Misdirected Sympathy

fan-falls-from-top-deck-to-bottom-in-buffalo-b (1)You know how that guy got up onto a railing up in the 300 level at the Ralph? He put his ass on the railing, started to slide down, lost his balance, and plummeted into the level below, and onto another human being; an innocent and wholly unsuspecting human being, who was simply minding his or her own business, spectating a football game. 

We don’t know if the faller was drunk or high, or just stupid. Regardless, he made a poor and reckless choice, and could have killed himself – or worse, someone else. That no one died is amazing. 

So, let’s just say it: the rail-sliding asshole made a dick move and deserves what’s coming to him – firing, barred from the stadium, public embarrassment, and a thick and juicy lawsuit which may very well bankrupt him. He deserves every bit of it, just like you fervently believe that Dr. Corasanti deserved to be punished for striking Alex Rice with his car and killing her. 

But I’ve seen a lot of hand-wringing in the media about the fallout from the reckless slider’s dick move. Oh, Eric Mower went to far by firing him! Oh, the Bills are overreacting! Oh, his poor life is roo-ned

FFS. 

This column in the Niagara Gazette perfectly distills the sympathy-for-the malfeasor angle. Let’s fisk it. 

My husband and I were having dinner with my oldest son the other day when he told us he knows that guy who fell onto another fan at Sunday’s Buffalo Bills game.

After talking with my son about his friend. I could feel a turnabout in my reaction to the event.

When I first heard the story, I felt queasy. Who among us can’t picture themselves enjoying a Bills game on a beautiful sunny day, minding our own business? Nobody ever thinks that some knucklehead will fall on us from the deck up above.

But as I learned more about the young man, it was like someone had refocused the lens on my awareness and suddenly the poor, unsuspecting fan who was fallen upon went out of my focus and the young man who fell upon him came into focus.

This is astonishing. Because your son is friends with a kid who just got through ruining his life, we can just forget about the guy who is the real victim and attempt to turn the reckless slider into a hero? What bizarro world is this? Let’s be clear – the reckless slider is lucky. to. be. alive. That’s it, full stop. 

I’m willing to bet that if the dummy who fell was just some average blue-collar shlub who lost his job delivering pizzas, no one would bat an eye. This? This was a good boy

Clearly, the faller made some bad choices, chief among them deciding it would be cool to slide down a railing at the edge of the top deck of seats.

Crazy, right? I’ve been in the upper decks. I don’t even like to stand up by those seats, they’re so far from the ground.  Who would mess around up there?

But, the other night at dinner, hearing about what’s happened to this guy, I couldn’t help but feel for him.

Not bad choices – dick move. He put his own life and the lives of others in direct peril, and for what? Bravado? Drunken feat of sliding? I have zero sympathy whatsoever for the person who set his own chain of negative events in motion

After the video of his fall went viral, he was fired from his job at at Eric Mower and Associates. His employer announced the firing on Facebook. The Bills banned him from the stadium — forever. Add to his punishment that he hurt someone with his thoughtless behavior, in an action which will be available to watch again and again on the Internet until the end of time. The road for this guy is bound to go steeply uphill for a while.

Wait a minute here. Your sympathy switched from fallee to faller because he got fired and can never set foot in the Ralph again? And because his fall will be on YouTube? Is this for real? 

First of all, we have to presume that the faller was an at-will employee with Eric Mower. This means that the company could have fired him because the sun was shining or not shining; they could have fired him because it was a Tuesday – an at-will employee can be fired at any time for any reason at all, or no reason whatsoever, just as he can terminate his own employment in the same way and for the same reasons.

If Mower decided it didn’t want some asshole who recklessly falls on top of other people at football games on its payroll, it is wholly within its rights to get rid of him. Furthermore, he had a side business, and if his fall is so goddamn great for humanity, maybe he can use it as a selling point for his own design shop. “Hire us: we almost kill people” might be an effective slogan. I dunno, I’m not in marketing. 

He can’t ever go to a Bills game again? Boo hoo cry me the Buffalo River. Again: he’s lucky he isn’t up on manslaughter charges. So his choices of entertainment venues has a subtraction of one. Small price to pay. 

YouTube? If you don’t want people to turn you into a Tosh.O bit, then don’t try that shit at home. 

My son, who is not one to suffer fools gladly, described his friend as an intelligent, kind and funny young man. 

Because I respect my son’s opinion, I had to reconsider my own.

I imagine most of us, at one time or another, have done something colossally stupid and just got lucky that things didn’t end badly.

While my initial response was to feel deep sympathy for the man who was fallen upon, I now — knowing the rest of the story — also feel deep sympathy for the man who fell.

So, because he’s your son’s friend, he doesn’t deserve to suffer the consequences of his actions?

To him — as the mother of his friend — I would like to say this:

Surely you wish this never happened to you, but what I have learned repeatedly in my years, is that you don’t want to wish someone away from an experience that could shape their character and their destiny, because even the most horrific events are rich with opportunity for personal growth.

Maybe he should add it to his resume: “Achieved personal growth through a bad choice that almost killed myself and someone else”. 

There are two paths that lie ahead for you. You can let that horrible day in the stadium define you and perhaps destroy the very best that you are or you can use the event as an opportunity to evolve into an even better human.

I’m certain you already know all this, as every child is taught some form of what I’m saying here, but I also know from experience that we forget the most important life lessons, just when we need them most.

Take the consequences of your actions bravely and do not complain. Make it right as best you can with the most integrity you can muster.

Hope you’re judgment-proof, have good insurance, or a good lawyer! You’re going to be facing criminal and civil time in court. 

You’re getting beat up in the media and online. Forgiving yourself for this incident will be the hardest. Flog yourself a little if you must, but then get on with the business of living.

“Forgiving yourself”?! No, flog yourself a fucking lot. Re-examine the person you are and the choices you’ve made. Re-evaluate what led you to show off like that and almost take a life? Don’t forgive a thing – get help. You clearly need it. “Getting on with the business of living” is the sort of feel-good bullshit that teaches people that it’s ok to do fundamentally and palpably stupid, dangerous things as long as you have a modicum of hippie self-awareness. 

You’ve received a hard lesson, at your own hand, but there’s a strong possibility that it could be your most important lesson.

Yes, don’t tempt fate by trying to pull off inherently dangerous stunts. (How much do you want to bet he sues the Ralph himself because, e.g., it didn’t have spikes on the railing to prevent dumb assholes like him from doing dumb asshole moves like he did?) 

Lastly, during this public humiliation, you will learn who your friends are. They will understand what we all inherently know but often forget — that while there are many of us who would have never done anything as wild and risky as what you did, we likely all know and care about at least one other person who might.

 Yeah, no. One thing you learn when you become an adult – and our reckless slider is pushing 30 and has no excuse – is to behave yourself. When you don’t, you’re going to suffer the consequences. And part of being an adult is doing just that, and you don’t whine about it, and you plead with your friends’ moms to please not write sympathetic drivel in the local paper. You’re a dick. Try not being a dick in the future. 

Is the Town of Greece a Christian One?

Here’s a press release that Congressman Chris Collins issued:

Congressman Collins and 84 members of the House of Representatives file an Amicus Curiae brief to support religious freedom

Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) showed his support for the town of Greece, NY in the upcoming Supreme Court case, Greece v. Galloway today by signing an Amicus Curiae brief in support of Greece.

Greece v. Galloway, which concerns the religious establishment clause in the Constitution, will be argued this fall.

“It is clear that the Town of Greece has not violated the United States Constitution,” said Congressman Collins. “People from all over the world come to this country to escape religious persecution and are entitled to pray together with their communities as they please.”

Starting in 1999, the Greece Town Board began its public meetings with a prayer from a “chaplain of the month.” Town officials invited member of all faiths, and atheists, and welcomed anyone who volunteered to give the opening prayer. Two town residents sued, stating the primarily Christian prayers violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

The federal appeals court in New York agreed, because it found that almost all of the chaplains who offered to pray were Christian. Even though people of all faiths were welcome to offer their own prayers, the court found the prayer unconstitutional and the town of Greece was forced to stop.

Today, 85 Members of Congress filed an Amicus Curiae brief stating the history of religious freedom and the importance of legislative prayer as observed daily on a national level.

“Each legislative day, the Senate and House of Representatives open with a prayer from ministers of all faiths, from all over the country,” continued Congressman Collins. “As our federal legislative bodies welcome all, so did the Town of Greece. We must remain a nation that does not force a religion on any person, but is accepting of those who wish to publicly profess their faith and ask for guidance.”

Town of Greece v. Galloway is scheduled for oral arguments in the Supreme Court toward the end of this year.

On cross-motions for summary judgment, a District Court Judge ruled in favor of the town, dismissing the Complaint. The plaintiffs appealed, and the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, holding that,

…the town’s prayer practice must be viewed as an endorsement of a particular religious viewpoint. This conclusion is supported by several considerations, including the prayer-giver selection process, the content of the prayers, and the contextual actions (and inactions) of prayer-givers and town officials. We emphasize that, in reaching this conclusion, we do not rely on any single aspect of the town’s prayer practice, but rather on the totality of the circumstances present in this case.

The town’s process for selecting prayer-givers virtually ensured a Christian viewpoint.

adding,

We do not hold that the town may not open its public meetings with a prayer or invocation. Such legislative prayers, as Marsh holds and as we have repeatedly noted, do not violate the Establishment Clause. Nor do we hold that any prayers offered in this context must be blandly “nonsectarian.” A requirement that town 34*34 officials censor the invocations offered— beyond the limited requirement, recognized in Marsh, that prayer-givers be advised that they may not proselytize for, or disparage, particular religions—is not only not required by the Constitution, but risks establishing a “civic religion” of its own. Occasional prayers recognizing the divinities or beliefs of a particular creed, in a context that makes clear that the town is not endorsing or affiliating itself with that creed or, more broadly, with religion or non-religion, are not offensive to the Constitution. Nor are we adopting a test that permits prayers in theory but makes it impossible for a town in practice to avoid Establishment Clause problems. To the contrary, it seems to us that a practice such as the one to which the town here apparently aspired—one that is inclusive of multiple beliefs and makes clear, in public word and gesture, that the prayers offered are presented by a randomly chosen group of volunteers, who do not express an official town religion, and do not purport to speak on behalf of all the town’s residents or to compel their assent to a particular belief—is fully compatible with the First Amendment.

What we do hold is that a legislative prayer practice that, however well-intentioned, conveys to a reasonable objective observer under the totality of the circumstances an official affiliation with a particular religion violates the clear command of the Establishment Clause. Where the overwhelming predominance of prayers offered are associated, often in an explicitly sectarian way, with a particular creed, and where the town takes no steps to avoid the identification, but rather conveys the impression that town officials themselves identify with the sectarian prayers and that residents in attendance are expected to participate in them, a reasonable objective observer would perceive such an affiliation.

So – the Court didn’t say Greece couldn’t start its town board meetings with an invocation or prayer – it’s just that town hall can’t turn itself into a particular church for that period of time. They must be random, they must be voluntary, and they must be inclusive enough so as to not convey the idea that the town considers itself to be a Christian town.

Collins’ release is dated August 2nd, and the SCOTUSBlog doesn’t have the specific brief online. I look forward to reading Mr. Collins’ thoughts on what the 2nd Circuit decided.

Is the Town of Greece a Christian One?

Here’s a press release that Congressman Chris Collins issued

Congressman Collins and 84 members of the House of Representatives file an Amicus Curiae brief to support religious freedom

Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) showed his support for the town of Greece, NY in the upcoming Supreme Court case, Greece v. Galloway today by signing an Amicus Curiae brief in support of Greece.

Greece v. Galloway, which concerns the religious establishment clause in the Constitution, will be argued this fall.

“It is clear that the Town of Greece has not violated the United States Constitution,” said Congressman Collins. “People from all over the world come to this country to escape religious persecution and are entitled to pray together with their communities as they please.”

Starting in 1999, the Greece Town Board began its public meetings with a prayer from a “chaplain of the month.” Town officials invited member of all faiths, and atheists, and welcomed anyone who volunteered to give the opening prayer. Two town residents sued, stating the primarily Christian prayers violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.  

The federal appeals court in New York agreed, because it found that almost all of the chaplains who offered to pray were Christian. Even though people of all faiths were welcome to offer their own prayers, the court found the prayer unconstitutional and the town of Greece was forced to stop.

Today, 85 Members of Congress filed an Amicus Curiae brief stating the history of religious freedom and the importance of legislative prayer as observed daily on a national level.

“Each legislative day, the Senate and House of Representatives open with a prayer from ministers of all faiths, from all over the country,” continued Congressman Collins. “As our federal legislative bodies welcome all, so did the Town of Greece. We must remain a nation that does not force a religion on any person, but is accepting of those who wish to publicly profess their faith and ask for guidance.”

Town of Greece v. Galloway is scheduled for oral arguments in the Supreme Court toward the end of this year.

On cross-motions for summary judgment, a District Court Judge ruled in favor of the town, dismissing the Complaint. The plaintiffs appealed, and the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, holding that,  

…the town’s prayer practice must be viewed as an endorsement of a particular religious viewpoint. This conclusion is supported by several considerations, including the prayer-giver selection process, the content of the prayers, and the contextual actions (and inactions) of prayer-givers and town officials. We emphasize that, in reaching this conclusion, we do not rely on any single aspect of the town’s prayer practice, but rather on the totality of the circumstances present in this case.

The town’s process for selecting prayer-givers virtually ensured a Christian viewpoint.

adding, 

We do not hold that the town may not open its public meetings with a prayer or invocation. Such legislative prayers, as Marsh holds and as we have repeatedly noted, do not violate the Establishment Clause. Nor do we hold that any prayers offered in this context must be blandly “nonsectarian.” A requirement that town 34*34 officials censor the invocations offered— beyond the limited requirement, recognized in Marsh, that prayer-givers be advised that they may not proselytize for, or disparage, particular religions—is not only not required by the Constitution, but risks establishing a “civic religion” of its own. Occasional prayers recognizing the divinities or beliefs of a particular creed, in a context that makes clear that the town is not endorsing or affiliating itself with that creed or, more broadly, with religion or non-religion, are not offensive to the Constitution. Nor are we adopting a test that permits prayers in theory but makes it impossible for a town in practice to avoid Establishment Clause problems. To the contrary, it seems to us that a practice such as the one to which the town here apparently aspired—one that is inclusive of multiple beliefs and makes clear, in public word and gesture, that the prayers offered are presented by a randomly chosen group of volunteers, who do not express an official town religion, and do not purport to speak on behalf of all the town’s residents or to compel their assent to a particular belief—is fully compatible with the First Amendment.

What we do hold is that a legislative prayer practice that, however well-intentioned, conveys to a reasonable objective observer under the totality of the circumstances an official affiliation with a particular religion violates the clear command of the Establishment Clause. Where the overwhelming predominance of prayers offered are associated, often in an explicitly sectarian way, with a particular creed, and where the town takes no steps to avoid the identification, but rather conveys the impression that town officials themselves identify with the sectarian prayers and that residents in attendance are expected to participate in them, a reasonable objective observer would perceive such an affiliation.

So – the Court didn’t say Greece couldn’t start its town board meetings with an invocation or prayer – it’s just that town hall can’t turn itself into a particular church for that period of time. They must be random, they must be voluntary, and they must be inclusive enough so as to not convey the idea that the town considers itself to be a Christian town. 

Collins’ release is dated August 2nd, and the SCOTUSBlog doesn’t have the specific brief online. I look forward to reading Mr. Collins’ thoughts on what the 2nd Circuit decided. 

 

It’s A Fine Line Between Provocation And Self-Defense

A Virginia man wearing a bizarre outfit approached a 12 year-old boy and his sibling, who were selling lemonade on a hot day, and threw a piss-filled balloon at them. He followed up by demanding that they go back to Africa, which sounds like a lot of the people in this Facebook comment thread

So, as far as I can understand, had the boy begun hitting his assailant – and then started to win the fight – piss-balloon man would have been justified under Florida law to “stand his ground” and shoot the boy dead.

Piss-balloon man would be the only one up on the stand, and he can just testify that he was all done with his assault and had retreated, so it was the boy’s own fault he got shot, and he never uttered a racial remark, and the kid may have had detention once and his sibling is fat and rolls his eyes on the stand. 

Let that sink in.

Thoughts on the George Zimmerman Verdict: You Got a Problem?

A Florida jury found that the homicide of Trayvon Martin homicide was lawful and justifiable – that George Zimmerman had acted in self-defense and that his use of deadly force against Martin was reasonable. 

“Self-defense” is what we lawyers call an “affirmative defense”. Generally, the prosecution has the burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. When the defendant raises self-defense, or some other legal justification for the crime of which he’s accused, the burden of proof shifts to him. That means that George Zimmerman’s defense team had the burden to prove that Zimmerman’s killing of Trayvon Martin was legally justified. 

In New York, self-defense is covered in the “Defense of Justification” article in the New York State Penal Law.  

Generally

Unless otherwise limited by the ensuing provisions of this article defining justifiable use of physical force, conduct which would otherwise constitute an offense is justifiable and not criminal when…

2. Such conduct is necessary as an emergency measure to avoid an imminent public or private injury which is about to occur by reason of a situation occasioned or developed through no fault of the actor, and which is of such gravity that, according to ordinary standards of intelligence and morality, the desirability and urgency of avoiding such injury clearly outweigh the desirability of avoiding the injury sought to be prevented by the statute defining the offense in issue. The necessity and justifiability of such conduct may not rest upon considerations pertaining only to the morality and advisability of the statute, either in its general application or with respect to its application to a particular class of cases arising thereunder…

More specifically,

The use of physical force upon another person which would otherwise constitute an offense is justifiable and not criminal under any of the following circumstances…

6. A person may, pursuant to the ensuing provisions of this article, use physical force upon another person in self-defense or defense of a third person, or in defense of premises, or in order to prevent larceny of or criminal mischief to property,

Even more to the point,

1. A person may…use physical force upon another person when and to the extent he or she reasonably believes such to be necessary to defend himself, herself or a third person from what he or she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force by such other person, unless:

(a) The latter’s conduct was provoked by the actor with intent to cause physical injury to another person; or

(b) The actor was the initial aggressor; except that in such case the use of physical force is nevertheless justifiable if the actor has withdrawn from the encounter and effectively communicated such withdrawal to such other person but the latter persists in continuing the incident by the use or threatened imminent use of unlawful physical force…

…2. A person may not use deadly physical force upon another person under circumstances specified in subdivision one unless:

(a) The actor reasonably believes that such other person is using or about to use deadly physical force. Even in such case, however, the actor may not use deadly physical force if he or she knows that with complete personal safety, to oneself and others he or she may avoid the necessity of so doing by retreating; except that the actor is under no duty to retreat if he or she is:

(i) in his or her dwelling and not the initial aggressor; or

(ii) a police officer or peace officer or a person assisting a police officer or a peace officer at the latter’s direction, acting pursuant to section 35.30; or

(b) He or she reasonably believes that such other person is committing or attempting to commit a kidnapping, forcible rape, forcible criminal sexual act or robbery; or

(c) He or she reasonably believes that such other person is committing or attempting to commit a burglary, and the circumstances are such that the use of deadly physical force is authorized by subdivision three of section 35.20.

The emphases are mine. New York’s self-defense statute discourages deadly violence. The initial aggressor in a confrontation generally cannot assert the defense, but even in that case, the law gives the aggressor an opportunity to retreat from the encounter, in which case he is justified in defending himself from the original victim’s force. In order to use deadly force, a New Yorker must reasonably believe he is about to be killed and has attempted to, or has no way to, retreat. The only exception to that duty to retreat applies to a person in his own home who didn’t start a confrontation. The duty to retreat exists to avoid unnecessary violence and death

Florida is different. By weakening the duty to retreat, it opens the door to unnecessary, physically avoidable violence.

776.012 Use of force in defense of person.—A person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if:

(1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony; or

(2) Under those circumstances permitted pursuant to s. 776.013.

The section referenced above in subsection (2) is Florida’s castle doctrine statute – your home is inviolable and the law presumes that you are in fear of imminent bodily harm if you are home when burglarized. But it goes farther:

(3) A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

In Florida, there is also statutory language requiring that the person asserting justification wasn’t the initial aggressor.

776.041 Use of force by aggressor.—The justification described in the preceding sections of this chapter is not available to a person who…

…(2) Initially provokes the use of force against himself or herself, unless:

(a) Such force is so great that the person reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he or she has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant; or

(b) In good faith, the person withdraws from physical contact with the assailant and indicates clearly to the assailant that he or she desires to withdraw and terminate the use of force, but the assailant continues or resumes the use of force.

George Zimmerman’s defense team didn’t emphasize the “stand your ground” portion of the statute. It didn’t have to – it’s built in to the overall self-defense statute and the jury was instructed on it. Frankly, the person who was entitled to use that provision was Trayvon Martin himself. The Zimmerman team’s theory of the case was that Martin was the initial aggressor when he turned and confronted Zimmerman. “Stand your ground” is what informed law enforcement’s decision to not bring charges until 6 weeks after the homicide. “Stand your ground” is what was cited for the public presumption that Zimmerman was justified in killing this young black man who was wearing a hoodie, of all things. 

In court, we heard Zimmerman’s side of the story via videotape of him leading investigators around the complex the morning after the homicide. He did not take the stand. The problem here? Every story has two sides, and we only heard one. We’ll never be able to learn Martin’s side of the story. Did he really know the gun was there? Did he really reach for it? Did he really even initiate the confrontation? Did he swing first? Did he threaten Zimmerman’s life? 

Let’s backtrack for a moment and look at a few undisputed facts of the case: Trayvon Martin was legally on the premises of the gated apartment community where George Zimmerman was on “neighborhood watch” patrol. He was minding his own business. He was not committing a crime of any sort. He was unarmed. He was walking from the store to a private residence, where he was going to watch TV. George Zimmerman was cruising the property in his vehicle. The complex had been subject to burglaries, and he wanted to protect his home and others’ homes. Zimmerman told the police dispatcher that he was watching Martin, whom he considered to be a “real suspicious guy”. 

That’s the set-up; what happened next was the heart of the trial just concluded. Zimmerman called the cops. The dispatcher told Zimmerman to stay in his car. Zimmerman didn’t stay in his car, but instead followed Martin. Martin was on the phone with his friend and explained to her that he was being followed by a “creepy ass cracker”. We’re not quite sure what happened next, or what the exact sequence of events was. Could be Trayvon Martin turned to ask Zimmerman if he had a problem.

The case and its result have resulted in a deep split in public opinion – one unsurprisingly following the right/left political cleave. I don’t understand why thinking Zimmerman is innocent is a right-wing thing and thinking the homicide of Martin was unnecessary or not justifiable is a left-wing thing. It oftentimes seems as if Zimmerman supporters consider that Martin got what was coming to him, and there is no sympathy for a kid who was just walking home from the store on a rainy February night. But I think the divergence comes down to this difference in opinion: do you think that the sequence of events was set in motion when Zimmerman exited his car to follow Martin, or when Martin asked Zimmerman what his problem was? Things went downhill from there, and one person ended up dead. 

You can see Zimmerman’s explanation here. “You got a problem?” “No, man.” “Well, you got a problem now!” Zimmerman claims Martin somehow saw his gun, went to reach for it and threatened to kill him.  At this point, Zimmerman grabbed his gun and shot Martin once through the heart. Martin wasn’t around to offer a rebuttal. 

To suggest – as the Florida State Attorney did late Saturday night – that race and profiling wasn’t part of this case is a joke. The entire case was replete with issues of race and profiling. Was it reasonable? Was it reasonable for Zimmerman to see a young black kid in a hoodie walking through his neighborhood and instantly conclude that he was “real suspicious”? Was it reasonable for Martin to remark to his friend that some “creepy ass cracker” was stalking him on his walk home? It was 7pm in February in Florida. There is no presumption in the law that a black youth is deemed “suspicious” for wearing a hooded sweatshirt under those conditions. The temperature was in the low 60s, and it was raining. Indeed, because Martin was minding his own business and not breaking any rule or law, it was also perfectly reasonable for him to be a little creeped out by the guy who was following him first in his vehicle, and now on foot. How would you react if someone was following you – watching your every move while you’re just walking through your neighborhood?

Martin could have run away, but was under no obligation to do so. 

People forget that it wasn’t until March 16th that we heard the 911 call with someone screaming “help!” in the background – screams that ended when the gunshot is heard; could be Zimmerman was out of peril – could be Martin was mortally wounded. Zimmerman’s 9mm handgun was in the small of his back. It wasn’t until March 20th that Florida even bothered to submit the case to a grand jury. The chief of the Sanford Police Department resigned on March 22nd because the case had been investigated from day one under a presumption that it was a justifiable homicide. On March 26th, the police released pictures showing that Zimmerman was bleeding from cuts the night he shot Trayvon Martin. 

It wasn’t until April 11th that Zimmerman was formally charged with 2nd degree murder and taken into custody. It took a full six weeks before Florida even recognized that a crime may have potentially been committed. The state didn’t take the case seriously until the federal government and public opinion forced its hand. 

Zimmerman didn’t take the stand – he didn’t have to. His story was out there on the videotape, and he didn’t have to subject himself to cross-examination about, e.g., why he got out of his car in the first place. If Zimmerman is correct that Martin initiated the confrontation, why didn’t he run away? Well, he didn’t have to. Florida doesn’t think much of avoidance of violence. Zimmerman was brave enough to follow this “real suspicious” teenager, but not to subject himself to cross-examination. 

Because Martin is dead, we don’t know his side of the story and the prosecution evidently did not adequately present an alternative version of events. When Martin’s friend, Rachel Jeantel testified, she explained that Martin was afraid of Zimmerman. But, you know, as a 19 year-old black girl, she behaved like a 19 year-old black girl. She had avoided being involved in the case and was caught in some inconsistencies. Her speech and mannerisms insulted public opinion, and she was mocked as being fat, sassy, and stupid. 

Zimmerman had a gun, and if you take his own story at face-value, it was when Martin saw the gun that the fistfight escalated to a threat on Zimmerman’s life. No gun, no shooting. Simple, isn’t it? Zimmerman had a conceal carry permit despite a history of violence, including interfering with an arrest and being the subject of a mutual restraining order with his ex-fiancee. Frankly, under normal circumstances, a person with a record of violence and harassment should not be allowed to carry a firearm. 

An armed society is a polite society” goes the Heinlein quote. But in this case, no matter what you think of the fairness of the case against Zimmerman, that isn’t true. 

The law should not reward violence. The law should not excuse aggression. To maintain a civilized society, we ought to reward and excuse the avoidance of violence and aggression. Zimmerman should have stayed in his car. He never should have been in a position to confront – or be confronted by – Martin. This is why we have police, and this is why we entrust them with public safety. Zimmerman should have waited for the cops and let them do their jobs. They likely would have questioned him, canvassed the area for Martin, and asked him some questions. Martin would have lived to see his 18th birthday. 

This isn’t just about dumb gun laws or bad justification statutes – it’s about profiling. 

Zimmerman: Hey we’ve had some break-ins in my neighborhood, and there’s a real suspicious guy, uh, it’s Retreat View Circle, um, the best address I can give you is 111 Retreat View Circle. This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.

Dispatcher:  OK, and this guy is he white, black, or hispanic?

Zimmerman: He looks black.

Dispatcher: Did you see what he was wearing?

Zimmerman: Yeah. A dark hoodie, like a grey hoodie, and either jeans or sweatpants and white tennis shoes. He’s here now, he was just staring.

Dispatcher: OK, he’s just walking around the area…

Zimmerman: looking at all the houses.

Dispatcher: OK…

Zimmerman: Now he’s just staring at me.

Dispatcher: OK-you said it’s 1111 Retreat View? Or 111?

Zimmerman: That’s the clubhouse…

Dispatcher: That’s the clubhouse, do you know what the-he’s near the clubhouse right now?

Zimmerman: Yeah, now he’s coming towards me.

Dispatcher: OK.

Zimmerman: He’s got his hand in his waistband. And he’s a black male.

Dispatcher: How old would you say he looks?

Zimmerman: He’s got button on his shirt, late teens.

Dispatcher: Late teens. Ok.

Zimmerman: Somethings wrong with him. Yup, he’s coming to check me out, he’s got something in his hands, I don’t know what his deal is.

Dispatcher: Just let me know if he does anything, ok?

Zimmerman: (unclear) See if you can get an officer over here.

Dispatcher: Yeah we’ve got someone on the way, just let me know if this guy does anything else.

Zimmerman: Okay. These assholes they always get away. Yep. When you come to the clubhouse you come straight in and make a left. Actually you would go past the clubhouse.

Dispatcher: So it’s on the lefthand side from the clubhouse?

Zimmerman: No you go in straight through the entrance and then you make a left, uh, you go straight in, don’t turn, and make a left. Shit, he’s running.

Dispatcher: He’s running? Which way is he running?

Zimmerman: Down towards the other entrance to the neighborhood.

Dispatcher: Which entrance is that that he’s heading towards?

Zimmerman: The back entrance…(expletive)(unclear)

Dispatcher: Are you following him?

Zimmerman: Yeah.

Dispatcher: Ok, we don’t need you to do that.

Zimmerman: Ok.

Dispatcher: Alright sir what is your name?

Zimmerman: George…He ran.

Dispatcher: Alright George what’s your last name? A clicking or knocking sound can be heard here

Zimmerman: Zimmerman

Dispatcher: And George what’s the phone number you’re calling from? Clicking or knocking sound is heard again

Zimmerman: [phone number removed]

Dispatcher: Alright George we do have them on the way. Do you want to meet with the officer when they get out there?

Zimmerman: Yeah.

Dispatcher: Alright, where you going to meet with them at?

Zimmerman: Um, if they come in through the, uh, (knocking sound) gate, tell them to go straight past the club house, and uh, (knocking sound) straight past the club house and make a left, and then they go past the mailboxes, that’s my truck…[unintelligible]

Dispatcher: What address are you parked in front of?

Zimmerman: I don’t know, it’s a cut through so I don’t know the address.

Dispatcher: Okay do you live in the area?

Zimmerman: Yeah, I…[unintelligible]

Dispatcher: What’s your apartment number?

Zimmerman: It’s a home it’s [house number removed], (knocking sound) oh crap I don’t want to give it all out, I don’t know where this kid is.

Dispatcher: Okay do you want to just meet with them right near the mailboxes then?

Zimmerman: Yeah that’s fine.

Dispatcher: Alright George, I’ll let them know to meet you around there, okay?

Zimmerman: Actually could you have them, could you have them call me and I’ll tell them where I’m at?

Dispatcher: Okay, yeah that’s no problem.

Zimmerman: Should I give you my number or you got it?

Dispatcher: Yeah I got it [phone number removed]

Zimmerman: Yeah you got it.

Dispatcher: Okay no problem, I’ll let them know to call you when you’re in the area.

Zimmerman: Thanks.

Dispatcher: You’re welcome.

Black kid in a hoodie. Real suspicious. Hand in his waistband. Looking around. Runs when he sees Zimmerman. These assholes always get away.

Trayvon Martin ran away from the man watching him from his truck. The man got out of his truck to follow him. Trayvon ran away

Zimmerman made a snap decision about who Martin was. He had to be up to no good. He looked wrong – black kid with a hoodie. Hand in his waistband, holding onto his iced tea. These assholes always get away. These assholes. Real suspicious. We glorify violence and we excuse people for being afraid and suspicious of black teenagers. “You got a problem?” Martin asked Zimmerman.

Yes. Zimmerman did, in fact, have a problem. More than just one.

By the way, how were the riots? 

A Revolution, Televised

Yesterday, Texas’ state senate was poised to pass anti-abortion legislation so restrictive that it would leave the state with only five remaining clinics. It would have banned all abortions after 20 weeks of gestation, would have required that the procedures be done in surgical clinics, and the doctors performing the procedures would have to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. It would have closed 37 of Texas’ 42 clinics

One Democratic female senator – Wendy Davis – stood on the floor of the Texas Senate for over 13 consecutive hours to filibuster this bill. The rules are more stringent than in the US Senate – she could not so much as lean on a desk, and the topic of her marathon talk had to be related to the bill at hand. 

Among the things she read from the podium were stories she solicited from Texas women, telling the story of their own abortions. The debate over this bill included one female sponsor of the filibustered anti-abortion legislation to declare that exemptions weren’t needed for victims of rape or incest because rape kits can prevent unwanted pregnancy. Republican state representative Jodie Laubenberg said that in “the emergency rooms they have what’s called rape kits, that the woman can get cleaned out, basically like a D and C” — dilation and curettage surgery, often performed after miscarriages. Ms. Laubenberg is wrong – rape kits do not ‘clean women out’

There was drama as midnight approached and the Lieutenant Governor tried to shut down the filibuster, but the Democrats began to filibuster that. In the end, the bill failed thanks in great part to the efforts of one brave woman

The abortion “debate” isn’t one anymore. Most Texans didn’t support the added restrictions on abortion that failed yesterday. A 75/25 majority of Americans agree that abortions should be legal in some circumstances. Nobody has to like abortion, but that doesn’t mean you get to restrict a woman’s right to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy in the 1st trimester. 

And here I thought Texas Republicans hated regulations on business. 

The war on women and reproductive rights is in full swing throughout the country – not just in the South. The American right wing works diligently to roll back liberties won over the last century – health care, equality, reproductive rights, civil rights, human rights – all of them are under siege in a country whose highest court declares that racism is over and a key portion of the Civil Rights Act is, therefore, applied unconstitutionally and invalid until Congress changes it. Next up, they’ll look to roll back Social Security. The America they envision is one that is of the rich elite, by the rich elite, and for the rich elite. An America that protects the Paris Hiltons and Kardashians of the world at your expense and the expense of your family from cradle to grave.

That revolution wasn’t televised. It just wasn’t the revolution Mr. Scott-Heron envisioned.  Now America needs to recapture what it’s lost. 

NSA and Emoleaks

Yesterday, Chris Smith and I joined Brad Riter to discuss and debate the NSA leak controversy.  Here it iscourtesy of TrendingBuffalo.com

NSA Collects Metadata because it Can

The astonishing thing about the report yesterday that a secret court had ordered Verizon to turn over – en masse – the metadata concerning every phone call placed on that network isn’t that it happened. It’s that it’s probably perfectly legal. If you’re a Verizon customer, file suit. The 4th Amendment is interpreted to protect you from government surveillance, search, and seizure with respect to matters in which you have a “reasonable expectation of privacy”.  

Because the content of your messages and phone calls are not generally collected by phone carriers, you have an expectation of privacy with respect to what you say. But the metadata is automatically transmitted to the company, so it will likely be argued that you have no similar expectation that this would remain private, since Verizon also has it. 

The USA PATRIOT Act (Uniting & Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept & Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001), which Congress passed just six weeks after the 9/11 attacks, greatly enhanced the government’s ability to surveil US citizens with respect to their involvement in terrorism, and it was extended in 2011 under President Obama. 

Here, the government sought and obtained a federal court order from a secret court that our government set up through a rushed process immediately after a catastrophic terrorist attack. Furthermore, the order in question was sought immediately after the Boston Marathon attack in April. There’s a possibility it was sought in response to that in order to track any unusual call patterns to determine if there were more attacks in the pipeline. 

I don’t mean to excuse what is obviously a very troubling case of government surveillance.  What I mean to do is point out that this is the world we’ve collectively chosen. In response to 9/11, we turned America into a very weak, cosmetic police state in the name of public protection. We don’t have a Stasi that will arrest you for your political dissent activities based on the warrantless taps on your phone, but we do have a government that indiscriminately collects call data to see if there are odd and suspicious call patterns related to terrorism. 

If you want this sort of thing to stop, you have to change Washington and the whole notion of a department of pre-crime. The NSA, Bush, or Obama didn’t do this to us; we did this to us

Ranidaphobic Clarence Man Writes Blog

Hi there. 

1. Did you know that, thanks to a petition that more than 3,000 people signed, and thanks to a big turnout and lively speakers at last night’s Amherst Town Board meeting, the town’s ridiculously restrictive proposed food truck regulation has been scrapped and the town is going back to the drawing board. It’s something of a pyrrhic victory because while Amherst’s lawmakers go back to make their sausage, the food trucks will continue to operate under the anachronistic peddling law that’s on the books now. 

While imperfect in many ways, the Buffalo food truck ordinance should be a template. Perhaps different circumstances may require certain towns to make minor tweaks, and perhaps some more business-friendly communities might introduce much smaller licensing fees, but this isn’t brain surgery. From the News’ report,

Board members said they agreed that changes were necessary but were concerned at the timetable required to make changes. Building Commissioner Thomas Ketchum said it would take at least two months to make the needed changes.

Supervisor Barry Weinstein said he doubts the matter will be resolved so quickly.

“Two months is excessively optimistic,” Weinstein said.

 Hm. And here I thought two months is excessively pessimistic.

2. Someone in Governor Cuomo’s office trial ballooned a story to the New York Post’s Fred Dicker about ousting Sheldon Silver as Assembly Speaker. In the wake of new, electoral fusion-related indictments, metaphorically cleaning up Albany has become something of a priority. Not surprisingly, Assembly Democrats wouldn’t dare go on the record to bash Silver. It would be political suicide at this point – you (again, metaphorically) throw Shelly under the bus when the bus is moving.  Dicker writes

Silver’s possible ouster comes as Cuomo — who campaigned for governor in 2010 promising to end “pay-to-play” in Albany — plans to announce broad ethics reforms.

“This is a rare moment for sweeping change,” Cuomo told his aides this weekend.

The overhaul could include a Moreland Act Commission that would put influential lobbyists under oath to testify on how the system of corruption works.

Also under consideration is a ban on the “cross endorsement” of candidates of one political party by another party.

Cuomo is also eyeing a repeal of the “Wilson-Pakula” law, which allows candidates from one party to run on another party’s ticket.

State Sen. Malcolm Smith planned to run for mayor on the GOP ticket but was busted by the feds last week for paying off Republican county chairmen in exchange for endorsements.

There you have it. Wilson-Pakula, electoral fusion, and the open market for cross-endorsements in New York are the manure that fertilizes New York State’s culture of corruption. It is a culture that keeps government bloated, dishonest, and opaque – lawmakers acting in their own best interests, rather than those of their constituents. This corrupt fusion system enables tiny political “parties” and their bosses to wield incredible power and clout. As for the “Independence Party”, it isn’t, and it should be banned simply for the confusion it creates for people who intend to register as “unenrolled” voters. Abolition of electoral fusion and cross-endorsements is the first, critical step to disinfecting Albany. 

3. Monday’s Buffalo News carried a big headline declaring that a “Clarence man with frog phobia wins $1.6 million verdict“. I saw plenty of Tweets and Facebook posts ridiculing the idea that someone could win so much money because he was afraid of frogs, or something. Upon reading the article, however, I discovered that the story was really about a Clarence man, Paul Marinaccio, whose property was rendered unmarketable because an adjacent development diverted water runoff onto it.

The issue of Mr. Marinaccio’s fear of frogs was perhaps a humorous anecdote, but had nothing whatsoever to do with the merits of the case that he won. He won because a developer and the town destroyed his land. This was quite an important result and victory in an area that all but deifies developers. The Buffalo News’ headline was misleading and turned an important issue into a joke. It also falsely left the impression that a ridiculous lawsuit with an outrageous outcome had taken place, and that the legal system is out of control and scumbag lawyers and litigious society, etc. 

Valenti’s: Where are they Now (Slight Return)

Remember yesterday, when I indicated that I didn’t know where they were? Well, I did know, but wasn’t at liberty to reveal their location  because of pending legal matters.

Well, they’re in the Dallas area and had been leasing kitchen space in a nursing facility. There was supposed to be a meeting yesterday to let the residents complain about the food coming out of that kitchen. In the meantime, as seen above, Valenti was arrested on the newly re-filed Midland County forgery charge and is being held in a Dallas County Jail on $10,000 bond. Now you know. Karma and whatnot. 

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