What is wrong with America when we seek to minimise the right of people to defend themselves?
As many in the country rage about the 'outrageous' Zimmerman verdict, alleged institutional racism, and the laughable 'white privilege,' America needs to meet Roderick Scott...
By Phil Elmore
His name is Roderick Scott. He’s a 42-year-old black man with the build of a football player. He also holds a New York State Pistol Permit, or he did until recently. In fact, until April of this year, he kept a .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol readily to hand. Whether that pistol has been returned to him by now, and whether he still holds his permit (or will again) is anybody’s guess. I don’t know Mr. Scott and have never spoken to him.
Roderick Scott is, to his misfortune, a resident of Greece, New York — a suburb of the crime-ridden, crumbling city of Rochester, NY. I say this is to Roderick Scott’s misfortune because, were he a resident of a state that leans less perilously to the left, he might not just have endured several months of legal torture, followed by the longest 19 and a half hours of his life.
Back in April, after an argument with his common-law wife, Scott was asleep on the couch in his home. At 3:00 in the morning he heard a disturbance outside, looked out the window, and saw three teenagers trying to break into his car. Shoving his gun into his waistband, he went outside to see what in hell was going on.
He caught one Christopher Cervini, then 17, in the driveway across the street. With Cervini were his cousin, James, and their friend Brian Hopkins. They were busily rifling through the neighbor’s car when Roderick Scott confronted them. These teenagers, you see, are (in Cervini’s case, he was) petty criminals. They were working their way through all the cars in the neighborhood in order to find things to steal.
The teens had also been drinking earlier in the evening. A toxicologist’s report confirmed that Christopher Cervini was legally drunk at the time of his death. (All three teenagers had, as at least one of them admitted, been drinking stolen gin before the incident.) This fine, upstanding young man, who (we were repeatedly informed during the trial) had no criminal record, also had marijuana and amphetamines in his system. The marijuana traces were consistent with a history of such use, while Cervini had been perscribed no drugs that would have accounted for the positive amphetamine results.
Under oath, James Cervini claimed that he and Christopher were standing still with their hands up when Christopher was shot — an assertion James never made prior to the trial. If it seems strange to you that he never brought this up before to taking the stand, you aren’t alone in your incredulity. This seems to me an obvious lie — last-minute perjury intended to damn Roderick Scott by false witness.
Now, here’s something relevant, something you need to know about Christopher Cervini’s cousin James. James, at 15, has been on probation not once, but twice, for assisting in a burglary and for holding a knife to the throat of a ten-year-old boy (reportedly over a dispute involving marijuana). Roderick Scott’s defense attorney, a brilliant lawyer named John Parrinello (to whom Scott owes his freedom), argued during the trial that it was very likely Christopher rushed Roderick Scott in an attempt to help his cousin James escape. Both “kids” knew that James would be in trouble were he caught committing more petty theft.
Roderick Scott took the stand in his own defense, explaining that he “looked outside the front door to see what was going on,” identifying “three individuals walking out of [his] driveway.” He “intended to go out and stop the criminal act or detain them.” He then chambered a round in his weapon. “I had no idea what was going on,” he said,” so I had to protect myself.” He was, he testified, aware that he was outnumbered, and that is key to this issue as a self-defense scenario. When outnumbered, even if those facing you are unarmed, you are generally justified to use a force multiplier — a weapon — to defend yourself.
“I wanted to stop them before they could get away,” he admitted. “We live so far away, they would have been gone before police got there.” When Scott told the three teenagers that he had called the police, Christopher Cervini broke from the group and ran at him, shouting either, “I’ll get you” to Scott or “I’ll get him” to his fellow thieves. Scott fired two shots in response.
John Parrinello shrewdly released Scott’s 911 call following the shooting. On it, Roderick Scott and his girlfriend can be heard; Scott’s statements to the operator come without hesitation. His account of the incident is consistent with his testimony, and his tone and demeanor are anything but that of a trigger-happy vigilante.
Monroe County Assistant District Attorney Julie Finnochio, by contrast, ruthlessly and relentlessly prosecuted Scottt. She got the last word during closing arguments, too, and tried to tell the jury that, regardless of the circumstances, the shooting was not justified. After the jury came back with their verdict of not guilty, she couldn’t resist the chance to twist the knife in Scott’s guts — or to further the propaganda that has been spewing from her office from the outset. “I just hope it’s not a message to this community,” she sniffed, “that you have the right to shoot an unarmed 17-year-old kid for breaking into a car.”
This is intellectually dishonest. The woman is still trying to paint Scott, now a free and vindicated man, as a cold-blooded murderer. These “kids” — these teenaged, drunken, drug-addled, sometimes knife-toting petty criminals — were not shot at for breaking into a car, but for trying to assault Roderick Scott when he caught them committing a robbery.
Cervini’s family, for their part, had the gall to shriek that Christopher was “brutally murdered” — that poor, innocent Christopher Cervini was essentially on trial alongside Roderick Scott. In the Cervinis’ eyes, Scott “was the judge, jury, and executioner.” Never you mind that Scott himself just sat before a jury and a judge whose job it was to pass sentence over him. In the twisted, unreal world of those who make excuses for drug-abusing, potentially violent thieves, it is a law-abiding citizen defending himself with a legal weapon who must prove his innocence after the fact.
Even the dead boy shared his family’s sense of entitlement — their indignant cries of “murder” after their boy died a victim of his own criminal stupidity. By Roderick Scott’s own testimony, we know that, as Christopher Cervini bled out into a gutter on that suburban street, he uttered the words, “I’m just a kid.” Those words will probably haunt Roderick Scott. They should bother all of us, for Cervini clearly thought that, to the end, he should not be held responsiblity for either theft or attempted assault.
Worse still is the fact that there are plenty of people in Roderick Scott’s neighborhood, and in the greater Western New York area, who wrongly think he’s a murderer. The local AM talk shows featured many Mondy morning quarterbacks, newly minted firearms experts pontificating from ignroance on why the shooting could not be justified. Why, after the fact, we learned that those teenagers weren’t armed this time, so clearly Roderick Scott could not have feared for his life. After all, the man dared to leave his home and confront those committing a crime. Has he learned nothing from living in modern society in New York State? You’re supposed to cower in your home, hiding under the couch, praying dearly that those terrible, mean people outside won’t choose to come inside. You’ll have plenty of time to pray while you’re on hold with the 911 operator, waiting for police who can’t possibly get there in time.
This is what’s wrong with the culture of New York State. Our state values victims over victors. It enshrines passivity over direct action to preempt or thwart criminal activity. It excuses the acts of teenaged thugs, revising history to absolve them of blame for their petty crimes, while pillorying good citizens who dare to defend themselves with legally permitted arms.
In a state with the strictest gun control in the union, to own a legal handgun is no small thing. Roderick Scott is a decent person who did everything legally and correctly… yet in the minds of many, he is the villain simply because he dared not to do nothing. Had this shooting occurred in another state with less liberal hand-wringing underlying its legal code, it’s possible Roderick Scott would never have stood trial. It is, quite frankly, a miracle that the jury — deadlocked just a few hours before it came to the “not guilty” verdict — eventually granted Scott his life back.
Fortunately, Roderick Scott is not bitter. “I feel that justice was served today,” he said after his legal ordeal.
His lawyer was diplomatic but more pointed: “I just want to say that I hope this case sends a message to families out there to watch their kids, to know where they are and what they are doing.”
That lawyer’s message is clear: If your kids live like garbage, trade in garbage, and contribute nothing to their community but garbage, they very well may die like garbage. If that happens they have no one to blame but themselves… though their parents ought to think good and hard about whether they share responsibility.
As David French noted:
For those in anguish about the alleged inherent racism of our system of justice, about the idea that basic principles of self-defense as applied in court are nothing but a “hunting license” against young black teens, the Roderick Scott case should be a comfort. Our self-defense laws are not constructed to kill minorities but to protect simple moral principles that resolve doubts in favor of those who don’t initiate violence, and American juries are more than capable of looking past race to apply the law to the facts of a case.
If Scott had not testified that the teenager rushed him, Scott would be in jail. Similarly, if George Zimmerman’s defense team had not presented compelling evidence that Trayvon Martin had injured him and was beating him while Zimerman was prone on his back, Zimmerman would be in jail. It’s really that simple.
I say this as no fan of George Zimmerman. I think Zimmerman behaved foolishly. Looking at the situation from Trayvon Martin’s perspective, he was being followed first by vehicle then by foot — after dark — by a strange man who is neither law enforcement nor obviously a member of a uniformed security force. That’s unsettling at best, terrifying at worst — and leaves the Martin with few good options. Should he presume Zimmerman’s good will and approach him for conversation? Should he keep his head down and walk as quickly as possible home? Should he try to hide? Should he run? Or should he take the worst of the series of bad options and turn and fight — even before Zimmerman makes an overtly threatening move? Some courses of action were safer than others, but all carried a degree of risk.
Zimmerman put Trayvon Martin in a difficult situation, and the fact there was strong evidence that Martin took the worst possible course of action — attacking Zimmerman — doesn’t vindicate Zimmerman’s foolishness. There is not one single concealed carry permit holder in the United States who should look to George Zimmerman as a model of proper conduct.
But just as Zimmerman’s foolishness doesn’t make him a hero, his case doesn’t provide us with any justification for jailing the Roderick Scotts of the world. Nor does it provide the justification for repealing laws that protect black Americans as much as they protect white Americans:
Black Floridians have made about a third of the state’s total “Stand Your Ground” claims in homicide cases, a rate nearly double the black percentage of Florida’s population. The majority of those claims have been successful, a success rate that exceeds that for Florida whites.
I have long been just as suspicious of the rush to exonerate George Zimmerman as I have been of the rush to convict. Up until the trial itself I thought the prosecution might come forward with compelling evidence that George Zimmerman initiated the violence. It did not. Not even close. But regardless of the outcome of the Zimmerman trial, we should not waiver in the conviction that our laws do not protect aggressors and that our private and public spaces belong to the law-abiding. In other words, the message is simple: If you attack another person, the victim is under no obligation to run away.
That’s a legal principle — and cultural norm – worth defending.