Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Florida v. Zimmerman, at last

TODAY, after 44 days of debate and protest, and only after a special prosecutor was named to investigate the merits of an obviously tryable case of homicide, the matter of the Trayvon Martin case has its legal name. The State of Florida v. George Zimmerman, Case #1712F04573, is on the docket.

That seemingly pedestrian fact, that snapshot of legal jargon is the fruition of something that shouldn’t be as momentous as it was today, when special prosecutor Angela Corey went before the microphones in Jacksonville at 6:05 p.m., and said that Zimmerman would stand trial for second degree murder for shooting an unarmed Trayvon, 17, once in the chest point-blank with his 9mm Kel Tec semi-automatic seven-round pistol, between Twin Trees Lane and Retreat View Circle in Sanford, Fla., at dusk on the rainy evening of Feb. 26.

“[I]t is the search for justice for Trayvon that has brought us to this moment,” said Corey, the State Attorney in Florida's Fourth Judicial Circuit Court.

Zimmerman has alleged the shooting was in self-defense; with apparently no eyewitnesses, the case may hinge on forensics. But the decision to charge Zimmerman is as much a validation of the power of public protest as it is a triumph of the justice system and that system’s ability to self-correct — with a serious assist from that public protest.

The call to prosecute Zimmerman comes amid a groundswell of opposition to Florida’s Stand Your Ground laws in particular and other such laws enacted in 24 other states around the country, as well as a concerted pushback against the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization of global corporations and U.S. politicians responsible for crafting hundreds of “model” bills and resolutions advancing corporate interests, a legislative bill-o-matic with a hand-in-glove relationship with lawmakers and legislatures. According to the group’s own estimate, 826 ALEC bills were introduced in statehouses in 2009, and 115 of them were made law.

In a March 29 letter to ALEC executives, a coalition of advocacy oreganizations and leaders made the connection between their actions and the Trayvon Martin case crystal clear. It was published by the Center for Media and Democracy’s PRWatch Web site.

From the letter:

Public records show the Florida law was drafted by the National Rifle Association with two Florida legislators who are ALEC members. In 2005, after it passed, the NRA's lobbyist, Marion Hammer, presented the bill as a model to a closed-door meeting of ALEC's Criminal Justice Task Force. Out of the view of the press and public, ALEC legislators and corporate lobbyists voted to unanimously adopt the bill as a template to be promoted in other states. ALEC's board did not object, and the bill was approved in September 2005.

Jeb Bush, then the governor of Florida, signed the bill into law on Oct. 1, 2005.

The rest is history. And the current events of this evening in Jacksonville.

◊ ◊ ◊

IT HASN’T gone unnoticed. Since January, several of the corporations that are ALEC’s financial oxygen — Intuit, Wendy’s, Coca-Cola, Pepsico, Kraft Foods and McDonald’s — have withdrawn from ALEC membership, concerned about their companies’ image in the face of the controversial ALEC agenda, according to PRWatch.

And since the Trayvon Martin case exploded into the national conversation, opposition to Stand Your Ground laws is growing. On Wednesday, within hours of the charges against Zimmerman, mayor of New York City, called for repeal or reform of SYG laws nationally, as well a review of other pending measures in state governments.

“Florida was the NRA’s first target, and it succeeded in pushing the bill through the legislature over the objections of leading police and law enforcement leaders,” Bloomberg said at a Washington press conference. “In reality, the NRA’s leaders weren’t interested in public safety. ... they justify civilian gunplay and invite vigilante justice and retribution, with disastrous results.”

◊ ◊ ◊

Zimmerman is reportedly set for arraignment an appearance before a judge on Thursday, followed by a march towards trial that’s possibly weeks away. The wheels of the justice system grind slow already. “This case is gonna be around for a long time,” University of Florida law professor Kenneth Nunn said on tonight’s edition of Current’s “Viewpoint With Eliot Spitzer.”

But the fact of the case itself, and the growing viral outcry against the laws that made the case possible speak volumes:

It’s an answer to a question of balance. It sends the signal that the Wild West climate that Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, and others, are unleashing in this country is antithetical to an enlightened society; that it’s unacceptable to create a presumptive leverage of one life over another, or any disqualification of a life based on race or age or gender ... or garment-based suspicions run amok.

It sends a message that shouldn't need sending: Wearing a hoodie does not constitute probable cause.

Image credits: Zimmerman: Seminole County Sheriffs Dept. booking photo. ALEC logo: © 2012 ALEC.  Marion Hammer: Florida Attorney General's Office via Trayvon Martin: The Martin Family.

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