As George Zimmerman's defense attorney began his opening statement with a "knock-knock" joke that fell flat, imagine if he had instead started with another familiar comedy setup: "What's the difference between George Zimmerman and President Barack Obama? One is a murderer employing deadly force with a deluded sense of self-defense... and the other is George Zimmerman."
"They hate our freedoms," said President George W. Bush in a special address to Congress ten days after 9/11. Many Americans have different #1 rankings of our basic freedoms - speech, religion, perhaps the constitutional guarantee to gather in groups large and small without interference from the state - but most of us have grown up mouthing the canard we thought was a fundamental American principle, "it's a free country!" That one liberating promise, perhaps more than other freedom, tops most lists. And so it is that the simple act of walking down the streets and pathways of our community, our city, or any public place at all in the United States of America, without fear of being stopped without probable cause - this may be the best example of freedom in America. If there is such a thing as American Exceptionalism it must be our civil right to go wherever we please, whenever we please, so long as we do so peacefully. If only that were true.
George Zimmerman, by his own words, profiled a "suspect" - a young man out walking on a rainy evening, not very late, only 7pm. He followed or chased after him, confronted him and shot him in the heart, killing him dead. Zimmerman was eventually indicted and tried for the crime of second-degree murder and/or manslaughter. Since "who did it?" was never in question, how did Zimmerman avoid legal punishment? The answer is: he claimed self-defense.
While much has been made of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law (776-013-3), that law, mentioned by the Judge in her instructions and apparently considered by the jury, was never invoked by the Zimmerman defense. Had it been, contrary to popular belief, Zimmerman might have been convicted. The "Stand Your Ground" statute requires 3 elements. Had it been argued at trial the jury might have understood them. First, you must be in a place you are legally permitted to be; second, you must be engaged in lawful activity; third, you must feel fear of imminent death or great bodily harm. To invoke this defense, you must qualify on all 3 elements to justify "standing your ground" and using deadly force.
Even if you disregard the 911 operator's direct instruction - "We don't need you to do that." - in response to Zimmerman saying he was following Trayvon Martin, it is open to question if Zimmerman, by continuing his admitted chase, was legally permitted to be where he was when he confronted Martin. Who started the fight becomes legally irrelevant. As for the second element, it is more than just open to question if Zimmerman was engaged in a lawful activity. Here was a man with a gun - a gun that may have been drawn already! (we'll never know, will we?) - pursuing an innocent, unknowing teenager as if this teen was a dangerous criminal. In the guise of a neighborhood watch person Zimmerman had no cloak of authority in this situation. A clear and powerful argument could have been made that Zimmerman's activities, well before he confronted Trayvon Martin. were outside the law, unprotected and illegal. Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law does not empower anyone to engage in an armed hunt of another person based on nothing more than a hunch. That's unlawful. The law only applies when the ground upon which you chose to stand has a solid lawful foundation. A Zimmerman defense using "Stand Your Ground" may well have been another Florida sinkhole. Do not underestimate the defense lawyer's savvy.
Self-defense, however, is a horse of another color. Here, all Zimmerman needed to show was a "reasonable" fear of death or great bodily harm, coupled with no avenue of retreat. Keep in mind his fear did not have to be imminent and did not have to be actual. All he needed was for a jury to believe he was "reasonable" in feeling it. With only his story getting told in court - there were no living eye witnesses to contradict him - the jury was given only one scenario: George Zimmerman's avenue of retreat was blocked and, as he said, his fear was so great he needed to pull his gun and shoot Trayvon Martin through his heart. Based on the law and the evidence - excluding, as the Judge instructed, all common sense that a grown man with a gun had killed an innocent teenager who was only walking home - the verdict was a foregone conclusion: Under Florida law it is reasonable for grown-up white men, even those with loaded guns, to fear unarmed black teens. Hence, Not Guilty.
Which brings us to Barack Obama, our President - who so poignantly spoke of Trayvon thusly: "If I had a son he would look like Trayvon." - and who continues to unleash drones armed with deadly missiles striking primarily unknown persons who Obama's operatives have identified in exactly the same way George Zimmerman identified Trayvon Martin - "They're up to no good" or "There's something wrong with them." Such is the level of proof needed to kill someone. As Trayvon appeared like a criminal to Zimmerman's "expert" eye, scores of Pakistanis, Afghans, Yemenis, and who knows how many others are seen as terrorists and recorded as such after being killed by American drone operators. Those killed are in their own communities, walking on their own streets, sitting in cafes, sometimes just being in their own homes, or maybe talking on their mobile phones like Trayvon Martin.
When outrage is expressed, which itself is rare and mostly ignored, what's Obama's response? By George, its self-defense.
Complain all you want about Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, at least it requires the user of deadly force to be legally in place and engaged in lawful activity. Plus, it mandates that the user of deadly force be in fear of "imminent death or great bodily harm." Does President Obama claim to be legally "in place" flying drones secretly in the skies of Pakistan or Yemen? And, does our government claim that our armed drones are engaged in a lawful activity in these countries? And, finally, can anyone really say that the United States of America fears "imminent" death or great bodily harm from those killed by these drone attacks?
Frankly, you may be safer being chased by armed neighborhood watch wannabe cops in Florida than you are simply living in Pakistan or Yemen or wherever President Obama thinks we ought to be killing people we fear are "up to no good." At least we indicted and tried George Zimmerman for a crime. What have we done about the use of deadly force, first by President Bush and now by President Obama, deadly force without force of law from Congress, and deadly force met by a Presidential claim - made on our behalf - of self-defense? Maybe it's not a joke: what's the difference between George Zimmerman and President Barack Obama?