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What lessons can Australia learn from the Zimmerman case?

The Zimmerman case has polarised the USA for months. Perhaps the name Zimmerman doesn’t mean much to Australians, so here is a summary of what the case is about.

A young black boy Trayvon Martin, barely 17, was walking in his neighbourhood when Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watch volunteer, suspected the boy was up to no good and started following him. We will never know all the details of the case because Trayvon is dead and it is alleged the initial police investigation was manifestly inadequate. Consequently we have one man’s word and a lot of character based evidence. There is nothing to contradict Zimmerman’s perspective of events and as we all know the lens through which we see events is always biased in our own favour.

Of course, as can be expected in a case such as this, everyone has an opinion. Here are two. Both of these articles are well worth reading, as I am sure are many others available. The first is from an article by Eugene Robinson. As a mother, I feel this pain.

We know how frightened our sons would be, walking home alone on a rainy night and realizing they were being followed. We know how torn they would be between a child’s fear and a child’s immature idea of manly behavior. We know how they would struggle to decide the right course of action, flight or fight.

And we know that a skinny boy armed only with candy, no matter how big and bad he tries to seem, does not pose a mortal threat to a healthy adult man who outweighs him by 50 pounds and has had martial arts training (even if the lessons were mostly a waste of money). We know that the boy may well have threatened the man’s pride but likely not his life. How many murders-by-sidewalk have you heard of recently? Or ever?

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/eugene-robinson-black-boys-denied-the-right-to-be-young/2013/07/15/d3f603d8-ed69-11e2-9008-61e94a7ea20d_story.html

The second is from Ruth Marcus. As I am not an American and not a lawyer, my knowledge of American law is minimal but I understand her writing.

Justice takes the longer time frame. Zimmerman may not be legally responsible for Martin’s death but he remains morally culpable.

Another way to understand the divide is through the prism of legal rules, which may serve the broader ends of justice but produce unjust results in the short run. Thus the exclusionary rule for illegally seized evidence, meaning that some criminals go free because the constable has blundered.

Likewise, the law’s requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt for criminal convictions presumes tolerance for a certain amount of unjust results. We accept the bargain, in Blackstone’s formulation, that it is “better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/ruth-marcus-zimmerman-verdict-in-martin-case-shows-justices-flaws/2013/07/14/7f7eae6a-ecc7-11e2-a1f9-ea873b7e0424_story.html

There are about 97,200,000 results if you Google “Zimmerman”. Plenty of reading if you are interested in learning more about the case.

Here in Australia we have had situations that frighten me, as the mother of four young African people. One such article is Police likelier to stop  Africans. In 1987 we had a Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody.

Zimmerman was NOT a policeman, but he was armed and performing a security role. Admittedly we have entirely different gun laws in Australia (thank goodness). I want to make it VERY clear I am not suggesting any of our police or security personnel are a Zimmerman waiting to happen, but I am a mother. On one hand I have a great deal of faith in the vast majority of our police and other security forces in Australia. On the other hand I do not want one of my children to end up a Trayvon Martin. I DO worry. I shouldn’t have to worry. I should be able to be 100% confident that any of my children will be treated exactly the same as any other teenager walking home from a 7-Eleven in the dark.

The lesson Australia needs to learn from the Zimmerman case is PREVENTION. Prevention of the attitudes that lead to mis-handling of the investigation, prevention of the assumptions that lead Zimmerman to follow Trayvon in the first place, prevention of the fear Trayvon felt that lead to him defending himself, prevention of the ingredients of the altercation. We do not have the history of the USA, but we do have our own history and much of it has similar attitudes behind the actions taken over the years. We have lost enough lives already.

Please let us learn from this experience in another country rather than learn the same painful lessons on home soil.

I want our kids to come home safe at night.

I would like to add a link to An Open letter to My Sons, by Kyle who writes Fatherly Stuff.  Like this family, Kyle’s family is a “mixture”.

Edit July 18, 2013: Today Martin Hodgson published Trayvon & The Licence To Kill. Martin is a lawyer with a very keen interest in this case. I highly recommend visiting his work.

The trial lasted approximately 6720 minutes, I watched and heard them all live as they happened. Having worked on a capital case (Angel Diaz) in Florida my interest in the matter was more than, but not excluding, the issues that seemed to capture the attention of so many around the world and here in Australia. I wanted to write something during the trial, I wanted to write something when the verdict came down but what do you write when you see nothing that isn’t just part of the daily struggle.

I extend my condolences to the family of Trayvon Martin. Such a sad loss.

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About Robyn Oyeniyi

We fought to be together as a team, we are now together as a team. Team Oyeniyi

28 comments on “What lessons can Australia learn from the Zimmerman case?

  1. […] both Trayvon and Jordan lost their lives in the USA, not Australia. Yes, I know the USA has bigger problems […]

  2. […] What lessons can Australia learn from the Zimmerman case? (teamoyeniyi.com) […]

  3. […] not even going to address how we tie ourselves in legal knots, such as the Zimmerman case or when trying to silence […]

  4. The Zimmerman case is an example of the long history of corruption in the American legal system. Read “Actual Innocence” By Barry Scheck. He details his work with the Innocence Project and how DNA evidence is tainted and falsified, eyewitness testimony faulty, and other abuses in the American criminal justice system. But, the Zimmerman case is shaky. His self defense claim was and is shaky. Here is a guy who could not articulate why he was suspicious of Trayvon Martin. He called the non emergency police line to report Martin. Apparently it wasn’t an emergency. Zimmerman exits his vehicle, armed with a loaded gun and follows Martin. Zimmerman was told by the police representative to not follow the person. Yet, Zimmerman continued. Zimmerman was trained in Kickboxing and MMA (even if minimally trained). Therefore he has knowledge of hand to hand combat. How was he scared for his life? the guy had a loaded gun. He instigated the situation. he referred to Martin as a “punk” while talking to the police representative. His words “these punks always get away”. But, the question is what made Martin suspicious? the only thing Zimmerman stated was that he saw a “guy walking in the rain looking around and looking weird”. He never stated that he saw Martin trying to open doors or looking into windows.
    On top of that two witnesses gave police statements that they saw Zimmerman on top of Martin and hitting him. Those witnesses were not allowed to testify. very dubious.
    In order for a claim of self defense to hold any water you cannot be the instigator of the act. Zimmerman instigated the act from the time he stepped out of the car with a loaded gun. He was a volunteer neighborhood watch member. He was not a police officer or a certified security guard.

    • Mark, thank you very much for your comment. As I am not American and do not have the indepth knowledge that you do of the case, I am not going to reply at length, other than to say in my view you make very valid observations about the case. There is much that baffles me about it and much I find very, as you say, dubious.

  5. I remember many moons ago being part of a uni behavioural science study (an easy way to pick up $50 bucks for a struggling student). We the volunteers were asked of a series of about forty or fifty photos to pick one word to describe them. The photos were of a range of nationalities and genders.

    I remember being shocked when the results were published. The vast majority marked the african-american male types as either, supsicious, untrustworthy or similar. I remembered thinking at the time that we had a long way to go on the ‘equality for all front’ if our thoughts were already pre-determined.

    That was over 20 years ago. When you see cases like the Zimmerman case, you realise we haven’t come very far in those 20yrs.

    In America the symbol of their judicial system wears a blindfold. I think it would be more honest if that blind fold was removed because there certainly is a great deal of inequity in the system.

    • I think the whole situation is so sad. I have done a similar thing with faces when I worked for an international company. I can’t remember what the average results were but I do recall I wasn’t average. I wasn’t raised with those “preconceptions” and I don’t understand them.

      The USA perpetuates the whole “race” thing with these damn forms, for everything, even joining a gym, where you have to identify as one of several different “racial” choices. I do not understand why this is considered “necessary”.

      I’m curious about the judge’s ruling discussed below, but I honestly do not have the energy to research why such a ruling may have been made.

      • In all honesty, all I think when I meet people is “Hello, nice to meet you” I don’t notice colour, not interested in their religion, or their sexual preferences.

        I start from the supposition that we are all unique and I am dead keen to learn about the differences as much as the likenesses.

        My mother boasts of having her own little United Nations as she is a white Australian and married a Maltese. Her kids married a PNG, Vietnamese and Australian and has mixed race, eurasian and caucasian kids.

        We all have different religions but have embraced each others and celebrate the others religions as well as our own. We meld together without rancour or judgement and our kids don’t even comment on their different looks.

        We’ve learned heaps about each others culture and are better for it.

      • As the world gets smaller, there are more and more such families.

        I’ve often wondered if, as we became white to survive in colder climates, whether we will indeed all end up like the song, one great big melting pot, as the evolutionary need for those differences has vanished as technology has provided us with so much we used to have to survive without.

  6. Is it true that all the jurors were white people?

  7. Some people believe that we have come a long way from the days of Jim Crow and the Civil Right’s Movement. But then it is moments like this that expose the wound and remind us that there is still much work to do. Thank you for your thoughts and for sharing my poem.

    • Kyle, you are welcome.

      Yes, I think we do still have a way to go, as sad as that is. Both in your nation and mine.

      I think it is very sad that some people just do not see the imbalance.

      People like you and I, we have a foot in each camp, so to speak. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find that really difficult. Not difficult in determining what is right or wrong, but difficult in trying to constantly live with the ….. the…. I can’t even think of the right word. If it comes to me later I will come back and edit this.

  8. Your articles are often provocative and this one falls into that category. Before I comment on the detail I’d ask this: Would any of us ever have heard of either Zimmerman or Martin if both of them were black, or both hispanic? My view is that we wouldn’t have. You start your piece with “it is alleged the initial police investigation was manifestly inadequate” but by the end you seem to have made up your mind about the the ‘alleged’ part by concluding “Prevention of the attitudes that lead to mis-handling of the investigation”.

    Any death is sad but I repeat; would we have ever heard of either of them if they were both the same ethnicity? Rightly or wrongly, the law in Florida is as it is and Zimmerman has been found not guilty in a Court of law.The ‘race industry’ in America is what has highlighted this case because without it, and cases like it, they know they’re out of a job. It seems equality is not what they truly want. Justice is fine – if it goes their way.

    My thoughts and prayers go out to Trayvon’s family, and to the Zimmerman family who also have to live with this tragedy for the rest of their lives.

    • I do not see mis-handled and manifestly inadequate as one and the same. I don’t think there is any doubt it was mis-handled. Manifestly inadequate I make no judgement on.

      I agree the law is the law. There is much about this case that indicates perhaps some laws should be changed: gun control for one, yet I don’t think we will ever see that happen in the USA.

      This article is from a personal perspective, the perspective of a mother worried for her children. I made it clear I am not a lawyer.

      I am a mother.

      • And I am a father. So, now that’s out of the way I’m interested to know your thoughts on my other point – would we be having this exchange if both people were of the same ethinicity?

      • Brian, actually, yes, I’d like to think we would be talking about it. Any case where an unarmed minor is killed by an adult with a gun should be talked about. Yes, this particular case does have complicating factors, some of which are heightened by the unique USA history and the lack of gun control in the USA. We do not have armed neighbourhood watch volunteers (as far as I know).

        On the other hand we can’t dismiss our own experiences either. The Royal Commission did happen. The Victoria Police did recently settle a case. This is reality.

        We should not turn our backs without at least considering are there lessons to be learned from this very unfortunate case.

      • I’d have to differ on this question. Would we be having this exchange if both people were of the same ethnicity? No, of course not. Because it wouldn’t have happened. It’s as plain as the nose on your face that this was a hate crime, a racial murder. Zimmerman would not have followed a white kid, let alone shot him.

        What I don’t understand is why the DA didn’t pull the case as soon as the judge misdirected the jury that race was not a factor in the case, and forbade them from considering it. It’s blindingly obvious that it was not only A factor, it was THE factor. Nothing that happened that evening can possibly be understood without considering it. If I’d been the DA, as soon as she said that I’d have immediately demanded the judge recuse herself. If she didn’t comply I’d have moved for a mistrial. If she resisted I’d have been at a superior court having it declared a mistrial before she had time to get her robes off.

        The direction was absolutely unlawful because it goes to motive, the heart of the case. It’s not for a judge to tell the prosecution what it can allege, especially with regard to motive. Imagine for a moment we were discussing a spousal murder case, where the surviving spouse had cashed a million dollar life insurance policy. Now imagine the judge had directed the jury not to consider financial gain as a motive. Yeh, ridiculous, right? But that is in effect what happened in this case. The other matter which should definitely have been considered is the FACT that so-called ‘stand your ground’ laws are in DIRECT CONTRADICTION to existing murder laws. In all states. So which is it to be? You can’t continue with two laws which are in direct contradiction on the statute books at the same time without resolving that contradiction. This case should have served that purpose for Florida, but the judge got this wrong too.

        Any reasonable person (yes, I do mean a legal ‘reasonable person’) would be obliged to conclude that what occurred here was not only a miscarriage of justice, it was a travesty of justice. Retrial. This court strands adjourned. All rise.

      • When I first wrote this article I was unaware at the time of the judge’s ruling. ABSOLUTELY ASTOUNDING. But also I am not a lawyer, so I specifically tried not to speak outside my area of expertise. I wrote as a mother, for that was indeed the place I was viewing this case from at the time.

        It will be interesting to see how the civil case goes.

        Sometimes the USA quite amazes me.

      • Yes Robyn, I notice, looking back at the above, that by handing down my ruling I do seem to have appointed myself judge in the court of public opinion. Well, it’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. ;-)

        You see, I don’t have a speciality, an ‘area of expertise,’ I am, quite deliberately and self-consciously, an intellectual generalist. What that means in practical terms is that while I know quite a lot about some things, I also know a little bit about everything. I’m not always right, but I’m right just often enough to give the impression, to the casual observer, of always being right. Also, I usually know when I might not be right, so I qualify any such statement with a ‘maybe,’ a ‘perhaps,or a ‘what if…’ etc. This is not such a case. This time I KNOW I’m right, so I’ll keep saying it, no matter how unpopular it may be.

        It is the generalist who is best qualified to be a leader (as opposed to a politician). Or, for that matter, a judge. In my lifetime however, politics has become its own speciality. Most of our current crop are unemployable in any other capacity, politics is all they’ve done their whole lives. This equips them exceedingly well to do things like taking the wrong decision, even though you know in your heart it’s the wrong thing to do, because you think it will be popular. But that’s not leadership. It’s the antithesis of leadership. Bottom line – leaders lead public opinion, politicians follow it.

        Now, I see I have an annoying fly (or at least intellectual flyweight) to swat on your other discussion thread..See you there. ;-)

      • :lol: I wasn’t implying that! I was essentially agreeing with you, but saying I personally did not feel I knew enough legal, especially USA legal, stuff to take that approach to my article.! You are fine! :D

      • The fact that I inferred it does not mean you necessarily implied it. I’m happy to call it a self-criticism, based on my own reading of my earlier words. :-)

  9. I wouldn’t want any child to feel the fear I did as a teenager.

  10. Year ago in America, an Army of private people who had a uniform and all whose original intention was to help people from being attacked at night. It was a great caring idea but they had to be disbanded, as it made some of the guys who were suppose to defend others, go the other way as they were using their authority to boss and hurt others.

    • Sadly it is often the way, as some of these organisations attract the wrong people, yet do not have the systems in place to assess and exclude those unsuitable for the work.

      Whole thing is very sad.

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