« "Ravi media tour carries risks at sentencing, experts say" | Main | The Machinery of Criminal Justice #3: Hiding Punishment Behind Prison Walls »

March 23, 2012

Should Florida's Gov have appointed a black (or Hispanic) prosecutor to take over the Trayvon Martin case?

AngelaCoreyI have not yet blogged about the (still-growing?) controversy over how Florida law and officials have been handling the high-profile shooting case that has been the subject of much media attention.  But, as the question in the title of this post reveals, I have a provocative query in the wake of the latest development in the case. This local story, headlined "Gov. Rick Scott appoints special prosecutor for Trayvon Martin case," provides some of the basics:

Under the glare of protests and the national media spotlight, the Sanford police chief and the Brevard-Seminole County prosecutor both stepped aside Thursday in the case of a neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot an unarmed black teenager. 

Gov. Rick Scott appointed Angela B. Corey, state attorney for the Jacksonville area, as special prosecutor to head the state investigation of the Feb. 26 slaying of Trayvon Martin, 17, of South Florida.  Scott also announced that a task force headed by Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll will study Florida's "stand your ground'' law.  The government's statement suggested that Brevard-Seminole State Attorney Norm Wolfinger was forced out....

George Zimmerman, 28, was the neighborhood watch captain at the Retreat at Twin Lakes, a townhouse complex in the small town north of Orlando.  A Hispanic former insurance agent with a history of reporting the presence of black men to police, Zimmerman shot Martin in the chest.

Jennifer_Carroll_Official

The killing came after Zimmerman called police saying he saw someone in a hoodie walking too slowly in the rain, peering at houses.  After the shooting, he told police he was attacked and fired in self-defense....

 

The Sanford Police Department is under fire for its handling of the investigation and for accepting the shooter's self-defense claim. Accused of lying to reporters and Trayvon's parents, protecting the shooter and ignoring key witnesses, Lee decided to step aside Thursday. His decision came a day after a 3-2 Sanford City Commission vote of "no confidence" in the chief....

Martin's parents said that the chief's stepping down wasn't enough and that Zimmerman should be taken into custody. "We want an arrest, we want a conviction and we want him sentenced for the murder of my son," Martin's father, Tracy, said to fiery crowd of about 1,000 supporters in downtown Sanford.... 

Scott said the task force led by Carroll will take a closer look at the 2005 "stand your ground" law, and other issues surrounding the case. "After listening to many concerned citizens in recent days, I will call for a Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection to investigate how to make sure a tragedy such as this does not occur in the future, while at the same time, protecting the fundamental rights of all of our citizens — especially the right to feel protected and safe in our state," Scott said in a release.

The task force will convene after the investigation takes place, and will include public hearings. In addition to Carroll, the Rev. R. B. Holmes Jr., pastor of the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee, has agreed to be the vice chair of the task force. Attorney General Pam Bondi and the Legislature's Republican leadership — some of whom co-sponsored the "stand your ground" law — also supported the new task force.

The Justice Department and FBI have opened a civil rights investigation, and a grand jury will meet April 10 to determine whether to charge Zimmerman.  Before the rally, Martin's parents met with the U.S. attorney for Florida's Middle District, the deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights in Washington and the head of the FBI's Tampa office to discuss the investigation.  "We listened carefully to the concerns of the family and their representatives," Special Agent Dave Couvertier, an FBI spokesman, said in a statement. "We continue to extend our deepest condolences to Trayvon's family for their loss."

I have posted the pictures of the two persons given new responsibilities in this matter by Florida's governor, as well as titled this post with a provocative question, in large part because race (and arguably gender) has much to do with this particular case and the large issues that it raises about self defense law and practice.  I especially do not envy Angela Corey's challenge to deal with both the uncertain facts and the certain identity politics surrounding this case.

In this press story, I also find notable (and quite troublesome) that Trayvon Martin's father is not merely demanding an investigation and arrest, but also saying at a rally that "we want a conviction and we want him sentenced for the murder of my son."  That quote leads me to believe and fear that this case will continue to be the source of significant controversy and racial tensions in Florida (and elsewhere) no matter what the new prosecutor and task force does in the weeks and months ahead.

UPDATE:  And this new AP story, headlined "Obama says shooting death of Fla. teen a 'tragedy'," reinforces my sense that this story is going to be making lots of headlines for lots of reasons for quite some time.  Consider these comments by President Obama, in particular, as we think about the importance of optics on the operation and the perceptions of our criminal justice system:

Obama expressed sympathy for the parents of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was shot on Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla., a suburb of Orlando, by a neighborhood watch volunteer who said he was acting in self-defense. "I can only imagine what these parents are going through, and when I think about this boy, I think about my own kids," Obama said, calling the case a "tragedy."

The nation's first black president aimed his message at Martin's parents, saying, "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon. I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans take this with the seriousness that it deserves, and we're going to get to the bottom of what happened."

Obama said that "every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this and everybody pulls together, federal state and local, to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened."

"What happened to Trayvon Martin is a tragedy. There needs to be a thorough investigation that reassures the public that justice is carried out with impartiality and integrity."

March 23, 2012 at 12:35 PM | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451574769e20168e92586aa970c

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Should Florida's Gov have appointed a black (or Hispanic) prosecutor to take over the Trayvon Martin case?:

Comments

Of course,

How could a non-black, non-Hispanic prosecute the case?

Is that not why Leonard Rosenfeld oversaw the liberation of the Concentration Camps? {He didn't)

Sounds like this mentality:
“I voted for Barack because he was black.
’Cuz that’s why other folks vote for other people — because they look like them,” Jackson said.

"That’s American politics, pure and simple. [Obama’s] message didn’t mean sh-t to me. In the end, he’s a politician. I just [had] hoped he would do some of what he said he was gonna do."~~S. L. Jackson, Ebony Mag., 3/12

Posted by: Adamakis | Mar 23, 2012 1:17:08 PM

this idiot is gonna fry!

Sorry the stand your ground law does NOT apply in his case. He was a neighbhood watch leader. They specifically prohibit both carrying a WEAPON and Approaching any one suspisious. His ONLY abilty was to watch and CALL IN.

Which he did he called it in. Was told to BACK OFF and let law enforcment handle it. He cused out the 911 operator and then proceeded to get out of his vehicle ....sorry at that point the only one protected by the stand your ground law was the poor kid who was killed...not this idot!

Posted by: rodsmith | Mar 23, 2012 1:40:07 PM

Not to be too radical about it, but maybe we should just find out exactly what the facts are first?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 23, 2012 2:01:54 PM

Let me ask a provocative question to Doug. Just where does the optics end and the reality that the anger is the anger of any grieving parent who lost a child untimely. Phased another way, is it possible for a black person (or any minority) to be angry for a reason other than their race and ethnicity.

Posted by: Daniel | Mar 23, 2012 3:07:55 PM

I am sure, Daniel, that Martin's parents are angry for reasons other that race and ethnicity. My point, though, is that they might be be confident that a prosecutor who does not share their race and ethnicity will see this case he same was as one who does. Indeed, Prez Obama's comments suggest that a black prosecutor would necessarily take this case a lot more "personally" than a non-black prosecutor.

Most fundamentally, the issue for me is would this case be getting so much attention were it not for the "optics"? Once one see the impact of the optics, the hard question become how much should decision-makers endeavor to focus on the optics or other other factors, especially in a world in which the perception of justice may be more consequential than actual justice (see, e.g., the reaction to the Casey Anthony verdict).

Posted by: Doug B. | Mar 23, 2012 3:48:56 PM

"Indeed, Prez Obama's comments suggest that a black prosecutor would necessarily take this case a lot more "personally" than a non-black prosecutor."

That simply isn't a fair characterization of the president's remarks. In fact, Obama never mentions race and simply responds as a *parent*. The only remotely race related aspect in his statement is his comment that if he had a son it would look like Trayvon and that's ambiguous because he could have been merely talking about his sex, his height, his build, or anything except his race.

To answer your second question, I think that depends on what you mean by "case". As I see it this case is less about white on black crime and more about a perception of a cover-up that was racially motivated. So far there is no evidence that the killing itself was motivated by race (though it may have been) but the concern is that it wasn't investigated fully because of race. At this stage it's more about a racial motivated cover-up by the police than a racial killing.

My perception is that if the investigation is perceived as fair then the result will be perceived as fair by the majority of people. That was true in the Casey Anthony case, the hyperventilating of a minority aside.

Posted by: Daniel | Mar 23, 2012 4:51:08 PM

Doug --

"Prez Obama's comments suggest that a black prosecutor would necessarily take this case a lot more 'personally' than a non-black prosecutor."

It is an error of the first magnitude for a prosecutor to take a case personally. For Obama, or any serious person, to suggest otherwise is astounding.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 23, 2012 4:57:45 PM

hmm facts bill.

let's see he has acting as a neighborhood watch leader who's policy and procedures prohibit weapons!

he was on the phone to 911 where he did as required and reported the individual and was IN FACT told NOT to do anyhthing law enforcment would deal with it. At that point he went on a racial hate tirade that was recorded!

boy is now dead because he FAILED to follow that instruction.


sorry but the stand your ground law in florida was put in place after a number of people defended themself from criminals who then were both prosecuted by govt and then sued by the criminal resulting in criminal fines and civil judgements!

that was was designed to stop that. If someone threates you or others you have every legal right to stop them using whatever force is necessary upto and including lethal force. If that use is ruled justifial you cannot be touched either by criminal or civil courts!

the key there is RULED JUSTIFIAL!

kid was not following num-nut he was in fact BEING FOLLOWED! num-nut was in a vehicle! kid was not! num-nut was armed with a GUN...kid was NOT!

Like i said he's gonna fry! unless his buddies in law enforcment try and cover it up and the internation media frenzy say this time THAT'S NOT GONNA HAPPEN!

Posted by: rodsmith | Mar 23, 2012 7:36:15 PM

These are feminist lawyers. Their investigation of a productive male, standing his ground, will have the credibility of one by a KKK member carried out in 1912. All the race whores needs to apologize to the officials who exercised their sincere discretion and had to resign, under left wing pressure. The comment of President Obama have poisoned the investigative field, and basically immunized the shooter. Even if fully guilty of second degree murder, he now cannot get a fair trial anywhere in the country. So any investigation is for idle curiosity purposes.

I support legislation arming all law abiding citizens, providing weapons training, and mandating a shoot to kill duty, with fines against any member of the public who does not make an attempt to shoot to kill. Such a statute would end crime, the lives of the lawyer criminal clients, and a large fraction of lawyer employment. In order to get enactment, the entire lawyer hierarchy will have to be arrested, given an hour's fair trial, and summarily executed in the courthouse basement, upon the reading of the verdict.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 24, 2012 12:35:42 AM

All race whores need to condemn the outrageous ratio of black murderer/white murder victim vs white murderer/black murder victim, like 10:1. Otherwise, the hypocrites should be ignored.

http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/homicide/race.cfm

Scroll down to "Homicide by Race of Victim, Stranger"

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 24, 2012 1:36:01 AM

As to getting the facts ... "we're going to get to the bottom of what happened."

Posted by: Joe | Mar 24, 2012 8:23:24 AM

Other than the obvious, the tragedy of this is the way the race mongers have jumped on this case. This alleged murder is no more remarkable than any other of the tens of thousands occurring annually.

When gangbanger A kills gangbanger B on the streets of an inner city, not a tear is shed by the progressive mob, except to damn the system for being too harsh on the killer. Give them an opportunity to make a point about race, guns, or people defending their neghborhoods though and all hell breaks out.

How this plays out will be (and already is) shameful.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Mar 24, 2012 10:36:57 AM

A fact for the race whores, and the horrible, biased, hate filled feminist lawyers.

Here.

http://www.myfoxtampabay.com/dpp/news/state/witness-martin-attacked-zimmerman-03232012

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 25, 2012 5:16:57 AM

Nancy Grace: "Not to be too radical about it, but maybe we should just find out exactly what the facts are first?"

He is what I like to call a wee-wee pig - not a cop - but acts like one [this would also apply to security guards].

776.012 Use of force in defense of person. — A person is justified in using force, Except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if:

(1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony; or
(2) Under those circumstances permitted pursuant to s. 776.013 [Home protection; use of deadly force; presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm].

When told, "we don't need you to do that," when asked if he was following the kid, he said "okay" and ignored the dispatcher [You can hear the driver door of the SUV close on the 911 tape]. His berating was labored so, he was pursuing the boy.

If you are the pursuer, and George Zimmerman clearly was because he ignored the dispatcher, the Stand-your-ground law would not apply to him.

FL Self-Defense law:

"A license to carry a concealed weapon does not make you a free-lance policeman. But, as stated earlier, deadly force is justified if you are trying to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony. The use of deadly force must be absolutely necessary to prevent the crime. Also, if the criminal runs away, you cannot use deadly force to stop him, because you would no longer be "preventing" a crime. If use of deadly force is not necessary, or you use deadly force after the crime has stopped, you could be convicted of manslaughter."

Is walking down the street wearing a hoodie an "imminent commission of a forcible felony?"

Zimmerman said of Trayvon that he was "a real suspicious guy."

Forcible felony?

"Looks like he's up to no good, or he's on drugs, or something."

Felony?

Furthermore, is George Zimmerman some kind of expert that he can tell if a person, at some distance wearing a hoodie, while walking in the rain is on drugs?

"It's raining and he's just walking around, looking about."

That sounds nefarious and has to be an imminent commission of a forcible felony.

Posted by: Huh? | Mar 25, 2012 10:24:32 PM

Supremacy Claus: "These are feminist lawyers. Their investigation of a productive male, standing his ground, will have the credibility of one by a KKK member carried out in 1912."

I can never tell if you are being a wisenheimer or completely serious. :-)

Posted by: Huh? | Mar 25, 2012 10:26:54 PM

you hit it right on the head Huh?! that's what i said earlier i live in florida and have for 30+ years. The stand your ground law DOES NOT cover this bigoted hatefilled idiot!

It was put in place to stop gung-ho retard DA's and criminals from after the fact crimnal and civil charges against those who were attacked and had the gaul to DEFEND themselves.

Once the idiot disregarded the instructions of the police...he lost any protection! Never mind the fact HE was the agressor!

Posted by: rodsmith | Mar 26, 2012 10:41:40 AM

oh i see, trayvon martin didn't have the right to stand his ground or defend himself from a guy that was pursuing him. just the dude w/ the gun. too bad skittles don't shoot.

Posted by: sck | Mar 26, 2012 10:47:35 AM

The comment of President Obama have poisoned the investigative field, and basically immunized the shooter. Even if fully guilty of second degree murder, he now cannot get a fair trial anywhere in the country. So any investigation is for idle curiosity purposes.


"What happened to Trayvon Martin is a tragedy. There needs to be a thorough investigation that reassures the public that justice is carried out with impartiality and integrity."

The President said:

If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon. How could that taint a trial? The President did not mention race. He did not say that Trayvon would have his ears, his eyes, etc. He was speaking figuratively. And, even if he had been speaking literally, that would not taint the trial since every racist newscaster, congressman, radio spokesperson, has already sent out enough emails, and face book posts about what they perceive the President looks like.

To say a young, unarmed 17 year old student's death was a tragedy was wrong? Should he have said it was of no consequence? When Giffords was shot, did not the President say it was a tragedy? The shooter had not been brought to trial yet. Would that remark hamper him receiving a fair trial?

Or perhaps you were speaking of the rest of his statment: "There needs to be a thorough investigation that reassures the public that justice is carried out with impartiality and integrity."

And, if the President were not African American would there be so much concern about his comments? Or would he be criticized for not making any comments?

Should he just wait to see if George Zimmerman is convicted, and then, like George Bush did for Libby, pardon him? Would that be more fair?

By the way, Zimmerman was not an official neighborhood watch captain, as all of the reports say he was a "self-appointed" neighborhood watch captain.

Also, the 911 tapes clearly show that Zimmerman was not acting in self-defense nor "standing" his ground. As someone pointed out, when the 911 respondent said, "are you following him" to which Zimmerman replied affirmatively, the 911 said "we don't need you to do that" to which Zimmerman replied "F&*king coon, they always get away." and then proceeded to get out of his car and go after Trayvon Martin.

When there are nearly a million men and women locked up in prison for much less evidence than that, what is the harm of calling for a thorough investigation that is fair and impartial?

Posted by: saintswriter | Mar 26, 2012 9:33:54 PM

saintswriter --

"Should he just wait to see if George Zimmerman is convicted, and then, like George Bush did for Libby, pardon him?"

Libby was not pardoned by Bush or anyone else.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 26, 2012 10:36:19 PM

Bill Otis ..
"Libby was not pardoned by Bush or anyone else."

My bad :-) I should have said "commute his sentence". Since that was the only nit-pick you had, I'll gladly assume that you agreed with the rest of my statement. Thank you.

Posted by: saintswriter | Mar 27, 2012 7:38:45 AM

That's the thing with Otis, saintswriter. If he can't weasel his way around you argument, he picks a piece of it so he can at least look like he's been paying attention to current events.

You do know he is the only one here that has debated Doug Berman in public, don't you?

Posted by: Huh? | Mar 27, 2012 11:38:52 PM

There needs to be a thorough investigation that reassures the public that justice is carried out with impartiality and integrity.

Posted by: Thunder Snapback Hats | Jul 6, 2012 8:13:09 AM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB