Geraldo: Blame the hoodie for Trayvon Martin shooting as much as the shooter; Update: Florida law explained

posted at 11:00 am on March 23, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

As a gun-rights advocate, I constantly have to remind people that guns are a tool, not an entity with motives, and that the responsibility for its use lies with the shooter. For some reason, we have an impulse after tragedies to try to blame objects rather than people, or more likely, to blame everyone else (“society”) for the personal choices of an individual. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it taken to the extent that Geraldo Rivera does in this morning’s Fox and Friends segment on Trayvon Martin’s death:

“I have a different take, Brian, on that,” Rivera said. “I believe that George Zimmerman, the overzealous neighborhood watch captain should be investigated to the fullest extent of the law and if he is criminally liable, he should be prosecuted. But I am urging the parents of black and Latino youngsters particularly to not let their children go out wearing hoodies. I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was.”

According to Rivera, the so-called hoodie has negative connotations attached to it, which may inspire ill-advised reflexive reactions.

“When you see a kid walking down the street, particularly a dark skinned kid like my son Cruz who I constantly yelled at when he was going out wearing a damn hoodie or those pants around his ankles,” Rivera said. “Take that hood off. People look at you and what’s the instant identification? What’s the instant association? Its crime scene surveillance tapes. Every time you see someone stick up a 7-Eleven, the kid is wearing a hoodie. Every time you see a mugging on a surveillance camera or get the old lady in the alcove, it’s the kid with a hoodie. You have to recognize that this whole stylizing yourself as a gangsta — you’re going to be a gangsta wannabe? Well, people are going to perceive you as a menace. That’s what happens. It is an instant reflexive action.”

I’ve had a number of e-mails asking me to analyze the issues in the Martin/Zimmerman shooting. I’ve struggled with it, but I can assure readers that hoodies never came up in my calculations. I do get what Rivera is saying; I had this conversation with my nephew when he was a teenager, explaining that clothes are a statement of values that get communicated instantly to the people around him, especially to those who don’t know him. That doesn’t mean that baggy pants or a hoodie makes you complicit in your own death when someone shoots you for no other reason, however, and it’s a blame-the-victim impulse to make that argument.

Otherwise, this is a tough case to explain, in part because I’m much more familiar with Minnesota law than Florida law on self-defense. Under Minnesota law, Zimmerman would have been charged with some form of homicide, probably manslaughter, if the circumstances are what we have seen in the media. Minnesota law requires that the actor using lethal force in self-defense has to first be in reasonable fear of his life or of grave bodily harm, the latter of which means losing a limb, an eye, or significant maiming and not just getting one’s ass kicked. That requires some demonstration of lethality or threat of maiming before the shooting, not just a threatening motion.

Second, and equally importantly, the actor in a lethal deployment of self-defense has to not have contributed to the conflict that required it. This is where the difference between state laws might be an issue. In Minnesota, even under the Castle Doctrine law that Governor Mark Dayton vetoed, chasing down someone to shoot them would have been a clear violation of self-defense statutes and would probably result in manslaughter charges. I’m not sure how Florida’s Stand Your Ground law is written, though; it might allow someone who got threatened to chase the person who did the threatening with the intent of using deadly force. If so, that’s incredibly stupid, but it might explain why Zimmerman couldn’t get charged in this case. Stand Your Ground laws in general are supposed to allow people to defend themselves without having to demonstrate that retreat was impossible — in other words, avoiding the need to defend one’s self from the second-guessing of a district attorney later on whether the shooter had the opportunity to run and hope the potential attacker didn’t shoot, stab, or chase anyway. They aren’t supposed to allow shooters in this situation to chase down the threat and shoot, but again, I don’t know how Florida wrote its law.

My late friend Joel Rosenberg, who was also my carry-permit instructor, taught one lesson above all else: a carry permit was not a Junior G-Man badge, especially not in Minnesota. That seems to be a lesson Zimmerman didn’t learn, and Florida may need to modify its carry and self-defense statutes to make that much more clear.

Joel literally wrote the book on carry licensing in Minnesota, The Carry Book: Minnesota Edition.  Unfortunately Joel passed away before he could complete an edition that looked at the issue nationally, but even if you’re not in Minnesota, there is a ton of good advice for those who want to pursue carry licenses and handle firearms.  My particular favorite chapter of the book is titled, “Cowardice 201: A PhD Seminar in Advanced Staying Out of Trouble,” in which Joel reveals that the true secret of karate is to run faster than everyone else.  Self-defense starts with keeping out of situations where you will likely find yourself threatened.  Joel’s book is a sobering read, literally and figuratively.

Update: I forgot to mention another point about self-defense law in Minnesota. Once the threat ends, self-defense actions have to stop as well at that moment. That means that an antagonist who stops threatening lethality can’t be attacked with lethal force in self-defense.

Update II: A reader who has a carry permit in Florida e-mails a detailed response, which clarifies Florida law and shows that it’s much the same as Minnesota’s. What follows are his lengthy comments; I’m blockquoting where he quotes:

I have a Florida concealed weapon license. You said:

Minnesota law requires that the actor using lethal force in self-defense has to first be in reasonable fear of his life or of grave bodily harm, the latter of which means losing a limb, an eye, or significant maiming and not just getting one’s ass kicked. That requires some demonstration of lethality or threat of maiming before the shooting, not just a threatening motion.

The same is true in Florida.

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.

That means that you can use force (BUT NOT DEADLY FORCE) to proportionally defend against imminent use of force. So if someone cocks their fist back to punch you, you can beat them to the punch. You can’t #$%&ing shoot them because they were about to punch you.

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

So if someone is about to kill or severely main you or someone else, you can respond with deadly force. Again, the response has to be proportional to the threat.  read 776.013, as it contains a bunch of stipulations about the use of deadly force.

Finally, 776.041:

 The justification described in the preceding sections of this chapter is not available to a person who:
(1) Is attempting to commit, committing, or escaping after the commission of, a forcible felony; or
(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.

Note #2… initially provokes the use of force against himself. That might apply here.

There is no situation where a confrontation you initiated, in which you were never threatened with mortal danger, can be legally ended by you using lethal force. Zimmerman should be charged with manslaughter or maybe even second degree murder under Florida law.

My late friend Joel Rosenberg, who was also my carry-permit instructor, taught one lesson above all else: a carry permit was not a Junior G-Man badge, especially not in Minnesota. That seems to be a lesson Zimmerman didn’t learn, and Florida may need to modify its carry and self-defense statutes to make that much more clear.

They do make it clear, and the brochure you get when getting a license spells it out explicitly (this is an offical State of Florida brochure). They contain case studies where lethal force is not justified. Like it talks about one case where someone chased a robber off of their property and shot them. They were charged. You can use a
gun to stop a forcible felony, not bring someone to justice after they’ve fled. There is a case where neighbors get into an argument and one neighbor swings a garden hose at the other, who replies by shooting him. Charged. You can’t use a gun if you’re not in mortal danger. The brochure clearly explains that a CWL does not make you a law enforcement officer. I got this hammered into me really hard in the course I took (which is mandated by the state).

Here’s one of the pamphlets:

http://licgweb.doacs.state.fl.us/forms/P-00090-DeadlyForce-0911.pdf

[end update II]


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Comment pages: 1 10 11 12

Blake on March 25, 2012 at 12:32 PM

Thank you for posting that link, Blake. It’s a good piece, and the comments section is worth a read, too.

JannyMae on March 25, 2012 at 1:35 PM

Both Zimmerman’s statement and the eye witness say, that Zimmerman was walking back to his car just before he was jumped/attacked by Martin.

Can you provide a link to the eyewit, please?

Walking back to his car is an affirmative deescalation of the situation – clearly Martin was in no danger from Zimmerman, who was retreating back to his vehicle.

Rebar on March 25, 2012 at 1:27 PM

Some are arguing that Martin had no duty to retreat. The law says:

(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.

Apply that to Zimmerman walking away or even when he was following Martin, what force was Martin meeting with force?

Blake on March 25, 2012 at 2:14 PM

Can you provide a link to the eyewit, please?

Blake on March 25, 2012 at 2:14 PM

Actually, it was only Zimmerman’s testimony:

Zimmerman said he was going back to his SUV when he was attacked by the teen.

The eyewitness did see Martin beating a prone Zimmerman though.

All the evidence and testimony leads me to believe, that Martin simply got fed up with Zimmerman, had a few minutes to work himself into a rage, then jumped Zimmerman while he was walking back to his car, knocked him down, then started wailing on him.

If so, Zimmerman clearly had every right to defend himself with deadly force, a view supported by the police not arresting him at the scene.

Rebar on March 25, 2012 at 3:16 PM

I’m trying to figure out if this account is real:

https://twitter.com/#!/RealFerrellWill

The idiot is calling for the death penalty.

Blake on March 25, 2012 at 3:53 PM

Here is a link to the objective facts in the Trayvon Martin case including the eyewitness testimony:

http://www.myfoxtampabay.com/dpp/news/state/links-background-on-trayvon-martin-case-03232012

When will this blog post receive an update providing the facts newly published in this matter, specifically the eye witness statement that Martin was beating Zimmerman at the time Zimmerman shot Martin?

Speakeasy on March 25, 2012 at 4:04 PM

The idiot is calling for the death penalty.

Blake on March 25, 2012 at 3:53 PM

The left is also supporting lynching in this case.

Apparently, the problem with lynching and the death penalty isn’t the actual act, it’s the person on the end of the rope or strapped onto a gurney. As long as it’s a white person (or someone deemed white by the media), it’s all cool.

Dack Thrombosis on March 25, 2012 at 4:10 PM

The idiot is calling for the death penalty.

Blake on March 25, 2012 at 3:53 PM

I think that the “new black panther party” putting a $10k bounty out on Zimmerman is a lot more serious, and an actual violation of the law, than what some idiot hollywierd loser tweets.

Rebar on March 25, 2012 at 4:43 PM

Oh my! There’s evidence the media is altering Trayvon Martin’s pictures:

Dack Thrombosis on March 25, 2012 at 5:52 PM

There is no situation where a confrontation you initiated, in which you were never threatened with mortal danger, can be legally ended by you using lethal force. Zimmerman should be charged with manslaughter or maybe even second degree murder under Florida law.

Every time I read this Ed, I cringe. It is such a b*astardization of the law and facts here.

Blake on March 25, 2012 at 9:21 PM

So you’ve already convicted Zimmerman of doing something wrong? If you were lurking in some bush where all this took place, please come forward and tell your version of events.

The fact of the matter is that the Sanford police did investigate and could find no reason to charge Zimmerman. The legal analysis I heard has more to do with what protections Florida law gives under the concept of self-defense. And if there are loopholes where an armed community watch volunteer can do more than call 911 then the laws should be examined.

My fear is that Obama and the left will use this as an excuse for even greater attacks on the Second Amendment. Eric Holder failed to bring about banning guns with Fast and Furious. Outrage over this black teen being killed is their plan B.

Happy Nomad on March 23, 2012 at 9:45 PM

1. Yes, from all apparent evidence Zimmerman did do something wrong – not necessarily illegal, but still stupid. As I said, anybody meeting the criteria for licensure understands this.

2. The SYG law is being looked into by a task force set up by our governor.

3. Exactly. Obama and the Brady Bunch have been all over this and there are going to be severe repercussions no matter what for our Second Amendment rights.

Aquarian on March 26, 2012 at 3:15 AM

“But I am urging the parents of black and Latino youngsters particularly to not let their children go out wearing hoodies. I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was.”

quote of Geraldo, emphasis mine.

Geraldo Rivera blames Trayvon Martin’s death on his hoodie

Based upon available evidence Geraldo’s conclusion is preposterous. Geraldo’s concern about young men affecting a gangsta appearance is not preposterous however. If one for example dresses like a rabbi, one should not be surprised perhaps if some observers believe they have encountered a Jew.

Similarly it a young male dresses like a gangsta one should not be surprised perhaps if some observers believe they have encountered a gangster.

Mike OMalley on March 26, 2012 at 6:34 AM

And if there are loopholes where an armed community watch volunteer can do more than call 911 then the laws should be examined.

Happy Nomad on March 23, 2012 at 9:45 PM

I cannot believe that you are serious. Any American, armed or unarmed, “can do more than call 911.”

HeatSeeker2011 on March 26, 2012 at 9:08 AM

Zimmerman lost sight of Martin for five minutes and headed back to his truck. Marin circled back and jumped him. Martin could of/should of continued back to his father’s gf’s house. Martin’s actions are neither justified by the SYG laws or self defense common law.
Zimmerman had the right to protect his self.

Blake on March 26, 2012 at 12:06 PM

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