George Zimmerman or Bryan Stow: Who Would You Rather Be?

By | August 30, 2018 | 4 Comments




George Zimmerman



   Bryan Stow

Author’s Note: This column was first posted on July 11, 2013. I am posting an updated version because of the current TV miniseries on the death of Trayvon Martin titled “Rest in Power.” The trailer for the series claims that Martin was “profiled,” and that “the NRA had its thumb on the scale of justice at the trial.” So here is my attempt at an antidote to the slanted coverage.

Life is unpredictable. Sometimes we are faced with a choice we would rather not make, but we must make it. Sometimes the choice is not between good and bad, but between bad and worse. As responsible adults – assuming we are responsible adults – we face reality and make the choice. And then we live with the consequences. That’s what adults do.

The media have been filled to overflowing with commentary about the Florida trial of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin. Everyone from the most uninformed, self-anointed “expert” to President Obama himself has felt free to chime in with whatever came to mind.

As expected, the comments varied all the way from “Zimmerman is a racist pig who should be executed for shooting an unarmed young boy” to “Martin was a teenage delinquent who got what he deserved.” And also as expected, the truth lies somewhere in between.

Legal pundits expound on the laws of self-defense, noting that they apply to Martin as well as to Zimmerman. They go on at great length about the “duty to retreat” and Florida’s “stand your ground” law, though it is difficult to see how either one is relevant to Zimmerman, who was flat on his back being pummeled mixed-martial-arts style. How do you retreat when you can’t move? How do you stand your ground when you’re lying on it?

The pundits, quite correctly, emphasize that Martin was unarmed, while Zimmerman was carrying a pistol – for which he had obtained a permit, meeting all the qualifications prescribed by law. From these facts, partisans of Martin conclude that Zimmerman was prowling around, looking for someone to shoot – preferably an African American. On the contrary, partisans of Zimmerman conclude that it’s lucky for him he was armed, or he might have been seriously injured or killed. Legal experts expound on the law, while other pundits bloviate on the philosophical and ethical aspects of violence in general and self-defense in particular.

But I would like to look at the problem from another angle. I would like to ask a question that may or may not have going through Zimmerman’s mind during those crucial few seconds, but that was going through my mind as I considered his situation from a safe distance and at my leisure. I would like to ask this question:

Who would you rather be, George Zimmerman or Bryan Stow?

Everyone who has not just been rescued from a desert island knows about George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. Correction: almost everyone. I doubt that Bryan Stow knows about this case. Bryan Stow can barely recognize his family and cannot care for himself, much less comment on current events.

Bryan Stow was a paramedic in the San Francisco Bay Area. He was a son, a friend, a colleague – and most important, the divorced father of a young son and daughter. He was also a San Francisco Giants fan. On opening day of the 2011 baseball season, Bryan attended the Giants-Dodgers game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. He made one mistake – he wore a Giants tee shirt.

During the game, Bryan texted a friend that he was worried about the hostility he felt from the Dodger fans. Bryan looked like a man who he knew his way around the gym. He did not look like a man who was easily worried. But his worries were justified.

After the game, as he crossed the parking lot, he was suddenly attacked by two Dodger fans. He was punched in the head, knocked to the asphalt, then repeatedly hit and kicked. Note that his attackers were “unarmed.” That is, they did not have guns. They did, however, have fists, feet – and most important, they had anger and a desire to hurt a Giants fan. Bryan Stow, on the other hand, was truly unarmed – he had no gun, no anger, and no desire to hurt anyone.

As a result of this “unarmed” attack, Bryan Stow remained in a coma for weeks, requiring intensive care just to remain alive. He then spent two years in skilled nursing facilities, slowly regaining the ability to recognize his loved ones, but not the ability to speak coherently or to care for himself in any way. Note that in the photo, his expression is blank as he is hugged by his sister. He will require constant nursing care for the rest of his life. He will never again serve as a paramedic, will never interact with his parents or sisters, and will never influence his children’s lives in any meaningful way.

Perhaps there is a lesson here. Perhaps it is better to live in Florida, one of the 40 states where, after proper training, a law-abiding citizen can obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon. There, one has to think twice before assaulting a stranger. On the other hand, in California it is almost impossible to obtain a permit, so one can feel free to assault anyone he pleases – except a gang-banger, of course.

During the Zimmerman trial, a medical examiner called as a prosecution witness claimed that Zimmerman’s injuries were “insignificant.” First of all, a forensic pathologist is an expert at determining the cause and manner of death of corpses. She is not an expert – and in fact has no training – in diagnosing or treating living persons. But even from the point of view of a forensic pathologist, she was badly mistaken.

If you doubt this, consider the case of Natasha Richardson. The noted actress was the wife of actor Liam Neeson and the mother of their two young children. She went on a skiing vacation in Quebec, fell down on a beginner’s slope and bumped her head. She had no visible injury to her head. Nevertheless, she soon lapsed into a coma and died from an epidural hematoma – a blood clot pressing on her brain.

That is, even a minor injury to the head can cause a potentially fatal injury to the brain. If no visible injury at all could kill Natasha Richardson, a broken nose and at least two lacerations to the back of his scalp could have proved fatal to George Zimmerman. If being hit in the head, knocked down, and kicked could cause Bryan Stow to be severely brain damaged, having his head repeatedly struck against a concrete walkway could have done the same to George Zimmerman.

Forget about the “stand your ground” law or the “castle” doctrine. Under the normal law of self-defense, which we inherited from English common law, a person is justified in using deadly force if he reasonably believes he is in danger of death or great bodily injury. Someone whose head is being bashed against concrete is in fact in danger of death or great bodily injury, regardless of what anyone may or may not believe. And this would be true even if Zimmerman were lying when he says that Martin was reaching for his (Zimmerman’s) gun while threatening to kill him.

Yes, George Zimmerman is in serious legal trouble. If he is convicted, he will spend many years in prison, looking over his shoulder for someone coming to kill him. And if he is acquitted, he will also spend many years looking over his shoulder for someone coming to kill him. His face is known all over the world. He will have difficulty finding a job or making friends. He and his parents will be impoverished from legal bills. Even if his is found not guilty, his future is uncertain – but at least he has a future.

Despite all these problems, I would rather be George Zimmerman than Bryan Stow. I would rather have a weapon with which to defend myself, despite all the risks, than have no weapon, and face still greater risks.

Additional questions:

• Did Zimmerman “profile” Martin? Look at the transcript of the actual tape of George Zimmerman’s 911 call:

Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.

911 Operator: Okay, and this guy, is he black, white, or Hispanic?

Zimmerman: He looks black.

Now look at the transcript of the tape NBC played on TV “news”:

Zimmernan: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.

Clearly, the implication is that Zimmerman is a racist who saw Trayvon Martin as suspicious just because he was black. But in fact, Zimmerman mentioned the person’s race only after the 911 operator asked about it. This is a half-truth that gives a false impression ‒ the worst kind of lie.

This lie, and the slanted media coverage that went with it, created the expectation that Zimmerman would be convicted of murder. But the jury studied the evidence and found him not guilty. And as in the Rodney King case, many people couldn’t understand how this happened ‒ and assumed some sort of conspiracy. How could they not? Everything they had seen in the media led them to believe a “guilty” verdict was unavoidable.

The “liberal” media altered the Trayvon Martin audiotape, just as they altered the Rodney King videotape ‒ in both cases, to make them seem worse than they actually were. Those who stir up racial unrest in order to increase ratings may call themselves “journalists,” but they are utterly contemptible.

• Who started the confrontation? This question is irrelevant. Suppose Zimmerman went up to Martin and asked, “What are you doing here?” Martin might have been irritated, but he had no right to beat Zimmerman up. The only exception might be if Zimmerman used “fighting words” and called Martin filthy names, for which there is no evidence.

• Who started the fight? This question is relevant. If I hit a man, I have no right to resort to deadly force if I find I am losing the fight. But if I start a fist fight, and the other man begins banging my head against concrete, or doing something else that has a good chance to kill me, then I may have to resort to deadly force in order to save my life, regardless of the legal or moral implications. It is better to be arrested for manslaughter than to be buried under six feet of dirt.

The moral is: don’t start fights. But there is no evidence that Zimmerman started a fight. He had a broken nose and at least two lacerations on the back of his head. Martin had no injuries except bruised knuckles – of course, in addition to the fatal gunshot wound.

In fact, there is no evidence that there was a fight – that is, mutual combat. From the testimony of eyewitnesses and the physical evidence, it appears that Zimmerman was being beaten up. He believed he had to resort to deadly force. The burden of the prosecution is to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman was not justified in this belief. In view of what happened to Bryan Stow, this is an extremely heavy burden.

• Would Martin still be alive if…? If Zimmerman merely called 911 and then went home? If Zimmerman ignored the slow police response time, and the previous burglary suspects who were gone by the time police arrived? If Zimmerman weren’t on duty that night? If Zimmerman decided to patrol without being armed? If there were no neighborhood watch, and residents were left on their own? Yes, perhaps Trayvon Martin would still be alive if one or more of these events had occurred.

On the other hand, Martin might also still be alive if he had not grown up hearing “gangsta” rap that glorifies violence and drug use. And Martin might still be alive if he had not been taught racial hostility. In fact, Zimmerman is Latino and would qualify for affirmative-action programs. His mother is from Peru and is part Peruvian Indian and part black.

Zimmerman’s mother and Zimmerman are “Mestizo” or mixed race. Nevertheless, racial hostility may have caused Martin to assault Zimmerman after referring to him as a “creepy-ass cracker.” The dictionary defines “cracker” as a “disparaging and offensive” term for a poor white person in the South. Those who see racism everywhere should first look in the mirror.

“What if” is a game that can be played by both sides. It’s easy to play – there are no rules. But it’s a total waste of time. Far more productive is to deal with reality, however imperfect our understanding of reality may be.

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