By John M. Phillips
An original civil rights pioneer, Abraham Lincoln, often said “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”
We, as a country, were founded on freedom- freedom to do, say and act how we wish. It was a system of ideals – a literal Constitution– that stemmed from oppression and longing for expression. But that very freedom was tucked inside Pandora’s Box. Because my free expression and your free expression (or desire to avoid my expression) may contrast. Our grandfathers may not have valued each others’ rights, but that doesn’t mean that we have to hold on to that dowry of hate. We cannot hold on to that. Pandora’s box of freedom is open and making everyone upset, some people crazy and dividing this nation further. As KRS-One rapped, “Self destruction, (we)’re headed for self destruction.”
Even though some hold sacred the Constitutional Right to the violent ‘defense of self’ guaranteed by the Second Amendment, other Amendments were drafted to provide rights to women and minorities- to force peace and quality. It means our forefathers were wrong sometimes, too. Even Thomas Jefferson thought the Constitution of this nation should be redrafted every generation or so. Yet, some now use those very Second Amendment guarantees to define freedom in America. Lincoln would undoubtedly define that as- “faltering.” We cannot impinge or insult one another and use the Second Amendment to bail ourselves out of mere free or misunderstanding. We cannot be violent mice waiting for our tail to be stepped on to teach the great elephant a lesson.
What if -and this is just a hypothetical- George Zimmerman is as much of a “wanted man” as his own family and legal counsel claim. And what if -to continue that hypothetical- someone he considers menacing (a black child with candy, soft drink and a possible bad attitude, perhaps) comes at him in his car or in a store- fist in the air. Can he shoot and claim he was standing his ground or was in defense of self? And do it again? And do it again? Where is the line of defense of self and reason? Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the world where the Stand Your Ground killer is not only legal, but he (or she) is festering among us. ‘Dexter’ could run four more seasons if the writers dare approach the laws of lethal force and Stand Your Ground in Florida.
I respectfully ask -so what- that you agree Michael Dunn was wrong to kill Jordan Davis. It won’t bring Jordan back– a college bound kid with a more potential than Dunn ever had. It is time to stop the faltering. Or it is time to give up on some freedoms. Or just to find some common thread of kindness. We are headed towards self destruction. I don’t need you to agree, I need you to act.
As for Zimmerman, the jury has spoken. Yet, the jury had a -still- unanswered question before it spoke- a question I still ask -why didn’t anyone explain manslaughter? When you drive recklessly and kill someone, it is arguably manslaughter. When you act carelessly with a firearm, it is arguably manslaughter. When you kill someone with the intent to simply pull the trigger, it -legally- is manslaughter. And it was never argued. And I don’t believe it was self defense for any of about 50 reasons located here. The Prosecutors’ silence to omit manslaughter is only made louder by their desire to go on every talk show and justify their failures.
My only request, you have trial in less than two and a half months of a murderer who never had a hair harmed, ever called the police, who just went to his hotel and ate pizza after shooting ten times in a car, killing Jordan Davis- Because Stand Your Ground told him he could. And this nation falters under bad attitudes and worse laws. Get to work, please. Justice depends on it.
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(Because It’s About My Child, Too)
I keep asking myself- have we opened Pandora’s Box so wide that what George Zimmerman did is ACTUALLY legal and reasonable and entirely free from punishment? Early on, I thought it might be. Before I saw a deceased Jordan Davis and consoled his tearful parents, before Newtown, before spending months really looking at this country, I thought George Zimmerman was just “looking out for his own neighborhood” and might have had to shoot to protect his own life. And then I looked at life around me. And then I looked at all of the unreasonable and avoidable actions and inactions that caused him to take Trayvon’s life.
I start with a little about me and my family and what I learned about fear and prejudice in America. We were burglarized last August. Seeing my crying wife hold my crying child while police invaded our invaded house, made me wonder- do we all need to arm up to prevent the bad from taking over. With this thought and $50, I wound up with about 100 others in a Concealed Weapon Permit class, driven there by fear. This only made my fear worse. That was the its design- profit off of fear. Fear sells guns and breeds contempt and power.
The class was put on by a gun store with a cheesy name and the two men who ran the class were like circus barkers:
For just $162 and 4 hours, you, too, can be master of the universe. We even sell a book written by the top gun lawyer in the country, which you must buy. It tells you how to ‘get away’ with self defense. Live in the grey area of the gun laws. It tells you more than just, ‘don’t shoot them in the back,’ but what Stand Your Ground really means and how it protects your rights as an American citizen.
The two gun store employees proceeded to tell us more about boycotting certain specific businesses who did not allow guns on the premises than the laws we needed to know. Over the four hour presentation, they each pulled out six or seven guns from their various hiding spots, taking a few moments to give the sales pitch on each. I was so entranced, I actually bought one of the guns they pitched- the Bodyguard. They did well that day. They sold- America.
And, as I went alone, I remember just listening to the conversations around me. It was a few weeks before the 2012 Presidential election and most were there in fear of the re-election of “the black President.” Others had bought the NRA’s propaganda that the FBI was coming door-to-door to take guns or that permits would be more tightly regulated. Some spoke against the “thug” in Sanford who had been shot and speculated on who he was “staking out.” The rise in crime, the fear of minority power and other conspiracy theories drove quite a few people there to join the 1 million Concealed Weapon Permit holders in the State of Florida. Some had been victims. Some just wanted to feel less fear. All craved the lustful taste of power over fear a gun was promised to provide.
I left, hanging my head in shame. Who had I become? Had I let fear overcome me? Having grown up in the great State of Alabama, I knew racists. But they were only racists when they were around those they trusted. Now, racism is openly justified by crime reports, broken politics and black teenagers in the wrong place at the wrong time. Holy shit.
And then, weeks later, the God above put me on the couch of Ron Davis. His son, Jordan Davis was just shot and killed by a man with a gun in his glove box. Michael Dunn’s infamous last words were, “you aren’t going to talk to me like that.” People say it was about loud music, but it was about where we are as a society. It was about hate and intolerance, not race as I said in one of the first national interviews I did on the matter. I sat there with tears pouring down my and my associate’s faces- a broken man. Ron and Lucia had media trucks following them trying to scoop one another. All three local stations knocked on the door while I was there. Days earlier, he was a happy father hearing his son lead the Thanksgiving prayer for the first time, and now he was a broken man because of another broken man- Michael Dunn and his legal gun and the empowerment and control it brought him. He claims self defense and Stand Your Ground, as well.
We will deal with that matter in due course, but it changed me. It changed the way I view life and tolerance, love and passion. I grew very angry with lawyers, victims advocates and others who were using these victims or were in it for the profit. I grew impatient with the close minded. I walked as close as I could in the shoes of someone who had lost a child to gun violence. I wound up wanting to find solutions more and more. I felt (and feel) I can stop a few bullets. Trayvon can stop more. Jordan can stop more. The butterfly effect of all of our efforts can stop even more. Or maybe heal some hearts. Or something. We have to, because the next bullet could be flying towards any of us. And instead of Michael Dunn’s death sentence of “you aren’t going to talk to me like that,” George Zimmerman’s was basically, “you aren’t going to walk in my neighborhood like that.” What sentence will do you in.
My dad always said, “don’t start no shit, and there won’t be none (sic).” Let’s look at that-
So, why do we need George Zimmerman to be convicted and why, as a lawyer, do I feel he should be convicted?
On February 26, 2012, Zimmerman did one right thing- he called police. That was the LAST thing he did correct, reasonably and with any intelligence. If he stopped there, Trayvon Martin would be alive and George Zimmerman would be free of the justice system. But he compounded neglect of omission and commission thereafter- manslaughter. Read more
George Zimmerman – 6 Important Missing Questions During Voice Analysis Testimony
I am a trial lawyer. I tell clients, forget what you think about trial lawyers (please). It boils down -if done correctly- to the trial lawyer being the producer and director of an elaborate play about a crucial chapter in their life. It is written by the client’s own life- their doctors, witnesses, experts and a host of others, but performed live without scripts (generally). And the trial lawyer is the quarterback, the conductor and the storyteller.
As such, like a quarterback sitting at home judging another quarterback’s play in the field, it is a bit unfair to critique another lawyer’s strategy while the “game” is ongoing. And, I must note that it is not a game and there is no score kept- just the end. But there have been so many questions in my mind where I ask- did the State Attorneys’ Office for the 4th Judicial Circuit and State of Florida produce and direct this story of the death of Trayvon Martin with proper thought and execution?
To me, the whole case boils down -in large fashion- to the identity of the voices screaming and yelling that night. Emphasizing that point, George Zimmerman started his case-in-chief on defense with that issue, countering Trayvon’s family’s identity and ownership of that crucial voice heard here- zimmerman.
And even though Zimmerman was TOLD it was his own voice by the officer (who was trying to impeach him on the point Zimmerman claimed he was being smothered at the same time he was yelling), Zimmerman said, it didn’t even sound like him. So how are we to believe his uncle and mother, who testified without such hesitation? How could that not be brought before the jury?
Jurors are allowed to tie loose strands together and are encouraged to bring past experience and common sense into the courtroom, but with about six missing questions, the State of Florida dropped the ball on a key issue. And, realize, these questions could have been asked with leading statements, making the points therein far more important and direct that what I ask here.
And like the quarterback in his recliner, here I go-
Question: “When was the last time you heard your son (or nephew) scream over the phone?”
While it was a question that should have been asked to all parties here on cross examination, it never was. It is the key issue. It is the reason why experts could not identify the voice- not enough of a sample or reliability with all of the factors involved, particularly phone quality from 100-plus feet away.
And no one precisely asked if the witness had heard Trayvon or Zimmerman yelling in the phone ever before this incident? Likely, the answer would have been, “never.” But, it also could have opened an interesting door. What if Zimmerman or Trayvon had a habit of flying off the handle, what if Zimmerman or Trayvon a habit of wailing, what if there was something in the past (like the purported incident where Zimmerman turned off his mother’s electricity or was verbally abusive, see statement to the right) where this made the witness truly think or debate discussion of like incidents.
Or heard his scream or talk while being muffled?
And once the State knew it was in the clear on these questions, as the Defense really didn’t flush it out, why not let it rip?
Question: “When was the last time you lived with your son (or nephew)?”
The answer is one sided. The voice expert testified precisely to the unique familiarity of immediate family members to recognize the voice of those really close to them. George Zimmerman had moved on, gotten married, become educated and, arguably, was a very different and better educated man when he left home 5, 6 or 8 years before. This points could have been spelled out quickly.
His voice or his way of speaking, maybe even his language used around the house to his mother, may have been different. MORE IMPORTANTLY, the proper leading question would point our that- while Trayvon continued to be a ward of his parents, living at home the entire time, their familiarity lapsed. Simply having the witness point out he or she had never heard him yell “help” or scream only emphasizes the possibility it was him and is almost flattering, as it shows (indirectly) he was not “crying wolf,” a characterization the State contends. It’s lazy.
Question: “Does the last sample or two sound like “help”?”
First, George denied the screams sounded like him at first- huge point. Then, on his TV tour, he was emphatic it was him- an even larger point. He formulated his story. The key component of the voice at the very end doesn’t sound like “help” at all. It is more of a wailing. It seems more like primal screams FOR help, but does not sound like the word “help.” Yet, Zimmerman has said repeatedly, he screamed “help.” In the re-creation, he used the word “help.” Listen here- VoiceExemplars_03222012_643pm. Read more