Not Guilty: Some Thoughts, A Correction

In my Friday, July 26, 2013 piece, “Not Guilty: Some Thoughts,” I stated that George Zimmerman’s gun was returned to him in the courtroom after he was found not guilty of second degree murder and manslaughter charges.

That statement is false and I apologize for the error.

George Zimmerman’s gun, along with other evidence in the case, is in the hands of the U.S. Department of Justice which has resumed its investigation of Zimmerman into the death of Trayvon Martin.

Not Guilty: Some Thoughts

Not guilty.

A wasp’s sting. I’d hoped for a conviction but I did not fully expect the primarily white, female jury to acquit George Zimmerman. I had little confidence that the prosecution would prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. Their charges were stiff, the burden of proof, high. Evidence was not collected at the crime scene or from Zimmerman that would have strengthened the state’s case. Indeed, Zimmerman was arrested only because of a national outcry demanding an investigation into the shooting. Now, due process complete and after weeks of a show trial, the public received a burning dose of social and legal reality.

Not guilty.

Something was very wrong here. I wanted justice for Trayvon Martin not a Zimmerman exoneration.

I thought about the jury. As a former juror who served on a criminal case in New York years ago I well understood the deliberation process–hours of sifting through evidence, determining the credibility of witnesses, weighing the prosecutor’s case, searching for reasonable doubt. Jurors are expected to be impartial in their deliberations but no one can be totally objective. Jurors do interpret what they see and hear in the courtroom through the filter of their own life experiences. Why was there only one black juror on this case. Why were others who could have added minority perspectives to this case not included?

I blamed Florida law and the prosecutors. Six jurors in a second degree murder case did not seem enough to tease out the truth. I know verdicts should be derived from the perceptions of the group based on evidence presented within the context of the law as explained by the judge, but I wondered if deliberation arguments and the outcome would have been different had there been twelve multicultural jurors on this interracial case.

Not guilty.

The verdict did not represent Trayvon’s perspective, how he experienced Zimmerman’s stalking. Was he fearful? Perhaps he should have called the police. But did he have any  expectation that the police would help him, a black teenager? We can’t know for certain. The seventeen year old is dead.  His voice, unheard. His killer, acquitted.

The jury spoke. The state’s case is finished.

Is there any recourse? Of course, the U.S. Justice Department would resume their case against Zimmerman, but could they charge him with a hate crime? How would they prove intent? Another high, judicial bar. I didn’t place much hope here.

My heart broke for Trayvon’s parents. Their ordeal had to be agonizing. I admired their grace, dignity, and strength. I wondered how they sat in court, day after day, and listened to defense lawyers blame their son for his own death. The loss of a child is a nightmare. Chilling.  As a mother, I have never had to deal with such horror. My own children grew to adulthood. Their child never would.

I knew Trayvon’s parents have the right to file wrongful death charges in civil court against Zimmerman, the right to seek a monetary settlement from him. It would not carry the same weight as a guilty verdict in a criminal case, but it would hold Zimmerman accountable for his actions. If he testified and if they won their case.

But how does one place a monetary value on one’s child’s life? A child who had a right to be where he was, a right to walk to his father’s home unmolested? How does one place a monetary value on any of our children? More importantly, why should we have to? All children, regardless of race, have the right to adult protection in our communities. This clearly did not happen in the Sanford, Florida neighborhood that Zimmerman claimed he watched.

Not guilty.

I wondered about George Zimmerman. His gun was returned to him in the courtroom. He walked out of there a free man. How does a free, adult man live with the fact that he shot an unarmed, innocent boy to death.? At point blank range. In the heart. I had not heard about any expression of remorse from Zimmerman. I could only surmise he believed the jury added a sense of righteousness to his actions. Now he was armed and back on the street. I wondered how he celebrated his acquittal?

Not guilty.

I blamed the Florida laws that allow people to carry concealed weapons and stand their ground. I believe that carrying a gun inflates one’s confidence with misguided power. One feels that one has life and death control over any situation. Carrying a gun reduces the chance of  responsible discernment in questionable circumstances.  The danger is that verbal communication can be replaced by lethality arising in the heat of the moment. I also believe that standing one’s ground should not allow for provoking a confrontation. Neither should it give one the right to claim self-defense for acts committed as a result of such provocation. Especially when the provocateur is told by a 911 operator to stand down and wait for the police to arrive.

George Zimmerman, by his own admission, did not wait for the police to arrive. Instead, he stalked  Trayvon Martin. In so doing, he set up the circumstance that allowed for a confrontation. When he felt he was losing the altercation, he pulled his gun and killed the teenager. In essence, George Zimmerman chose to take matters into his own hands. Tragically, they were matters of his own making. Had he exercised adult responsibility at the time, the seventeen year old would still be alive.

Perhaps if Zimmerman, as a neighborhood watch volunteer, had not profiled Trayvon as a criminal but asked the boy where he was going and inquired if he needed help, he’d have seen Trayvon’s bottle of iced tea and his bag of candy, and realized he had nothing to fear from the boy. Had he talked with Trayvon, he may have realized that Trayvon, like himself,  belonged in that neighborhood.  Instead, he acted on an untrue premise that ended in horrible fatality. And he walked away from it without consequence.

Not guilty.

It does not mean innocent.

Always Room for Improvement

Nikon camera and Sunpak Tripod taken with iPhone 5 by Joann Pensabene

Nikon camera and Sunpak Tripod taken with iPhone 5 by Joann Pensabene

Photography class at the Adirondack Folk School in Lake Luzerne tomorrow. And yes, I’m excited.

I’ve spent the past couple of months updating my photography equipment, reading the camera manual, and clicking practice shots here and there. Most in the auto focus mode.

I’m an amateur photographer and I hope to improve my skills. Nature is my subject. Tomorrow I’ll learn how best to apply camera to the outdoors and take photos that I’ll really be able to write about.

So, here’s my formulaic goal:

Writing + Photos + Positive Creative Energy = Quality Blog Posts

(at least as compared to what they’ve been since I started.)

Hey, I used to take x-rays for a living. I can do this.


American Independence Day


celebrate our investment in our right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,”

aspire to our “American Dream,” a home, suitable work, and a good education,

hope that each generation prospers better than the one preceding it,

pledge our commitment to “liberty and justice for all,”

strengthen our proclaimation that our  government is

“of the people, by the people, and for the people,”


when the barbeques, baseball games, and fireworks are over,

we remember how our country paid for it’s freedom,

review the reasons we call it home,

and reaffirm that

“we the people” have an obligation to come together as “one nation,”


participate in our political process

by keeping ourselves informed,

by debating our goals and principles,

and by striving toward “the will of the people.”

We Americans have been around for 237 years–not a long history within the context of measuring civilizations, but long enough to look back and review and accept who we are, what we’re really about, and how we arrived at our present place. Then, perhaps, we can ask where we want to go from here and plan politically, socially, and culturally inclusive ways to get there.

Crossword Contemplation

Scrabble, word searches, acrostics. I’ve played them all. Magnetism exists in letter boards and spaces, clues and calibrated game points. They beckon and I’m compelled to fill in blanks, circle words, rearrange letters, or discover phrases.

Word puzzles stimulate my brain. They cause me to seek existential abstracts and their corresponding resolutions, or they flummox me by taking me to places where nothing makes sense. The games lead me to the edge of leisure’s uppermost atmosphere where all combinations of letters, phrasings, and associations coalesce.

But it’s the crossword puzzle that propels me past all that and into the Valhalla of locution.

So what is about crossword puzzles? What happens when my eye meets the empty grid of black and white squares and the clue list beside it?

Working a crossword puzzle is a solitary endeavor. I work them in the quiet of my home. Or I carve out an inner sanctuary in places filled with other people– airports, waiting rooms, lobbies. This tendency to remove myself from social influence may be construed as anti-social. Perhaps so. It’s difficult to explain why I can sit for hours caught up in filling out little boxes with letters.

Solving crossword puzzles is a mystical experience, an interactive mind-body-paper-pencil meditation that reduces stress in my life. As I begin, I sense the endorphins in my brain releasing their calm. My body relaxes. My mood changes. My breathing slows as I peer across the page. I scan the clues. I concentrate. I start the puzzle.


1. Fred Astaire’s first dancing partner

8. Riga’s country


2. He wrote the Maltese Falcon


I continue. Seventy clues across, sixty-four down. I don’t know all the answers but I’ll take my time and link letters together until it’s done. Or until I finish as much of it as I can with the knowledge I have.

In essence, there are times I need diversion and ways to cope with the pressures that bog me down and impede the fulfillment of my goals and responsibilities.

Simple concept:

Let go of what stresses me for a bit.

Switch focus.

Engage in an enjoyable or challenging activity for a while.

Emerge refreshed.

Return to original task–job, kids, travel, peace negotiations, national security, etc.

The process is contemplative. I find I can broaden or change my perspectives in ways that are simple, enjoyable, and knowledgeable anytime, anywhere. Puzzle answers are not always obvious. Sometimes I’m forced to think outside the little squares. Is a BMT a Subway sandwich or an old New York City subway line?

Find the correct context and the answer becomes obvious.

Context within a crossword puzzle is the overlapping of letters in two or more words. Thus, in reference to the clues above the answers appear:









And so it goes.

My love of crossword puzzles is a commitment. I go nowhere without a puzzle handy. I’ve been known to peruse the puzzle sections of bookstores for the perfect ones. There’s need over preference here. Too easy puzzles bore. Too hard, they erode confidence or cause me to chea– (ahem) learn.

I need puzzles that challenge my cognitive skills, memory, and knowledge all at the same time. And I have an allegiance to specific publications, (e.g., The New York Times) and puzzle masters (e.g., Will Shortz.) This allows me a level of comfort and expectation. Puzzles are not equal in size, scope, situation, or setting.

Puzzles tend to reflect specific locales. I once attempted to solve one in a London newspaper. Disaster. I was unfamiliar with the nuances of the Queen’s English. Perhaps in time I’ll develop a cozier relationship with British vernacular and culture. Good objective for future crossword ventures. International crossword puzzle solver. Sounds pretty cool.

As a crossword puzzler, I admit to sometimes viewing myself as an information reservoir. My intellect is a cistern that catches bits and pieces of details and stores them like rainwater. And when I need it, the information flows –items, issues, descriptions, customs, literary and movie trivia, culture, traditions, colors, shapes.

Free-floating concepts transform into interconnected words, one letter at a time, one space at a time.

Most challenging “cerebrations.”

Cars, Concrete, and Jacaranda Trees


I grew up in New York City where gridlock reigns and where whirring car ignitions, blaring horns and radios, and revving engines sang me to sleep at night and jolted me awake each morning.

As a child I romped through concrete playgrounds and ran through torrents raging from open fire hydrants. I loved a good game of punch ball in the streets where parked cars served as bases. I played stoop ball against the concrete steps of apartment buildings and jumped rope on the sidewalks.

Trees were few and I remember, at an early age, actually believing that real flowers came from florist shops and only on adult special occasions. Dusty, artificial flowers that decorated our apartments seemed as abundant as the cars on the streets and just as natural as the concrete cityscape.

School and socialization changed all that. Biology fascinated me and interacting with people who grew live plants led to my love of flowers and my current lifestyle.

As I grew up, my appreciation for cars and concrete shifted to the utilitarian. Cars became transportation. And the concrete sidewalks, teeming with apartment houses, stores, and skyscrapers necessary to living and working, provided safety from the traffic beyond their curbs.

I live in upstate New York now. Cars abound, their necessity absolute. Not much in the way of concrete, though. A few sidewalks in the one-traffic-light town near my home. A few single-family houses, stores, a library, and a bank grace their presence but there’s no shortage of trees and flowers.

The child I was would have felt strange and unsettled in this environment.

Though there were cars all over the place in New York City, my family didn’t own one. Few poor families did. Our nature trips, when we left our neighborhood at all, consisted of visits to Central Park by subway and bus.

Quite different from my current lifestyle.

Once a year I visit family in Los Angeles. Though I’m now a seasoned traveller, each time I arrive I find myself as unsettled as my city-child would have been in the mountains.

Indeed, my points of reference have changed.

I’m no longer used to concrete cityscapes and unceasing traffic sounds. I live in a town that has fewer than 3,000 permanent residents and my house rests inside six million acres of protected forest. I awaken to silence in the winters and to birdsong during the other three seasons.

And though I manage to visit my hometown without difficulty–it is home, after all– I admit to anxiety each time my plane lands at LAX.

Of course, the cars and concrete in LA link me to a life I left long ago. Yet there are substantial differences. Where New York City is a compact island connected to outer boroughs by bridges and tunnels, Los Angeles sprawls and doesn’t seem to want to end. And though I’ve been here many times, I’ve yet to master the layout of the city.

I get lost a lot.

Yet each June when I arrive, I find myself so willing to set those stresses aside.

Jacaranda trees are in full bloom. Big purple clusters of cone-shaped flowers rest upon soft fern-like branches. They’re all over the place and they fill the air with fragrance and the streets with spectacular beauty.

A heart-warming delight to this flower-lover.

Though second only to my son who always meets me at the airport, the Jacaranda trees are a wonderful, welcoming sight.


Top photo: Under A Jacaranda
Bottom photo: Jacaranda Tree in full bloom
Photos taken with an IPhone 5 by Joann Pensabene June, 2013