The comment left by “Lisa” in a previous blog post is sadly typical of the emotional response of Trayvon Martin’s supporters as read in comments around the web, on Facebook, Twitter, and various other forums. Speaking of George Zimmerman, she wrote:
Please- He knows the street address as he has called cops almost 50 times. The 911 operator told him it was not necessary for him to follow MArtin, howerver, he did anyway, which makes Zimmerman the Aggressor! MArtin was using self-defense against someone how was chasing him for NO reason. The “stand your ground” law does not hold up once you start chasing someone, aggressively, as Zimmerman did. If someone was chasing me, as Zimmerman was, in self-defense, I might break a nose as well.
The ignorance of the law on display by many Martin supporters is amazing.
She is right in one regard. Martin had a right to defend himself, and “stand your ground” laws would apply to him as well. But the fact of the matter is that SYG laws, like the 400+ years of castle doctrine common law they come from, are defensive in nature.
If Martin escalated the verbal altercation to physical violence by punching Zimmerman in the nose, it was Martin that escalated the conflict and became the aggressor. At that point, however, he was only guilty (If Zimmerman’s story is true) of something of the level of misdemeanor aggravated assault charge, and it considering the situation, he might be forgiven for even that small sin.
If Martin then mounted a downed Zimmerman and began trying to smash his head into the sidewalk as alleged, however, he dramatically upped the stakes.
Using the sidewalk as a weapon is legally (and lethally) every bit as bad as trying to smash in Zimmerman’s head with a brick. If this is what occurred, Martin was in the act of assaulting George Zimmerman with a deadly weapon. His actions were no longer remotely defensive in nature, but an offensive, potentially deadly attack. He is in the process of what a reasonable man may judge as attempted murder. Trayvon Martin was no longer a victim at this point, he was the attacker, and potentially a murderer.
At that point, George Zimmerman has the legal and moral right to defend himself. From a use-of-force perspective, everything that happened prior to that point is irrelevant. If Zimmerman had a reasonable suspicion that his life was in danger–and someone trying to smash your head open on concrete is a “reasonable suspicion” as a matter of legal opinion–then Zimmerman would have been justified in taken action to stop the potentially lethal attack initiated and pursued by Trayvon Martin.
There is a difference between what is legally right, and what is morally right. Zimmerman might have shown morally questionable judgement in leaving his vehicle to follow Martin, setting the stage for the verbal confrontation, and potentially the physical confrontation. He did not break any laws or violate a legal order in doing so, it just wasn’t very smart.
If Trayvon Martin then took the initiative of Zimmerman exiting his vehicle to engage him in a verbal confrontation, this was also not necessarily very smart, but it wasn’t illegal. If Martin pressed an assault into a potentially lethal attack, however, then Martin bears the legal responsibility for creating the conditions that justified the Defensive use of lethal force by Zimmerman, and his own death.
I am not saying that this is the series of events as described by Zimmerman are the definitive events. I’m merely making an observation of why Martin’s shooting was justifiable, if Zimmerman’s account is most nearly the right one.