Tag Archives: trayvon martin

The Police and Justified Homicide

oscar grant station

Officers respond the scene of the shooting of Oscar Grant at Fruitvale Station in Oakland, CA on January 1, 2009.

Police officers know the risks associated with joining the force. While the motto of most departments is to “protect and serve” fellow citizens, officers often need to apply this principle to themselves – sometimes by deadly means. According to the FBI, the killing of a suspect in a potentially life-threatening situation is called “justifiable homicide”.

Sure, officers need to protect themselves, but just how often is killing justified? The latest FBI data shows that in 2011, 393 cases of justifiable homicide were committed by law enforcement officers. See the report here. Against whom you might ask? I was quite suspect of this myself, as a footnote at the bottom of the graph states, “The killing of a felon by a law enforcement officer in the line of duty.” a

So wait, 100% of the time officers felt threatened and killed a suspect, the suspect turned out to be a felon? This doesn’t seem accurate. One reason for this might be that reporting justifiable homicides is completely VOLUNTARY. In most cases, the shooter’s word is the only available evidence. b

Now I know many of you will jump to the conclusion that police officers are deliberately lying to census takers about the number of “felons” they’ve killed in the line of duty. While this may be true in some cases (see this Detroit News article about underreporting), it’s certainly not the only explanation for such behavior. This recent Washington Post article reports that Florida’s average number of justified homicides per year has risen to 36 – 24 more than before Stand Your Ground laws were enacted in 2005. c & d

Stand Your Ground laws allow citizens to defend themselves if they feel threatened by using force – usually with the help of a weapon. These laws are found nationwide, although only in certain communities where they have been enacted. Unlike a justifiable homicide – where the individual must provide sufficient, fact-based evidence without any reasonable doubt, Stand Your Ground cases don’t need nearly as much evidence in a courtroom.

Many suspect that the increase of murder rates in Florida and around the country are somehow correlated to the enactment of Stand Your Ground laws. How is this possible? Evidence regarding firearm use in self defense is relatively unreliable. This brings up even more questions. Do officers fully investigate all of their cases? Do officers have the right resources to help aid their effectiveness in crime fighting? Is justified homicide by police acceptable in a post 9/11 society?

Here’s something to think about: if George Zimmerman hadn’t followed and shot Trayvon Martin, how would the police have responded to the situation?

The enactment of Stand Your Ground laws presents an interesting effect in regards to “justified violence”. Is it more practical to have citizens defend themselves, or to have the police take care of it? An article written earlier this year stated that Chicago police officers are working overtime in “hot” zones of the city in an effort to reduce gang related violence. Subsequently, homicide rates in Chicago have experienced a “notable drop” since the efforts by officers. f

It’s no secret that the balance between police officers and civilians plays a huge role in homicide rates around the country. With laws allowing citizens to defend themselves, violence takes a whole new role in communities. Instead of police officers using “justified” violence at the discretion of the law, citizens are able to take the law into their own hands. While it’s easy to accuse police officers of wrongfully committing murder, one must consider all the circumstances that an officer deals with in the line of duty.

Sources (identified by bold italic letters, I’m never in the mood for an MLA works cited page):

a. http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2011/crime-in-the-u.s.-2011/tables/expanded-homicide-data-table-14

b. http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2004-05-24/news/0405240017_1_police-officers-commissioner-of-police-police-shootings/2

c. http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-04-07/national/35452643_1_new-law-american-law-justice-system/2

d. http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20090618/METRO/906180406

e. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/07/17/196940/no-firm-ground-on-whether-stand.html#.Uiv5RRbhAb0

f. http://news.yahoo.com/homicides-down-police-overtime-way-chicago-182528037.html


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The Power of Public Opinion


photo credit: Holly Dagres @PoliticallyAff

Everyone remembers watching the news when something big happens. I know I’ll never forget watching the Twin Towers fall or the two inaugurations of President Obama. The hype generated by moments like these is significant to society for one reason: they divide public opinion.

When there’s a new debate, we’re expected to take a side – even though each usually claims that it’s the “right” one. For young and still generally uninfluenced minds, this process may greatly affect the way that an individual will think and act for the rest of his or her life. It’s no wonder how some people can have such blindly opposing views – it’s merely product of their surroundings (or what news network they grew up watching).

As a young college student who’s itching to travel around the world, I can’t speak for the entire planet just yet. Here in the States, it’s amazing how generations have backtracked their respective opinions through the years. One of the biggest examples of this is racism. While it took almost 100 years for the majority of the country to accept black Americans after the Civil War, many of us still discriminate today…but not in the way you might think.

Look at the Zimmerman case that was recently settled after a year of debate. Somehow, the incident became racially charged because Martin and Zimmerman were both considered ethnic minorities. The New York Times tried to stoke the fire even more, identifying Zimmerman as a “white hispanic” (Source a). As a country, we ignored the humanity of the situation and instead, chose to focus on skin color and old prejudice. While Zimmerman’s actions were unwarranted in the end, he never specified Martin’s race to police until he was asked to do so by the officer. From what I remember, race was the first thing the media chose to report on, not the fact that a middle aged man went out of his way to stalk and kill a minor on a Sunday night. (Like everyone else in the country, Zimmerman was most likely sitting on his couch and watching the Academy Awards).

Because of it’s racial appeal, the incident was popularized and politicized by the media. It split into two major sides: one (seemingly the majority) in support of Martin, calling Zimmerman’s actions racially motivated – the other (mostly Republicans) in support of Zimmerman, saying that his life was endangered and he was simply carrying out his duty as the “neighborhood watch.” As a side note, African Americans around the country were almost 100% in support of Trayvon -including President Obama, who highlighted the still ongoing race issue in our country in a nationwide speech.

After the not guilty verdict, I found it quite ironic to see millions of Trayvon supporters -alleged supporters of peace – calling for “justice” regarding Zimmerman’s situation. On Twitter, many of these calls for “justice” were in the form of violent threats, warning Zimmerman to go into hiding or even Witness Protection program. Real democratic, America.

The fact that race was brought up by both sides is simply appalling. As a nation that should be “colour-blind” by now, why are we accusing a man of being a racist more so than a killer? The public response to this case has proved that the next generation of Americans will view race in the same light as it has been for the past 20 years. While we may not be outright “racist,” Americans still identify blacks from whites, hispanics from asians, etc, etc, etc. THIS is the racism – the idea that we thoughtlessly need to identify others as a certain group.

Across the globe, violence, propaganda, and other factors are influencing public opinion in Syria. I recently found a Jerusalem Post article that stated that Assad was influencing non-violent dissidents in his favor, mainly by arresting civil rights leaders and presenting the Free Syrian Army as a terrorist force. In the article, Syrian Democratic Forum member Samer Aita was quoted, “Assad’s forces are intentional targeting groups that are not associated with the armed revolt. They want to make them feel like the only choice is the rebels or the regime” (Source b).

Here in America, another obvious prejudice is the one against Islam. Not every Arab man and woman dresses in typical Muslim attire, but once a hijab or robe comes in to play, fears brought on by 9/11 and Al-Qaeda threats are provoked (unfortunately, yet unconsciously.) Still, it’s been over 10 years since that day, and our country still views Arab people with a wary eye. The irony of this situation is that Americans have NO idea what goes on in the Arabian Peninsula, much like they don’t have a clue what goes on here. Yet still, we have our prejudices based upon what we were told by others – our parents, grandparents, friends, teachers, co-workers.

An example of such thoughtless “herd” thinking can be seen among the Egyptian people. Both pro-Brotherhood and anti-Morsi protesters have claimed that Obama is the reason for their troubles. The Muslim Brotherhood criticizes the US president for claiming that President Morsi’s overthrow wasn’t a coup. Pro-military members allege that Obama supported terrorism by supporting former President Morsi. Egyptian singer and belly dancer Sama al Masry even released a popular music video criticizing Obama and the Muslim Brotherhood. While I won’t comment on whether these accusations are true or not, public opinion in Egypt is overwhelmingly against American policy-makers (Source c). Like our country’s limited understanding of Egyptian politics, how many Egyptians can really understand American politics?

When I was working my retail job one day, a Jordanian man came to the counter. He looked at my name-tag and said to me, “Oh, Jordan! Did you know that’s a country in the Middle East?” After we talked for a bit, he was surprised to hear that I knew about Middle Eastern affairs, let alone more than two countries in the region. Much like our own ignorance as to whether or not Morsi’s ousting was really a coup, I can guarantee that the American and Egyptian people respectively have no idea what actually goes on across the globe.

It alarms me to hear the number of Americans who offensively refer to Arabs as “towel-heads” or an even more shocking, “sand-niggers”. Do these people really have that much hate and prejudice? Or are they just too caught up in other’s opinions that they believe what they’re saying is the right? On the contrary, I’ve met Americans who blindly spew hate against our own government for interfering too much in the Arab world – this includes the use of drone strikes. Do these Americans really have any clue about the use of drone strikes, or are they just catering to the conspiracy theorists who say the use of them is wrong?

When Americans get their daily dose of news, they hear so much about the Middle East that most people are confused entirely about the situation there. In response to this confusion, many choose to listen to what others say, rather than take the initiative to form their own opinions.

I recently found a beautiful letter written by Syrian citizen Najat Abdul Samad, entitled A Letter from Syria – Our Serene City (I read it as poetry). In the letter, Samad urges her people to abandon old ways in hopes that history in Syria (and the Arab world) won’t repeat itself in the future:

“We stand silent in the government’s absence. The government hides behind it’s cement barriers…barriers that only reinforce a separation that has existed for decades between the regime and it’s people…

…Perhaps we should rethink our narrow views.

Perhaps we should learn to listen better. 

Perhaps we should compromise and apologize for old mistakes. 

Or perhaps we should learn to stand by one another.” 

(Source d)

I’m tired of having to choose a side. I’m tired of listening to the same bigots who refuse to accept any ideas but their own. Maybe we should listen to Samad’s and learn to listen to each other, rather than forming sides just to say, in the words of Daniel Tosh “Na na na boo boo, I’m better than you, stick your head in doo doo.” We need to learn to listen to ourselves instead of letting others do the thinking for us. Don’t fall into the vicious cycle of side-taking and finger-pointing that’s plagued the human race since the beginning of time.

An artistic take on politics here are some song lyrics that convey the point of this piece:

Black and blue

And who knows which is which 

And who is who

Up and Down

And in the end, it’s only round and round and round

 – “Us and Them” by Pink Floyd

As time keeps moving, we keep losing

Our rights, freedom is not the choices

between what job and what car

You can just look back into history

To find corruption and mystery

And if we don’t take note, we’ll wake up in the same boat

 – “Wall” by Enter Shikari

Sources/Works Cited

a. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple/post/why-did-new-york-times-call-george-zimmerman-white-hispanic/2012/03/28/gIQAW6fngS_blog.html

b. http://www.aljadid.com/content/letter-syria-our-serene-city

c.http://www.jewishpress.com/news/anti-americanismobama-ridicule-on-the-rise-in-egypt-video/  2013/08/04/

d. http://www.jpost.com/Syria-Crisis/Syria-cracks-down-on-anti-Assad-dissidents-320397

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