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Whose Right? Whose Ground? | The Nation

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Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders

Budget wars, activism, uprising, dissent and general rabble-rousing.

Whose Right? Whose Ground?


A child sits on the shoulders of her father during a protest in Atlanta after George Zimmerman’s verdict. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

“He did nothing wrong except for what he did before.”

Those are the words that stay with me, after so many sad, mad and outrageous words have been uttered about the George Zimmerman trial. When, exactly does the clock start and stop on this notion of “before”?

“He did nothing wrong except for what he did before”Juror B37 told CNN’s Anderson Cooper after explaining that while the shooter may have shown "poor judgement" early in the evening in question, the jury couldn’t convict because:

“[…]because of the heat of the moment and the Stand Your Ground.”… “He had a right to defend himself. If he felt threatened that his life was going to be taken away from him or he was going to have bodily harm, he had a right.”

What happened on the night of the shooting has, much of it, been called unclear, but some things are entirely clear. One of those is that for Zimmerman “the moment” wasn’t heated for very long. According to the police timeline, he shot Trayvon Martin at 7:16 pm on February 26, 2012. At 7:09, we know the heated moment hadn’t begun because that’s when he called a non-emergency police hotline.

It was a non-emergency for Zimmerman at 7:09.

For the next four minutes and seven seconds, Zimmerman and the non-emergency operator talked on the phone. No one talked about any threat to any life. At 7:11 and thirty-three seconds, they were still talking when he told her the teenage boy he perceived as suspicious appeared to be running away.

At 7:11 and fifty-nine seconds, the dispatcher told Zimmerman not to follow the teen. He replied, “OK” but followed anyway. No heat-of-the-moment fear there.

At 7:13 and forty-one seconds the call ended.

For Martin by then, his moments had been heated already for a very long time.

We know for sure Martin’s moment was heated when he saw he was being followed by a stranger and he told his friend Rachel that he couldn’t lose the guy. It was heated, for sure, when she heard him say “What are you following me for?” And a bit later “get off, get off.”

For Martin, the heated moment probably started earlier, when he was caught in the rain and put up that hood (in that hood) and tried to pick a path home.  Or even before that, when he was suspended from school at test time, for traces of weed in his backpack. That was somebody’s idea of an emergency.

Martin’s heated moment was long. Zimmerman’s was short. But the only moment the jury (apparently) talked about was the one just before 7:16, when they believe Zimmerman came to feel fear. In the jury’s eyes, the heated moment started right there.

And so it may be, under the law. But whose heated moment are we talking about?

It depends when you start the clock. Does the moment start when you leave your car and pick up your gun? Or when your head starts to bleed from the fight you picked?

We’ve heard this argument before. When does the moment get hot: when you steal the land and erect a fence? Or when you pull the trigger on the landless one who throws a rock? When you send troops abroad to suck up minerals and grain? Or when you send troops around the world again to shoot the labor organizers who fight back? Or how about when you force people in chains to work for you for free? Or when they stand up and look at you and you get scared?

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Juror B37 told Anderson Cooper on CNN that Zimmerman had a right to stand his ground. Whose ground is it anyway? For how long? The Seminole, the Miccosuk?

Whose right? Whose ground? Which heated moment are we talking about?

We need a big long conversation about heated moments and a good long conversation about the law. Let us share that same heated moment, all of us, starting now.

In the days since George Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges, people in cities across the country have come together to express their outrage and disappointment.

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