Unlike Goetz, who was hailed as both a folk hero and demonized a reckless vigilante, Zimmerman has mostly been vilified by the public and media. Zimmerman’s defense team has an uphill battle to win the sympathy of a jury and get an acquittal.
Bernhard Goetz lived in Ed Koch’sNew York City, which was a far cry from theGothamof today. A crime ridden metropolis with sky rocketing crime rates,New York Citywas ranked as one of the most dangerous in the world. The subway itself was an icon of lawlessness and the inability of city law enforcement to protect its citizens. This setting made it easy for the jury to believe that Goetz needed an illegal handgun to feel safer. Sanford FL., where Martin met his end, is nearly the exact opposite.Floridais famous as a destination for retirees, a place where they would spend the remainder of their days in relative comfort and safety. Crime is localized and offenses are normally drug related or white collar. Zimmerman’s neighborhood however, of which he was the watch captain, suffered eight burglaries, nine thefts, and one shooting in the year before the entire country knew who Trayvon Martin was.
According to Goetz’s prosecutors, Goetz entered the subway with a handgun as an attempt to use force. While on trial in 1986, Goetz testified that the four teens whom he had shot had given each other a signal before approaching him for money. Under self defense laws, the defendants have to prove that they are a reasonable person experiencing reasonable fear.
In 1981, three years before gunfire erupted on a No. 2 train, Bernhard Goetz was mugged by three black youths. The police caught one of the thieves, but he was shortly released from custody. Goetz often complained that he spent more time in the police station that night than the perpetrator. Flash forward to 2012, Zimmerman is speaking to 911 operators and on record saying “these *** holes always get away.”
“A jury acquitted [Goetz] because they believed that a reasonable person in that situation would be fearful of those black youth,” said Jody David Armour, a law professor as theUniversityofSouth Carolinain a televised interview. Zimmerman might have indeed been fearful, and reported that Martin “got his hand in his waist-band.”
But fear affects people in different ways. While both men committed crimes and went to court, Goetz’s actions can be considered germane and, although morally shaky, could also be seen as somewhat heroic by giving people hope that criminals wouldn’t always runAmerica’s cities. Zimmerman, on the other hand, merely looks like a shaky, paranoid, neighborhood watch captain.
As in Goetz’s case, the defense team will likely push the appearance of Trayvon as a motivating cause for self defense in proving that Zimmerman was a reasonable person who feared black youths. “[The defense teem will say] Look at the person who was approaching me, look at the hood over his head. Where have you seen hoods like that before? [You have seen them] in grainy films where people are holding up stores and the like,” continued Armour in the interview.
If Zimmerman wins this case, it could set a dangerous precedent where ordinary people should feel reasonable if they fear a black teenager.
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