The Zimmerman Trial

 Crime, Featured, Legislature, Media, Politics, Society  Comments Off on The Zimmerman Trial
Jul 152013

I couldn’t let the George Zimmerman case go by without commenting. I think the main issues in the case are being overrun by our desire to make the main issue one of race. The case certainly has two points of race running through it, but the primary issues here are Florida’s draconian self-defense laws, and our concealed-carry law.

Let’s get the racial issues out-of-the-way first. I certainly believe race played a role in this case. Zimmerman clearly, based on the 911 call, profiled Trayvon Martin because he was a young black man. Now there certainly had been some crimes in his neighborhood involving young black men, but you go profiling, this is what happens. Despite Zimmerman’s impression, Martin “belonged” in the neighborhood. It was his neighborhood, and he was merely walking through. Would Zimmerman have called in a report of white teenager walking through the neighborhood? I don’t know, but suspect it would be unlikely.

The other racial undertone has to do with the actions of the response of the Sanford police officers. They were going to accept, unchallenged, Zimmerman’s invoking of Florida’s stand your ground law (more on that in a minute). I have to wonder if the tables had been turned. George Zimmerman had pursued and confronted this young man who was doing nothing wrong or illegal. He was carrying a gun. I would consider him a threat in that situation, and under Florida’s stand your ground law, I would have a right to use deadly force, as did Trayvon Martin. Let’s say that Martin had managed to wrestle Zimmerman’s gun away from him, and had, fearing for his life (he would have had a gun drawn on him after all), shot George Zimmerman? It’s only speculation, but I suspect the Sanford police would have used a higher standard for a stand your ground defense if proffered by Martin. I suspect he would have arrested and charged on the spot.

Did Zimmerman set out to find a black person to shoot that day? I seriously doubt it. Did he take the opportunity to shoot a black person when he came across one? I doubt that too. For that reason I’m hard pressed to consider this a crime of bias, but, as I said, there are certainly racial overtones to this situation.

I think they are overshadowed by a number of other issues which point directly to the absolutely insane Republicans running state government here in Florida. Let’s look at those issues in more detail.

First is the concept of “concealed carry.” If the idea of being able to carry one’s gun is for protection, then the concept of concealed carry is silly on its face, and in the case, deadly. What do I mean by this. My preference would be to avoid being involved in a crime at all. So if I carried a gun, it would be for the purpose of convincing you that I’m not your best choice as a potential target for a mugging. That means I need you to see my gun. I don’t want it concealed…I’d want to carry it loud proud. It is again speculation, but if Martin had seen a gun on Zimmerman as he approached, he might have turned tail and ran. I’d like to think Zimmerman wouldn’t have shot a fleeing person in the back. I believe concealed carry contributed to this situation.

Then we come to silly statutes in Florida that allow one to defend themselves. People who legitimately find themselves in life threatening situations have an absolute right to defend themselves. However, these are the kinds of situation that will happen in states with such broad self-defense and stand your ground laws. First, there was nearly never any accountability whatsoever because of stand your ground. While the outcome of the trial was not what many people believe served justice, at least there was a trial. Had it not been for the public pressure, Zimmerman’s invoking of stand your ground would have eliminated even a reasoned examination of the facts of the case, and the law in deliberately crafted to subvert such an airing of facts.

The self-defense law is so broad here in Florida that I would walk up to someone on the street, punch them in the face, and once they start kicking the shit out of me, I could pull out my concealed weapon to shoot and kill the person I originally attacked. Silly you’d think, but not so with our illustrious Florida Republicans, and this case is the result. I think that once you either instigate or pursue, you forfeit any claim to self-defense. At that point, you’re no longer defending yourself, you just got yourself into a fight.

The jury is getting a lot of flack, but I think it is undeserved. The jury is required to be finders of fact, and appliers of the law, and in this case, as unfortunate as it is, they did just that. There is really no significant forensic evidence, no complete and significant eyewitness testimony…there seems to only be a case of “he said / he said.” The only problem, there’s only one of the he’s available. I do not want juries to try to make law, or find violations of law where there is none. That’s not for juries to do. I want us to preserve the presumption of innocence, and I want the prosecution to have a very high bar to prove their case. In this situation, they were unable to hurdle the bar, but that’s largely because the Florida Legislature stacked the supports unreasonably high.

I think the jury decided the case before them rightly based on the law and the evidence. Now, does that bring any justice for Trayvon Martin and his family. No it certainly does not. The largest part of the blame is on George Zimmerman. This is a situation of his creation, and I hope the Martin sues his pants off, and I hope they win. They deserve nothing less. However, there’s plenty of blame to go around, and THE main reason justice could not be found in a criminal courtroom is because the Florida legislature has essentially legalized vigilantism. Direct your complaints and protests towards the Capital Building in Tallahassee.

As I said, I hope the Martin family brings a civil suit. There is no doubt about the basic facts of the case. George Zimmerman created a hostile situation in which Trayvon Martin exercised his right to stand his ground. Unfortunately, he lost because he brought only a pack of skittles to an unplanned gun fight.

As for a federal prosecution under civil rights laws, I’m not much of a fan. Those have their place, but again, I think that must be a high bar. Do I think Zimmerman committed a hate crime? I really don’t. I think he committed a crime of stupidity. The best place for the rest of this case is a civil courtroom. Let Trayvon and his family now have their day in court.That will be best found there. For the rest of us, we need to demand sanity from our legislators.

Admin Council Member Says Stating We Treat Everyone Equally Might Be Divisive

 Gay Issues, Legislature, Methodism, Religion, Right Wingnuts, Society  Comments Off on Admin Council Member Says Stating We Treat Everyone Equally Might Be Divisive
Feb 182011

I returned once again to the Administrative Council at my church to ask them to pass a resolution adopting a non-discrimination statement. The last time I went in 2008, one of the members, Bill Josey, an attorney, objected because I had included a statement that we would, when reasonable, try to do business only with other organizations that had a similar statement. That was his only objection. I took it out, completely, but guess what, at January’s meeting he had a different objection.

This time he decided we shouldn’t do it because it might be divisive. You know, stating to the broader community that everyone is welcome at our church isn’t something we should take lightly, even though all the classes in my statement are also in the Methodist Discipline. Naturally, that meant someone had to say, “Well, if it’s in the Discipline, why do we need to say it again?” I asked the group how many (noting they are Church Leaders) had ever read the Discipline. Only two raised their hands. I pointed out if they weren’t interested, how could we expect someone just looking for a church home be expected to read a couple hundred pages?

This time however, I had some reinforcements. A group of long-standing members of the church were more than willing to go along and speak in favor of the statement, and two members of the Council stood and spoke in favor of the resolution. I think Bill and Preacher saw the ground shift under their feet a little, so we moved things forward some, and will be going back again with a revised statement.

Here’s the resolution Bill considers to be so divisive:

TITLE: A Statement of Commitment to Justice for All People and a Call to Action for Palma Ceia United Methodist Church

Equal Opportunity for all persons

SUMITTED BY: B. John Masters, Jr., et. al.

United Methodist Church Book of Discipline ¶161 and ¶162

DATE: January 31, 2011

FINANCIAL IMPLICATIONS: There are no direct financial implications arising to Palma Ceia United Methodist Church associated with this resolution.

Inasmuch as Palma Ceia United Methodist Church has always been a church providing open hearts, open minds and open doors, it is appropriate that Palma Ceia United Methodist Church adopt a public statement of that commitment consistent with Biblical teaching and the Discipline of the United Methodist Church.  Especially as Methodists, “We believe we have a responsibility to innovate, sponsor, and evaluate new forms of community that will encourage development of the fullest potential in individuals…”

Whereas, Christians have been called from the earliest days of Old Testament teaching to be Just to all, as in Micah 6:8 when the Prophet tells the people, “He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?,” and;

Whereas, the Father of Methodism, John Wesley, wrote in his, “Explanatory Notes on The Bible,” for this verse, “He – God hath already told you in his word, with what you ought to come before him. To do justly – To render to every one their due, superiors, equals, inferiors, to be equal to all, and oppress none, in body, goods or name; in all your dealings with men carry a chancery in your own breasts, and do according to equity. To love mercy – To be kind, merciful and compassionate to all, not using severity towards any. Walk humbly with thy God – Keep up a constant fellowship with God, by humble, holy faith,” and;

Whereas, Equal Rights and Justice are tenants of Methodism from its earliest roots as the first item of the 1908 Social Creed of the Methodist Episcopal Church says, “For equal rights and complete justice for all men in all stations of life,” and;

Whereas, in the New Testament, Paul says, “in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female, God has enough love for all!,” and;

Whereas, John Wesley wrote in his comment on Acts 2:45: “It was a natural fruit of that love wherewith each member of the community loved every other as his own soul. And if the whole Christian Church had continued in this spirit, this usage must have continued through all ages,” and;

Whereas, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us, “When evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glories of love. Where evil men would seek to perpetuate an unjust status quo, good men must seek to bring into being a real order of justice;” and;

Whereas, The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church ¶161 states, “The community provides the potential for nurturing human beings into the fullness of their humanity. We believe we have a responsibility to innovate, sponsor, and evaluate new forms of community that will encourage development of the fullest potential in individuals. Primary for us is the gospel understanding that all persons are important-because they are human beings created by God and loved through and by Jesus Christ and not because they have merited significance. We therefore support social climates in which human communities are maintained and strengthened for the sake of all persons and their growth. We also encourage all individuals to be sensitive to others by using appropriate language when referring to all persons. Language of a derogatory nature (with regard to race, nationality, ethnic background, gender, sexuality, and physical differences) does not reflect value for one another and contradicts the gospel of Jesus Christ;” and;

Whereas, The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church ¶162 states, “The rights and privileges a society bestows upon or withholds from those who comprise it indicate the relative esteem in which that society holds particular persons and groups of persons. We affirm all persons as equally valuable in the sight of God. We therefore work toward societies in which each person’s value is recognized, maintained, and strengthened. We support the basic rights of all persons to equal access to housing, education, communication, employment, medical care, legal redress for grievances, and physical protection. We deplore acts of hate or violence against groups or persons based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, or economic status;”

Whereas, the United Methodist Church has adopted the saying, Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors, and;
Whereas, the website of Palma Ceia United Methodist Church states, “We have Open Minds, Open Hearts, and Open Doors. I think you will find us a warm, welcoming and accepting church.,” and;

Whereas, Palma Ceia United Methodist Church and its members view our place in the Tampa Bay area and the larger world as witnessing to Jesus Christ’s message of love for and acceptance of all people, and;

Whereas, The people of Palma Ceia United Methodist Church have a history of acceptance of and outreach to all people, and a desire to encourage others to love one another in the spirit of the Gospel Message of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ;

Now therefore be it resolved: The People of Palma Ceia United Methodist Church adopt the following statement of non-discrimination:

The people of Palma Ceia United Methodist Church are called to share God’s love as we minister with and to all persons in the community where the church is located and beyond, providing worship, nurture, fellowship, and service. Our welcome knows no boundaries of age, race, ethnicity, culture, gender, sexual orientation, economic condition, physical or mental ability. We embrace and seek to preserve the beautiful, amazing diversity of God’s creation. We cooperate in ministry with other local churches and groups of God’s people as we participate in the worldwide mission of Christ.

And will publish said statement as a public statement of Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors to our community and beyond in all places and publications as appropriate, and;

The statement will be added in a reasonable time to the website on the page which includes the current statement of openness, and may be placed at other places as appropriate on all official Church printed and electronic materials where such a statement would be expected and advance the purpose of inclusion of all in the message of Jesus Christ.

Effective Date: The requirements of this resolution shall be effective immediately on passage by the Administrative Board of Palma Ceia United Methodist Church. Inclusion of the Non-Discrimination Statement in printed materials, where appropriate, is required only in new supplies of the printed materials after existing supplies are exhausted.

We’ll get there someday.

Charter for Compassion

 Religion, Society  Comments Off on Charter for Compassion
Feb 122010

TED is a small nonprofit devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading.” It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds:  Technology, Entertainment, Design. Since then its scope has become ever broader. The TED Prize is designed to leverage the TED community’s exceptional array of talent and resources. It is awarded annually to an exceptional individual who receives $100,000 and, much more important, “One Wish to Change the World.” After several months of preparation, they unveil their wish at an award ceremony held during the TED Conference. These wishes have led to collaborative initiatives with far-reaching impact.

On February 28, 2008 Karen Armstrong won the TED prize and made a wish: for help creating, launching and propagating a Charter for Compassion. On November 12, 2009 the Charter was unveiled to the world.

The Charter for Compassion [Visit their Website]

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others–even our enemies–is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings–even those regarded as enemies.

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensible to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.


Alito Faces Questions from the Senate

 Corruption, Politics, The Courts  Comments Off on Alito Faces Questions from the Senate
Nov 102005

This guy fits right in with the current crop of Republicans. During his 1990 nomination as an appeals court judge, Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito promised to recuse himself, to avoid potential conflicts of interest, in cases "involving Vanguard, in which he owned mutual fund shares; Smith Barney, his brokerage firm; First Federal Savings & Loan of Rochester, N.Y., which held his home mortgage; and his sister’s law firm." But in cases involving three of the four companies, senators on the Judiciary Committee question whether Alito has truly attempted to avoid ethical conflicts. In a 2002 case, Alito ruled in Vanguard’s favor, even though the judge owned between $390,000 and $975,000 in mutual fund shares from Vanguard. He later withdrew from further involvement in the case only after the protests of the other party. Alito also ruled in a 1996 case involving Smith Barney and in 1995, Alito failed to recuse himself from a case involving his sister’s law firm.

The John Roberts' Hearings

 Politics, The Courts  Comments Off on The John Roberts' Hearings
Sep 162005

Well, I was prepared to give Roberts the benefit of the doubt, but his self-serving attitude about answering questions during his confirmation hearing make me issue a solid "thumbs down".

At one point, I heard him say that he’d been very forthcoming because he’d answered every question that was related to issues he did NOT expect to come before the court…well golly ghee whiz…I guess I’m supposed to think those are the really relevant and important ones. Sorry John, I think you owe us answers to your opinions on matters that will come before the damned court you are going to be running. Those just might have some importance.

Roberts repeatedly and emphatically refused to give answers to questions about his views on "specific cases." At one point Roberts said, "I do feel compelled to point out that I should not … agree or disagree with particular decisions. And I’m reluctant to do that. That’s one of the areas where I think prior nominees have drawn the line when it comes to, Do you agree with this case or do you agree with that case? And that’s something that I’m going to have to draw the line in the sand." Later, when it suited his purposes, Roberts gave his views on particular cases. Responding to question by Sen. Herb Kohl, Roberts said, "I agree with the Griswold court’s conclusion that marital privacy extends to contraception and availability of that." On multiple occasions Roberts "said that he believed Brown against Board of Education was correctly decided." (At one point he called the decision "genius.") But Roberts refused to answer questions about Roe v. Wade and related cases, like Casey. Roberts claims that the distinction is that Roe and other cases are "live with business." As Sen. Arlen Specter noted, there have been 38 cases where Roe has been taken up and had its core holding upheld but Roberts considers that case "live" and off-limits. There is no principle. Roberts talked about cases when it was politically convenient; when it wasn’t he clammed up.

Roberts and his staunch supports continually make reference — either explicitly or implicitly — to the so-called "Ginsburg precedent" to justify Roberts’ refusal to answer questions that he decided were related to specific cases. Roberts said, "My understanding, based on reading the transcripts not just of Justice Ginsburg’s hearing, but of the hearings for every one of the justices on the court, is that that was her approach; that she would generally decline to comment on whether she viewed particular cases as correctly decided or not." His understanding is wrong. As Sen. Joe Biden pointed out, Justice Ginsburg "commented specifically on 27 cases." Roberts also refused to respond to specific legal issues that Ginsburg had written on and answered questions about.

The White House "has refused to give the Senate memos that Roberts wrote when he was deputy solicitor general for the president’s father, President George H.W. Bush, from 1989 to 1993." Roberts dismissed the Reagan-era documents the White House agreed to disclose as out-of-date. Responding to a sharp line of questioning by Sen. Kohl, Roberts said, "I certainly wouldn’t write everything today as I wrote it back then, but I don’t think any of us would do things or write things today as we did when we were 25 and had all the answers."

Again, I’m willing to give the guy the benefit of the doubt on these. After all, he was an "employee" but, I think we have a right to see them.