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The Trayvon Martin shooting case is turning into the world's biggest example of confirmation bias, starting with the shooting itself.

We now know that the shooter, Zimmerman, thought Martin fit the general description of the two men (young, male, African-American) who had been spotted robbing homes in the neighborhood. Martin's hoody served as a partial disguise, which probably made Zimmerman's confirmation bias go through the roof. My best guess is that everything Martin did up to his death, including the fight, contributed to Zimmerman's confirmation bias that he was dealing with a dangerous hardened criminal.

On the flip side, Martin probably made up his mind quickly that Zimmerman was some sort of racist, bully, thug wannabe who was just looking for a fight. After all, what kind of guy gets out of his car and follows you down the street in the dark? The last thing that might occur to you is "Neighborhood Watch."

When the story first broke, and the public had scant information, much of it incorrect, most of us jumped to an initial assumption. People who have had experiences with bullies and racists probably assumed Zimmerman fit the mold. Therefore, he must be prosecuted.

Others, most notably Geraldo Rivera, thought that a 6'3" guy dressing like Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars, with a black hoody, on a dark night, in a crime-riddled neighborhood, set the stage for a tragic misunderstanding.

My question to you is this: If you made up your mind about Zimmerman's guilt when the story first broke, has the flood of new information changed your mind? Or has confirmation bias allowed the new information to harden the opinion you already had?

Have any of you changed your minds about Zimmerman's guilt based on new information?

[Update: I'm no lawyer, so maybe someone can answer this question. Even if you believe Zimmerman's bad judgement alone created the situation that resulted in a much larger guy sitting on his chest and punching his head with no indication it was going to stop anytime soon, isn't it still "self defense" if he shoots the guy pounding his face? That's a real question, not rhetorical. -- Scott]

 

 
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May 21, 2012
My opinion has not changed.

I do not know all the facts so I cannot arrive at a fair judgement.

 
 
May 21, 2012
The only conclusion I reached was the obvious. One man was dead, and the man who shot him was not being prosecuted.

Here's another exercise. If Martin had survived would he have been charged with assault? When laws are just then he probably should have been - along with Zimmerman. This is the real danger of the 'stand your ground' laws. A true just state must have a monopoly on violence, except in the most extreme cases of self defense (hence the duty to retreat). Whenever people are permitted to take matters into their own hands there is no longer any hope for law and order. You have anarchy.

The fact that a man was dead was evidence enough that the law had failed. The !$%*!$%*!$%*! never matter - only the outcomes.
 
 
May 21, 2012
[I don't think ignoring the authorities and "confronting" Martin is such an obvious error in judgement, given that the authorities had been largely useless in stopping crime in his neighborhood. In that situation, you either live in continuous fear or you ratchet up your own risk to deal with it. Zimmerman took a calculated risk that ended tragically, but it wasn't, in my opinion, irresponsible. His other option was staying home and waiting for robbers to someday crawl in his window while his wife was sleeping. -- Scott]

Even though the cops seemed inept at stopping the robberies, I'd say it's still a worse idea for armed in-duh-viduals to confront skittle-toting strangers on public property at Quickie Marts. You end up getting your ass kicked, some innocent stranger ends up dead, and the actual guilty party continues to walk free. Certain things really *should* be left to the experts.

That said, I think the murder charge is extreme. Based on the new evidence that's been released, this seems like manslaughter ( though I'm not a lawyer). Perhaps though, the prosecution has additional information that hasn't been released.
 
 
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
May 21, 2012
Here's a law professor article that tries to answer your serious question. The answer isn't simple.

http://volokh.com/2012/03/24/lethal-self-defense-the-quantum-of-proof-the-duty-to-retreat-and-the-aggressor-exception/
 
 
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
May 21, 2012
Yes, I've changed my mind (a bit). I do not think Zimmerman to be a psychotic killer smart enough to wait for the right opportunity to kill and then get away with it.

But I still think he was the main catalyst in an event when he decided to follow Trayvon although dispatcher told him not to. So I would not set him scott-free, but put him on probation for the rest of his life after he gets in a room with Trayvon's family where they would have instructions to hurt him (make him feel their pain), but not kill him (he wouldn't know that at the time).

So, I would set him free, but not without him feeling some kind of consequence first.
 
 
May 21, 2012
No, I have not changed my opinion on Mr. Zimmerman's guilt or innocence, because I don't yet know enough to know if he's guilty or innocent of any crime. I did not form any judgment about the situation because I knew the media was unconscionably doing that, and I wasn't going to play along with their pre-determined position on the situation.

I did believe from the start that there was a rush to judgment from the mainstream media to turn this into a racial issue where evil whites were persecuting and murdering innocent blacks. The media frenzy in lieu of any real evidence made me doubt from the start that anyone in the media had anything more than an opinion on what had happened. None of them bothered to look at any evidence before proclaiming Mr. Zimmerman a racially-motivated murderer.

This case, if it does nothing else, should make everyone realize how agenda-driven and template-ready the mainstream media is. Do not believe what you hear from them, because they wear their biases on their sleeves, and present only those items which meet their pre-conceived notions of what they believe the story should be, rather than what it is.

From the New York Times calling Mr. Zimmerman a "white Hispanic," whatever that is, to ABC News saying (completely incorrectly) that Mr. Zimmerman had no injuries from the altercation, this was an attempt by most in the media to proclaim Mr. Zimmerman guilty until proven innocent. That is, until ABC "enhanced" the video and suddenly found what everyone, including the police and emergency personnel saw and took pictures of, of Mr. Zimmerman's battered skull and broken nose. Not to mention editing the 911 tape to purposely make it appear that Mr. Zimmerman was a racist rather than someone responding to a police query about the race of the person he was following.

Most of the pictures you see of Trayvon Martin is not as he was near the time of his tragic death; it's a picture of him when he was fourteen. He was a lot bigger and a lot tougher looking at the time of the shooting. We all know what kind of a growth spurt young boys get between 14 and 17, but evidently the mainstream media doesn't. Or they don't care.

Don't get me wrong; this was a tragic case where a young man who shouldn't have died did. But the way it has been reported, at least until recently, was unconscionable. And adding more idiocy to a media-driven frenzy, the prosecutor, Angela Corey, charged Mr. Zimmerman with second-degree murder, which is ludicrous and not in any way supported by the evidence - at least according to appeals case lawyer Alan Dershowitz, a man who is by no means a conservative.

Let me reiterate: do not trust the mainstream media in any case where you suspect that the issue is one that fits a template, especially when alleged white-on-black crime is involved. Just remember Tawana Brawley, the Duke Lacrosse case, and now George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. Withhold judgment until the facts come in, rather than marching in lockstep with a bunch of biased proponents of a particular agenda who are masquerading as journalists.
 
 
+10 Rank Up Rank Down
May 21, 2012
To answer your question about what qualifies as "self defense", the answer is: it depends.

If you start a fight with someone, and then it takes a turn for the worse for you, it's still not self defense for you to shoot them. So if Zimmerman threatened or touched Martin, he's probably not entitled to a self defense claim. However, if Zimmerman just verbally asked him to stop and Martin charged him or something, then Zimmerman could be acting in self defense.

It's going to be hard to tell since nobody but Zimmerman actually knows what happened, and even he might not know -- but he's not reliable, because no matter what happened, he has to say that he was attacked.
 
 
May 21, 2012
Has it actually been established that Martin was "sitting on Zimmerman's chest and punching his head with no indication it was going to stop anytime soon"? Early reports suggested Zimmerman's injuries were relatively minor - at least, he walked into the police station under his own power shortly after the incident.

As to confirmation bias: hard to say. The first reports of the incident left me baffled, as there seemed to be no reason for either Martin or Zimmerman to have attacked the other.
 
 
May 21, 2012
And to answer your question in the update: Even if Zimmerman's bad decision making created the situation, is it still self defense if he shoots the guy beating him up?

To this I say, yes it is self defense. But IMO, there should be some sort of exception since Zimmerman caused the situation.

In much the same way that a drunk driver who kills a pedestrian clearly did not *intend* to kill that pedestrian, I don't think Zimmerman intended to kill Martin. But as with the drunk driver, Zimmerman needs to be held responsible for causing an avoidable situation. Sounds like a manslaughter conviction to me, though I'm no lawyer.
 
 
May 21, 2012
Quick note: The biggest issue is that Zimmerman decided to confront Martin when told not to do so by authorities. He felt comfortable doing this because he had a concealed weapon. Martin ended up dead as a result.

Now onto the confirmation bias topic: I think the people who thought Zimmerman was some kind of !$%*!$%* racist will have to back down from those opinions a bit. Given the additional information, I don't think anyone believes Zimmerman is some kind of card carrying KKK member. Sure he prejudged Martin in large part based on his race, but he's no cross burner.

So let's just say Zimmerman is *less* racist than many previously asserted.

Now onto Zimmerman himself: Is he bully? I think the additional evidence would support a "yes" here. Zimmerman has several documented cases of demonstrating violence issues. (Note: Just because Zimmerman apparently got his ass kicked, doesn't mean he's not a bully - this is a subtle point that's missed. Based on the additional evidence presented so far, it sounds like he deserved it. )

[I don't think ignoring the authorities and "confronting" Martin is such an obvious error in judgement, given that the authorities had been largely useless in stopping crime in his neighborhood. In that situation, you either live in continuous fear or you ratchet up your own risk to deal with it. Zimmerman took a calculated risk that ended tragically, but it wasn't, in my opinion, irresponsible. His other option was staying home and waiting for robbers to someday crawl in his window while his wife was sleeping. -- Scott]
 
 
May 21, 2012
I've changed my mind.

At first I thought Zimmerman was a racist out to pick a fight with a stranger in his neighborhood. He tracked down and killed his prey. I thought that Zimmerman was guilty no matter what occurred between identifying his target and killing his target. Now I think he was horribly and tragically mistaken in an honest, if overzealous, attempt to make his neighborhood safer.

There should be some sort of law to put Zimmerman in jail for the role he played in the untimely death of Trayvon Martin, because that sort of zealotry should not be tolerated, but I think he'll go free.

Even if Zimmerman initiated the fight, threw the first, second, and third punches, and even if Zimmerman was a dirty rotten racist with murderous intent, the law in Florida says the use of deadly force is only justified if that force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm. (I looked it up). Trayvon had a duty to stop pummeling Zimmerman once Zimmerman was subdued. If Zimmerman was beaten and feared for his life, the right to use deadly force switched over to Zimmerman.

Don't get me wrong. I think Zimmerman is in the wrong and should be held responsible for killing Trayvon. But from what I've read about the case it will not be terribly difficult for the defense to create a believable scenario where Zimmerman used deadly force only after other means of defense were exhausted and he feared Trayvon would beat him to death. Whether that's true or not, some evidence supports it and little evidence contradicts it, so it'll create a reasonable enough doubt for Trayvon to go free.

I predict riots when the verdict is announced. Zimmerman will go into hiding, and the book deal and tv/movie rights will make him enough money to stay in hiding.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 21, 2012
Your profanity filter bleeped out the word CIRC*UMSTANCES in my previous post.
 
 
May 21, 2012
uhhh... yeah.

The 911 operator told Z to break off the chase. The minute he ignored this command from authority he set the entire shooting match in motion. He became the aggressor. The attack on him was his own fault. Thus, he is guilty of the correct form of homicide.

In Florida, Trayvon had a right to defend himself, "stand his ground" as it were. Because Zimmerman was the aggressor, he cannot stand behind self defense. Both parties cannot claim self defense. Only the defender may do so.

Zimmerman's injuries are a non-starter. A straw man's argument. Had he heeded command of authority he would never have been in an altercation and Trayvon would be alive today.
 
 
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
May 21, 2012
I am a lawyer, and to answer Scott's non-rhetorical question, the answer depends in which state the act occurs.

In Texas (where I practice), it would certainly be self defense because it is generally legal in Texas to use deadly force to prevent injury to person or damage to property. In many !$%*!$%*!$%*! you have no duty to retreat or try to disengage from the situation. This is judged in the reasonably subjective belief of the person claiming self defense.

In some other states, you have a duty to retreat and can not use deadly force unless and until you are cornered and objectively reasonably fear for your life (not just scared you'll get hurt, but scared you will die).

Just as with any law, there are a laundry list of exceptions to each of the above. And, just to ensure this answer is as unhelpful as possible, I don't know what the actual law is in Florida. I've seen it reported a few times, but I never trust a reporters interpretation of the law.

Also, this is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. Just like you should not take investment advice from Scott, you should not take legal advice from the comment section of the Dilbert Blog. If you are considering using deadly force and claiming self defense, you should definitely seek counsel from a qualified criminal attorney - which I am not. I'm a patent lawyer.

[In those other states you reference, is it not self-defense if you simply fear becoming permanently disfigured, blinded, or brain injured? -- Scott]
 
 
-3 Rank Up Rank Down
May 21, 2012
The point is: you can't kill someone. It doesn't matter if you think what you're doing is right. If he thought the guy was a criminal he should have called the police and nobody would get killed. The guy is a killer now and it doesn't matter if the victim was black, white, asian or a serial killer.
 
 
May 21, 2012
My reaction to this case has always been "Bonfire of the Vanities". This latest evidence just confirms it.
 
 
May 21, 2012
The thing that seems fishy to me is why would Martin attack someone with a gun? Or did Zimmerman not have it out? Why would he confront someone he strongly suspected was a dangerous criminal without it out? Someone said that Martin was stoned, but "traces of drugs" does not mean stoned to me (though this may depend on the drug - some drugs may not be easy to detect at doses that influence the mind)

On self-defense, generally deadly force is only supposed to be used against deadly force or the threat of deadly force. Many places require that you at least attempt to retreat first, but "Stand your ground" removes that.
 
 
+26 Rank Up Rank Down
May 21, 2012
Is there no responsibility of the media, whatsoever, to attempt to deliver an accurate and true story?
I sense a huge market for a responsible, adult media in our country. The vacuum is intense.
 
 
May 21, 2012
I believe in people are innocent until proven guilty, so no. Frankly most of the info I've heard does more to exonerate zimmerman than prove he was guilty.

1. He did have injuries that have been reported and a reporter who tried to cover up this fact was fired.
2. The 911 phone call identified him calling for help 14 times while he was being hit. How long does it take to call for help 14 times while you are being pummeled? To zimmerman it probably felt like forever. If you were in Zimmerman's shoes a that point and had a gun, wouldn't you be at least tempted to use it?
3. A witness said martin was on top of zimmerman hitting him MMA style. So this wasn't just a sucker punch and running off.
4. Martin had traces of drugs in his system, dunno how much but that could have altered his decision making or how he might have been percieved by others. The hoody on a dark night probably didn't help as did the fact the area had be burguralized.
5. Martin was in the area because he was suspended from school for drug possession and he was suspected of stealing. He also had a less than repeatable twitter account name. To be fair zimmerman didn't know that at the time, but I'm sure these facts would make it harder to convict him... They promote confirmation bias against martian.


Maybe this is due to my own confirmation bias, but I find it hard to call zimmerman guilty of murder after hearing those things.
 
 
+30 Rank Up Rank Down
May 21, 2012
When the media came out and started stirring up racism by claming Zimmerman was a "white latino" and only posted a picture of Martin when he was twelve (instead of recent, when he was 6'3") -- I knew then and still firmly believe now, that this case is nothing but the media trying to stir up as much mess as they can.

Or as I said, then: "Does this mean we can call our President a "white african-american"?"
 
 
 
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