After I heard that the special prosecutor in the Trayvon Martin case intended to charge George Zimmerman, I was glad; not because I enjoy it when people get charged with crimes. I don’t. I think our criminal justice system is a broken mess that is both cruel and ineffective; and whatever punishment George Zimmerman may deserve for the reckless killing of a young Black boy, no human being deserves the inevitable suffering and cruelty that will be visited on George Zimmerman if and when he becomes incarcerated. I am not a religious man, but if you find wisdom in Christianity, and Catholicism in particular, I cannot but beg you to reflect upon the catechisms of human dignity, and discover the face of Christ in every prisoner. Yes, even Zimmerman.
The outrage over Zimmerman was never (for me) about whether Zimmerman himself was a fundamentally evil person. I don’t believe that’s true about anybody. The outrage was over the fact that, if Zimmerman had been Black, he would’ve been in jail awaiting trial. It was the racially biased scales of justice that invoked my outrage. I was not angry at Zimmerman per se, but the way in which the case was handled by the authorities; which was a disturbing repeat of the way crimes involving Black victims are regularly treated in cities across America: cavalierly, nonchalantly, and with a casualness that borders on condescension and contempt.
When I heard that George Zimmerman turned himself in, I was gladder still. Finally, the wheels of justice would begin to work. If Zimmerman is found guilty, some folks may feel that justice was served. If Zimmerman is found innocent, at least we can say that it was the decision of a handful of members of the community being unable to find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes he was charged with; and not because of an institutionally racist criminal justice system that does not value the lives of Black people (especially young Black men) equally with those of other races. Juries have many flaws; but when the uphold their oath, and acquit defendants where the burden of proof has not been met, that’s good for all of us. It would be a grievous mistake if Zimmerman was convicted on criminally insufficient evidence of the crimes he’s been charged with.
And this last part is where the problem lies. Shortly after it became apparent that Zimmerman would be charged, problems began to emerge: First, it was announced that Zimmerman would be charged with Second Degree Murder. I was immediately dismayed by this for two reasons: a) I don’t think Zimmerman was out to kill Trayvon Martin that night. I think that he was extremely reckless; but I don’t think he was out to kill Trayvon Martin. Understand that, from a legal standpoint, Recklessness is not Intent. Recklessness is most easily described as a more profound form of negligence. That means that Zimmerman should have been charged with negligent homicide, i.e. Manslaughter. Not murder. More importantly, b) Homicide cases are fairly straight-forward in terms of meeting the burden of proof. Generally speaking, the more serious the charge, the more difficult it is to prove the defendant guilty. And I don’t think there’s enough evidence here to prove that Zimmerman had the intent necessary for him to be found guilty of Second Degree Murder in Florida. He may have had that intent in fact; but the prosecutor’s don’t have the evidence to prove it.
This leads me to the second problem: when the charging instrument (the prosecutor’s affidavit) was released, my suspicions were by in large, confirmed. The affidavit itself has been criticized and panned by legal observers as both factually inadequate and legally insufficient; in other words, the facts contained in the affidavit may not be sufficient to meet all the prima facie elements for a charge of Second Degree Murder in Florida. That means that Zimmerman’s legal counsel has a good shot at getting the charges dismissed before the case even goes to trial. In other words, the prosecutor in Zimmerman’s case is making the same mistake that prosecutors made in the Casey Anthony trial: they have overcharged the defendant, possibly for political reasons (i.e. to avoid criticism from the victim’s family and supporters who may feel that a lesser charge doesn’t properly reflect the severity of the crime). As a result, it is extremely likely that the defendant will be acquitted, because the evidence as it stands just isn’t robust enough to support a murder charge. Zimmerman’s case is, in my view, a textbook example of negligent homicide. It is not, however, Second Degree Murder. Not in any way that the evidence can prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
A third issue that cannot be forgotten is Florida’ controversial Stand Your Ground law. This law has tripled the number of justifiable homicides since going into effect, which is a fancy way of saying that a lot of defendants charged with various forms of homicide have been acquitted with the help of this law. Perhaps some of those defendants deserved to be acquitted. Perhaps not. The point is this: whether you like this law or not, the fact remains that it is the law, and it is generally applied in a defendant-friendly fashion. This law will almost certainly operate in Zimmerman’s favor at trial, unless the judge makes a ruling that it doesn’t apply to Zimmerman, which I think is unlikely based on the weakness of the affidavit. The prosecutors in Zimmerman’s case should have taken this into account, and sought a lesser charge (e.g. negligent homicide) that would have been easier to prove, both in the charging affidavit and at trial.
What you can take away from this is that, once again, a prosecutor has overcharged a defendant, most likely to avoid being criticized by the victim’s family and supporters. As a result, Zimmerman will probably be acquitted is the case goes to trial (assuming he gets an honest jury).
This is another example, by the way, of how the retributive impulse is counterproductive to achieving actual justice. It was good that people pressured the Sanford authorities to pursue criminal investigation and charges against Zimmerman. It was bad when that pressure transformed into a criminal charge that the facts don’t necessarily support. It may very well happen that a jury still finds Zimmerman guilty of Second Degree Murder at trial. As the Troy Davis case amply demonstrated, plenty of defendants have been found guilty on sparse evidence. But an honest jury will, in all likelihood, be unable to find Zimmerman guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of Second Degree Murder. Manslaughter? Much more likely. But not murder. The evidence that the prosecutor is working with just isn’t robust enough to support the kind of intent necessary to secure what Zimmerman’s been charged with.
With all that being said, there’s always a change that the jury may surprise us; there’s also a possibility that the prosecutor has additional evidence that the public hasn’t been acquainted with. But with the evidence as we know it, I think an honest jury will have to acquit Zimmerman of Second Degree Murder. Purely as a matter of law, he’s been overcharged, and there’s not enough evidence to prove each of the elements of the crime he’s been charged with beyond a reasonable doubt.
Virginia has a budget — almost, anyway — after yet another long, drawn-out battle. Some might say this year’s fight doesn’t help Democrats, since they were the obstructionists who kept moving the goalposts. Au contraire!
By dragging out the already dragged-out stalemate over the state’s budget in order to fight for funding for the Dulles rail project, Senate Democrats have done some brilliant political positioning.
Whenever I visit Lynchburg, Norfolk, Danville, Charlottesville, Hanover, Blacksburg, or just about any other locale in our fair commonwealth, all I ever hear from Joe Sixpack and Susie Soccermom is how they lie awake at night, fretting over the fate of Dulles Rail and praying to God for its continued good fortune. It’s pretty much the first, last, and only thing on their minds. And I’m sure they’ll reward Senate Democrats for making such a big deal out of their chief concern…
If you can find a Joe Sixpack or Susie Soccermom who has cared enough to not only watch the ongoing budget negotiations, but to also discern the various actors at play beyond the Governor, I’ll buy you a beer. Heck, I’ll buy you ALL the beers. Even as public as it may have seemed to those inundated with reports, it was still insider baseball. And since it requires more than a handbill to explain its importance, it won’t be included in campaign messaging.
by Tumblr User #2839: The Guy Who Was Hired from a Little Town in Florida to Help Make Internet Joy in New York
In early 2009, I was a burned-out web developer in sunny St. Pete, Florida, secretly fascinated with my popularity on this thing called Tumblr.
That’s when I got an email from Tumblr’s president, asking if he could fly me to New York to meet in person. He wanted to talk about how I might be able to help the company.
Holy. Fucking. Shit.
I was completely blown away, yes, but also nervous. Like, really nervous. It was literally “These people are serious internet startup professionals (ha ha) in the middle of Manhattan, and I’m an awkward, introverted programmer with a silly internet persona! And I’m from Florida!”
I figured they wanted to meet some longtime users and it was just my turn. It’s the only thing that made sense. Having no idea what I could possibly help with is probably the only thing that kept my panic manageable.
One week later, I was on my way, diverted to Orlando due to a technical problem. I actually remember being momentarily pleased by this inconvenience, because I’d psyched myself up to the point of thinking I could literally solve anything I set my mind to and we’re gonna fix this goddamn plane right now, people!
That passed, and I eventually landed safely in New York. I took my first Subway ride from Tribeca to Tumblr HQ. I met the team. Played with some new Tumblr template code. Froze my ass off. Also, I fit in.
That night, I attended one of the first Tumblr meetups. I recognized some people. Some people recognized me. When I finally got back to the hotel at the end of the night, I emailed my mom to say that I was happier than I’d been in a long, long time.
A few weeks later, Tumblr’s president called and invited me back for good.
What’s your Tumblr story? Has Tumblr changed your life in any profound or personal ways? We want to know — and if you’re game, your story could become part of STORYBOARD, a big secret project we’re working on. Post your story (or your gif, or video) with the STORYBOARD tag, or if you’d like to submit privately, use this form.
Publishers told us that if we did not have digital rights management (DRM) technology, they weren’t interested in letting us promote and sell their products. DRM is the set of technologies that encrypt and prevent the reproduction of e-book files. A new bricks and mortar bookstore, even the tiniest one, could have easily opened accounts with all the major distributors. But to sell electronic versions of those exact same books, publishers told us that you have to be a mega corporation. We were confused, and set about finding out why this counterintuitive business practice has taken root.
DRM is supposed to prevent piracy and illegal file sharing. In order to provide DRM, you need at least $10,000 up front to cover software, server, and administration fees, plus ongoing expenses associated with the software. In other words, much bigger operating expenses than a small business can afford. By requiring retailers to encrypt e-books with DRM, big publishers are essentially banning indie retailers from the online marketplace.” —DRM is crushing indie booksellers online — paidContent (via rachelfershleiser)