On The State of Florida v George Zimmerman (2013): Part 2



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(Continued from Part 1).

The State of Florida had to make the case that Mr George Zimmerman either bore the deceased Mr Trayvon Martin ill-will, or was depraved, and so sought to deliberately kill the child.

Over the five-week trial period, the State’s prosecuting attorney Bernie de la Rionda sought to make the case that Mr Zimmerman initiated the tragic events by purposefully stalking Mr Martin while carrying his loaded firearm. Further, Mr de la Rionda pressed that Mr Zimmerman could not plead justifiable self-defense if he instigated the incident. The prosecution, however, was unable to provide a witness that could directly refute Mr Zimmerman’s assertion that Mr Martin come out hiding in nearby bushes and attacked him.

Mr Zimmerman’s defense maintained that he had every right to discharge his weapon on Mr Martin, as at the point in question, he was being savagely attacked by the teenager. The defense’s position was the circumstances leading up to the altercation were immaterial. Further, Mr Zimmerman’s legal team made the surprising claim that Mr Martin had indeed been armed, using his fists and the sidewalk as assault weapons.

The six-person jury returned not-guilty verdicts on the charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter. This indicated that the prosecution’s case had been insufficient to convince the jurors beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr Zimmerman had acted willfully and maliciously in killing Mr Martin. Indeed, the local Sanford FL police and prosecutor had come to that conclusion soon after the tragic shooting in 2012, and thus had not initially charged Mr Zimmerman for the homicide.

Mr Zimmerman was thus freed and ‘no further business’ with court.

A few comments on ‘Stand Your Ground’ type laws. Natural law holds that one is justified in defending one’s life if one believes it is in imminent danger from another individual or individuals. However, I look to Police Departments’ standard procedure of putting officers involved in homicides on administrative leave, pending investigations of the killings. It is not clear to me what provisions Florida’s particular ‘Stand Your Ground’ statute make for investigating the circumstances of a ‘self-defense’ homicide.

What makes Mr Zimmerman’s case particularly irksome is the absence of witnesses to corroborate or contradict his version of events. In this absence, the local police authorities made the decision to believe Mr Zimmerman’s account, ultimately not holding him criminally liable for Mr Martin’s shooting death.

This is where I believe the Florida statute may be lacking.

This ‘Stand Your Ground’ law should be revised to automatically bring at least manslaughter charges in the event of a citizen using is as a defense for killing another person. The burden of proof should be on the shooter to justify his or her actions. However, this goes against the established principle of presumed innocence, where the prosecution has to make its case beyond a reasonable doubt. There is also the matter of the Constitution’s stance against forced self-incrimination.

As it stands now, the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law appears to allow for an individual to commit and be ultimately be held blameless for a homicide in circumstances where there are no witnesses or even corroborating evidence. That’s a troubling thought.

I look forward with great interest to the future Constitutional challenges to such laws. Because, while natural law condones the commission of a homicide in self-defense, it also cries out for an overwhelmingly reasonable justification for the extinguishing of another human life.

Marlon Johnson

On the State of Florida v George Zimmerman (2013): Part 1



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Much has been made of, especially in the conservative-leaning US media, that the case against Mr George Zimmerman was unmerited, and worse, politically motivated.
Indeed, I watched with great interest as Mr Geraldo Rivera, a Fox News commentator, remarked that, under Florida law, Mr Zimmerman committed no crime in killing Mr Trayvon Martin, a minor. Mr Zimmerman claimed that he had invoked his natural right to self-defense in shooting Mr Martin as an physical altercation between them became seriously violent. Florida state law allows for a citizen’s use of deadly force in the event he or she believes that his or her life is in immediate mortal danger from another individual.

Mr Zimmerman indicated that, while on neighborhood watch duty on the night in question, he had observed a suspicious looking individual traversing his community. He had reported the sighting to the police, and then exited his vehicle with his personal firearm to trail the individual. At some point soon after, an altercation between the two occurred, of which the details are still not clear. However, Mr Zimmerman admitted to having shot Mr Martin in the chest with his legal firearm.

The police collected statements from Mr Zimmerman, and of course, there were none forthcoming from the deceased Mr. Martin. The fact that Mr Martin had no weapon, and had been returning from a nearby store to his father’s house in Mr Zimmerman’s community, was noted with great alarm in the press.

Mr Rivera, the above mentioned commentator, reminded his viewers that the police and local prosecutor had declined to charge Mr Zimmerman in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, citing a lack of evidence on which to base a case.

Mr Rivera went on to posit that political pressure was put to bear on Florida’s State Prosecutor’s office, starting from the White House on down. He cited President Barack Obama’s comments in a March 2012 press appearance, in which the latter commented on the tragic case. Mr Rivera attempted to make the case that the President, by indirectly commenting on the deceased ethnicity, had essentially interfered with the course of justice, directly leading to the eventual arrest and charging of Mr Zimmerman with second degree murder.

With Mr Zimmerman now on trial, the State of Florida had to make the case that he either bore Mr Martin ill-will, or was depraved, and so sought to deliberately kill the child.

Divorcing Ethnicity and Culture


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A few recent events have led me to think about society’s notions of ethnicity and culture. How many times have I heard an African-American comedian start a joke with “You know how it is with us Black people, we’re…”?

What usually then follows is a listing of examples of ‘Black’ behavior and attitudes, typically of the negative variety. Baby mama drama. Drug abuse. Credit woes. No job. No income. Ni**a this, b*tch that. And so on, and so on.

Included among those laughing and rolling in the aisles are middle class, or upwardly mobile African-Americans. These are people who live lives so much different from that described on stage. People who persevere to get educated, people who save, people honor their obligations in family and business settings. Continue reading

Liberals and Conservatives – Why?

Seems like wherever people form themselves in groups, eventually they neatly divide themselves into liberal and conservative schools of thought. Pretty soon, they’re all hard at bashing each other to gain control over the direction of the entire group.

Why is this always the case?

The more I think about it, the more it makes sense, though. Liberals tend to be largely those who believe that existing societal injustices ought to be addressed by rule changes that impact the entire group. The most fervent liberals of course, will be those that are directly impacted by these injustices. Thus, they will fight hard to gain remedies in order to enjoy more full membership of the group i.e. society at large.

We see this most clearly with the waves of European, then Asian, immigrants that journeyed to American in the 1800s and 1900s. African ‘migration’ to America from the 1600s to mid-1800s resulted in millions of people seeking social justice well into the mid-1900s.

New immigrants were perceived to be the dregs of society – the takers, the vagrants, the ones that were ‘here’ to reap the rewards earned by the sweat and tears of previous generations of immigrants. Check out TV shows like BBC America’s ‘Copper’ or films like ‘The Gangs of New York’ to get some insight into how the ‘nativists’ treated the starving Irish, arriving in droves during the Potato Famine, as well as escaped or freed African slaves coming up from the American south.

However, a funny thing happens once a sub-group gains its measure of social justice, becoming an ‘equal’ member of the larger group.

Conservative views find fertile ground. The liberal focus on injustice, even while other sub-groups are still undergoing that experience, shifts instead to economic progress, as well as a consolidation of the hard earned rights of membership. With the yoke of persecution lifted, people can more freely compete as equals, investing their treasure and effort, seeking to earn just rewards.

People are liberals, until they feel they have an equal part in society. After that, they wax conservative, determined to maintain and improve their place. Perfectly human behavior.

StoryTelling – Discovering the Classics #1


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I’ve finally had the chance to finish reading my first Shakespearean work “The Tragedy of MacBeth”.

Much credit goes to the “Access to Shakespeare” series by Lorenz Educational Publishers, whose books feature a side by side Contemporary English translation of Shakespeare’s original words. The approach does indeed improve accessibility to Shakespeare’s work, making MacBeth an thoroughly enjoyable experience.

By the way, if there’s a testament to the constancy of human nature across the centuries, MacBeth is surely it. Indeed, the quest for power, and unbridled ambition, can leverage an honourable mind to justify unseemly deeds.

Couple that with the serpentine psychological manipulations of the coldest of spouses, Lady MacBeth, and MacBeth is well on his way to meet his doom.

Such is the literary influence of the Lady MacBeth, that many television, film and novel characters have been created in her mold. Consider Claire Underwood (NetFlix’s #HouseOfCards) or Siggy (History Channel’s #Vikings), as they command their men to do whatever must be done to seize the object of their ambitions.

Yet I do fear thy nature. It is too full of the milk of human nature to catch the nearest way. Thou wouldst be great; are not without ambition, but without the illness should attend it. What thou wouldst highly, thou wouldst holily; wouldst not play false, and yet wouldst wrongly win.” (Lady MacBeth, Act One, Scene 5)

For newly President Frank Underwood, it’s so far so good. For Rollo Lothbrock, not so much. Last we saw, he was begging his brother, Ragnar, forgiveness for taking sides with Ragnar’s forked-tongue enemy.

Shakespeare’s MacBeth is an impressive read, a treatise of sorts on the corrosive effects of ambition run amuck. Definitely required reading for anyone chasing dreams – your methods do matter.

The Persecution of the Minority Part 2

I sought the feedback of a number of friends I respect regarding Part 1, and the ethical dilemma I face. To recap, I strongly believe in individual liberty and equal rights, as well as have a deep, lifelong belief in Christian principles. When it comes to the acceptance of homosexuals rights to associate and form unions, my ethical principles appear to collide.

Principle 1 is my Christian belief, imperfect as I am in its practice and manifestation. Christ’s example is one of tolerance and attention to the rejected and downtrodden of his society. On more than one occasion, he is seen facing down mobs intent of dishing out natural justice to the perceived sinful. We are familiar with the story of Jesus’ defence from stoning of a woman accused of adultery. ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone’ is regularly quoted in our Christian society.

Principle 2, that of individual freedom, equal rights and access to justice, is deeply held by Jamaicans. Stop by any roadblock, protest or demonstration, and the familiar phrases ring out. ‘Wi have wi rights!’ or ‘Wi want justice!’ Jamaicans become viscerally enraged at instances or depictions of racism or class prejudice. Barack Obama’s achievement of the US presidency was tantamount to a national holiday. We have Mandela Park and Mandela Highway. Marcus Garvey is a National Hero. Martin Luther King Jr is lionized as the great Christian Soldier, fighting for civil rights in the US.

In my mind, it is straightforward to hold Principles 1 and 2 when someone who looks like me is being treated in a hateful and discriminatory fashion. I can identify with the person. In the words of Barack Obama earlier this year regarding a nationally controversial case, ‘If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin’.

Am I willing to extend the same consideration to someone who is not ‘one of us’? At this point, my aversion to homosexuality overrides my proclaimed Principle 2.

Perhaps it is just human to live with the ethical dilemma.

The Persecution of the Minority Part 1

Homosexuals have come increased great public fire of late, mostly so in the aftermath of US President Obama’s personal statement on their right to marriage. The local upsurge in public indignation caused me to think seriously about my own objections to the possibility of gay marriages. It’s a matter of heart versus head.

A democratic society is based on the principle of majority rule. Many constitutions speak of citizen’s rights to the pursuit of happiness. These hallowed documents also speak to freedom from religious, or other forms of, persecution. Finally, the matter of equal protection under the law is a predominant principle.

On the other hand, most (if not all) organized religions on Earth have serious sanctions against homosexual practice. It’s just wrong. No more arguments are needed.

So, in a world such as ours, how are we to stay true to the principle of a free society of individuals pursuing self -actualization, while holding fast to deeply held personal philosophies of wrong and right?

Power Corrupts…Absolutely

‘Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. Like the wiles of an alluring exotic dancer, power unceasingly beckons to men and women, no matter how pure and humble their beginnings.

There are quite a few new candidates being prepared for nomination in the upcoming General Elections. All are saying that they are coming with fresh, different and altruistic intentions. The young new Prime Minister speaks of ‘transformational leadership’.

Most Jamaicans greet these pronouncements with yawns and, maybe, faint interest. We have been there and done that. The real surprise will be if these candidates actually retain their virginal qualities in the political den of deceipt, corruption and ‘party solidarity’.

One problem lies in our political structure. The Prime Minister’s post is designed to be contingent on party support. Andrew Holness cannot dismiss Mike Henry, as Minister of Transport, for the JDIP affair without losing support of other JLP MPs, putting his position as PM in serious jeopardy. So he must bear with what most see as Henry’s corruption, or charitably, as his inexplicable ignorance. This casts the PM in the morally repugnant position of his actions not being in line with his continually broadcast words.

One candidate, whom I admire personally, said through Twitter that she would bring a fresh approach to problem diagnosis and solution. I am concerned about what she, and other newcomers, will do when faced with the decision of ‘right’ versus ‘the party position’. In Jamaica, these often do not coincide.

When the Americans vigourously debated their new form of Government in the 1780s to 1790s, the guiding principle was how to limit any individual’s control on absolute power. These ‘Founding Fathers’ knew well of the corruptive effects of power. Even today, US politicians try to push the bounds of their Constitution, always trying to reach out the tempting allure of power.

In Jamaica, our politicians only abide by the Constitution when it is in their party’s interest (Dudus and Golding). Any changes to Jamaica’s Constitution must come from the same Parliament that benefits from some of its most vulgar abuses. Our MPs clearly have too much power, and worse are completely unaccountable to the citizenry.

Can we really expect change from this state of affairs? Will politicians willingly give up power? The answer is clear.

Regardless, we, or rather, I, need to think about how Jamaica can overcome this massive obstacle. Without that, we have another 50 years of frustration and disappointment to endure.

Marlon Johnson
St. Ann