson guilty -- which only needs a preponderance of evidence that Zimmerman caused the death of Trayvon Martin. For another, the Federal government could pursue a hate crimes case against Zimmerman, although that's a little unlikely given the paucity of evidence, some garbled phone transcripts.

6) Speaking of OJ, it's a bit ironic that just about twenty years after that verdict shocked America, here comes the Zimmerman verdict. I think the parallels will not end there. You may recall that OJ never really "got away with it," and although he gained his freedom, it didn't last. He's currently serving a prison sentence for another crime he committed and was convicted of and the judge in that case was none too kind in sentencing. Given the Zimmerman family propensity for criminal behavior, this is probably not the last time we'll see him in court. He'll try to get a book deal out of this, and in a worst case scenario, a movie, but in the end, he'll crash harder believing he got away with murder.

So a piece of advice, George: Not guilty is not the same thing as innocent. You killed a boy. You're going to have to square yourself with that.