NR’s non-entity editor strikes again

In a comment today I referred to “Rich” Lowry’s column on the death of Trayvon Martin. When a friend showed me the piece in yesterday’s New York Post with its provocative title, “Al Sharpton is right,” I eagerly read it, wanting to see if there was another way to understand the incident which I had missed. In fact, Lowry presents a conclusory, anti-Zimmerman narrative with nothing backing it up. He simply assumes that Zimmerman followed Martin for no good reason and provoked the confrontation that led to Martin’s death. Now, as I’ve said before, is it possible that that’s what happened? Yes, it is possible. But we do not know that that’s what happened. Lowry, in his momentary infatuation with Al Sharpton and the Nixon-in-China thrill of associating himself with him, claims that we do.

The editor of America’s flagship conservative
magazine for the last 15 years

Al Sharpton Is Right
By Rich Lowry

What is true of the stopped clock is also true of the perpetually aggrieved, shamelessly exploitative publicity hound: Through sheer chance, he occasionally will be right.

The Trayvon Martin case appears to be one of those instances for Al Sharpton. The longtime provocateur and MSNBC host has a leading role in the protests over the lethal shooting of the 17-year-old Martin at the hands of a zealous neighborhood-watch volunteer in the Florida community of Sanford.

During halftime of the NBA All-Star Game, Martin left the home of his father’s girlfriend to walk to the local 7-Eleven for Skittles and iced tea. It was about 7 p.m., and he caught the attention of 28-year-old George Zimmerman, who had taken it upon himself to patrol the neighborhood armed with a gun. He considered Martin suspicious and called 9-1-1, which dispatched police. Ignoring the 9-1-1 operator’s urging not to pursue Martin, Zimmerman followed the young man, got into an altercation with him, and shot him dead.

Zimmerman claims Martin attacked him from behind and he fired in self-defense. But while he was on the line with 9-1-1, Zimmerman was the one chasing Martin. [LA replies: Lowry leaves out the obvious likelihood that Zimmerman called to Martin asking him what he was doing in the neighborhood, and Martin, instead of simply answering, “I’m walking to my father’s house,” began to run away, thus increasing Zimmerman’s suspicions of him. As we’ve pointed out over and over, this is common black male behavior in response to police and other authority figures. Lowry doesn’t seem to be aware of this fact.] At the same time, Martin talked on his cell phone to his girlfriend, complaining of a man watching him. She told him to run away, which he apparently did during the interval Zimmerman was on with 9-1-1. The girlfriend claims she heard Martin say, “What are you following me for?” before the call went dead.

The tape of another 9-1-1 call from a neighbor has yells of “Help” in the background before the gunshot. We may never know what exactly happened in the altercation. We do know this: Through stupendous errors in judgment, Zimmerman brought about an utterly unnecessary confrontation and then -in the most favorable interpretation of the facts for him -shot Martin when he began to lose a fistfight to him. [LA replies: How does Lowry “know” that the confrontation was utterly unncessary? Perhaps Lowry also “knows” that every time a police officer stops and frisks a young black in New York City, it is “unnecessary” to do that, as the entire liberal and black establishment keeps saying it is. Perhaps Lowry “knows” that it was “unnecessary” for four police officers, looking for a serial rapist in the Bronx in 1999, to call out to Amadou Diallo ask him for ID, which led Diallo to flee from them despite their calls, which in turn led to Diallo’s death.]

Florida has a “stand your ground” law that stipulates that someone doesn’t have to retreat and may use deadly force if facing a threat of death or bodily harm. It is one of the reasons that the police didn’t press charges against Zimmerman. But the law is not meant to be a warrant for aggressive vigilantism. It was Martin, chased by a stranger who wasn’t an officer of the law, who had more reason to feel threatened and “stand his ground” than Zimmerman. [LA replies: Amazing. Lowry does not even raise the possibility that Zimmerman identified himself as a neighborhood watch person and asked Martin what his business was. He simply assumes that Zimmerman, without identifying himself, began to chase Martin like a criminal chasing his prey, making Martin feel reasonably afraid.]

So, Sharpton and his usual complement of allies are right about this: The Sanford police appear to have made the wrong call in letting Zimmerman off. Of course, the usual suspects can’t leave it at that. In their telling, the case is a wholesale indictment of American society.

One MSNBC anchor compared the case to the notorious lynching of Emmett Till in 1950s Mississippi. On a visit from Chicago, the 14-year-old Till talked to a white woman and was subsequently murdered, mutilated, and thrown in a river. His murderers got off. The Till case exposed a system built on injustice and hatred. The Orlando suburbs in the 2010s aren’t remotely comparable, and George Zimmerman manifestly did not set out that night to kill Trayvon Martin, or he wouldn’t have bothered to call the police.

News accounts tend to leave out that Zimmerman is a mixed-race Hispanic. That doesn’t mean he can’t be a racist. (Although it’s murky, it sounds as if he mutters a racial epithet on the 9-1-1 call.) But a Hispanic-on-black killing lacks the narrative clarity of a white vigilante chasing down Trayvon Martin in the tradition of the worst practices of the Jim Crow South.

The attention devoted to the case has forced the chief of police of Sanford to step aside temporarily, and it’s hard to see the grand jury that is now looking into the shooting not handing down charges against Zimmerman. If so, he shouldn’t be effectively tried during street protests or on cable TV. There’s already been enough vigilantism in Sanford, Fla.

Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: © 2012 King Features Syndicate

- end of initial entry -

Lydia McGrew writes:

I notice several things about Lowry’s editorial on the Zimmerman-Martin affair. First, Lowry talks as though he actually knows a lot about what a stand your ground law means and what it doesn’t mean. But is this true? Does Lowry show any particular legal knowledge? For example, does Lowry actually know, from an examination of law and precedent, that if A in some sense “brings about an unnecessary confrontation” with B, A is not protected by a “stand your ground” law in the succeeding altercation, even if B starts pounding on him and he is in fear of his life? I certainly don’t know that. I think Lowry is guessing as much as anyone else and is trying to say what _he_ thinks should be the case while making it sound like he’s dispensing an informed legal opinion.

Second, does Lowry really think that Zimmerman was morally obligated to let himself be badly beaten up (had things continued) by Martin if Zimmerman really did provoke an unnecessary confrontation? Was Zimmerman, on the ground getting pounded, supposed to say to himself, “Ah, well, I was stupid. I shouldn’t have kept following this guy. I now just have to let him beat me up as badly as he wants to, because this was all my fault”? One might infer that this is Lowry’s opinion, yet it’s pretty ridiculous, if so.

Third, when Lowry pompously declares that Martin was the one who had a right to “stand his ground,” does he really mean that Martin was morally or legally justified in jumping on Zimmerman and starting to beat him up just because Zimmerman appeared to be following him, or even “chasing” him? For that matter, since “stand your ground” laws usually apply to the use of deadly force, does Lowry really mean to imply that Martin would have been morally or legally justified in pulling out a gun and shooting Zimmerman before Zimmerman even said a word, simply because Zimmerman was following him? This would also be ridiculous, and Lowry manages to avoid actually coming out and saying it. But this would in fact follow from his pompous words and from his failure to distinguish being followed from getting beaten up.

Perhaps we should keep Lowry’s words in mind: The next time you’re in a dicey neighborhood in Florida and someone is following you and making you feel nervous, why, you can just pull out a gun and shoot him dead, and Rich Lowry should be on your side. Right?

Paul K. writes:

Lydia McGrew makes some excellent points and I am in agreement with her basic thrust. However, I have to comment on her question, “For example, does Lowry actually know, from an examination of law and precedent, that if A in some sense ‘brings about an unnecessary confrontation’ with B, A is not protected by a ‘stand your ground’ law in the succeeding altercation, even if B starts pounding on him and he is in fear of his life?”

Lowry is probably right on this one. Most states will only let you claim self defense if you are blameless in the fight. If you instigated or contributed to the development of the fight the judge may not allow you to claim self defense. If there is some question about that, he may tell the jury that they need to decide that issue, and if they decide that Zimmerman provoked an unnecessary confrontation, he cannot call it self defense.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at March 25, 2012 05:17 PM | Send

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