Saturday, June 02, 2012

Ernest Evans on Trayvon Martin

This is an exchange between Ernest and a national editor

To The Editor: The mishandling of the Trayvon Martin tragedy by most of the nation's journalists, politicians and community activists poses a grave danger of causing an explosion of violence in black neighborhoods all over the nation. What happened in NYC in 1989-1993 in response to the Tawana Brawley case of 1987-1989 could easily be replicated all over the nation. When the Brawley case was being adjudicated in 1987-1989 the media coverage was sensationalistic and very one-sided and community leaders repeatedly demanded "swift justice" with no "legal niceties." By 1989 every cop in the NYPD was on notice: If charged with racism you will not get even a pretense of due process and fair media coverage. In consequence, out of sheer self-survival, the NYPD stopped doing its job in the black neighborhoods of NYC--and crime in these neighborhoods exploded: By 1992 there were 2250 homicides in NYC--a massively disproportionate share of them being black citizens. (In contrast, based on current trends, there should be about 350 homicides in NYC in 2012.) So, ironic as it may seem, America's black community has a great stake in George Zimmerman getting due process and fair media coverage--so it is very much to be hoped that that is the case.

Sincerely and Respectfully, Ernest Evans

Hi Ernie—

Thanks for your letter to the editor.

I agree that it is essential that Zimmerman receive due process and fair coverage. (Same goes for the Martin family, and for police officials in Orange. Fairness for all!)

The most troubling thing done by some of Martin’s supporters has been the threat from some that they will commit violence, including violence against Zimmerman, if they did not get their way. This is barbaric. Everyone must have due process!

On the other hand, I believe that the Orange police who handled this case committed a miscarriage of justice against Trayvon Martin and the Martin family. They accepted Zimmerman’s version of events without adequately investigating what occurred. Any killing of an unarmed American lawfully going about their business—especially someone with no record of violent behavior or gang involvement—should be investigated very thoroughly. Such things should not happen here in the USA. When they do happen, law enforcement should investigate carefully. The Orange police failed in this duty.

The facts of what occurred remain in doubt. I await more evidence.

But – changing gears -- FYI at this point I do not believe Zimmerman’s account of events. Specifically, I do not believe that Trayvon Martin committed any deeds that justified Zimmerman’s use of lethal force against him under Florida law—even under the “Stand Your Ground” statute, which offers broad justification for using force. So, if you want to know what I think, I think Zimmerman committed a serious crime. I will of course await more evidence but that’s how it looks to me now.

I further think that the Orange police would have figured this out if they had done more than a cursory investigation. They simply assumed that a bad-actor black guy had invaded the neighborhood and acted as the aggressor. As we know, there are plenty of bad-actor black teenagers who do indeed act as aggressors, and whose victims could legitimately use force against them, especially under the “Stand Your Ground” law. So I can understand how the Orange police started with this frame of reference. But their job is to investigate thoroughly without letting their preconceptions limit their inquiry. Had they interviewed witnesses more aggressively, and done a check on Martin’s background (which is clean of robbery or violent crime) they would have quickly discovered otherwise. They failed in this duty.

Hence I think that the Martin family’s complaints against the Orange police were justified. A crime occurred, but was not seriously investigated.

As you know, the police are human and are not always right. See for example several recent injustices by NYPD officials, including their outrageous punishment of a courageous NYPD officer who had acted as a whistleblower. (I forget the names, it was reported in the NY Times in March or April—an ugly story). And you often remind me of the Joe Persico case.

Likewise, I think the Orange police failed in their duties in the Martin case and should be held accountable for their failure. This case is not parallel to Melody’s case, in which KCMO officers acted with complete professionalism, yet were lynched by an irresponsible mob from the black community, and then betrayed by Kansas City’s political leadership. Rather, we have here a family (the Martins) that have raised reasonable objections to police conduct that seems seriously flawed.

Just one man’s view. I have not read everything about this case and could be missing some facts. I am always open to correction. And I greatly respect your views.

Bottom line: If I were editing your letter I would include a comment that nods to the possibility that Zimmerman did wrong; and that the Orange police did wrong. For sure Martin’s more strident supporters have done wrong. And pundits who repeat their calls for lawlessness without criticizing it have done wrong. But I think they are not the only players in this drama whose actions deserve criticism.

Changing gears again—I visited the Lexington police station yesterday to find out when they will have an open house. I want to take the kids so they can get to know our law enforcement people and find out what they do. (I will be in September).

Be well! Avoid tornadoes. Beth and the kids send their best.

Dear Steve:

Thank you for your most thorough evaluation of my letter!! I agree that Zimmerman is not blameless--I have said so on several blogs. And, definitely, there was not a thorough investigation of this case by the local cops. So, the demands for a real investigation and for an indictment were quite legitimate--and as long as the people active on the case limited themselves to that demand I could wholeheartedly agree with them. As for Zimmerman's actions that night, I think (and as we both know I am not a lawyer) that the proper charge to bring against him was manslaughter. I say that because he acted in a criminally reckless way--As all the cops I have talked to about the case have told me, Zimmerman is a "stock figure" in police work: The "cop wannabe." He had failed the test to get on the police force a couple of times, and found his outlet in being a neighborhood watch captain. However, and this is why even if he was attacked by Martin he is guilty of manslaughter, neighborhood watch people are not, repeat not, supposed to confront suspects, and they are definitely not supposed to patrol their nieghborhoods armed with a firearm. As I understand manslaughter, it is when someone kills someone else without intending to but whose actions were reckless and uncalled for. Like that cop in the subway shooting in Oakland on New Year's Day 2009. His defense was that he did not mean to kill the suspect--he simply mistakenly drew his gun when he meant to draw his taser. However, most of the cops I know say even if that is true, he still acted improperly: The suspect was on the ground and was handcuffed, so even if his intention was to use his taser that was not appropriate. However, and this is where I come to the crux of my concerns as expressed in the letter: In the Oakland case we had the same "circus" on a local scale that we have had over Martin's tragedy; including open threats of riots if the person responsible was not sentenced to life for first degree murder. When the jury found him guilty of manslaughter there were riots, as there were a few months later when he received a sentence that people felt was two leniet (two years). If our judicial system starts being corrupted by open threats of race riots every time there is a high profile case of white on black viiolence, then cops all over the nation are going to stop fighting black-on-black crime out of sheer self-survival; and this will be a massive disaster for black neighborhoods because 93% of black people murdered are murdered by other black people. So, in sum, the civil rights community was quite right to call for a real investigation and an indictment for a crime--but these individuals have made a disasterous mistake by all-too-often going beyond that and saying that there will be violence if Zimmerman does not get a life sentence. Finally, as for Trayvon Martin's family, I have some sense of what they are going through having lost a sister to the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome--having a child die suddenly and unexpectedly is every parents worst nightmare, as you know so well being the most devoted Father that you are. My prayer group has been praying hard for Martin's family ever since the story broke. Take care!! Sincerely, REspectfully and In Christ, Ernest Evans