Chart Of The Week

A reader writes:

I’m surprised that you repeatedly posted that chart about the Stand Your Ground results compared to white-on-white incidents without attribution. It’s a great chart, and the difference so stark, that it begs for attribution.

We subsequently updated the posts with a link to the study – by John Roman of the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center, via PBS’s Frontline, which followed up with Roman to create the chart. Another reader picked up on Roman’s study:

I was amazed by the graph you’ve posted several times this week regarding percentages 11of justifiable homicides between the races.  It was troubling enough that I decided to track down the source of the study.  In doing so, I found out an even more amazing statistic.  The study looked at all 73,000 homicides between 2005-2009.  It then separated all of the homicides where one stranger killed another stranger, similar to what occurred in the Trayvon case.  Finally, the study separated those instances by race.  Of the 73,000 homicides in that time period, only 23 were one white person killing one black person.  23!  From the media coverage this weekend, I thought the number was probably in the thousands.  The small sample size makes the significant portion of the graphic you posted basically worthless.

I don’t think it makes the chart worthless. But it’s an important piece of perspective. Update from a reader:

The reader is fundamentally confused on the difference between a random sample survey and a census or direct reporting of observed data.  For a survey, you need to reach a certain number of responses/cases randomly selected from the total universe of potential respondents or cases to achieve statistical validity.  But if you’re reporting the actual, total data for a universe of observed people or phenomena, there’s no “sample size” involved – you’re reporting the facts.

Another critique:

Income is absent from this chart. Did it occur to you that perhaps the white people were wealthier and had better lawyers? Maybe the amount paid for lawyers correlates to the efficacy of those lawyers? (It stands to reason that lawyers that can charge more get their way more often; why would anyone pay more for them if that weren’t true?) In fact, nationally, white men earn 150% of what black men earn.

Another builds on that point:

Look at OJ – a rich black guy was able to kill two white people and get away with it, even with what looked like a very good case.  How? MONEY – he had a lot of it and bought the best lawyers he could to buy his freedom.  I suspect many of the white dudes in the chart that beat their case because of their ability to put up a vigorous defense, or at least threaten to do so. So the chart does show that SYG makes it easier to beat a murder charge, but it doesn’t show that whites (or Hispanics) are getting away with murder with a sly wink of a racist society.  I’d also like to see more detail from the chart as well, such as the location and situation of the relative incidents.  It’s possible that there are a lot of other factors involved.

The Tragedy Of Trayvon: Reader Odds And Ends

Some remaining thoughts on the Zimmerman-Martin saga:

Each man likely was scared of the other. Each man likely thought he was fighting for his life.  Martin, because a stranger was following him with a gun.  Zimmerman, because he did not know if Martin was armed. Their mutual panic spiraled first into a fight, and then into a life-and-death struggle fueled only by fear of the other’s intentions.

I’m a gun owner, but this is what scares me most about guns.  If two men are fighting, and one notices the other has a gun, won’t the one without the gun naturally fear for his life?  Won’t this fear lead him to escalate the situation by trying to grab the gun, or disable the other by slamming his head into the concrete?  Won’t the man with the gun, seeing the escalation, choose to use his gun rather than risk serious injury, or the other man taking the gun away and using it against him?  Won’t both men be acting in self-defense?

Another reader:

Imagine that Martin is also armed, legally possessing a handgun, on the night of his killing. Is there a point in his confrontation with Zimmerman where he is legally justified to shoot Zimmerman in self-defense? It seems to me that Stand Your Ground laws give an incentive to use lethal force in confrontations with even potential for physical violence … and also to shoot first.


I’d like to raise one more point in this conversation which keeps being overlooked both in this specific case and the gun discussion in general: Why does any conversation about self-defense tumblr_mpz9xoYIvJ1qz4e1ro1_1280focus on lethal gun use? Zimmerman could have used mace or pepper spray. He could’ve used a Taser. He could’ve used rubber bullets or a bean bag rifle. He could’ve shot Martin in the thigh or right shoulder.  And on and on.  But his chosen method of self defense was to shoot Martin in the area of the heart using bullets intended to inflict massive internal injuries.

Like you, I’m a small “c” conservative. To me, those are the “conservative” approaches to self-defense.  Shoot to kill first and ask questions later is the opposite. We apparently had a black woman in Jacksonville use a more conservative approach to self-defense by firing warning shots, and she is sentenced to prison for 20 years. What is the message being sent here?


I think it’s a bit dishonest to proclaim that Zimmerman confronted Trayvon without attempting to address the four-minute delay between the time Zimmerman told the dispatcher he lost sight of Trayvon and the start of the fight between the two.  Keep in mind, Trayvon was about two blocks from his house when Zimmerman lost sight of him, yet, almost four minutes later, a fight occurred closer to Zimmerman’s truck than to Trayvon’s house. This was one of the defense teams main arguments in trial, yet conveniently enough, it goes unmentioned by virtually every serious journalists and commentator.  And while this four-minute gap isn’t dispositive one way or another, it is pretty deceitful to leave it out of all analysis.

Glad to include it. Another:

Something I haven’t seen brought up in the Trayvon Martin case: In 2005 Zimmerman is arrested for “resisting officer with violence” and “battery of law enforcement officer.” But he wrote in his application to the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office Citizens Law Enforcement Academy that “the officer assaulted me first”.

Later that year, his fiance accuses him of domestic violence and takes out a restraining order on him. But he responded by taking out his own restraining order to protect himself against her. Finally we have this case, where Zimmerman claims that a kid who is running away suddenly, for no apparent reason, changes his mind and attacks Zimmerman.

The poor guy can’t catch a break! People keep attacking him, and then they (or the liberal media) claim that he attacked them!

In all seriousness, I think it would have been useful for the prosecution to present witnesses (the cop, the fiance) who could testify that Zimmerman was in the habit of assaulting people and then claiming that they assaulted him.


Did you know that George Zimmerman’s cousin accused him of molesting her beginning at at age 6, and it allegedly went on for several years? She said that her parents found out and confronted Zimmerman and that he admitted to the molestation. Why was this not admitted at trial, particularly since the defense was trying to admit things (and may actually have) from Trayvon Martin’s past?

One more:

I’ve been biting my tongue out of professional courtesy (I’m a prosecutor), but there is an issue here that isn’t getting enough attention: The prosecutors did a terrible job.

You noted that the juror conceded that one of the most important facts – that Martin was “suspicious” because he was walking in the rain – came from Zimmerman.  True, but he didn’t testify to that. Instead, the prosecutors inexplicably played a video of his self-serving explanation of that night.  They had no obligation to play that video, his explanation wasn’t subject to any cross-examine action, and he exonerated himself.  By playing it, they ensured he would never testify and thus be subjected to the cross-examination the prosecutor now says he was “praying” for.  It was obvious at the time this was a terrible decision.  This was their biggest blunder but there were many others; these folks were grossly incompetent.

Update from a reader regarding the molestation allegations:

Sometimes I forget that not everyone is a trial attorney like I am.  In all likelihood, the reason the prosecution did not attempt to enter this evidence is that it knew it was not admissible.  Evidence of prior bad acts in order to show character or conformity of behavior are almost never admissible.  The basis for this rule of evidence is that defendants are to be judged on what happened in this specific case, not what has the defendant done in the past.  The same logic kept out most of Trayvon’s past transgressions as well, if not all of them.

The same rationale applies to your reader’s suggestion that the evidence of Zimmerman’s prior claims of self defense should have been put into issue.  However, repeated self-defense claims and the self-defense claim in the Trayvon case could have caused this to be either “habit” evidence or permissible character evidence.  I don’t practice in Florida so cannot claim expertise of their rules of evidence.  But here the legal nuances are at least very interesting.  The sexual assault allegations would never be admitted.

Imagine if every trial became a list of horribles against the defendants?  We’d be persecuting people for their character, not prosecuting them for crimes.

Racism And Richard Cohen’s Reality

Richard Cohen is cutting edge for 1988. In fact, a huge amount of the op-ed crap published by Fred Hiatt appears to be frozen from the time liberals decided it was time to move to the center-right. I think they were as right to do so in the late 1980s as they are wrong to cling to that position as if it is embalmed in aspic today.

So Cohen describes what he calls a “uniform” that young black men wear that legitimately tumblr_mpz9xoYIvJ1qz4e1ro1_1280causes fear among whites (and presumably blacks too). For twenty years, as I wrote earlier, I lived on a crime-charged corner in DC, where the 17th and Euclid gang still operates (and I hope to return). For the first ten years, it was sometimes hard to get people to visit me (not that I did much entertaining). And they weren’t crazy. It was a crime-ridden hood. I lived through several murders on my block, a dead body found in my alley way, and a bullet that came through my upstairs neighbor’s window.

But I honestly never felt any real fear simply being around young black men in the hood. And I still don’t. Yes, if I saw drug deals from my window, I took pictures in case the police needed help. Yes, I could see that most of the miscreants were black men – but that could have been said of my neighbors who played basketball, or hung out on the local stoops. I lived by minding my own business, something Zimmerman could have done as well.

I think it may be the fact that I wasn’t born or raised in America; or obliviousness; or a simple, growing awareness of how many young black men are in no way related to that kind of violence – because I lived among them; or aware that I was a familiar face and so in no way a threat. But I never felt fear. Hoodies were not a “uniform”, either, unless there’s been a fashion craze since I left for New York. What Richard Cohen is describing in his attempt at political incorrectness is a vision in his own head that equates all young black men he may come across with the potential to kill. I can’t think of a word to describe lumping everyone of a certain race, gender and clothing into a category of potential murderers other than, yes, racist. Can you?

There’s no question that young urban black men commit a disproportionate number of crimes, compared, say, with young white men.

If you look at homicide, you’ll see, however, that a white person is far, far more likely to be killed by another white person than by a black one. 83 percent of white murders were committed by whites. In 2011, only 448 black men killed a white person in America. In a country of 300 million, that means that Richard Cohen’s fear of the young black men is as unjustified as Zimmerman’s description of Martin as a punk. The percentage odds of Richard Cohen being killed by a young black man is 0.00015 percent. And yet he’s scared. I guess it’s clarifying to have this fact of human nature expressed in a column. But it doesn’t make it any less repugnant.

Elspeth Reeve covers the rest. This is for me her best point:

“Urban crime” is shorthand for young black people committing crimes in big cities on the verge of collapse. But Martin wasn’t killed in Cabrini-Green. He was killed in Sanford, Florida (population 53,570), inside a gated community called the Retreat at Twin Lakes, which has about 260 townhouses. The alleged crime was a suburban crime. And, just for the record, it was not the black kid who was just acquitted of it.

(Photo-image by from the Tumblr “While Seated” by Michael David Murphy.)

The Riots That Weren’t

Jelani Cobb responds to dashed expectations that riots would follow the Zimmerman verdict:

The prediction of violence was not simply wrong. It was wrong for all the wrong reasons, in an echo of the way responsibility in the case was shifted onto Martin’s shoulders. There’s a sly inversion at work in the references to lynch mobs and riots, one that takes Zimmerman’s acquittal and expands it to all of American history. This country has a long history of lynchings, but not one in which non-black defendants needed to fear the fury of black mobs. Amplifying the irony is the fact that the verdict was announced on July 13, 2013—the hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of the Civil War draft riots in New York City, in which white mobs pursued and killed blacks on the streets and burned a black orphanage to the ground.

Weigel sounds off:

Did police scramble in the wake of the verdict to prevent anything from going sour in the cities? Yes. It just seems noteworthy that very little went sour. “Urban blacks may riot when X goes wrong for them” is a perennial story, one that got written in the run-ups to elections in 2008 (“Police fear riots if Barack Obama loses US election”) and 2012 (“New threats to riot if Obama loses the election”). An act of civil disobedience that blocks traffic—on a Sunday, not even rush hour!—isn’t an act of fury that tears a country apart. Honestly, don’t the panic-mongers remember what it felt like when peaceful Tea Partiers were accused of incipient anti-government violence?

Isaac Chotiner feels that Cobb “should recognize the lack of violence for what it is: a real sign of progress”:

A foreign example would be the absence of large-scale rioting after the attacks on Bombay in 2008, where there was the (not unfounded) fear that the country’s Muslim minority would face the wrath of its Hindu majority. Something similar had, after all, happened several times in the previous 15 years. … Anyway, India’s calm was a sign of progress, however tenuous (the country may elect an essentially fascist Hindu extremist as its next prime minister).

In the Zimmerman trial, too, the concern about violence was not just of the Gingrich variety. It was also a fear among people who actually care about racism that the country hasn’t come as far as it has. On a week when it is abundantly clear that America has a long, long, long way to go towards equality, this bit of non-news is the one reason for optimism.

Faces Of The Day


Zimmerman and Martin with the races changed, from the Tumblr “While Seated” by Michael David Murphy.

The effect of race on acquittals in self-defense cases and with Stand Your Ground laws can be seen here. Update from a reader:

That FOTD  just blew my mind.  So powerful.  Just sitting with it and being mindful of my own feelings and emotions, it’s amazing how deep-seated and unconscious some cultural and societal prejudices can be.  Images like that bring them into consciousness though, which is the first step toward eradicating them.  I’m emotionally shaken in a way I haven’t since this whole Zimmerman trial began, just imagining how different that hypothetical case would have played out.  Could you imagine O’Reilly/Rush/Hannity’s rage in the unlikely event that an acquittal took place?  Or their smug satisfaction when (far more likely) the black Zimmerman got the death penalty, and “justice” was done?

Ugh, I need to go take a shower.

Juror B37 “Thinks The World Is One Big Reasonable Doubt”

An interesting epistemological observation, to be sure, but jury-worthy?

Robert Weisberg teaches criminal law at Stanford Law School, and he immediately wonders what it meant when juror B37 asserted that “You never get all the information. How do you form an opinion if you don’t have all the information?” Weisberg sums up his lawyerly concerns in one sentence: “She thinks the world is one big reasonable doubt.”

Gail Brashers-Krug, a former federal prosecutor and law professor, is currently a criminal defense attorney in Iowa. She also jumped back when B37 said, ”You never get all the information.“ “That’s exactly what a defense attorney loves to hear,” says Brashers-Krug. “That’s reasonable doubt, right there. If I were a prosecutor, that would make me extremely nervous about her.” She adds that B37’s devotion to animals might raise flags for her as well. “The animal thing is weird. She doesn’t know how many animals she has, and she mentions her animals far, far more than her two daughters. She strikes me as eccentric and unpredictable. I never, ever want eccentric, unpredictable people on a jury.”

Apart from her use of newspapers, she seems like a total nutter to me. Alyssa reacts to the fact that B37 was, before thinking better of it, shopping around a book proposal:

[T]he larger issue is when B37 decided she had the material for a book on her hands, and how it might have affected her approach to the trial and her influence on other jurors. As literary world guru Ron Hogan wrote in a series of Tweets “If Zimmerman had been found guilty, Juror B37′s book plans would almost certainly lead his attorneys to ask the verdict be set aide … There is also the question of what Florida prosecutors could do to Juror B37 if she violated sequestration or was taking notes during trial … There is the possibility of juror misconduct, if she planned anything to do with her book during trial … I’d like to know EXACTLY when Juror B37 settled upon the narrative hook that the “system” & the “spirit” of justice came into conflict.”

That misconduct, if it existed, is shameful, but it can’t lead to a retrial of the case. Whatever motivations B37 consciously or unconsciously brought to deliberations and weighing of evidence have done the damage they were going to do, and there’s no way to rectify it.

Dissents Of The Day, Ctd

A reader quotes me:

I remain of the view that the best response to this case is to repeal these laws that empower vigilantes and all but encourage the murder of young black men – if you can find one alone, with few witnesses, and a semblance of a suspicion.

Why are you assuming that all “victims” of Stand Your Ground will be young black men? The above is a disgustingly inflammatory statement with no basis in fact. How about some balance in your argument here? All races of men and women have the right to defend themselves under Florida law. You assume whites will seek out and kill blacks because this law exists. This is sick. I, as a white man and a legal gun owner, find that so offensive.

I referred to vigilantes and “some whites” – not all white gun-owners. And my view that black men are disproportionately victimized by Stand Your Ground laws is not a guess. It’s statistically proven. Another defends me somewhat:

People keep saying that Stand Your Ground played no role in the trial, because the defense did not explicitly invoke it during the deliberations.  But the judge DID explicitly use the Stand Your Ground language in her instructions to the jury. This is why people are saying the jury had no choice but to acquit Zimmerman. The attorneys for the defense presumably knew that this language would be in the jury instructions, so they could afford to ignore bringing it up themselves and focus generally on “self-defense.”

And yes, the juror interviewed by Anderson proved that this was a key factor in her judgment. Another reader:

I do not want to pile on, but I wanted to ensure that this post – “And he was told by the cops to stop his stalking. He decided to ignore them.” – was corrected. The transcript of the 911 call does not reflect your assertion:

Are you following him?
Ok, we don’t need you to do that.

The transcript is clear, the 911 operator did not tell him to stop following Martin. Rather, the 911 operator’s comments (not a “cop” see infra) served to show that Zimmerman did not have an obligation or duty to continue to follow Martin. At no time did the operator tell Zimmerman to stop following Martin – this is an important distinction.

Furthermore, 911 operators are not police or cops; they are not deputized law enforcement officers. While this may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, here the 911 operator was not a deputized police officer.

Hanging the argument, as Will did, on a 911 operator saying “we don’t need you to do that” as opposed to “don’t follow him any further” is a slim nuance, it seems to me. If a 911 caller had told me that (in DC, I lived for twenty years on a street-corner named after a gang, and witnessed countless suspicious activity day in and day out, with several gun-murders outside my condo), I’d have let it go. But then I’m not a wannabe hero like Zimmerman. Another:

If you listen to the unedited 911 call Zimmerman made, and look at a map of the neighborhood, you see Zimmerman gets out of his car, follows Trayvon, and then loses track of him. Zimmerman is on the phone for several minutes after he can no longer see Trayvon, talking with the dispatcher, then tells the dispatcher he will meet responding officers at a different part of the complex. He is returning to his car when Trayvon confronts him and the fight ensues. In short, Trayvon could have easily made it home but opted to double-back to engage Zimmerman. This has rarely been mentioned in the media. But this is supported by all the evidence in the case – the 911 call, Zimmerman’s statements to law enforcement and Trayvon’s call to his friend.

The question remains: does engaging in bad thoughts and “profiling” constitute a legal or moral basis for assault? The answer to the former is no. For those who answer yes to the latter, such a position invites the same concerns with Stand Your Ground laws. Can I now shoot someone if I’m profiled?

Another shifts gears:

I have to disagree with your statement, “But Martin was effectively put on trial as well; and an almost all-white six-person jury of women doesn’t seem to represent either Zimmerman’s or Martin’s peers.” It seems to imply that you think the juror should mimic either the defendant or the victim. Logically speaking then, would a white male rapist of a black woman be tried by an all white, all male jury or an all black, all female jury? Would only Wall Street executives serve on the jury if anyone is ever tried for the crimes that lead to the financial crisis in 2008? Who then would serve on a jury if war criminals are brought to trial?

I’m not a lawyer, and can only go by my HS civics class, but I think the premise is that we are all citizens of this nation and in that respect, all citizens are peers. I agree that the jury selected was unusual, but I’d still say they were Zimmerman’s peers and even Martin’s. I hoped for another outcome personally, but with the little that I heard about the evidence, I can understand the decision of the jury. There may be a problem with the laws (self defense, gun and stand your ground), but the system worked as designed.

I don’t doubt that. But the overwhelmingly white jury – without a single man on it – was indeed unusual. An expert goes into further detail on that point:

An accused’s right to a jury in a criminal prosecution is not a “technicality.” It’s a basic entitlement written with crystal clarity in the Sixth Amendment. Constitutional rights are not technicalities; they are enshrinements of basic human dignity. Your long and admirable record of criticism against holding Gitmo prisoners without charges or trial, for example, reflects that you hold such entitlements in higher esteem than dismissing them as mere “technicalities.”

The Sixth Amendment requires, among other things, “a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury[.]” The word “peers” is absent. I stand to be corrected, but the common understanding is that “a jury of one’s peers” is (or was) an English, class-based practice going perhaps as far back as the Magna Carta: a nobleman was entitled to be judged by other noblemen, not by any commoner of a lower stratum. If that historical origin is accurate, the omission of the word “peers” from the Sixth Amendment is telling and characteristic of the Founding: all Americans are equal, none above or below another, before the law. It would be an ugly process indeed if every criminal defendant had the right to argue who is and is not worthy as his “peer” to consider the evidence against him and decide his fate. Racial politics would not always be the nastiest battleground in that regime.

The ideal of an impartial jury has been elusive, of course, but it did not evade Zimmerman or the people of Florida. Zimmerman had a jury of impartial fellow-citizens who deliberated well into a Saturday night whether or not to send him to prison. You’ve said yourself, and you are right, that they were equal to the task and clearly took it very seriously. He got what he was entitled to, under the law.

More reader pushback here.

A Fool, Not A Murderer?

George Zimmerman Found Not Guilty In Death Of Trayvon Martin

Saletan says that he “was going to write that Zimmerman pursued Martin against police instructions and illustrated the perils of racial profiling.” But, after watching all seven hours of closing arguments in the Zimmerman trial, he thinks better of it:

It turned out I had been wrong about many things. The initial portrait of Zimmerman as a racist wasn’t just exaggerated. It was completely unsubstantiated. It’s a case study in how the same kind of bias that causes racism can cause unwarranted allegations of racism. Some of the people Zimmerman had reported as suspicious were black men, so he was a racist. Members of his family seemed racist, so he was a racist. Everybody knew he was a racist, so his recorded words were misheard as racial slurs, proving again that he was a racist.

The 911 dispatcher who spoke to Zimmerman on the fatal night didn’t tell him to stay in his car.

Zimmerman said he was following a suspicious person, and the dispatcher told him, “We don’t need you do to that.” Chief prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda conceded in his closing argument that these words were ambiguous. De la Rionda also acknowledged, based on witness and forensic evidence that both men “were scraping and rolling and fighting out there.” He pointed out that the wounds, blood evidence, and DNA didn’t match Zimmerman’s story of being thoroughly restrained and pummeled throughout the fight. But the evidence didn’t fit the portrait of Martin as a sweet-tempered child, either. And the notion that Zimmerman hunted down Martin to accost him made no sense. Zimmerman knew the police were on the way. They arrived only a minute or so after the gunshot. The fight happened in a public area surrounded by townhouses at close range. It was hardly the place or time to start shooting.

That doesn’t make Zimmerman a hero. It just makes him a reckless fool instead of a murderer.

I have to say that whether Martin was a “sweet-tempered child” is irrelevant. And inferring that Martin initiated the scuffle because the cops were on their way seems a stretch. The cops were on their way before Zimmerman collided with Martin. I am not second-guessing the jury given the limited evidence available to prove something beyond reasonable doubt. But, unlike Will, I’m not going to infer that Zimmerman had no ill-intent or wasn’t racial profiling in his head.

(Photo: George Zimmerman stands as the jury arrives to deliver the verdict, on the 25th day of his trial at the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center July 13, 2013 in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman was found not guilty of second-degree murder in the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin. By Joe Burbank-Pool/Getty Images)