The Trayvon Martin shooting case is turning into the world's biggest example of confirmation bias, starting with the shooting itself.

We now know that the shooter, Zimmerman, thought Martin fit the general description of the two men (young, male, African-American) who had been spotted robbing homes in the neighborhood. Martin's hoody served as a partial disguise, which probably made Zimmerman's confirmation bias go through the roof. My best guess is that everything Martin did up to his death, including the fight, contributed to Zimmerman's confirmation bias that he was dealing with a dangerous hardened criminal.

On the flip side, Martin probably made up his mind quickly that Zimmerman was some sort of racist, bully, thug wannabe who was just looking for a fight. After all, what kind of guy gets out of his car and follows you down the street in the dark? The last thing that might occur to you is "Neighborhood Watch."

When the story first broke, and the public had scant information, much of it incorrect, most of us jumped to an initial assumption. People who have had experiences with bullies and racists probably assumed Zimmerman fit the mold. Therefore, he must be prosecuted.

Others, most notably Geraldo Rivera, thought that a 6'3" guy dressing like Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars, with a black hoody, on a dark night, in a crime-riddled neighborhood, set the stage for a tragic misunderstanding.

My question to you is this: If you made up your mind about Zimmerman's guilt when the story first broke, has the flood of new information changed your mind? Or has confirmation bias allowed the new information to harden the opinion you already had?

Have any of you changed your minds about Zimmerman's guilt based on new information?

[Update: I'm no lawyer, so maybe someone can answer this question. Even if you believe Zimmerman's bad judgement alone created the situation that resulted in a much larger guy sitting on his chest and punching his head with no indication it was going to stop anytime soon, isn't it still "self defense" if he shoots the guy pounding his face? That's a real question, not rhetorical. -- Scott]


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May 27, 2012
I am in a way surprised how much the Zimmerman/Treyvon case functions as a Rorschach test. America it seems is still very tribal. I wonder if we (the United States) are in reality Yugoslavia. After Marshall Tito dies everything turns into a giant mess and/or deathtrap. Did anyone think that Yugoslavia would come apart at the seems like it did (after 50 or so years of more or less peaceful coexistence)?

If you are white you tend to see a tragic case of self defense and untimely another Duke Rape type case (being ginned up by race hustlers like Al Sharpton), and if you are black you see Treyvon being hunted down by a card-carrying member of the KKK.

I was debating this matter on liberal leaning forum and was banned for being a “racist” for daring to argue that it would be more productive for the black community to address the epidemic of black-on-black violence rather then invent some white-Hispanic boogeyman that is hunting down black youths.

I get the feeling that all hell is going to break loose if Zimmerman is acquitted (baring other evidence coming forward), and there looks to be enough reasonable doubt to me for an acquittal.
May 27, 2012
Sorry I'm late to the party.


As for your legal question about self-defense, I'm no lawyer but the relevant statute is here: http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=0700-0799/0776/0776.html

In particular, 776.041 outlines use of force by an aggressor. Basically you get to claim self-defense if you reasonably believe you're in imminent danger of loss of life or great bodily harm, and if you try every other possible way to escape.

As for my bias, my original reaction was that Florida's "stand your ground" law seemed kind of stupid. Like it could easily allow a situation where a simple misunderstanding can escalate to loss of life with no one being held legally responsible.

Although as a non-lawyer it seems to me a lot rests in the interpretation of "reasonably believes." That's why I always wanted it to go to trial. No matter how much or little we know of the facts, the most crucial piece of information--what is "reasonable belief?" is actually a matter of opinion, not fact. The way we settle matters of opinion in law is by having trials. I called for a trial right away and was scolded by some friends who insisted we "didn't know the whole story." But to me that's the best reason to have a trial--to determine the whole story.

So no, the facts that have come out have not changed my original bias that a trial is a good thing either way.
May 25, 2012

You seem to be ignoring _my_ key point. None of that data was in known to George Zimmerman at any time until after the coroner's report and police investigation. Any assumption by GZ knew of either of those facts is wrong, and there is no evidence in the record that TM was doing or planning to do ANYTHING ILLEGAL. At best, GZ made a stupid decision to follow, at Worst, he had racially profiled and was determined to stop a black youth from executing a crime he was sure was in process ("They always get away.").

If you believe that information after the fact justifies anything, then you are treading close to 'bias' or prejudice. ("I see a black man in a hoodie, I believe all black men wearing hoods up in the rain are prone to drug use, he's in our neighborhood of homes, we've had homes robbed, therefore he must be a burglar trying to feed his drug habit")

Facts in evidence are:
- more white males than black males as a % of their demographic are drug users (http://psychcentral.com/library/sa_factsm.htm);
- whites are 2.5 X more likely to be burglars (2010 FBI Crime Statistics) than people of color;
so both those basic assumptions are flawed.

So, any 'justification' of GZ's motivation to pursue on foot based on your after the fact argument doesn't follow the facts available to GZ prior to his pursuit (GZ was studying criminal justice, so he should have known these basic statistics).

So, Do you really want to go there? Because once you introduce your 'justification', you're only a small step from racism. (prejudice of a skincolor/ethnicity based on ignorance of the facts power/threat to take away rights/liberties based on those prejudices is racism).
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 25, 2012
TheOtherGeoff, you're ignoring two points:

1) TM had a history of petty burglary. It is entirely possible that even as an invited guest to the community, he still represented a threat in terms of continuing his burglary.

2) TM had a history of illegal drug use and was found with chemical indications of drug use in his blood. His supporters argue it could have been days ago but he's still an illegal drug user and they are even more likely to commit crimes to pay for their illegal drugs.
May 25, 2012
"But suppose that Trayvon had been preparing to burgle a home, but had not yet committed a crime...."

No. Because he wasn't. Let's argue the fact in evidence. GZ "THOUGHT" that, but that's really to Scott's point of confirmation bias... Black Man, Hoodie, dark night... must be a burglar. It was exactly that 'supposition' that started this wrongful death. (again, I can't speak to guilt or innocence, but the death was not justified on any level).

+1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 24, 2012
I think it's clear that self defense isn't applicable to the person who instigates the fight. Buy suppose that Trayvon had been preparing to burgle a home, but had not yet committed a crime, and had no other personal contacts in the neighborhood? Would it matter if it was a gated community as opposed to an ungated residential street?
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May 24, 2012
I think it's clear that self defense isn't applicable to the person who instigates the fight. Buy suppose that Trayvon had been preparing to burgle a home, but had not yet committed a crime, and had no other personal contacts in the neighborhood? Would it matter if it was a gated community as opposed to an ungated residential street?
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
May 24, 2012
Mark Naught, you're still spreading the myth that GZ confronted TM when it was the other way around.
GZ was on the top of a T path going right to left returning to his car.

TM was hiding near the intersection and confronted GZ. If you look at the police photos of GZ, you can see he took a lot of damage from TM while the only marks on TM according to the autopsy was on his knuckles.

A rather one sided fight.
May 24, 2012
[I expect Zimmerman's version won't sound as if he was provocative. -- Scott]

The sanitized version that will be released by his attorney will not sound provocative, but following a stranger is provocative in nearly any situation. I would certainly feel threatened if someone was following me, and Martin did too. I read the 911 transcript and Zimmerman reported that Martin ran away. Martin was scared and went out of his way to avoid a confrontation with a stranger who was following him.

[I don't think ignoring the authorities and "confronting" Martin is such an obvious error in judgement [...]. -- Scott]

Yes it is. Neighborhood watch guidelines agree. Neighborhood watch members should never carry firearms or confront suspicious persons who could be armed and dangerous. Z- reported in the 911 call that Martin had his hand in his waistband and an unidentified object in his hand, so Z- had to be suspicious that Martin was carrying a weapon. Neighborhood watch guidelines obviously do not carry the force of law, but the failure to follow these guidelines demonstrate the lapse in Z-'s judgment.

Zimmerman was the aggressor and created a hostile environment by following, searching for, and then confronting Martin. Martin was scared, failed to elude his pursuer, and was shot when he was winning the fight. Even if Martin threw the first punch, which is certainly possible, Z- provoked the fight by creating a situation that a reasonable person would feel was threatening.

Zimmerman, helping to pave the road to hell with his good intentions, is definitely in the wrong and should be held responsible. You shouldn't be allowed to shoot your opponent when you're losing a fight that you started.

However, I still predict: Not guilty verdict. Riots. Book/tv/movie deal. Civil suit, which Z- will lose.
May 24, 2012
The Kitty Genovese reference is a derailing non sequitor: What crime was GZ observing and morally required to step in and prevent? Walking in the rain with your hood up? His moral requirement ended when he called 911 and said he saw a 'suspicious' (why?) man walking in his neighborhood. After that, it was all down hill.

Stick to the timeline and the facts as known to the the actors at that time.

As to Treyvon feeling scared and start a self defense strategy (flight or fight... running be the first option), while I'm not a Black male, it has been told to me that Black parents instill upon their children that there is a 'system' that supports agression and violence against black people (whether that be white on black or black on black), and that to survive, one must avoid when possible any situation where this may the case. Now, the unfortunate side effect of this is, that white people or people part of the system of white supremacy (eg cops) often see 'fleeing' as 'tacit admission of guilt' and therefore justifying the confirmation bias of moving from 'suspect' to 'perp,' and the increase of justifiable force (I've heard it another way.... "If you make me chase you, I will make you pay"). I won't go into why Treyvon switched from running to confrontation, but I can understand that his conditioning was that a white man following you, the worst case scenario would be that violence would be had upon Treyvon, and the police/DA would not care ("Walking While Black" would be the reason for the 'street justice'). At is played out, that is exactly what happened, and that is where my anger is..

May 24, 2012
Orr, the two scenarios you list are invalid. You explicitly DO NOT have a right to self-defense if you are in the act of committing a crime, or more precisely, if the situation requiring self-defense was created by unlawful behavior on your part. Self-defense laws are very specific about this, or else they would make no sense.
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
May 23, 2012
All you guys who fault Zimmerman for trying to look out for crime in his community, I assume you'd have done nothing if you heard Kitty Genovese dying and wouldn't want anyone else to either.

+6 Rank Up Rank Down
May 23, 2012
Scott asks: "Even if you believe Zimmerman's bad judgement alone created the situation that resulted in a much larger guy sitting on his chest and punching his head with no indication it was going to stop anytime soon, isn't it still "self defense" if he shoots the guy pounding his face?"

My take: No. If GZ caused the situation, he is responsible for the outcome. It may not be murder, and I'd consider it a form of Negligence-based manslaughter, but it is not self defense.

Consider this:
We just look at the end-scene: A person is under attack, feels threatened and kills. We conclude this is a justified self-defense.

Does this hold water? would we conclude the same regardless of how we got here?

(1) In a shootout with police after a bad robbery, the criminal's life IS absolutely in danger (they are
shooting at him!), if he shoots back is that self-defense?
(2) if a store owner feels threatened by an armed robber, and pulls a gun/knife/club. The criminal can
reasonably conclude his life IS in danger. If he shoots the store owner, is that self-defense?

So, IMO, even if GZ did feel genuinely that his life was in danger, and thought he was shooting in self defense, he is still responsible for the end result.
+15 Rank Up Rank Down
May 23, 2012
The media played everyone. This is evidenciary obvious. They played for sympathy for a victim by showing Martin when he was an innocent kid. They played for guilt by showing an uninjured Zimmeman. They inflamed racial tensions by calling Zimmerman a "white hispanic". The media continues to stir the flames of the racial tensions. The information they leak out is practically plotted for reaction.

Why does the media go to such lengths to keep the country divided amongst old, and forgotten by some, racial tensions?

Racism would end if no one cared what race Zimmerman or Martin were. Yet, the media uses it to incite the populace.

What is bad is that they could have reported on true racial hatred crimes. Recently 3 young white men killed a black man in Mississippi. At least one of those white men pled guilty to federal hate crime charges. Yet, no one seems to have heard about this tragedy. It removes the culpability of the media wanting to merely stir up racial tensions.

Which begs the question, beyond ratings, what was the media's reason for stirring up racial tensions over this specific case?

My guess would be that the media does not like Florida's "Stand your ground" law. They are using this case as an example. They are inciting racial divisiveness to keep the emotional level high and tense. Let's face it, they will also report of groups ready to riot if Zimmerman goes free.

Regardless of the media's reasons, the media has given their command to the populace, "Dance for our ratings fools, Dance!" I find it sad that everyone is dancing to what the media spews and not realizing they are being played as fools. This blog post, the comments to the blog post, and even my own post -- We are all obeying the puppet masters of the news media!.

I, personally, am waiting for them to get a lot of us to jump off the edge of a cliff and call it, "Humans committ mass lemming-like suicide!"
-4 Rank Up Rank Down
May 23, 2012
In the beginning I thought Zimmerman was just an overconfident zealous cop. Now, I believe that the whole thing is a bunch of tragic misunderstandings set in motion by Zimmerman, an overconfident zealous neighbourhood watch guy. It's correct to call his action self-defense, but his action should not have been to kill Martin, only to disable him.
No matter whom he decides to confront, for whatever reasons, and no matter whom he confronts, regardless of how the person might react, if he was wielding a gun on neighbourhood watch, he HAS to know how to approach the situation without escalating it, or not approach it at all. Clearly, Zimmerman screwed that up.

When the situation already was a run-away escalation spiral, I think that Zimmerman was ok to shoot Martin, but NOT to kill him. He could have disabled Martin in 117 different non-lethal ways. He is guilty of being careless, and his department is guilty of not training him properly, or not firing him when they realized that he was careless.
-3 Rank Up Rank Down
May 23, 2012
I haven't followed this case since I noticed it was being handled as well as a 4 year old juggling eggs over a new carpet.

So, with that in mind, is it self defense when someone is sitting on you beating your head in with no end to the beating in sight, to then shoot the person doing the beating, regardless of what lead up to that point? The answer to that is no.

Example 1: Man stalks a woman and accosts her. She fights back and starts beating the snot out of said man, he pulls gun and shoots her. He started the encounter in a negative way and was getting the beating he earned. His shooting was not in justifiable self defense.

Example 2: Cop follows a suspicious suspect and attempts to detain the person. Person of interest starts beating the cop mercilessly so the cop then shoots the suspect. The would be justifiable self defense.

Example 3: Neighborhood watch sees someone who fits the profile or a burglar in the area. NW follows suspicious person and confronts them. Situation escalates and the person of interest ends up beating the NW person. NW shoots the person of interest. This would be justifiable self defense because the person was appointed to watch over the residential area and acting in a position of protecting the neighborhood and the neighbors property. The suspicious person could have responded in a non-violent manner and the whole thing could have been cleared up without escalating to violence. Instead a kid is dead and another guy has to live out his life wondering what he could have done differently while still doing what he was appointed to do.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and have not trained in any way to be one.

The whole situation would have been different had Trayvon handled his end differently. Unfortunately the situation sounded like a train wreck from the get-go.
May 23, 2012
It is not self defense if you kill someone other than to protect your own life. Wanting to not get beaten up is not justification for killing someone. So it has to go beyond a guy is hitting you, to you believing that your life is in danger.

And if you provoke a fight and then kill the person believing your life is in danger, that is not self defense.

Now being in the wrong place, and potentially even following someone does not necessarily mean you provoked a fight.

But I cannot help thinking that we will only hear one side of the story - the killer's.
May 23, 2012
[Even if it's concealed? -- Scott]

One could easily argue *especially* if it's concealed.

My personal opinion is whether Zimmerman showed the weapon (or not) is irrelevant to the question of "aggressive" pursuit. The only question really is *how* aggressive was he?

A running joke on the Andy Griffith Show was that Barney Fife wasn't allowed to have a loaded gun because he was more dangerous to everyone *but* criminals with it. Zimmerman strikes me as a real life Barney Fife.
May 23, 2012
["The word "agressively" is nothing but inflammatory, since it speaks not just to the manner in which Zimmerman acted, but also to his state of mind..."] --delius1967

I'd argue that any time you approach someone with a firearm, you're "aggressively" pursuing that individual.

[Even if it's concealed? -- Scott]

Oddly, the whole concealed firearm part seems to get lost by Scott. He focuses on the fact that Zimmerman is shorter than Martin, even going so far as to add 3 inches to Martin's height to make him 6'3", instead of his actual height of 6 feet....not that this is relevant.

[Wikipedia says his family reported he was 6'3", but I also see the autopsy has him just under 6', so I stand corrected. - Scott]

Someone's height isn't relevant when the other person has a gun. Or maybe this is "confirmation bias" in effect?

Again, not saying Zimmerman intended to use his gun (at least, I don't *think* he did). He strikes me as someone who's heart was in the right place, but who got in way, way, way over his head. But we'll see what comes out in the trial.
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
May 23, 2012
I still haven't made up my mind - and it's very telling how few words into some people's comments you need to get before you can see confirmation bias coiled tightly around their sentences like a poisonous vine ...

At first, I bought the "official" story, as packaged (white racist kills innocent black kid), with all its presumably-deliberately op-ed generating subnarratives (gated communities, racism, self defense, etc) - but the realisation that the main picture of Martin was deliberately several years out of date disgusted me so much, I now just shrug at the bizarro-land weirdness of the successful effort to make this unfortunate interaction between two random citizens (who are/were, let's face it, probably both dicks - ever see First Blood?) into a longstanding matter of national concern.
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