Monday, July 15, 2013

The Zimmerman Case - an opinion

I've been asked countless times in recent days to give my opinion about the George Zimmerman case. That can mean a couple of things, of course: my opinion on the incident, or on the trial. I have no desire to second-guess someone else's trial work, and don't plan to.  And I hadn't really planned on saying anything about the incident, either, until I read the words of a friend, fellow author, and former cop.

His name is John Levitt and I asked (and received!) his permission to post here, in its entirety, his view of what happened and why. I thought it one of the most insightful things that I've read on the matter, and hope you find it interesting.

And for context, he was responding to this opinion:

These stand your ground and concealed carry laws seem to me like something that can give guys with chips on their shoulders a perceived opportunity to do what they've always fantasized about--getting away with killing someone they don't like.

John said:

I really don't think that's what Zimmerman was about. He was a wannabee cop, imo, and I've run into plenty of them in my time.

A police job can seem incredibly tempting for a certain type of person. It's not, like you might assume, about having the power to push people around. It's about being part of a special group, living a life most people don't get, doing a job most people can't. Like being an Army ranger. Or part of an elite sports team. It feels special

You cruise around in your patrol car on a late graveyard shift, watching out for your city, listening to radio chatter from people you know well, people you've worked with for years, people who have possibly saved your skin more than once and perhaps you've saved theirs as well. You belong.

It's an attractive prospect -- esp for someone who has been a "loser," an outsider for much of their lives. Never one of the cool kids.

So you try to join up -- but more often than not, you don't make the grade. Wannabees exude a certain desperation that makes departments shy away from them.

So you take criminal justice courses. You go to self defense classes. You get a job as security guard, or become a neighborhood watch person.

But just doing the job of neighborhood watch is not enough. You want to play cop. So you call in everything you can -- not just because you're being suspicious, but because that way you get to talk to dispatch, maybe even talk to the cops when they show up -- hey, guys, I'm one of you. You're part of the fraternity -- or so you imagine.

So when you see a "suspicious character" namely a young black male, you call the cops. But then you decide to go a little further, to play cop yourself. I mean, you're almost a cop yourself, anyway, right?

'These punks always get away.'

But not this time, not when George Zimmerman is on the job. So you follow him. You're not particularly worried -- the cops (your backup) are on their way, and besides that, you're packing. That criminal better not give you any trouble if he knows what's good for him. George Zimmerman is nobody to mess with.

I don't think he thought it through. I don't think he thought at all. He just thought he was going to catch a burglar and be a hero.

Then, when he comes out of the darkness to confront Martin, things don't go according to his fantasy. The black "criminal" (Martin) doesn't meekly surrender, or try to run away. He sees Zimmerman as a threat and defends himself.

Suddenly Zimmerman is in a fight. A real fight, not like sparring in the dojo. He gets hit, and it hurts. He gets knocked to the ground. And at this point, he stops thinking at all, if ever he had been.

A dangerous black criminal that he confronted is kicking his ass. His life is in danger. Why does he think that? Because black criminals are violent and dangerous. It's him or them. So he pulls out his gun and shoots him.

What's more, he feels totally justified. In his little cop fantasy world, he simply did what he had to do.

And guess what? The cops buy it. Dangerous black kid, up to no good. That's a part of this story that gets overlooked, but that mindset is telling.

The whole thing is more sad, pitiful, and disgusting than evil.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Excuse of the day

In juvenile court, we get some wonderful excuses from kids as to why they missed court or didn't meet with their probation officer.  One of my recent favorites.:

"Well, see, it was raining, and I didn't have no umbrella or nothing."

And yes, I berated his probation officer for setting up drug counseling, psych counseling, and job training but forgetting the brolly.

Monday, July 8, 2013

A dearth of death - that's good right?

Please excuse my long absence, it's been due a combination of busy-ness, laziness, and lack of worthwhile stuff to write about. I'm still busy and lazy, but I realized that a lack of worthwhile stuff to write about has never stopped me in the past.

Now, where was I?  Ah yes, a dearth of death... especially over the 4th of July, well, you'd think that's good every which way. Right?

Not so.

Picture a group of young people interested in law enforcement, wanting to be DAs and cops, or at least know what DAs and cops go through.  It's a summer morning, the Friday after July 4, and a field trip awaits. They've been looking forward to it all week, in a trepidatious kind of way. Most people are taking the day off, of course, but this group heads into work early, making a detour for the Travis County building that contains, among other things, the Medical Examiner's office.

Yes, they signed up to watch an autopsy.

Now, I was invited. My thoughtful and kind office-mate asked me to come along. But a few things you need to know about me: I'm not good with copious amounts of real-time gore. Death makes me sad. I don't ever plan to cut up a body, so I don't need to learn how. I've seen plenty of dead bodies (read about this one? I was riding out with APD and stood feet from her as EMS workers tried to save her, then covered her with a sheet).  So I declined.

A couple of juvie prosecutors went, though, three I think, as well as a handful of interns.

But there was no body.

It's a rare occurrence, apparently, but there were simply no customers for the ME's table that Friday. After all that screwing of their courage to the sticking-place, I gather there was some disappointed. Which was immediately tempered by (a) relief and (b) a twinge of guilt at feeling disappointed that no-one had just died.

The group, I am told, promised the ME they'd return for a future demonstration, and promptly went out to breakfast.