Emotion matters: Zimmerman vs Alexander
The Florida Stand Your Ground controversy has everyone talking (and nevermind that neither case officially invoked said law). And a mother (Marissa Alexander) getting 20 years (a minimum sentence for firing a gun during a crime) for firing warning shots at an abusive husband looks pretty shitty next time a man (George Zimmerman) shooting a 17-year old boy and being acquitted of all charges.
What I find amazing here is the central role emotions play. Not just in the public’s reaction to these verdicts in sentences: but in how those verdicts were reached.
Both verdicts, for Zimmerman and Alexander, came down to one thing: was the shooter angry, or fearful? The jury found that Zimmerman was afraid when he shot and killed Treyvon Martin. Marissa Alexander, on the other hand, was found to be angry. Angry at her husband for beating her, but nonetheless, angry. Because she was angry, she could not utilize Stand Your Ground, and was found guilty of assault (I encourage you to actually read the reports of both trials if you are interested in either case, as in both situations a jury reached that verdict somehow. In the case of Alexander, the prosecution made a big deal over the “warning shots” fired, and the possibility that these shots could have hit one of her children.)
The state of a defendant’s mind during a crime can matter more for the verdict than the direct consequences of the crime itself.
How can such a distinction between fear and anger make all the difference? Is the line between fear and anger so clearcut that we can make this call, with such grave consequences? Was Alexander not angry because of a long history of fear and abuse? Was Zimmerman’s anger what prompted him to confront Martin in the first place?
I encourage all of us to rally for justice. Justice, we are told, is a matter for the courts to decide, not a realm of emotion. But what happens when justice hinges on the weighing of emotion?