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Friday, March 23, 2012

Standing Down

It feels foolish at this point that I haven't commented yet on the Trayvon Martin incident, seeing as even the president of the United States has weighed in. But in so many ways, I hate when hype takes over such a serious story as this. I think politics should look at systemic problems and solutions, and the failure to arrest the killer of this child is primarilly a matter of poor execution.

There is, though, a systemic issue that deserves fresh attention right now, and one I know quite a bit about. The Stand Your Ground law is one that was controversial from the start, and the attention on the issue in the past few weeks has been woefully confused about the matter. I actually covered one of the first incidents of how Stand Your Ground played out while working for the News-Press. There is no live link anymore, but my articles have been cited in some legal journals since then.

The short version is that a man named Michael Frazzini dressed himself up in dark clothes and hid in his mother's backyard one night to catch a neighbor vandalizing the place. What happened was that neighbor's father, Todd Rasmussen, came out and saw Frazzini getting into a kerfuffle with his son and shot Frazzini in the backyard where Frazzini had grown up. No charges were ever brought forward, and though an assistant state attorney had recommended the matter go to grand jury, it never did.

Race was not a factor, so the story did not draw no much national attention, but the results were very similar in the Martin and Frazzini cases. A man with no reasonable capability to employ deadly force was shot dead in a location where he had every right to be. The Martin case is worse in some respects in that it happened in broad daylight and Martin wasn't wearing anything to cover his face (Frazzini wore a mask), but the justification for letting a killer off without even taking the matter to the courts was the same: the Stand Your Ground law.

In what is really a very good post at RedState, Dan McLaughlin gets something right about the way the law works. It is part of the self-defense statute, not a be-all end-all, so there is no guarantee that George Zimmerman or Todd Rasmussen would have been arrested if not for the existence of this law. McLaughlin correctly writes: "There’s been some discussion about Florida’s particularly strong self-defense law, but in any state in the Union, if a jury believes there is a real possibility that Zimmerman acted in self-defense, he’d be acquitted, and if the jury doesn’t, he’d be convicted."

But those who are guarding this law and saying it was misapplied here miss a greater point. This statute send a message to the public that they can and should use deadly force when they feel threatened.

Now, the law says you can use deadly force if you feel in imminent danger of losing your life or of someone else losing their life. Many of us, myself included, find it extremely doubtful such a thing happened when Zimmerman decided to shoot and kill a 17-year-old in the streets of Sanford. But there is something else at play here which liberals should remain very mindful of, the presumption of innocence until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

With the Stand Your Ground law in place, that becomes a harder threshold to cross. Not impossible, mind you. Indeed, I think it could be done with some ease in the case of Zimmerman, and honestly believe prosecutors should have given it a go with Rasmussen six years ago. But a standard self-defense statute would be easier to deal with. And that gets to the real fatal flaw with Stand Your Ground. Legal laziness.

It is laziness on the part of cops, and laziness of the part of prosecutors (And if I may weigh in with one rather muted criticism in Sanford, why has all the attention been on the police? The State Attorney's Office can bring charges independently, but it is taking intervention by the state and the feds to get something done here. Prosecutors deserve at least as much criticism as the chief of police)

Stand Your Ground has never really seen the day it had to stand up to judicial scrutiny because it is used an excuse to avoid court altogether. In its execution, the law has not been used so often as a defense but as a reason not arrest anyone in the first case. That happened when sheriff's deputies let Todd Rasmussen sleep in his bed the night he killed a man, and it happened when George Zimmerman got trigger-happy in the streets of Sanford.

Were these men justified in what they did in the eyes of the courts? The courts were denied the chance to weigh in at all. In both of these cases, the enforcers of the law chose not to pursue charges, so no judge or jury ever decided if the Stand Your Ground law was a suitable defense.

That is why Stand Your Ground needs to be repealed. We have a law on the books that encouraged people to shoot first when they get twitchy, and the cost of that message has been paid in souls. A drunk driver who killed Trayvon Martin would be in jail right now. But while the whole world, it now seems, feels Zimmerman belongs in jail for what he did, cops at the time, and prosecutors since then, decided it was too difficult to justify an arrest and let him go free.

Yes, something is very wrong here, but that is not the message that was sent when this misguided law was passed.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

West Can't Stand Obama Success

This should be no real surprise, of course, but I can't get over the hilarious response Rep. Allen West, R-Regretland, provided at the news markets were going up.

Via Think Progress, which took a snippet from Fox News:
On Fox News this afternoon, West said the markets were only up because traders think Republicans will win big in November. Host Neil Cavuto seemed taken aback by the suggestion and pressed West for clarification, but the Congressman stood by his claim:

CAVUTO: What do you think about that? That the markets say you’re wrong, that the pick up is alive and well.
WEST: Well, I would think maybe the markets are maybe looking five to six months down the road, when we have a change in leadership in this country –
CAVUTO: Wait a minute, you think that this is built on a Republican either capturing the White House or Republicans capturing the Senate? … That might or might not be a stretch, but it is out there as a factor. You think that’s a genuine factor? You think that the markets are getting bubbly in anticipation of a Republican taking the White House?
WEST: Oh, absolutely. Well, I think that there is a hope that may be out there, is that we can get a person that has practical viable solutions for job creation here in the Unite States of America [in the presidency].

I'm going with "might be a stretch" here Neil.

Leave aside for a second that five or six months from now, Barack Obama will still be president because it will be August or September and the election will be a few months away. Let's get to the spirit of what West is ultimately suggesting: the market is ecstatic because Barack Obama will be gone soon.

Of course, every president must quake in fear at news of better than expected job gains and low interest rates. But let's look at polls for the president right now.

Reuters notes that Obama's approval rating is back above 50 percent, an important threshold to all incumbents. Business Week, a publication rather trusted by market investors, says Obama is still leading in the polls. Gas prices aside, things look really good for the president right now, and that is ignoring the clown show we call a Republican primary.

Does this mean Obama will win? No, and I hope the president is running like he is 10 points down. But anyone making portfolio decisions based on a belief Obama will leave office soon is simply a fool.

And suddenly it makes sense these words could come from Allen West's mouth.