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Consider the perspective and rights of those who are profiled

REUTERS/Mike Segar
In Florida, the burden was on Trayvon Martin not to “frighten” George Zimmerman.

FARGO, N.D. — It’s 10 o’clock in the morning. One of Fargo’s finest notices an old Lincoln sedan pull onto South Tenth Street from an adjacent avenue. The driver of the Lincoln is a bearded young man. (Definitely suspicious?) Because the car pulls onto the one-way from an avenue on the right side of the street and barely pauses before changing lanes, speeding up quickly, the officer decides he has an excuse to pull the car over. He might have preferred a speeding violation or blinker violation, but those didn’t happen.

Before exiting his police cruiser, however, the officer calls for backup. When backup arrives, he goes to the car and asks to see the driver’s license. As the young man reaches toward his backpack on the floor of the passenger side, the officer automatically steps back and puts his hand on his gun. The driver isn’t sure what is going on and asks if something is wrong. The officer replies that most guys keep their wallets in their pants.

The young man is ordered out of the car, and although the license and registration for the car and his driver’s license all pass muster and he explains why he is in such a hurry, the policemen badger him with remarks, such as, “If you don’t have anything to hide, let us search your car.”

Saying he is late, the bearded young man refuses. He refuses politely, but he refuses. And refuses. And refuses. Because the officers have no reason for searching the car, they finally let him go.

Question: Why did the officer stop the car for no legal infraction of driving laws? Was it profiling?

Stopped often, never cited

Would it matter if I added that the same young man was picked up six times before during a period of time less than a year and never actually cited for anything? At various times, he was frisked, asked to walk a line or blow into a breathalyzer, but there were no citations.

Another part of the story is that the young man’s parents had purchased the old Lincoln for him to drive to high school. Naïve as the parents were, they thought such a big old boat of a car would be safe; call them stupid, but it had not occurred to them that it would look like the quintessential “druggie” vehicle. They certainly weren’t thinking about the car being profiled by police, or that when their son grew a beard for a high-school musical, his appearance would add to the profile.

This story is a decade old and personal, and, yes, I was the less-than-savvy mother in the story. No matter how the police viewed it, the experience clarified for me what profiling is like for those on the receiving end. I hasten to add I don’t think it’s possible for law officers not to profile to a certain extent. Good police officers view situations through a lens of training and experience and must trust their instincts. 

That said, it’s also training and experience that inform what happens after they’ve acted on their instincts. In the case of our son in high school, that meant not citing him for imaginary offenses and letting him go when there was no legal reason to hold him. As frustrating as it was for him to be stopped so many times, the Fargo police officers were professional when they found nothing to pursue.

That’s what rankles me about Florida case

That’s what rankles me about the Trayvon Martin case: the perspective of a young person profiled through no fault of his own was lost. Florida legislators ought to be calling a special session to deal with the idiotic “Stand Your Ground” law that allows an untrained wannabe — a vigilante in every sense of the word — to chase down an unarmed kid (whose English teacher described him as “an A and B student who majored in cheerfulness”) just because he thought the kid looked suspicious.

Why was so little attention paid to how shocked and frightened Trayvon Martin must have been when an adult male aggressively pursued him? All he was doing was walking with a bag of Skittles in his own neighborhood. George Zimmerman did not identify himself as a neighborhood watchman or tell Martin he had a gun. Yet, the burden was on Trayvon Martin not to “frighten” George Zimmerman. 

Unless the law is changed, don’t call it the state Florida; call it the Twilight Zone.

A writer and columnist from Fargo, N.D., Jane Ahlin also has taught English at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 07/19/2013 - 04:11 pm.

    For the record

    Florida’s stand-your-ground law was not a factor in this case. It was a simple matter of self-defense, which is a fundamental human right in most societies.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 07/19/2013 - 10:29 pm.

      Technicality

      Yes, we’re all aware that Zimmerman opted not to actually invoke “Stand your ground” as a part of the formal trial process.

      But I don’t believe for a minute that the knowledge of the potential for protection that “Stand your ground” afforded him was not on his mind and a factor in his decision to chase down Trayvon Martin rather than remaining in his car and letting the police handle it as he had been instructed to do.

      If he had followed those instructions, both he and Trayvon Martin would probably be alive today.

    • Submitted by Ginny Martin on 07/20/2013 - 12:06 pm.

      stand your ground

      This is a law that encourages people to kill even if they are not in their home, because they know they can invoke the stand your ground law. It is one more piece in the ongoing gun violence in this country, It used to be that any potential victim was told to RETREAT and in fact George was explicitly told to quit following the boy. He refused to do it. He refused to stay in his car. He got out of his car and challenged Trayvon–he must have–to confront him. Trayvon is dead and George is alive.
      This case should be used to help us discuss the huge issue of racism in this country. Slavery and racism are the number one domestic issue here.
      Listen to President Obama’s comments, and read Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow.

    • Submitted by James Hamilton on 07/20/2013 - 04:34 pm.

      You are wrong.

      The jury was instructed on the law of “stand your ground”. Pertinent portions of the jury instructions are reproduced below. Here is the critical instruction:

      “If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”

      Given Mr. Zimmerman’s statements to the police, his injuries and these instructions, the jury had no choice but to acquit, in my opinion. Bear in mind that the jury need not have believed Mr. Zimmerman’s tale. It need only have been unsure whether he was lying, i.e., had reasonable doubt as to his guilt.

      * * *

      In this case, George Zimmerman is accused of Second Degree Murder.

      A killing that is excusable or was committed by the use of justifiable deadly force is lawful.

      If you find Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman, you will then consider the circumstances surrounding the killing in deciding if the killing was Murder in the Second Degree or was Manslaughter, or whether the killing was excusable or resulted from justifiable use of deadly force.

      JUSTIFIABLE HOMICIDE

      The killing of a human being is justifiable and lawful if necessarily done while resisting an attempt to murder or commit a felony upon George Zimmerman, or to commit a felony in any dwelling house in which George Zimmerman was at the time of the attempted killing.

      EXCUSABLE HOMICIDE

      The killing of a human being is excusable, and therefore lawful, under any one of the three following circumstances:
      1. When the killing is committed by accident and misfortune in doing any lawful act by lawful means with usual ordinary caution and without any unlawful intent, or
      2. When the killing occurs by accident and misfortune in the heat of passion, upon any sudden and sufficient provocation, or
      3. When the killing is committed by accident and misfortune resulting from a sudden combat, if a dangerous weapon is not used and the attempted killing is not done in a cruel and unusual manner.

      “Dangerous weapon” is any weapon that, taking into account the manner in which it is used, is likely to produce death or great bodily harm.

      I now instruct you on the circumstances that must be proved before George Zimmerman may be found guilty of Second Degree Murder or any lesser crime.

      SECOND DEGREE MURDER

      To prove the crime of Second Degree Murder, the State must prove the following three elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
      1. Trayvon Martin is dead.
      2. The death was caused by the criminal act of George Zimmerman.
      3. There was an unlawful killing of Trayvon Martin by an act imminently dangerous to another and demonstrating a depraved mind without regard for human life.

      An “act” includes a series of related actions arising from and performed pursuant to a single design or purpose.

      An act is “imminently dangerous to another and demonstrating a depraved mind” if it is an act or series of acts that:
      1. a person of ordinary judgment would know is reasonably certain to kill or do serious bodily injury to another, and
      2. is done from ill will, hatred, spite or an evil intent, and
      3. is of such a nature that the act itself indicates an indifference to human life.
      In order to convict of Second Degree Murder, it is not necessary for the State to prove George Zimmerman had an intent to cause death.

      * * *

      WHEN THERE ARE LESSER INCLUDED CRIMES OR ATTEMPTS

      In considering the evidence, you should consider the possibility that although the evidence may not convince you that George Zimmerman committed the main crime of which he is accused, there may be evidence that he committed other acts that would constitute a lesser included crime. Therefore, if you decide that the main accusation has not been proved beyond a reasonable doubt, you will next need to decide if George Zimmerman is guilty of any lesser included crime. The lesser crime indicated in the definition of Second Degree Murder is:

      Manslaughter

      MANSLAUGHTER

      To prove the crime of Manslaughter, the State must prove the following two elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
      1. Trayvon Martin is dead.
      2. George Zimmerman intentionally committed an act or acts that caused the death of Trayvon Martin.
      George Zimmerman cannot be guilty of manslaughter by committing a merely negligent act or if the killing was either justifiable or excusable homicide:
      Each of us has a duty to act reasonably toward others. If there is a violation of that duty, without any conscious intention to harm, that violation is negligence.

      The killing of a human being is justifiable homicide and lawful if necessarily done while resisting an attempt to murder or commit a felony upon George Zimmerman, or to commit a felony in any dwelling house in which George Zimmerman was at the time of the killing.

      The killing of a human being is excusable, and therefore lawful, under any one of the following three circumstances:
      1. When the killing is committed by accident and misfortune in doing any lawful act by lawful means with usual ordinary caution and without any unlawful intent, or
      2. When the killing occurs by accident and misfortune in the heat of passion, upon any sudden and sufficient provocation, or
      3. When the killing is committed by accident and misfortune resulting from a sudden combat, if a dangerous weapon is not used and the killing is not done in a cruel or unusual manner.

      In order to convict of manslaughter by act, it is not necessary for the State to prove that George Zimmerman had an intent to cause death, only an intent to commit an act that was not merely negligent, justified, or excusable and which caused death.

      JUSTIFIABLE USE OF DEADLY FORCE

      An issue in this case is whether George Zimmerman acted in self-defense. It is a defense to the crime of Second Degree Murder, and the lesser included offense of Manslaughter, if the death of Trayvon Martin resulted from the justifiable use of deadly force.

      “Deadly force” means force likely to cause death or great bodily harm.

      A person is justified in using deadly force if he reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself.

      In deciding whether George Zimmerman was justified in the use of deadly force, you must judge him by the circumstances by which he was surrounded at the time the force was used. The danger facing George Zimmerman need not have been actual; however, to justify the use of deadly force, the appearance of danger must have been so real that a reasonably cautious and prudent person under the same circumstances would have believed that the danger could be avoided only through the use of that force. Based upon appearances, George Zimmerman must have actually believed that the danger was real.

      If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

      In considering the issue of self-defense, you may take into account the relative physical abilities and capacities of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin.

      If in your consideration of the issue of self-defense you have a reasonable doubt on the question of whether George Zimmerman was justified in the use of deadly force, you should find George Zimmerman not guilty.

      However, if from the evidence you are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that George Zimmerman was not justified in the use of deadly force, you should find him guilty if all the elements of the charge have been proved.

  2. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/21/2013 - 02:06 pm.

    Also note that

    if George Zimmerman had not had a gun, Trayvon Martin would now be on trial for either assault or manslaughter, spending on how much more damage he did.

    And Ginny, there’s no evidence that Zimmerman ‘challenged’ Martin, or did anything other than follow him. It is clear that Martin acted with physical aggression since he was on top of Zimmerman and hitting him (his position is supported by the bullet angle, the nature of Zimmerman’s injuries, and at least one eyewitness report).
    Also, Zimmerman’s apparent confusion (giving varying accounts) after the event is consistent with the effects of a concussion. Brain injury can occur even without major (or any) external injury. That’s why it’s a major problem in contact sports.

    I do agree that the whole concept of minimally trained police wannabes playing with guns is ridiculous. In fact, the possession of guns by people other than licensed police officers is itself a major problem. Ultimately, it was the availability of handguns that turned this from an assault to a killing.

    • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 07/21/2013 - 11:38 pm.

      Also note that

      There was no evidence that Martin assaulted Zimmerman, or that he was on top of Zimmerman. Your position is not supported by the fact that Zimm, could not have unholstered his weapon and atleast one eye witness who saw otherwise.

      Zimmerman’s “confusion” was mainly because hmmm. He lied.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/22/2013 - 09:10 am.

      Note?

      Had Zimmerman not racially profiled Martin and engaged in vigilantism his gun would never have become an issue in the first place.

  3. Submitted by Kenneth Kjer on 07/21/2013 - 09:55 pm.

    Profiling

    People who get upset over profiling haven’t thought about the subject deep enough. Every time you see somebody or something you profile it. It is impossible not to. You see a car, you form an opinion of it, that is profiling, you see a person, you form an opinion, that is profiling. How many times have you told your kids, you are not going out looking like that? That is profiling. All animals profile, either consciously or unconsciously. People need to give it up, because it is impossible not to profile. Both Zimmerman and Martin profiled each other. What makes a difference in drawing a profile is your prejudices and biases. Your whole life decides how you profile something, if dad had Chevy truck you probably think Fords look terrible. All I can say is just think about it.

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/22/2013 - 09:01 am.

    Wrong on the manslaughter

    Actually Zimmerman was guilty of Culpable Negligence which could have resulted in a Manslaughter conviction:

    “To establish involuntary manslaughter, the prosecutor must show that the defendant acted with “culpable negligence.” Florida statutes define culpable negligence as a disregard for human life while engaging in wanton or reckless behavior. The state may be able to prove involuntary manslaughter by showing the defendant’s recklessness or lack of care when handling a dangerous instrument or weapon, or while engaging in a range of other activities that could lead to death if performed recklessly.”

    This was NOT an accident, Zimmerman deliberately shot Trayvon. Pursuing a suspected criminal at night, alone, while armed with a lethal weapon is undeniably obviously dangerous, ask any cop who does it for a living. For Zimmerman to do it alone, with no proper legal authority, was reckless AND and dangerous. Obviously Zimmerman’s activity could lead to death, and Zimmerman knew that, why else would he carry a gun? Not only could this activity lead to death, it did, Trayvon is dead because of it. Zimmerman not only endangered himself, and Trayvon unnecessarily, he also endangered his neighbors. Let’s say for instance that Trayvon had been a criminal, AND he was also armed. Zimmerman’s reckless conduct could have ended up causing a gun battle between himself and Trayvon at night in the middle of a residential neighborhood, that’s how people get shot while reading on the couch in the living room. Of all the possible scenarios flowing out of Zimmerman’s conduct, the least likely is that Trayvon would respond to Zimmerman as if were a police officer, all of the other scenarios predict bad outcomes.

    A lot of people seem assume that Trayvon’s best course of action would be to run into his house. The problem is Zimmerman was chasing him. Trayvon may have decided for a variety of reasons that he was about to be cornered and trapped in his own back yard, at which point a variety of other choices become plausible. At any rate, Trayvon’s choices are not the issue. Tryavon is only in this situation because Zimmerman has decided to chase him, and that decision was based on nothing other than Zimmerman’s own racial profiling of Trayvon.

    This idea that the jury had no choice has become the dominant narrative, but it assumes that Trayvon was responsible for his own death because he didn’t react to Zimmerman as if Zimmerman were a cop. That’s a racist assumption, we don’t have the same expectations of white guys. Zimmerman was just another guy, he had no legal authority to engage in armed pursuit and confrontation. If some guy approached me at night and wanted to know who I was and what I was doing I would not respond politely. If the guy in any way tried to physically detain or intimidate me there would likely be a physical confrontation. Some guys right to be “suspicious” does not trump my right to take a walk in my neighborhood, this is after all a free country.

    Zimmerman was not “protecting” his neighborhood or community, he recklessly endangered his neighbors… the fact that he killed one of his neighbors proves how reckless Zimmerman’s conduct was. Neighborhood watch people are not supposed to kill their neighbors.

    Zimmerman did NOT observe a crime. Trayvon did NOT fit any detailed description of any possible suspect in a crime, he was merely walking while black. Zimmerman was NOT intervening or responding to any kind of crime or attack on any of his neighbors. Zimmerman did NOT protect his neighborhood, he killed one of his Neighbors. This verdict was a travesty on a variety of levels, and it was a product of perverse legal reasoning and racial bias.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/22/2013 - 09:05 am.

    Kenneth

    Just because something happens doesn’t make right, or a good idea. Bank robberies and rapes “happen”. The lesson of profiling is that it’s a waste of time and resources, and it has gotten a lot of innocent people killed. We cannot be free of bias, but we must be aware of our bias and compensate for it, especially in life and death situations.

  6. Submitted by Joe Musich on 07/22/2013 - 11:29 pm.

    A yuong man is dead

    Because a statue suggests that someone can shoot first and ask questions later. Seems to me that would imply that an individual should be determined guilty prior to being determined to be innocent. And how can someone be standing their ground if they are in motion ?

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