Understandably, much of the focus on the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin shooting and trial seeks to clarify the specific behavior, actions and motivations that that were present when the two men were face to face: who approached who, who incited the aggression, who yelled for help, did Zimmerman have reasonable cause to feel that his life was in jeopardy, and did Zimmerman have ill will toward Martin. The question of what was in Zimmerman's mind is a key to determining whether or not Zimmerman "justifiably" killed Martin.
The law must, understandably, narrow focus onto the key events in order to make a legal determination. And the legal burden is not on Zimmerman to prove anything whatsoever. The burden is solely on the state (the prosecution). The prosecution must prove beyond any reasonable doubt in the jurors' minds, that Zimmerman did not fear for his life, did not act in self defense and that he harbored ill will toward Martin. If the prosecution can make this case, then Zimmerman will be found guilty of murder. If Zimmerman is determined to have had no ill will, and "reasonably" feared for his life, than his shooting of Martin is "justified" and legally permissible.
It is impossible for anyone to know precisely what was in Zimmerman's mind, except for (maybe) Zimmerman himself. We (and the six jurors) can guess, but fair-minded people may draw different conclusions, and reasonable doubt will likely creep into the equation regardless of the conclusions reached. It is also extremely difficult to accurately determine what physically occurred between the two men, because we only have the police video of Zimmerman's account of the events and a few "ear" witnesses that do not provide clarity of the events. The lawyers for both sides are focused primarily on consistencies, inconsistencies and the reliability of these accounts.
But a very clear and undisputed set of facts exist that require our attention and concern: Zimmerman looked out of his living room window, saw a young black man wearing a hoodie sweatshirt, called an emergency hotline, labeled the young man suspicious and a suspect, armed himself with a gun, left his home and followed the young man. None of these actions, individually or in combination, are illegal. Zimmerman was legally permitted to carry a concealed weapon and following someone is not illegal. But we must ask ourselves, is this reasonable behavior? Isn't it likely that such behavior may lead to a death?
Zimmerman also stated in his emergency phone call that these "fuckin' punks... always get away." He was told not to follow Martin and he did so anyway. Again, none of these actions are illegal but to think that they are not relevant, or that they are reasonable, or justifiable will contribute to more events occurring just like this one.
What caused Zimmerman to identify Martin as suspicious? What caused him to load and carry a gun, and to follow Martin? Of course these are complicated questions, but the answers likely contributed to Zimmerman's state of mind, and may have also contributed to the pull of the trigger.
George Zimmerman may have feared for his life, but he had no reasonable or justifiable cause to feel this way, nor did he have a reasonable cause to seek out Martin while carrying a gun. The ultimate tragedy here is that Trayvon Martin is dead. Another man's life, George Zimmerman's, will never be same. All of which would have been avoided if George Zimmerman held a different view of young man in hoodie, eating some Skittles and drinking an iced tea. If he had a different view, Trayvon Martin would be alive today.
Richard N. Gladstein is an Academy Award nominated film producer. His films include Finding Neverland, The Cider House Rules, The Bourne Identity, Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, amongst others.
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