Gerry Spence, Court TV, Trayvon Martin and MePosted 02 Apr 2017 by John Phillips
Gerry Spence, Court TV, Trayvon Martin and Me
In a strange way, I was shaped as a lawyer probably as much by my attention to Court TV, as I was my grandfather and great grandfathers who were “real life” lawyers. The stories of William Kennedy Smith, Jeffrey Dahmer, the Rodney King officers, the Menendez brothers –and more importantly their victims– grabbed some of my attention in high school, but by college, O.J. Simpson’s “gavel-to-gavel” coverage solidified my desire to be a trial lawyer. I watched most of the Simpson trial and those commenting on it- like the ultimate Monday morning legal quarterback, Gerry Spence. As I tell clients, trial law is like being the producer, director and narrator of an elaborate live-action play. Lives are often literally on the line. No wonder it gets such attention and ratings.
I am in a unique position on both sides of the equation. I have not only recently been in Gerry Spence’s shoes, commenting on the trial of George Zimmerman for a national broadcast as the verdict was read, but also represent Jordan Davis’ family, a high profile case that may receive coverage of its own. And in this position, I see the trial of George Zimmerman and the death of Trayvon Martin as a tragedy with no winners. All Trayvon’s mother wanted was for the justice system to let her son’s death be worth a jury vote. And she didn’t want to feel she let her son die in vain. Zimmerman wanted to be judged on his view of the law, whether you like it or not. I submit we would all would want the same as both of these families wanted after such a tragedy.
To that end, I want to thank John Guy in particular. With all of the pressure, with all of the cameras and reporters, with all of the politics and racial strife, John Guy gave a touching and impassioned argument on behalf of a child who lost his life. I envision a generation of black and white kids touched by his passion, desiring not just to be another lawyer, but wanting to make a difference. It is precious and rare in our profession. I told him so.
An original civil rights pioneer, Abraham Lincoln, often said “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” We, as a country, were founded on freedom- freedom to do, say and act how we wish. It was a system of ideals – a literal Constitution- that stemmed from oppression and longing for expression. But that very freedom was tucked inside Pandora’s Box. Because my free expression and your free expression (or desire to avoid my expression) may contrast. Our grandfathers may not have valued each others’ rights, but that doesn’t mean that we have to hold on to that. We cannot hold on to that. Pandora’s box of freedom is open and making everyone upset, some people crazy and dividing this nation further. As KRS-One rapped, “Self destruction, you’re headed for self destruction.” We have taken it too far and for granted and we are faltering.
Even though some hold sacred the (extended) Constitutional Right to the violent ‘defense of self’ “guaranteed” by the Second Amendment, other Amendments have had to be drafted to provide rights to women and minorities- to force peace and equality. Some now use those very Second Amendment guarantees to define freedom in America. I think Lincoln would define that as “faltering.” We cannot impinge or insult one another and use the Second Amendment to bail ourselves out of trouble. We cannot be violent mice waiting for our tail to be stepped on to teach the great elephant a lesson.
What if -and this is just a hypothetical- George Zimmerman is as much of a “wanted man” as his own family and legal counsel claim. And what if -and this is still just a hypothetical- someone he considers menacing (a black child with candy, soft drink and a possible bad attitude) comes at him in his car or in a store- fist in the air, angry with him. Can he shoot and claim self defense again? And again? And again? Where is the line of defense of self and reason? Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the world where the Stand Your Ground killer is not only legal, but he (or she) is festering among us. ‘Dexter’ could run four more seasons if they dare approach the laws of lethal force and Stand Your Ground in Florida alone.
Freedom is not black and white, it is not pro-gun and anti-gun, it is not to insult, rage or take life in our own hands unreasonably. That freedom will perish if we do not find a way to learn from these events- kind of like those kids listening to John Guy, kind of like me 15 years ago- inspired education. Let’s learn from this and heal and set the bar of whether or not to take a life higher.