Letters to the Editor

Community Conversation: Common vocabulary aids in understanding

Awhile ago the Tri-City Herald and the Dispute Resolution Center of the Tri-Cities held another Community Conversation, this one regarding the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

There were about 20 people who attended. This forum was held over the course of two evenings, and participants had to attend both sessions. It was mediated by a team from the Dsipute Resolution Center that first gave us the ground rules: things like no name-calling, no interrupting, etc. Basically, be sociable.

There were several quite worthwhile things that I learned, mostly about others and their perceptions. In some cases, of course, misconceptions. Just about everyone had presumably honest misconceptions about various things.

Several items discussed the first evening included relevant, useful definitions. We came up with several. People cannot discuss something until everyone agrees what certain words mean. Here are some of them:

w What is a weapon, as opposed to a firearm? The meaning that developed is that a weapon is a firearm that is pointed at a person.

w What do "Stand Your Ground" laws mean? Such laws simply mean that anywhere that you legally may be, you are allowed to defend yourself, including using up to lethal force, if necessary. Prior to Stand Your Ground laws, if you defended yourself outside your home you were required to look for a means of escape prior to defending yourself. Granny, who hasn't gotten her knee replacements yet, would have a hard time trying to get away from the local gangbanger.

w What does "homicide" mean? Homicide means, legally, nothing more that the death of a human being at the hands of another. Qualifiers are usually used to categorize homicides. For example, there is "negligent homicide," "justifiable homicide," "criminal homicide," "intentional homicide," "accidental homicide," etc.

When anyone kills a person, regardless of the kind of weapon used, including the assailant's body, it is a homicide. If a citizen or a police officer kills an attacker, it is "justifiable homicide." If someone murders someone, it's "intentional criminal homicide."

On to other subjects: We discussed the implications of the George Zimmerman/ Trayvon Martin case. While it is easy to debunk some recent articles about it, here are some of the more relevant things we discussed. Not one of us (or you) were there, not one of us knows what happened.

Was Zimmerman a racist? Since Zimmerman was Hispanic and Martin was black, the media had a problem trying to promote this as a racist incident. ABC News writers came up with a new tool for finding racism where there is none.

They said that Zimmerman was a "White Hispanic." It's certainly the first time I heard this phrasing.

How about Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law? What's the problem with that? The problem for those trying to stir up hate and discontent in this case is that the local police declined to charge Zimmerman with anything after talking to him and everyone around at the time and after looking at the evidence.

The reason that states around the country have passed Stand Your Ground legislation is because people innocent of anything except defending themselves are commonly arrested after a shooting, as standard police procedure. The attitude for this is, "Let the courts settle it."

This created severe injustices for those who were innocent victims of criminals. When someone is arrested, they go to jail and are booked. That creates a criminal record, whether they're innocent or not. Many prosecutors automatically prosecute homicide cases. So, the person needs a lawyer. If they can afford one, that's thousands of dollars out of their pockets.

Cases can drag on for years. Homicide suspects often are unable to make bail and so stay jailed. Many end up divorced, bankrupt and without a job.

Their reputation in the community is thoroughly trashed. They are all too often tried by the media and, in the end, their lives are destroyed and for only one reason -- they were the victim of a criminal. They have now become a victim a second time by the criminal justice system and the media.

An example of this is the guard who was at the Atlanta Olympics when the bomb went off in a trash can. Initially hailed as a hero, he became a suspect. He lost his job and everything else before it was determined that he was innocent. His life was destroyed.

It is interesting to note that Zimmerman was not arrested until the state appointed a special prosecutor to press charges. Not only the police, but also the local prosecutor declined any action against him. It wasn't until the Martin family and the media made a racist and media event out of it that he was charged.

Also, there is no statute of limitations for homicide. Had the local prosecutor thought that he had enough evidence, even years later, Zimmerman could have been arrested then.

Theron Cammer is a National Rifle Association certified training counselor. He lives in Pasco.>