World from Berlin: 'Trayvon Martin Will Happen Again and Again'

Protesters rally in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in New York's Harlem neighborhood on Saturday. Zoom
REUTERS

Protesters rally in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in New York's Harlem neighborhood on Saturday.

The acquittal in Florida's Trayvon Martin murder trial has drawn criticism around the world. In the German media, the focus is as much on misguided vigilante justice laws as it is on race.

News media around the world covered Saturday night's ruling in the Trayvon Martin murder trial as top news. In Germany, it featured as a leading story on one of the top news programs, where the host's first question to the station's Washington correspondent was why there hadn't been a single African American on the jury.

Another leading news broadcast noted the case had drawn considerable international attention because it "appeared to be so systematic and also divided the country." The correspondent added that, for many, Martin's death had "become a symbol for racism that is still present in America."

Many had feared that if an all-white jury issued a not-guilty verdict for George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, a black teenager who had been unarmed, it could trigger race riots across the country. Zimmerman claimed he had shot the 17-year-old in self-defense after a nighttime confrontation in his gated community, despite police advice not to pursue the young man. Zimmerman claimed that Martin had punched him and slammed his head into the ground during a fight before he fired at him in self-defense. Prosecutors had portrayed Zimmerman as a wannabe cop who profiled and pursued Martin.

Mostly peaceful protests were held across the country following the verdict. US President Barack Obama, who once said, "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," released a statement on Sunday asking Americans to respect the request by Martin's parents for calm reflection. "I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken."

Just as in the United States, one of the primary focuses of editorials and coverage in Germany is of Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law, which critics have dubbed a "shoot first" law. Implemented in 2005, and adopted by 20 other US states, it says that anyone who fears harm or death is not required to retreat from a potential perpetrator, even if they have the possibility of safely doing so. It also places the burden on prosecutors to prove without any doubt that the shooter feared harm or death.

'Wild West Times'

Although senior German politicians aren't commenting on the case, that hasn't stopped at least one on the fringe from doing so.

Speaking on Deutschlandradio, the German equivalent to NPR or BBC Radio, Dietmar Bartsch, the deputy head of the far-left Left Party's parliamentary group, said US laws urgently need reform. "These are laws in the spirit of the Wild West times," he said. "It is incomprehensible and I am angered, but there is still hope that the federal court will open the case again."

A handful of German newspapers also published editorials on Monday that are critical of the Florida law, which they argue promotes vigilante justice in ways that are dangerous for society.

A commentary in the leftist Die Tageszeitung takes aim at Florida's "absurd" "Stand Your Ground" law, describing the ruling as "predictable," but still "scandalous."

"With this combination of racist prejudices, lax weapons controls and vigilantism anchored in law, incidents like the death of Trayvon Martin will happen again and again. … It may be that a black president's charisma and the statements from a number of African-American opinion leaders calling for calm will prevent massive riots like those seen after the Rodney King verdict in 1992. But things cannot be good in the long term. If societal peace means anything to the USA, then laws like 'Stand Your Ground' belong in the trash can of history, and coexistence must have a different basis than through some overarmed deterrent."

Public radio station Deutschlandfunk stated:

"Laws of this type serve a weapons lobby that argues very effectively that the unlimited right to possess weapons is indispensable when it comes to self-defense. So even though in this individual case, the ruling was legally appropriate and faultless, it still raises serious questions. If politicians continue to blur self-defense as codified in 'Stand Your Ground' law, the self-proclaimed protectors of the law will also be empowered in the future to make bad decisions that at times result in a deadly outcome. Martin's death was and remains a tragedy, and state politicians in Florida are partially responsible for it."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung is also critical of vigilante justice in America:

"In this case, the Americans argued so much over the influence of the color of a person's skin that another idea was mostly overlooked -- that of the dangers and excesses of vigilante justice. Many Americans only feel secure if they are allowed to carry a loaded weapon, and the Zimmerman case shows what this can lead to. Amateurs with crudely developed suspicions who overestimate their abilities run roughshod on neighborhoods, ultimately spreading the insecurity they are supposed to be curbing."

The regional Stuttgarter Zeitung writes:

"A black teenager wearing a sweatshirt in a middle-class housing development can only mean trouble. But that puts what the Americans call 'racial profiling' in the spotlight -- blanket suspicion based entirely on a person's skin color, clothing or taste in music. The fact that there are police officers who tend to target young African American men more often that young white men is indisputable. That drug dealers with dark skin tend to be prosecuted more severely is a statistical fact. And the fact that African Americans in southern US states are given the death penalty more often than whites also hasn't changed since Obama became president."

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1. A series of incorrect statements....
High Hat 07/15/2013
I doubt that Spiegel would allow me the space to correct all the statements above, but I wish to respond to two of them. Florida's "stand your ground law" wasn't even used in Zimmerman's defense. In the USA you are allowed to defend your life from an attacker. Zimmerman was being severely beaten by Martin when he shot him. As for racial profiling, Mayor Bloomberg of New York City was criticised for his "stop and frisk" program because it profiled blacks. The police stopped blacks and Hispanics 88% of the time, but they committed 93% of the murders. Whites were stopped 9% of the time, but they only committed 7% of the murders. The blunt truth is that blacks commit crimes all out of proportion to their percentage of the population. If you were looking for wildflowers would you go to a desert?
2. Zimmerman Trial
sneeekysteve 07/15/2013
I'm disappointed in the journalism quality from Speigel's article. It sounds like you copied and pasted from the sensational American tabloid newspapers. Many prominent legal scholars advised from the beginning that this case should not go to trial because it is a classic case of self defense. The politicians caved into the pressure from black groups and civil rights advocates and charged Zimmerman. The stand your ground law was never brought up in this trial. The self defense doctrine was traditional common law. The media should have used this case as a teachable moment. Instead they fell back on sensationalism to sell more papers. The facts are that Zimmerman had a legal right to follow Treyvon Martin. Zimmerman had a legal right to carry a gun. Treyvon Martin could have ignored Zimmerman and walked into his home. Instead, Treyvon Martin attacked Zimmerman. Zimmerman was in fear of his life and had a legal right to kill Treyvon Martin. Those are the legal facts of the case. Most legal experts agree that the jury was legally correct in a not guilty verdict.
3. Get your facts straight
4nd.you.know.this 07/15/2013
I guess if you’re spouting anti-American drivel, the facts don’t matter in Deutschland. Case in point, Stand-Your-Ground was never brought up at the Zimmerman trial; his case was presented as a straight self-defense claim. And although, George Zimmerman was certainly behaving improperly -- he didn’t deserve to be beaten to death for it! One aspect of the case that is conveniently overlooked by the anti-American left is what Zimmerman could have done to provoke such a violent response from Martin. Perhaps the question should be why is it so easy to rouse an Africa-American into a homicidal attack – as this case clearly demonstrates. The truth is, Germany (and Europe) are so single-mindedly obsessed with American society that they have blinders on to their own hypocrisy. For example, when German neo-Nazis provoke Salafist into a violent response, Germany bans Salafist. We don’t have the luxury of banning our problems away in the U.S. It’s an unfortunate consequence of an open and heterogeneous society – not a close minded one. To have to listen to Germans speak so harshly about race relations in the U.S. while the German far right -- and their sympathizers – run around assassinating, attacking, insulting and vandalizing anything not ‘German-pure’ is the pinnacle of insult. Get your own house in order Germany, and then we’ll talk.
4. Thoughts from the USA
spon-facebook-1460024445 07/15/2013
The others here who portray Trayvon as the attacker do not represent the majority in the USA. I am from the USA and entire issue here was always that Zimmerman never identified himself to Trayvon Martin and Trayvon had every right to be frightened of someone following him, possibly meaning him harm and had every right to confront his stalker and if Trayvon had shot Zimmerman would we still be endorsing the stand your ground law because Trayvon thought his life was in danger. Most legal experts do not agree and most were shocked at the outcome.
5. Zimmerman should have identified himself, his reason for following Trayvon Martin, an
riveragelsinger 07/15/2013
So-called self-defense laws must be legislatively balanced out by new laws in America's human-rights-averse culture. Arms, fear, and intimidation still trump the rights of the unarmed, those who want to stroll around freely, and lovers of peace. Yes, I am American, and see that we have serious anti-intellectual legal issues. Right wing anti-intellectuals believe first in American Exceptionalism, whatever that is supposed to mean. "Shoot first,; ask questions later" and "Nuke 'em at the border; we'll sort it out later" are usually only meant pejoratively. However, too many Americans are fundamentalist-literalists, and will lean more on fear and violent intimidation than on common sense communication.
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