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Archive for the ‘SALMS’ Category

Trent Smith on Deep Capture and Obesity – SALMS Talk Friday!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 9, 2014

Trent Smith

The Economics of Information, Deep Capture, and the Obesity Debate
When: Friday 09/12/14 –  12-1pm
Where: WCC 1023

Are consumers susceptible to manipulation by large corporations?  Or are consumers basically rational, able to decide for themselves what to buy and how to live?  This lecture will argue that these seemingly contradictory views of the American consumer are not mutually exclusive, and in fact follow directly from economic models of imperfect information.  Examples of U.S. food industry practices, both historical and in the ongoing public debate over the causes of the obesity epidemic, serve to illustrate a broader phenomenon: when large industrial producers take steps to limit the information available to consumers, a market breakdown can occur in which low-quality products dominate the market.  As a result, consumer welfare and–in the case of food–public health suffers.  This would seem to represent a clear instance of the phenomenon known as “deep capture,” in which powerful commercial interests attempt to influence conventional wisdoms that might affect industry profits.

Please join SALMS and Section 6 for Professor Smith’s presentation and lunch (which will be provided).

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Francis Shen

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 30, 2014

FrancisShen_350Just a reminder that SALMS will be hosting a lunchtime speaker event tomorrow:

Professor Francis Shen will be speaking to us about the intersection of neuroscience and the law. This area of scholarship often delves into questions of mental illness, drug rehabilitation, and mental privacy, and other issues of mind. For those looking to learn more about this branch of legal scholarship, this lunch should be a good first look.

When: Monday 3/31/14 12-1pm
Where: WCC 1010
Free Lunch?: Of course

For an example of Francis Shen’s more recent work, here is a link to a recent article: http://www.harvard-jlpp.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/36_2_653_Shen.pdf

Posted in Events, Legal Theory, Neuroscience, SALMS | Leave a Comment »

Upcoming SALMS Talks

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 20, 2014

HLS Langdell

Francis Shen U. Minnesota Law School March 31st
-The Intersection of neuroscience and the law
Joshua Greene Harvard College Psychology April 18th
- Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them

Stay tuned for more details.

Posted in Events, SALMS | Leave a Comment »

Natasha Schvey on Obesity in the Courtroom – Today!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 1, 2013

weight bias courtroom - by Madelein witt

When: Friday 11/01/13 12-1pm
Where: WCC 2012

Today, join Section 6’s Ninja Tortles and the Student Association for Law and Mind Sciences (SALMS) for a talk by Natasha Schvey on bias against overweight defendants in the courtroom. Schvey, a doctoral student in clinical psychology at Yale University, has focused her research on obesity, weight stigma, binge eating, and eating in response to negative affect. She argues that bias against the overweight should be addressed in the legal system through means such as juror selection, jury instructions, and anti-discrimination legislation.

The talk will be held at noon in WCC 2012, and food will be served.

Posted in Events, SALMS, Situationist Contributors | Leave a Comment »

Jon Hanson on Law and Mind Sciences – SALMS Talk Monday!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 20, 2013

law mind sciences hanson

When: Monday 10/21/13 12-1pm
Where: WCC 1010

Professor Jon Hanson will kick off this year’s SALMS speaker series, discussing the significance of mind sciences for law.

Hanson is the Alfred Smart Professor of Law, Director of the Project on Law and Mind Sciences, and editor of the recent book, “Ideology, Psychology, and Law.”

Lunch will be provided.

Posted in Events, SALMS, Situationist Contributors | Leave a Comment »

Adrian Raine on the Anatomy of Violence – SALMS Talk Today!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 4, 2013

Adrian Raine violence

The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime
When: Thursday 4/4/13 12-1pm
Where: WCC 1010

Why do some innocent kids grow up to become cold-blooded serial killers? Is bad biology partly to blame? Professor Adrian Raine (UPenn) will discuss his research on the biological roots of violence and neurocriminology, a new field that applies neuroscience techniques to investigate the causes and cures of crime.

Professor Raine has a book to be released on April 30, 2013 with the same title as well as a TV show inspired by his book!

Lunch will be provided.

Posted in Book, Events, SALMS | Leave a Comment »

Carl Hart on The Drug War – SALMS Talk Today!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 12, 2013

drug war

The Drug War: A Psychological Problem-A Conversation with Carl Hart
Tuesday, March 12th, 12pm-1pm
Langdell South

Lunch talk featuring Dr. Carl Hart, Assistant Professor of Clinical Neuroscience in the Department of Psychiatry, an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Psychology at Columbia University, and author of the forthcoming book High Price. Dr. Hart was featured in the film “The House I Live In” where he discussed his research on the effects of meth on human subjects.carl hart high price

Non-pizza lunch served.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Politics, SALMS | 1 Comment »

Ryan Enos – SALMS Talk

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 1, 2013

obama_romney

SALMS hosted Ryan Enos at Harvard Law School on October 11, 2012, for a talk entitled “Mitt Romney Is Really, Really Good Looking: Do Attractiveness and Other Trivial Things Affect Elections?” The talk was part of the Mind Sciences & the Election series, which was cosponsored by American Constitution Society, HLS Republicans, HLS Democrats, and the Black Law Students Association. Click the link below to watch the video – enjoy!

Ryan Enos video

Related Situationist posts:

More posts on the situation of politics here.

Posted in Ideology, Implicit Associations, Politics, SALMS, Video | Leave a Comment »

HLS SALMS – Officer Selection

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 12, 2013

SALMS Logo

HLS students, if you’re interested in the work of SALMS and want to be more involved over the next year, the current SALMS board will be selecting new officers this month. To apply, please send us your responses to the following:

1) Name, class year
2) Position(s) applying for (President, VP/Treasurer, Speakers Chair, Communications Chair)
3) Paragraph on why you are interested in and qualified for this/these position/s
4) Description of your past involvement with SALMS
5) What you would like to see SALMS do in the future

Please send your application to rmatte[at]jd14.law.harvard.edu (replace “[at]” with “@”) by Wednesday, February 13.

POSITION DESCRIPTIONS

President: The President oversees all facets of the organization. This year, one part of the President’s role has been to organize and lead the Writer’s Workshop events. The President also works to facilitate cosponsorships and communicates with applying and admitted students, relaying to them the benefits of our organization and other exciting things at HLS.

Vice President/Treasurer: The VP/Treasurer is probably the most open position on the board.  It is the most time intensive in spring semester, since the Treasurer is responsible for submitting the budget application for the following year. The outgoing Treasurer will work with the new Treasurer in March & April to get that done based on her experience last year, but it requires advocacy and an explanation of new ideas. Following the budget (which is very important for the scope of SALMS), there are no set responsibilities for the VP/Treasurer other than monitoring the budget. This position provides leeway for interested persons to establish new ideas and programs for the SALMS community, which this year included a speaker series based around the election. The VP/Treasurer is expected to assist the other board members with their responsibilities and making sure the lunch talks proceed smoothly. This position requires a little bit of creativity for new events and a great attention to detail to ensure the budget is done properly and is expanded for the following year.

Speakers Selection Chair: The Speakers Selection Chair is responsible for shaping, organizing, and coordinating the SALMS speakers series. The Chair brainstorms a variety of potential guests to invite (with input from the SALMS community), communicates with the speakers, and creates a diverse program for the academic year. The Chair will also be generally responsible for ordering food, booking rooms, and requesting media services for each speaker event.

Communications & Online Chair: The Communications & Online Chair sends out all emails to the SALMS listserv and adds SALMS events to the HLS events calendar. He/she is also responsible for updating the website (previous WordPress experience is desired). This year, the Communications Chair will also coordinate SALMS efforts to contribute content to Professor Jon Hanson’s website, The Situationist.

Posted in SALMS | Leave a Comment »

Max Bazerman Speaks at HLS – Thursday!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 7, 2013

Bazerman Books

Thursday, February 7, 12-1 p.m.
Wasserstein 1015
Professor Max Bazerman (HBS)
“Bounded Ethicality”
Sponsor: Student Association for Law & Mind Sciences

Professor Bazerman will present his recent research on ethical behavior. He argues that, in contrast to the search for the few “bad apples,” the majority of unethical events occur as the result of ordinary and predictable psychological processes. As a result, even good people engage in unethical behavior, without their own awareness, on a regular basis.

Free Thai food!

Learn more about Professor Bazerman’s work here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Choice Myth, Events, Morality, SALMS, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

Don Kinder on the Role of Race in the 2012 Election – Today

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 1, 2012

“He’s Still Black: The Role of Race in the 2012 Presidential Election”
With Dr. Don Kinder, University of Michigan Political Science
Thursday, Nov. 1, 12 pm
Austin North
Free Chinese food!

In 2008, Americans chose Barack Obama to be the 44th president of the United States. The following morning, The New York Times proclaimed that Obama had succeeded in “sweeping away the last racial barrier in American politics with ease.” With ease? No. There are good reasons to believe that Obama was elected president in spite of his race. But that was then. Four years later, are we any closer to post-racial politics? What role will race play in the 2012 election?

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Events, Ideology, Implicit Associations, Politics, SALMS, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

Peer Pressure and Voting

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 30, 2012

From The Harvard Gazzette:

Many people believe that idealism motivates them to open their wallets for a favorite candidate or that civic duty motivates them to go to the polls to vote. But don’t discount peer pressure as an important factor in elections, a political scientist says.

“We operate as a family, a neighborhood, a team,” said Betsy Sinclair, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago. “Family, friends, and neighbors affect” choices involving “the candidate, issues to support, the political party to identify with, whether to donate to political candidates, and whether we turn out to cast a ballot.”

Sinclair, author of the new book “The Social Citizen: Peer Networks and Political Behavior,” spoke Thursday at Harvard Law School’s Austin Hall about how social networks enforce behavior in American politics. Her lecture was titled “Mind Sciences and the Election: The Social Citizen.”

Why we write a check or cast a ballot is often for the same reason that we buy Girl Scout cookies or Tupperware: pressure to conform with a group. Sinclair came to that realization after observing a fundraising coffee session for a 2009 Democratic U.S. House candidate from Illinois, Julie Hamos.

The coffee klatch was held in an affluent, politically engaged Chicago district. The two previous election cycles, this group backed another candidate. But this time, the hostess invited Hamos to speak. When the candidate finished her remarks, the hostess asked everyone to get out their checkbooks. Many wrote checks, according to Sinclair.

The candidate lost. Sinclair, in her post-mortem, learned that many guests regretted backing the loser.

Sinclair called the pressure to back Hamos “the Tupperware effect,” where people are invited to a party for the plastic container ware and drink coffee, hear testimony about its worth, and then pony up money for their own plastic ware, just like at the campaign meeting.

“People reported a sense of social obligation,” Sinclair said. “Campaigns know this works.”

Indeed, Sinclair pointed to another congressional candidate fundraiser invitation. It listed the names of all the invitees to pressure as many people who knew others on the list to attend as possible.

Fundraising is one thing. No one believes his or her vote can be influenced. Yet, Sinclair said, we all believe we can persuade an acquaintance to vote for the candidate we support. The ability of one person to influence another person can be demonstrated by analyzing a get-out-the-vote effort.

In 2009, Sinclair put her theory to the test after U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel stepped down from his seat to take a job in the Obama White House. She picked a tiny nine-digit ZIP code in his district to test voter turnout. Democrat Michael Quigley ran unopposed to fill the seat, so turnout would be low.

She contacted residents with a mailing that showed their lackluster voting record in previous elections. (Voting records are public.) It asked them to do their “civic duty and vote,” and pointed out they’d failed to make it to the polls in the past two elections.

Sinclair’s target wasn’t the mailing’s recipients, though. It was the person they shared their home with and who voted regularly.

Someone who lived with a rare or infrequent voter was less likely to make it to the polls. But Sinclair noticed that people voted when they lived with someone who always goes to the polls.

“There’s a shame effect,” Sinclair said. “It’s not the message but the messenger that matters.”

This election cycle, some people have learned through Facebook that their social networks aren’t politically uniform, leading to nasty arguments and “unfriendings.” Sinclair contends that people forge online relationships outside of politics. But holding onto those bonds with people who surprise and enrage can be politically enlightening.

“That’s the person most likely to hear what you’re saying and engage you about what you’re saying,” Sinclair said.

The Student Association for Law & Mind Sciences, Harvard Law School Republicans, Harvard Law School Democrats, and the Harvard Law School American Constitution Society sponsored the lecture. J.D. candidate Rebecca Matte ’14, vice president of the Student Association for Law & Mind Sciences, introduced Sinclair.

Learn more about Professor Sinclair’s book here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Ideology, Politics, SALMS | Leave a Comment »

The Social Situation of the Citizen – Today!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 25, 2012

When: Thursday, October 25, 2012, 12 – 1pm
Where: Austin North
Event type: Lectures
Sponsor: Student Association for Law & Mind Sciences, HLS Republicans, HLS Democrats, HLS American Constitution Society, PLMS

Do social networks really influence individuals’ politics? If social networks matter, how do they work? Utilizing a variety of experimental and survey data from settings as diverse as the wealthy suburbs of Illinois and the streets of South Los Angeles, Dr. Besty Sinclair will identify the social influences that underlie political activities ranging from voter turnout to political contributions. Rather than being merely a source of information, our social networks have a direct and immediate influence on members’ political behavior.

Learn more about Professor Sinclair’s book here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Choice Myth, Events, Ideology, Politics, SALMS | Leave a Comment »

Todd Rogers on “The Psychology of the Politics of Politics” – Today!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 18, 2012

Mind Sciences & the Election
“The Psychology of the Politics of Politics”
Dr. Todd Rogers (Kennedy School)
Thursday, Oct. 18, 12 p.m.
Austin North
Free pizza lunch!

Dr. Rogers will discuss research on two aspects of the politics of politics.  First, he will share a series of large field experiments (involving hundreds of thousands of people) exploring how behavior change insights from psychology can be used to increase the impact of get-out-the-vote efforts, and understand why people fail to vote.  These are now best practices in many practitioner circles, so this research will help you better understand the logic behind voter mobilization efforts in which you have been involved.  Second, Dr. Rogers will present a series of experiments exploring the cognitive reasons why politicians can dodge questions they are asked without voters noticing or punishing them for their evasiveness.  This work concludes with a practical intervention for preventing artful dodging.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Events, Ideology, Politics, SALMS | Leave a Comment »

SALMS Fall Speaker Series

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 3, 2012

SALMS is excited to announce its Speakers Series slate for Fall 2012. All of the following talks will take place at noon in Austin North unless otherwise noted.
  • Jon Hanson, Harvard Law School, “What Is ‘Law and Mind Sciences’ and Why Does It Matter?” – Monday, Sept. 24, Austin East
  • George Marcus, Williams College Political Science, “Conventional Wisdoms Versus Affective Intelligence: How Elections Are Really Won and Lost” — Thursday, Oct. 4
  • Ryan Enos, Harvard University Government, “Mitt Romney Is Really, Really Good Looking: Do Attractiveness and Other Trivial Things Affect Elections?” — Thursday, Oct. 11
  • Todd Rogers, Harvard Kennedy School, “The Psychology of the Politics of Politics” — Thursday, Oct. 18
  • Betsy Sinclair, University of Chicago Political Science, “The Social Citizen” — Thursday, Oct. 25
The four October events are part of a special speaker series, Mind Sciences & the Election, cosponsored by HLS Republicans, HLS Democrats, and HLS American Constitution Society.

Posted in Events, Ideology, Politics, SALMS, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

SALMS Introductory Meeting – Tonight!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 1, 2012

SALMS General Body Meeting
Monday, October 1, 7 p.m.
Hauser 101
Milk + cookies buffet!

For Harvard University students interested in getting more involved in the Student Association for Law and Mind Sciences (“SALMS”), there will be an introductory meeting tonight.   Learn more about the goals and upcoming projects and find out how you can get involved.

Posted in Events, SALMS | Leave a Comment »

SALMS Announces Fall 2012 Schedule

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 20, 2012

SALMS is excited to announce its Speakers Series slate for Fall 2012 all to be held at Harvard Law School. The following talks will take place at noon in Austin North unless otherwise noted.

  • [Situationist Contributor] Jon Hanson, Harvard Law School, “What Is ‘Law and Mind Sciences’ and Why Does It Matter?” – Monday, Sept. 24, Austin East
  • George Marcus, Williams College Political Science, “Conventional Wisdoms Versus Affective Intelligence: How Elections Are Really Won and Lost” — Thursday, Oct. 4
  • Ryan Enos, Harvard University Government — Thursday, Oct. 11
  • Todd Rogers, Harvard Kennedy School, “The Psychology of the Politics of Politics” — Thursday, Oct. 18
  • Betsy Sinclair, University of Chicago Political Science, “The Social Citizen” — Thursday, Oct. 25

The four October events are part of a special speaker series, Psychology and the 2012 Election, cosponsored by the HLS Republicans and the HLS American Constitution Society.

Posted in Events, Politics, SALMS, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

Daria Roithmayr to Speak at Harvard Law (Monday)

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 1, 2012

As the final SALMS talk of this academic year, Daria Roithmayr will deliver her talk, “The Evolution of Legal Punishment” on Monday, 4/2, 12 p.m., Wass. 1023 (Chinese food served).

Professor Daria Roithmayr (USC Law) teaches and writes in the area of critical race theory and comparative law, focusing on the area of structural racial inequality in the U.S. and South Africa. Her interdisciplinary work draws from complex systems theory, antitrust, law and economics, sociology, history and a range of other areas.

Related Situationist posts:

Image from Flickr.

Posted in Evolutionary Psychology, SALMS | Leave a Comment »

Joshua Buckholtz Comes To Harvard Law – Postponed

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 29, 2012

Neuroscience, Psychopathology, and Crime
Postponed until fall.
Wasserstein 1023
Friday, March 30, 2012, 12 – 1pm

Why can’t some people stop themselves from doing things that are bad for them? Why can’t some people stop themselves from doing things that hurt others? These questions have puzzled philosophers, economists, and psychologists for centuries. Professor Joshua Buckholtz will discuss these issues in the context of his work at Harvard’s Systems Neuroscience of Psychopathology Lab, where he seeks to understand how genes and environments affect brain chemistry and function to influence variability in human self-control.

Free Chinese food!

Sponsor: Student Association for Law & Mind Sciences

Posted in Choice Myth, Events, Neuroscience, SALMS | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Justice for Trayvon

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 26, 2012


For The Situationist, Sabreena El-Amin (Harvard Law School student and President of the Student Association for Law and Mind Sciences (SALMS)), has authored the following legal analysis of the Trayvon Martin shooting and situationist analysis of the “stand your ground” doctrine.  We are pleased to publish it and look forward to more contributions from Sabreena and other members of SALMS.

The Trayvon Martin incident is of particular importance to me: not only as a Black person, not only as a law student, not only as a mother, but as a big sister. My younger brother is currently attending school at Barry University in Miami, Florida. He, like myself, loves Arizona Ice Tea. We are also both big fans of Skittles, though we have a particular preference for the sour kind. Most importantly, we both wear hoodies. I am now more nervous than ever for my brother: a 19-year-old black man walking the streets of Miami with a camera. With laws like the “Stand your Ground” statute, vigilantes like Zimmerman are free to roam the streets in Florida, singling out young black men and killing them seemingly without repercussions.

My argument will focus on two main points: 1) Zimmerman should have been arrested as the prosecution will likely be able to meet their burden of proof that his action was not in accordance with the statute; and 2) the Stand Your Ground statute should be repealed because a) it encourages armed individuals to respond to situations violently and b) it sanctions the attack of Blacks.  I will begin the article by outlining the facts as I know them. I understand that there are several different fact patterns floating around and the story is being developed daily. My arguments will be based solely on the facts mapped out below. I will continue by discussing why the facts would support the prosecution’s case, if one were to be brought, focusing mainly on a piece by Governor Granholm of Michigan. I will then go on to discuss the “Stand Your Ground” statute based on two psychological studies that show the statute endorses more violence than is reasonably necessary.

Facts*

Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old Black male, was walking to his father’s home in a gated community in Sanford, FL after returning from a 7-Eleven convenience store. En route, 28-year-old self-appointed Neighborhood Watchman, George Zimmerman, spotted Trayvon and telephoned police that there was a suspicious young black man walking around. Zimmerman informed the police that the young man looked like he was on drugs and appeared to be reaching for something in his waistband. Initially Zimmerman claimed that the young man was coming right at him, and then that Trayvon was getting away. Zimmerman complained that “they” always get away. Dispatcher informed Zimmerman that they did not need him to follow Trayvon and Zimmerman said okay. Several residents of the area called in shortly after Zimmerman’s call to report that they heard screaming. In some cases, callers reported a black male lying on the ground. Each caller also heard gun shots and heard the screaming stop. One caller reported that there was a man in a white shirt on top of someone lying on the ground.

Police collected Trayvon’s body, tested him for drugs, ran a background check, labeled him John Doe and placed him in the morgue where he would lie for over 24 hours before he was identified. Trayvon was unarmed and in fact only had a can of Arizona Ice Tea and a bag of Skittles. Zimmerman was questioned after the shooting, but never arrested. Zimmerman weighed 250 pounds and had a history of vigilantism.

Zimmerman claims that he shot Trayvon in self defense. Florida has a statute (Fla. Stat. § 776.013, also called the “Stand Your Ground” statute) which states (in relevant part):

(1) A person is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another when using defensive force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another if:

(a) The person against whom the defensive force was used was in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or had unlawfully and forcibly entered, a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle, or if that person had removed or was attempting to remove another against that person’s will from the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle; and

(b) The person who uses defensive force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring or had occurred.

(2) The presumption set forth in subsection (1) does not apply if:

(a) The person against whom the defensive force is used has the right to be in or is a lawful resident of the dwelling, residence, or vehicle, such as an owner, lessee, or titleholder, and there is not an injunction for protection from domestic violence or a written pretrial supervision order of no contact against that person; or

(b) The person or persons sought to be removed is a child or grandchild, or is otherwise in the lawful custody or under the lawful guardianship of, the person against whom the defensive force is used; or

(c) The person who uses defensive force is engaged in an unlawful activity or is using the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle to further an unlawful activity; or

(d) The person against whom the defensive force is used is a law enforcement officer, as defined in s. 943.10(14), who enters or attempts to enter a dwelling, residence, or vehicle in the performance of his or her official duties and the officer identified himself or herself in accordance with any applicable law or the person using force knew or reasonably should have known that the person entering or attempting to enter was a law enforcement officer.

(3) A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and 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.

Zimmerman’s claims he was justified in his use of force based on this statute. It is not clear which clause Zimmerman’s defense is connected to.

Zimmerman has, since the incident, secured legal counsel. Zimmerman’s lawyer asserts that Zimmerman is not a racist and that he in fact mentors Blacks. His lawyer also stated that Zimmerman is currently in hiding, but has not fled the country. According to Zimmerman’s father, Zimmerman identifies as Hispanic.

Currently, Florida Governor Jed Bush does not believe Zimmerman’s actions are covered by the statute. There is a Department of Justice investigation in regards to the failure of the Sanford Police Department to arrest Zimmerman, President Obama has called for justice for Trayvon, and Sanford’s chief of police has stepped down. People across the country are expressing their distaste for the response to Trayvon’s murder and are, via protest, Facebook, articles, etc., calling for “Justice for Trayvon”.

Justice for Trayvon: Bringing Charges against Zimmerman

The “Stand Your Ground” statute essentially creates a presumption of self-defense in certain situations. Zimmerman has yet to be arrested because authorities do not believe there is enough evidence to rebut this presumption. I would like to focus this aspect of my piece on the following arguments: a) the facts of the case do not support a claim of self defense alleged pursuant to Fla. Stat. § 776.013(3) as Zimmerman appears to have been the attacker and not the victim, and b) the facts of the case do not support a claim of self defense pursuant to Fla. Stat. § 776.013(1) as Trayvon was unarmed and Zimmerman was likely acting unlawfully in his pursuit of Trayvon by misleading officials. Admittedly, only Zimmerman knows exactly what transpired during his altercation with Martin, and thus this argument may be moot after Zimmerman’s account becomes public.

Section 3 of the “Stand Your Ground” statute allows someone who is being attacked to respond with force and does not require them to first attempt to flee. Under a possible account of the facts, Zimmerman’s actions were self defense because he was attacked by Trayvon. Michigan Governor Jennifer M. Granholm wrote a piece on March 21, 2012 outlining several reasons why this account is unsupported by the facts as publicly known. In her piece Governor Granholm discusses five key pieces of evidence which refute Zimmerman’s claim:

  • 1.The call from Zimmerman to law enforcement, and the officers telling Martin not to pursue. Zimmerman whispers what many have described as a racial slur under his breath.
  • 2.There is a 911 call where you can hear a voice yelling for help and a firearm shot.
  • 3.Trayvon’s father identified his voice on that 911 call on Al Sharpton’s Politics Nation program on MSNBC.
  • 4.The account of the girlfriend, who says Trayvon told her by cellphone that he was being followed.
  • 5.Trayvon was not armed and weighed between 75-100 pounds less than Zimmerman.

The evidence that we know of — the public evidence — establishes that Zimmerman was the pursuer, and not the victim.

In addition to this evidence, a 9-11 caller reported a man in a white shirt on top of a man lying on the ground. Another caller reported a man lying on the ground screaming “Help” and hearing gun shots go off before he got the chance to go to the man for help. Trayvon’s parents have identified this voice as their sons on the tape. Zimmerman, however, claims that this is his voice, but in connection with the other evidence (e.g., that he was the heavier of the two and that Trayvon was unarmed), this will likely be refuted. Based on the facts as alleged, the situation seems to have been initiated by Zimmerman. Even if Trayvon fought back after being pursued, his actions were justified based on the same statute that Zimmerman is currently hiding under.

Section 1 of the “Stand Your Ground” statute creates a presumption of self defense if a person is doing something unlawful and the person using force knows or reasonably believes that an unlawful act is occurring or about to occur. There has been some discussion at my law school that if Zimmerman asserts that he witnessed Trayvon about to break into someone’s home then Zimmerman may likely have a claim. I think this is unlikely for two reasons. First, Trayvon was unarmed and, based on all available evidence, innocently walking home from the convenience store. In order for the presumption in section 1 to be triggered, the attacked must have been in the process of committing certain crimes. There has been no evidence advanced indicating that Trayvon was participating in any crime. In fact the evidence points to Trayvon being engaged in innocent activity. Second, section (2)(c) asserts that this presumption is unavailable if the attacker is engaged in an unlawful activity at the time of the attack. As the 911 tape shows, Zimmerman was told not to follow Trayvon and said “okay.” This act can be seen as misleading police officers, who were likely told by dispatch that Zimmerman would be waiting for them to arrive before doing anything further. This act is likely in violation of Fla. Stat. § 843.06, which makes the “neglect or refusal to aid peace officers” “in the preservation of the peace” unlawful. Zimmerman’s false compliance with the order may have delayed the response time of the dispatched officers and been the reason why the police were unable to respond to Zimmerman’s call in time to save Trayvon’s life. Arguably, Zimmerman’s actions show  neglect to assist a peace officer and thus could qualify as unlawful acts that will exclude Zimmerman from the protection of Fla. Stat. § 776.013(1).

Justice for Blacks in Florida: Repeal the Stand Your Ground Statute

I would like to start this section by clarifying two points. First, Florida is not the only state to have a version of the “Stand Your Ground” statute. According to the above-mentioned piece by Gov. Granholm, who describes the statute as “part of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)’s cluster of pro-NRA bills that shot through legislatures in the past few years”, Florida is only one of 17 states to have a statute of this kind. Secondly, studies suggest that it is very possible for Zimmerman to be a rational, tolerant, even intelligent, person and still to have reacted in the manner that he did. Many people have labeled Zimmerman a racist and even called him sadistic for his response to an innocent young boy. Sadly, while this may be true for Zimmerman, it does not have to be. Due to the freedom that this law opens up for people to act upon their fears, which may be based on their predisposition to certain opinions, I believe this law should be repealed immediately. Every minute that this law and laws like it remain on the books another Black person’s life is in jeopardy.

Guns Breed Violence

In a piece entitled “Holding a Gun Influences You to Think Others are Armed,” David DiSalvo discusses psychological research that suggests Zimmerman may have reasonably believed that Trayvon was armed. As the title of the piece indicates, James Brockholm’s study, which will be published in the upcoming edition of Journal of Experimental Psychology, supports the idea that the possession of a gun will influence your opinion of whether those around you are armed. Brockholm’s conclusion is that a person’s ability to act upon certain impulses can “bias their recognition of objects… in dramatic ways.” In the study, individuals holding toy guns were more likely to believe a person had a gun than those who were holding a ball and who simply had guns in the room, but not in their hand. The article describes this as the “blending of perception and action representations” which cause those holding guns to believe others are too.

The statute and others like it (e.g. Wisconson’s Castle Doctrine under which a homeowner recently shot and killed 20-year-old, unarmed Bo Morrison, without being charged) is meant to provide a means for people to protect themselves when actually threatened. Based on Brockholm’s research, the statute is actually allowing people to act upon perceived threat that is automatically enhanced by their ability to act against the threat. This research supports the idea that individuals with guns are likely to act frequently because they can act, and not because there is an actually threat. In Bo’s case, his hands were both in the air. In Trayvon’s case, he was walking with a cell phone, an Arizona Ice Tea, and Skittles. Neither youth was armed. Neither was attempting to harm anyone. But two lives are lost, and importantly, two men have taken a life because they were able to, not because they had to. These statutes encourage violence by giving gun holders the right and encouraging them to “meet force with force” when the force they perceive will always be equal to the force they are capable of exerting themselves. These types of laws should be repealed immediately in order to prevent more innocent people from losing their lives and others from taking lives.

People Focus on Blacks when on the Look-out for Criminal Activity

Recently, I took a photograph with some of my Black classmates at Harvard Law School. We wore hoodies and held signs asking “Do we look suspicious?” Unfortunately, research completed by Jennifer Eberhardt, Valerie Purdie, Phillip Goff, and Paul Daves in 2005 concludes that for many people the answer to that question is yes. “Seeing Black: Race, Crime, and Visual Processing” asserts that stereotypes are bidirectional. The article states:

the mere presence of a Black man…can trigger thoughts that he is violent and criminal. Simply thinking about a Black person renders these concepts more accessible and can lead to misremember the Black person as the one holding the razor. Merely thinking about Blacks can lead people to evaluate ambiguous behavior as aggressive, to mis-categorize harmless objects as weapons, or to shoot quickly . . . .

The studies show that not only does thinking about Blacks make people think of crime, but thinking about crime makes people think of Blacks. These studies were intentionally done with both civilians and police officers. The officers were as susceptible to this association. Importantly, the study showed that when one is told to look out for crime, their visual attention focuses on Black faces. They may thus unconsciously avoid criminal activity of non-Black actors. For instance, when experimenters asked police officers “Who looks criminal?,” the officers choose Black faces more often than White faces. The study makes it clear that racial animus is not required. The association is automatic and is even sparked in Blacks and others minorities.

Based on this research, Zimmerman may have associated Trayvon with criminality without having any negative opinions of Blacks. As a neighborhood watchman put on guard to look out for crime, he was likely looking for Blacks. Zimmerman was attempting to crack down on several robberies that had occurred in his neighborhood, and the possibility of criminal activity was salient in his mind, when Trayvon walked innocently by. Zimmerman may have reasonably believed that Trayvon was about to engage in unlawful behavior, but this belief was based on stereotypes and not supported by what was actually occurring. Section 1 of the statute protects people who seek out criminals and prevent their crimes from being completed. As people often unconsciously associate African Americans with crime, they may seek out African Americans engaging in ambiguous behavior percieve it as criminal. Acting upon this perception, they may attack (as Zimmerman did), under the protective shield of the Stand Your Ground Statute, leading to the harm of either themselves or innocent individuals. Based on this research it is clear that the first section of the statute puts a target on Blacks.

Implications

The implications of the research that I have outlined in this section are that people who carry guns and seek out criminal activity will be searching for Blacks and will automatically associate ambiguous behavior with criminal activity. Laws like the “Stand Your Ground” statute give these individuals the right to act upon their perception and harm these Black people regardless of what they are doing. This means that Blacks in such situations will likely have no control over being shot or attacked. Even worse it means that individuals will be searching for Blacks and may unconsciously overlook true criminal activity in an attempt to find images that support their perception. We should not provide support for individuals to act upon irrational conclusions that are not supported by the circumstances. This does not mean that there should be no protection of individuals who respond reasonably to imminent danger, but we should require their perception to be supported by fact and not stereotype and thus require them to be able to connect their fear to something more than the person’s race. We should deem this on a case by case and remove the blanket approval of such behavior. People should be instructed to call police when observing unlawful behavior or to attempt to retreat when in fear of being attacked. Thus the statute should be repealed and self-defense should return to being a defense of murder, and not a presumption of innocence that must be rebutted.

Conclusion

What happened to Trayvon Martin is an all too familiar story to many Blacks. We are profiled regularly based on stereotypes that we have no control over. As many of us mourn Trayvon’s death and remember many of our other brothers and sisters who have fallen victim to racial stereotyping, there is a concurrent legal movement attempting to shed some hope on the issue by bringing charges against Zimmerman. This movement should also focus on repealing the Florida statute. Once these actions are taken, we will be one step closer to Justice for Trayvon.

*I would like to thank Anisha Queen, David Korn, James Smith, and Professor Jon Hanson for their assistance and inspiration with this piece.

** The facts have been compiled from the following articles:

Related Situationist posts:

Image from Flickr.

Posted in Implicit Associations, Law, SALMS, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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