Evidently Florida law protects defending yourself against a person you attacked.
George Zimmerman has been found not guilty of either murder or manslaughter in the case of his fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin last year.
Full details are available at the CNN link, but the key is this:
To convict Zimmerman of manslaughter, the jurors would have had to believe that he “intentionally committed an act or acts that caused the death of Trayvon Martin.” That charge could have carried a sentence of up to 30 years in prison, though the jury was not told of that possible sentence.
For second-degree murder, the jurors would have had to believe that Martin’s unlawful killing was “done from ill will, hatred, spite or an evil intent” and would be “of such a nature that the act itself indicates an indifference to human life.”
Ultimately, they believed neither. And that means Zimmerman can walk free.
Now, I’m an old-fashioned guy, and I tend to think that pulling the trigger of a gun is intentionally committing an act. And in most states, Zimmerman’s self-defense claim wouldn’t have stood up.
After all, he saw a teenager not bothering anyone, and called the police in his role as a neighborhood watch participant, but then got out of his car with a gun on his hip and chased the kid down. In most places, that is considered escalation and a violation of the “duty to retreat” necessary for a self-defense plea. However, Florida has a much looser definition of self-defense, a definition that has been shown to increase shootings. (PDF link)
Did racism play a role in this verdict? Almost certainly. Perhaps not a conscious hatred of black people; it doesn’t need to be. The defense painted a picture of Martin as a hotheaded, aggressive, violent young black man, and that’s a picture people have been trained in our culture to recognize and believe.
The cultural verdict is one thing, but much of the responsibility for the legal verdict falls on bad law. When we make it legally easier to shoot young black men for being young black men, more people do it. We have the data on this. We need to reform our national conscience, yes, but we also need to reform our laws.