Justice, Not Mob Justice


I briefly discussed the tragic Trayvon Martin killing last night on my radio program. It is a sad, possibly racially motivated, killing of an unarmed teenage boy by an armed neighborhood watch member, George Zimmerman.

CNN’s has a disturbing headline, “CNN poll: Majority call for arrest in Trayvon Martin shooting.” What makes this so disturbing is the concept that because,”nearly three out of four Americans say the police should arrest the neighborhood watch volunteer who pulled the trigger,” a man should be arrested. That is not how the law in our country works. That kind of headline and article hearkens back to mob lynchings from darker periods in our nation’s history. Is that what we really want? Mob rule?

I fully believe that a person who commits a crime must be charged and tried within the framework of our judicial system. If George Zimmerman committed a crime, as defined by our laws, then law enforcement should arrest and charge him.

A civilized nation operates with a framework of laws that protect and defend its citizens. If our laws have a loophole which allowed Trayvon Martin to be killed and the killer to walk away, we can be angry, disappointed, or upset, but that doesn’t change the law. We also cannot write a law that goes back in time to make it a crime either. Ex post facto laws are specifically forbidden in the United States Constitution.

The problem here seems to center on Florida statute 776.013 aka “stand your ground” law. You might have heard of the “castle doctrine” before which allows a homeowner to defend his/her home with deadly force. There are excellent examples where the “castle doctrine” is reasonable such as this one about an Oklahoma mother. Florida’s law takes that further and extends the premise to essentially anywhere that a person “has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”

This law in Florida is what has prevented police from arresting George Zimmerman thus far. He is claiming self defense and is therefore shielded by Florida law. So calling for George Zimmerman’s head does no good as the law is protecting him.

To prevent future killings of this type the law must be changed. How about going back to the castle doctrine for these definitions as current laws already allow for flexibility in prosecution when self-defense is truly the reason for a shooting?

We still don’t know all the facts in this case and it is important to continue watching the developments and not jump to convicting conclusions. As always, please do call, write, or email your legislators letting them know what you think needs to change.

Humans Should Not Drive Cars


There is a common misconception that there are too many cars on the road and the roadways simply do not have the capacity so we need to build more lanes.

Not true and studies led by Professor Yuki Sugiyama of Nagoya University which were published in the New Journal of Physics in 2008 show that it is human propensities for variable speeds that cause major chain reactions resulting in traffic jams. Mathematician Dr. Gábor Orosz of the University of Exeter says, “Many researchers believe that the effect of spontaneous jam formation (caused by tiny fluctuations above a critical traffic density) is the main reason for traffic jams and this view is supported by Professor Sugiyama.”

Some of my friends and family have heard me discussing the now defunct DARPA Grand Challenge competition and the need to get humans away from driving. We wasted a total of $115 billion in 2009 in the United States while stuck in traffic. Human “errors” have caused an average of 37,104 deaths per year in the U.S.A. from 1994 through 2009 according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Think about that, what kind of uproar would occur if there were 200 plane crashes in one year causing that many deaths? Every single year. People would go ballistic. Constituents would call and write their elected officials demanding action, Bill O’Reilly would aggressively talk through the bullet points, John King would be using some cool interactive, digital map to analyze the data, Dan Rather would do a hour-long special, Rachel Maddow would politely interrogate an industry official, and people would go off the deep-end on Internet blogs.

Google has decided to address this problem with an internal project, funded entirely by themselves. I applaud them and wish them only the best in this endeavor. Seriously, I look forward to the day that I can read the news or eat a bagel while hurtling toward my destination. Americans can avoid driving today using mass transit but that only works when you live in a dense urban area or within a block or two of a bus stop. Anything else requires driving to the mass transit parking lot first and that requires the driver to be skilled and paying attention, which we are apparently terrible at doing.

The state of Nevada has become the first in the nation passing a law allowing autonomous vehicles. From the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles comes this statement: “Nevada is the first state to embrace what is surely the future of automobiles,” Department of Motor Vehicles Director Bruce Breslow said. “These regulations establish requirements companies must meet to test their vehicles on Nevada’s public roadways as well as requirements for residents to legally operate them in the future.”

California Senator Alex Padilla of Pacoima has proposed similar legislation for that car-centric state.  According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “If we can utilize state-of-the-art technology to make cars and therefore our roads safer, I think we have an obligation to pursue that,” Padilla said. I applaud his efforts and our state should be leading the nation, not trailing.

For as much as I look forward to handing over the driving responsibility to a series of computers (don’t worry, it appears the direction is that we can always override the computer unlike the Johnny Cab), most others are not ready. Dig deep down, are you really ready to hand over the wheel? I suspect this technology will take a full generation or maybe two before it can become ubiquitous.