But beyond protests or vigils, the question is, are there some concrete things that we might be able to do? I know that Eric Holder is reviewing what happened down there, but I think it’s important for people to have some clear expectations here. Traditionally, these are issues of state and local government — the criminal code. And law enforcement has traditionally done it at the state and local levels, not at the federal levels.That doesn’t mean, though, that as a nation, we can’t do some things that I think would be productive. So let me just give a couple of specifics that I’m still bouncing around with my staff so we’re not rolling out some five-point plan, but some areas where I think all of us could potentially focus.
Weird. Obama is clearly down-playing the notion that the federal government could prosecute Zimmerman for a hate crime. But, if that's the case, why doesn't he simply tell Eric Holder -- who works for him, after all -- not to hound Zimmerman any more? This is another instance where Obama acts as if people in his administration somehow aren't his responsibility... the IRS, the ATF, the NSA, the DOJ. Obama watches them along with us and shakes his head as if to say: I'm with you people... why doesn't someone do something about that darned federal government?
No. 1 precisely because law enforcement is often determined at the state and local level, I think it’d be productive for the Justice Department — governors, mayors to work with law enforcement about training at the state and local levels in order to reduce the kind of mistrust in the system that sometimes currently exists.
You know, when I was in Illinois I passed racial profiling legislation. And it actually did just two simple things. One, it collected data on traffic stops and the race of the person who was stopped. But the other thing was it resourced us training police departments across the state on how to think about potential racial bias and ways to further professionalize what they were doing
And initially, the police departments across the state were resistant, but actually they came to recognize that if it was done in a fair, straightforward way, that it would allow them to do their jobs better and communities would have more confidence in them and in turn be more helpful in applying the law. And obviously law enforcement’s got a very tough job.
So that’s one area where I think there are a lot of resources and best practices that could be brought to bear if state and local governments are receptive. And I think a lot of them would be. And — and let’s figure out other ways for us to push out that kind of training.
Again: weird. George Zimmerman is a private citizen. He was involved in a deadly confrontation with another citizen. How would "training" police departments about racial profiling have affected the encounter Zimmerman had with Trayvon Martin? It's a non sequitur.
Along the same lines, I think it would be useful for us to examine some state and local laws to see if it — if they are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kinds of altercations and confrontations and tragedies that we saw in the Florida case, rather than diffuse potential altercations
I know that there’s been commentary about the fact that the “stand your ground” laws in Florida were not used as a defense in the case.
On the other hand, if we’re sending a message as a society in our communities that someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms even if there’s a way for them to exit from a situation, is that really going to be contributing to the kind of peace and security and order that we’d like to see?
And for those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these “stand your ground” laws, I just ask people to consider if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened?
Weirder still... first, and most obviously, even Obama admits that the "stand your ground" laws had nothing to do with the Zimmerman/Martin case. Zimmerman didn't claim to be absolved on the basis that he had a right to stand his ground; he claimed that he was defending himself when in fear for his life. The state could not prove to beyond a reasonable doubt that he wasn't defending himself; in reality, if you watched the trial, the defense basically proved that he was.
Second, how did Zimmerman have a "way to exit the situation"? According to the most credible testimony and the evidence of his injuries, Martin was on top of him banging his head on the concrete sidewalk after breaking his nose. What on earth is Obama talking about when he refers to a "way to exit"?
Finally, the unstated premise of Obama's point is that Zimmerman confronted Martin, not the other way around. But, again, where is the evidence that was the case? Where is the evidence that Martin would have reasonably have felt "threatened" by Zimmerman?
And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.
Pretty mushy thinking for a Harvard Law grad, methinks.