Zimmerman Verdict Exposes Deficiencies in U.S. Self-Defense Law, by “television correspondent and attorney” Amy Dardashtian.
I hate it when the person who writes something like that describes herself as an attorney because it conveys the impression that her notions have some basis value. I don’t even know where to begin, and I don’t want to spend much time on it lest reading it make me dumber. I’ll limit myself to this sesquiparagraph:
The George Zimmerman case brings to our attention that there is no liability for instigation, verbal, mental or emotional abuse. All of the aforementioned are actions and all of the aforementioned can be just as severe, just as infuriating and just as criminal as throwing the first punch. Bullying has become a topic of heated debate and concern in society. It is impossible in this day and age to deny the effects of bullying or to deny that pursuing, antagonizing, and pushing someone’s buttons can drive even the most controlled and disciplined people to express their frustration through physical force. How often have we heard psychologists postulate that years of bullying and social awkwardness may have been the driving forces behind some of the most appalling mass murders and school shootings in our country over the past decade? And yes, a neighborhood watchman can be the bully.
The bottom line is that self-defense law is outdated. Self-defense law codifies the notion that physical actions create a crime. Now we must figure out how to codify when other types of aggression create liability without self-defense acting as a barrier.
In other words, people should be able to initiate physical violence with impunity in response to “instigation, verbal, mental or emotional abuse”—creepy behavior.
It is not true that “pursuing, antagonizing, and pushing someone’s buttons can drive even the most controlled and disciplined people to express their frustration through physical force.” Among three-year-olds, sure, but we learn as we grow up one of the costs of living in civilized society is self-control around assholes. Most of us are able to go through life having our buttons pushed and limit our violent responses to the realm of fantasy.
Prisons are full of people who don’t, people who think, as Dardashtian does, that it’s okay to use violence in response to instigation. Someone looks at one of them the wrong way (“he was antagonizing me”); he bows up, his victim doesn’t back down (“he was pushing my buttons”); and boom: the victim is lying on the barroom floor in a puddle of blood. Then maybe after some years of such behavior he gets sent where he can keep company with likeminded others and everyone can walk around in lines with their eyes downcast.
We have long drawn a distinction, legally, between verbal provocation and physical violence. Violence may justify violence; words (other than imminent threats) cannot. That’s the law even here in Texas: according to our self-defense statute, “The use of force against another is not justified…in response to verbal provocation alone.” If there’s anywhere that you might expect force to be countenanced in response to verbal prosecution, it’s here in Texas, but the people of Texas have long decided that the grownup who responds to words with blows is in the wrong.
Why is that? Because we’re not a bunch of three-year-olds.
Like most deeply stupid people, Amy Dardashtian considers only the case before her and doesn’t look even one small step ahead to the unintended consequences of her proposal. Let me lay it out:
If Trayvon Martin assaulted George Zimmerman because of Zimmerman’s creepy behavior, and if Zimmerman’s response was unjustified because of Zimmerman’s creepy behavior, then Martin’s assault is justified by Zimmerman’s creepy behavior.
And if Martin’s assault is justified by Zimmerman’s creepy behavior, then any assault may be justified by the victim’s creepy behavior.
Everyone who commits an assault thinks they are justified. The sociopaths think they are justified in assaulting others just because they are superior; everyone else who commits an assault thinks his victim instigated it. But that’s street justification; nobody is acting under the illusion that it’s legal justification. Even if they can’t control their impulses, they know where the law draws the line.
That line provides some restraint to the natural tendency of the male of our species—especially the adolescent and young adult—toward violence. Males around Trayvon Martin’s age are struggling for dominance; they see affronts everywhere; they’re spoiling for a fight. (And a certain type of woman—Dardashtian’s type, perhaps—just eats it up, goading the men to fight.) If any assault may be legally justified by the victim’s creepy behavior, then there will be many more assaults.
If “instigation” legally justifies violence, every assault will be justified. Everyone who curb-stomps some random stranger will claim that the random stranger instigated it by behaving creepily. And juries will be deciding whether the government has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the alleged creepy behavior did not justify the beating. This would be very good for my business, but really bad for the thin veneer of civilization that we have managed to lay atop human nature.
And so I have a simple counter to Dardashtian’s puerile plan: grow up.
Teach your kids that not only is it not okay to respond to verbal provocation with violence, but it’s also stupid and dangerous because if they do so the stranger who was trying to provoke them to violence may come up with a gun or a knife.
Teach them this because this, my friends, is the truth, and because while Dardashtian’s scheme might result in the conviction of the stranger who goads your kid into violence and kills him, mine will keep your kid alive in the first place.