Op-Ed: The Trayvon Martin case — A British perspective

Posted Mar 25, 2012 by Alexander Baron
The shooting dead of an innocent youth by a vigilante has caused national headlines and a furore in the United States, but mostly for all the wrong reasons.
Packing his concealed 9mm pistol  a self-appointed watchman George Zimmerman  shot dead 17-year-old ...
Packing his concealed 9mm pistol, a self-appointed watchman George Zimmerman, shot dead 17-year-old Trayvon Martin
Handout photo
The first thing that should be noted about this case is that it is not about race, racism, profiling, or anything like that. No one has to like blacks, black kids who wear hoodies, whites, Arabs, Jews, Hispanics, homosexuals or any other minority real or imagined. In any case, the shooter, George Zimmerman is Hispanic, so this is not a black-white issue. Think Zimmerman counts as white? Ask Harold Covington.
Contrary to what some people appear to believe, not everything that happens in this world is about race, sex or money.
Although the shooting happened on February 26, there was considerable delay before the details came to light, but now the American legal authorities have released a tidal wave of documentation such as we never see in Britain. The material released includes the 911 calls (in Britain they would be 999 calls).
We should bear in mind that even a man who admits to shooting and killing another is entitled to the presumption of innocence, but what can we say for certain so far? That there is a prima facie case of at least manslaughter if not murder against George Zimmerman. How would this case have been dealt with in Britain? Well, let's bury this race myth once and for all; if Trayvon Martin had been shot and killed by a police officer, there would have been no charges at all; that would have been the case even if he had been white. Anyone who thinks otherwise should read up on the case of James Ashley, who was shot dead naked in his own bedroom. Although the officer who pulled the trigger was indeed charged with and tried for murder (and remanded on bail while suspended on full pay in between), the prosecution was not even half hearted, and the judge sabotaged the trial. The case never went to the jury.
The case of Harry Stanley was every bit as disgraceful. He was carrying a coffee table leg in a bag which someone mistook for a gun, and was shot dead in the street. No charges were brought.
What does that tell you? That there are some privileges money can't buy, and in this particular case, the colour of your skin is totally irrelevant, as Sergeant Smellie well knows. For us lesser mortals though, the rules apply. If a civilian had shot and killed anyone in Britain he would have been arrested on suspicion of murder. Unfortunately or otherwise, Britain does not have the American tradition of an armed citizenry. Up until about the 1960s this was regarded as a good thing, because our police were unarmed as well, and gun crimes by professional criminals were few and far between - primarily because of the death penalty, which was not suspended until 1965. In August 1966, three police officers were gunned down in the Braybrook Street Massacre, and since then the public has been progressively disarmed while the police have become armed increasingly. In some places they can be seen patrolling regularly with automatic weapons.
In the United States, guns are the norm, more so in some states than others, and the last man standing in such fatal encounters is not invariably white, like in this case from Detroit. Few people will have any sympathy for the carjacker who messed with this gun owner, and in Britain, few people had any sympathy for the burglar who was shot dead by farmer Tony Martin.
Martin was a farmer, an eccentric recluse who lived in a dilapidated Dickensian building called, aptly, Bleak House. He was in his fifties, of good character, and the sort of person who minded his own business and expected other people to mind theirs. On August 20, 1999 - Phil Lynott's 50th birthday - three people turned up at his premises with the express purpose of burgling it, and got more than they bargained for.
Over the years, Martin had been the victim of numerous thefts, and was not happy with the response or rather the non-response of our wonderful boys in blue.
While Britain's politically correct police will waste tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds investigating the printing and distribution of racist cartoons and such, chasing real criminals might land them in danger, especially in isolated rural areas where there they have no immediate back up, so Martin decided to defend his property himself.
When Brendan Fearon and 16 year old Fred Barras forced their way into Bleak House at dead of night wearing gloves and carrying holdalls, they were clearly intent on burgling the place. However, Martin was lying in wait, not specifically for them, but for anyone who was so foolish as to break in, and without warning he fired directly at them three times with his shotgun, and with lethal intent. Both intruders were hit - Barras in the back and legs; Fearon also in both legs. Although Fearon escaped he needed hospital treatment, and was conveyed there by the police. The body of his partner-in-crime was found the following day. The third man, the driver, had probably decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and disappeared into the night.
Tony Martin was convicted of murder and given the mandatory life sentence, but this caused such a public outcry that at the inevitable appeal, the court, presided over by the Lord Chief Justice himself, did what it does but rarely, bowed to public opinion, and administered what John McVicar called palm tree justice, reducing Martin's conviction to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. (Diminished responsibility is a legal fiction that was invented by the anti-hanging lobby back in the 1950s as part of their salami technique attack on capital punishment).
You can read the full appeal judgment in the case of the Queen v Anthony Edward Martin here.
On his release in 2003, Tony Martin sold his story to a tabloid, then faded back into the obscurity that he had always wanted.
The outrage generated over his conviction for murder was understandable. Barras and Fearon were recidivists; in spite of his age, Barras already had a record as long as your arm - as the saying goes - and was actually on bail at the time of his death. The two were also gypsies, who are hated by most of the general population, white and non-white alike.
Even so, it is clear that Martin's actions went far beyond reasonable self-defence. In 1994, he had caught a man stealing apples from his orchard, and fired at his car as he drove off. This had led to the revocation of his shotgun licence. It is doubtful if even the general public of gun happy Texas would want to see people executed for scrumping apples. What next, a schoolboy steals a chocolate bar from the local corner shop, and is gunned down by the owner as he flees down the high street?
That is almost the situation in Texas; the reader is invited to compare Iranian justice with the “justice” meted out in the case of a man who shot dead two burglars in the Lone Star State 5 years ago. Perhaps a security guard or store detective could have shot Lindsay Lohan when she stole a $2500 necklace from a shop in Los Angeles two years ago. How far should we take this?
Clearly, if the shooting of burglars and shoplifters cannot be justified, then where an unarmed youth is shot dead over what appears to be nothing more than an unfounded suspicion of trespassing, at the very least an arrest should be made and the shooter subjected to a proper, formal interrogation. It is now probably too late for the latter, but not for the former. Whatever the authorities decide belatedly should happen to George Zimmerman, the local police are clearly at fault, and some sort of disciplinary action should be taken here; the recusal of the local police chief is far too little much too late. We have already seen opportunists trying to take advantage of this tragedy, in particular Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. The last thing we need is a repeat of the civil unrest we saw in Britain last August after the shooting dead of Mark Duggan, but unless justice is done in this case, we may see a great many innocent people - black as well as white - paying a heavy price for the failure to right a palpable wrong.