Monday, July 29, 2013

From Left to Write: The Execution of Noa P. Singleton

This post was inspired by the novel The Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth L. Silver. Mere months before Noa’s execution, her victim’s mother changed her mind Noa’s sentence and vows to help stay the execution. Join From Left to Write on July 30 as we discuss The Execution of Noa P. Singleton. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review. Due to the highly sensitive nature of this post I want to make it clear that these opinions are entirely my own and do not reflect the views of anyone at From Left to Write.

It's hard to be a lawyer sometimes. Actually all of the time. Either your relatives want you to do work for free or your own knowledge of the law makes you argue something when it's clearly not worth your time just because you know you're legally correct. There are some decisions that absolutely SHOCK the heck out of me, yet at the same time they don't because I've seen how the law works from the inside. There are always cases that support each side of any issue. Cases from each of the 50 states and cases from the Supreme Court from which lawyers argue citing the main decision or the dissent, whatever supports their argument. Everything is debatable. If you're not familiar with the legal reasoning of the Trayvon Martin case, the reason GZ was found "Not Guilty" is that Self Defense as a legal concept is an absolute defense against culpability. If you can win on the Self Defense, the prosecution doesn't even get to the elements of the crime.
When I was reading The Execution of Noa P. Singleton I was struck by the absolute need for me to post about the Trayvon Martin decision because of the existence of a gun shot in each case that irrevocably changed the lives involved in the shooting.  One single shot ended the life of one character and erased any hope of redemption for another character in The Execution of Noa P. Singleton. One single shot ended the life of Trayvon Martin and the ability for GZ to have a normal life. One act, one fraction of a second, one death that had consequences reverberating far beyond that which the shooter could have imagined. Yet, the similarities end there. For GZ was able to argue successfully the defense of Self Defense that led to a "Not Guilty" verdict.

These are the elements of Self Defense:

Element 1 - Actual belief regarding use of physical force by other person

The first element is that when the defendant GZ used defensive force against Trayvon Martin, he actually -- that is, honestly and sincerely -- believed that the other person was using or about to use physical force against him. The jury found this element satisfied by GZ's voice on the 911 call. I discuss this later, but I think this isn't ironclad. Since no one was there, do we know for sure whether GZ was actually being attacked? Anyone can call 911 and scream that they are being attacked.

Element 2 - Reasonableness of that belief

The second element is that the defendant's actual belief about the force being used or about to be used against him was a reasonable belief. The jury found the belief to be reasonable. Why? Because they believed that Trayvon Martin had actually attacked GZ. I have a different theory. The friend that he spoke to one minute before the entire episode took place warned Trayvon that if there was a big man following him, then he may be about to rape him. Teenagers are very impressionable. And yes, Trayvon had marijuana in his system, so he probably was more sensitive to the suggestion that he was about to be raped. Did the jury even consider that Trayvon Martin was acting in his reasonable belief that he was about to be attacked? Of course not, they only look at it from the perspective of the person who killed him. If Trayvon were justifiably defending himself against an attack, then doesn't that negate the reasonableness of GZ's belief that Trayvon was using force? You don't tell rape victims that they will be punished because they defended themselves against the rapist, do you?

Element 3 - Actual belief regarding degree of force necessary

The third element is that when the defendant used physical force upon Trayvon Martin for the purpose of defending himself, he actually -- that is, honestly and sincerely -- believed that the degree of force he used was necessary for that purpose. If anyone believes they need to shoot to kill when the other person is unarmed, they are not using the degree of force necessary. Is taking a life so easy that you need to shoot to kill when it is your "standing your ground" that has brought you into the situation? GZ only had to use force because he didn't run away or call the police when he first spotted Trayvon. If GZ thought Trayvon was dangerous enough that he had to shoot him, he should have called the police, not acted like a vigilante. And if he wasn't skilled enough with a gun to shoot Trayvon only enough to stop the attack, then he had no business walking around with a gun in the first place. My name is on the NRA Roll and I have no problem saying that anyone who doesn't know how to use a gun shouldn't have one. This is not about gun control, this is about people having guns who are NOT qualified to have them.

Element 4 - Reasonableness of that belief

The fourth element is that the defendant's actual belief about the degree of force necessary to defend himself was a reasonable belief. I was a successful corporate attorney because I was  paranoid. On an M&A deal, I always thought the other side was out to get us so I would dig until I found the hidden liability they were trying to foist onto us. So my theory is this--I think GZ planned in advance to kill Trayvon Martin. He had seen Trayvon walking home on another occasion and thought it would be the perfect crime. His neighborhood patrolling was just a pretense for him to walk around armed, waiting for the right opportunity. Then he would pretend that he was being attacked, make a 911 call, and kill the unarmed black teenager in cold blood. Is my theory reasonable? Any more reasonable than killing a unarmed teenager because he's black and wearing a hoodie? I'm convinced that if Trayvon Martin had been Asian, even if he had acted in the same exact way, GZ would not have killed him.

I wonder how GZ can maintain his silence. Even if this all were true and the defense of Self Defense actually applies to him, how could anyone who has killed another living, breathing human being out of sheer arrogance hold his head up in society. If it were me, I would have taken a deal with the prosecution to serve at least some jail time to atone for the taking of Trayvon Martin's life. Was he afraid if he did that, that he would be marked man in prison and likely killed before he could get out? He is a marked man now, getting death threats every minute and not able to leave his house without body armor. He may even have been safer in prison.

Since the verdict, I've been thinking about so many different arguments that people have been making about how the jury couldn't find enough evidence to convict. But they don't sway me. GZ killed Trayvon Martin. In my mind that makes him Guilty. Of killing someone! If the legal system doesn't hold him accountable, GZ should atone for it himself. None of us should get away with something because the law lets us do it. If that were the case, we might as well all steal and cheat and lie on our taxes because we will probably get away with it. There is right and wrong. There is justice and injustice. If we want our children to grow up to be decent human beings, we need to stop racial profiling and admit to our prejudices. These days whenever I see a black person, I want to apologize for the failings of society, of the law, of myself. I'm afraid they might take it the wrong way if I do that, so I end up just averting my eyes and feeling guilty. I can only do what I can and make sure my children don't grow up with prejudice. I hope all of us can do whatever little thing we can to make sure something like this never happens again.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Heart Eyes and Feet

I don't post about my faith for the most part. If you know me, you know how imperfect I am and how many things I do that don't match up to what people might expect from a Christian. Just bear with me, though, I have something that I need to share that is punching me very hard right now. Today's sermon given by guest speaker Tae Shin, really convicted me that I needed to post. He spoke about Psalm 131:1. This is the verse from the New International Version of the Bible:
My heart is not proud, Lord,
    my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
    or things too wonderful for me.

Pastor Shin's point was that while on the way to Jerusalem, on the way up the hill, King David sang this song of "pre-worship" stating that his heart was not proud, his eyes were not looking down on others, and his feet were focused on getting to worship and not concerned about other things. Pastor Shin's point was that King David was praising and worshiping God on the way to worship. It reminded me of the verse our MOPS president had shared at last week's steering meeting, 1 Chronicles 16:10:
10 Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
What struck me, what I felt God was telling me, was that I need to look at my life and thank him. THANK him for my body. If you have seen me at any point this past week, you will know why this has been difficult for me. I could barely walk because of a personal training session last Saturday that was more akin to an hour of boot camp. Given that the personal trainer was an Army Ranger for 15 years, I think that was his intention. My legs wouldn't work properly and it was not until Wednesday that I could walk in a somewhat straight line. I felt pain all over my body. Of course, most of this pain was my own fault since I wanted to prove to him that this overweight, out-of-shape body could handle it. My pride as a past NCAA college athlete and marathon runner made it impossible for me to tell him that I couldn't handle the weights with which he had me work.

The verse from my MOPS president and watching CNN yesterday at the gym while I tortured myself even more came together with Pastor Shin's message today to strike me like a blow to the face. I need to be thankful for my body, as broken as it is, because this body is ALIVE. Trayvon Martin is dead. A young man who had been talking with his friend a few minutes before his death is no longer in this world to feel whether his body is in pain or not. So I need to be grateful. For this chance to make my body stronger, for the fact that I get to wake up in the morning, for God who gives me everything that I need when I need it.

I'm sure you didn't think that was where this post was going. But I have been screaming on the inside ever since I heard about the verdict because it just doesn't make any sense to me. How can GZ (I don't even want to give power to that man by writing his name) be NOT GUILTY? Trayvon Martin was not perfect, but GZ had no right to take his life. If you think your life is in danger and you happen to have a gun, why not shoot someone in the leg or the arm? Why do you shoot to kill? 

I'm going to follow up this post with another one addressing why I think the legal issues have been screwed up in this case. Can we continue to do nothing and let the kind of fear that killed Trayvon Martin run rampant? My Heart Eyes and Feet need to do something about it. I thank God for my body and my brain and my ability to take action. I praise God for the pain I feel because it helped me realize how great it is that I can feel pain. I wish Trayvon Martin could feel this pain.