Unless you’ve been living under a rock, then you know by now that a jury recently found George Zimmerman not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin, the young (and incidentally, black) teenager who found himself inside a gated Florida community one night in February of last year. Both parties allegedly perceived a threat from each other and what actually happened next will never be known, since one direct witness (Martin) has unfortunately passed away and the other (Zimmerman) had every reason to frame his actions in the context of self-defense.
At one extreme, this case is essentially race-related and thus is the sole reason why Mr. Zimmerman (a neighborhood watch volunteer) perceived Mr. Martin to look “real suspicious”, confronted him and then proceeded to shoot Trayvon in the chest. The media has done a fantastic job of sensationalizing the issue of race in this case and using Trayvon’s “blackness” to fuel feelings of anger and distrust. Race could very well have played a role but to prejudge and frame this encounter based solely, or even predominantly, on race is a case of jumping to conclusions. By the way, Mr. Zimmerman is half-Hispanic (since his mother is Peruvian).
At the other extreme, this case is completely non race-related and the incident happened as an act of self-defense—a concept in Florida that is defined quite broadly (i.e. standing your ground), even though this case was not about stand your ground. The jury was instructed as follows: “If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in anyplace where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”
If Mr. Zimmerman’s claim is totally accurate, there were no means by which he could retreat and thus the privilege to “stand your ground” did not apply.
After the incident there was a six-week delay in arresting Mr. Zimmerman. If the perpetrator had been black and the victim white, perhaps things would have turned out differently.
The jury, instead of convicting Mr. Zimmerman for murder, could have decided that he was guilty of manslaughter, or that he acted hastily and out of panic in a physical confrontation which he, allegedly, was in the process of losing. A conviction of murder would mean that Mr. Zimmerman acted out of malicious intent.
Mr. Martin was described as being angry because he was being followed, at the time when he then threw the first punch. In the resulting fistfight, Mr. Zimmerman’s holstered gun became visible. Zimmerman said Martin reached for the gun, and he shot Trayvon in the chest in the heat of the moment in order to preserve his own life.
All I can say about this case is I don’t know. I don’t know for sure who is right and who is wrong; I don’t know whether the testimony given during the trial (on both sides) was true and honest; I don’t know what it was like for the jurors to process all the facts, forensics, expert testimony and then unanimously come to the same conclusion; I don’t know if Trayvon truly did “look suspicious” or if Mr. Zimmerman is a covert racist; I don’t know what “looking suspicious” means, especially for a teenager who was not breaking any laws, was minding his own business and simply was in a gated community based on an invitation from family; I also don’t know if Mr. Zimmerman is a renegade vigilante who woke up that morning in February 2012 and said, “I’m gonna kill me a black kid”; I don’t know why the job description of a Florida neighborhood watch volunteer includes carrying a firearm and then stopping, questioning and confronting (not frisking) those who “look suspicious”; I don’t understand how a civilian (non law enforcement) can follow an unarmed minor, call the cops, continue to follow the minor, get out of the car and be asked by the minor to stop following, confront the still unarmed minor and then subsequently kill him.
What I do know: a young teenager (regardless of race) is now dead and my heart goes out to his parents. Why is he dead? Over a scuffle in a gated community? Does being out of place equate with a loss of life? When Trayvon was confronted by Mr. Zimmerman, how did what should have been a civil conversation turn into the firing of a gun? At what point does a teenager, armed with fists, become a reasonable threat to a grown man armed with a gun? Whatever transpired after George and Trayvon met must have taken an acute, abrupt and precipitous turn toward an ugly situation for things to have unfolded the way they did. The fuel for that explosion could have come from either person.
I’m sorry, human race, but the average person is not rational, civil or as intelligent as they would like to think; you’re prone to emotional responses and have the potential to be pushed to breaking point by everyday, innocuous events—as such, giving this type of individual any false sense of security or lowering the threshold for killing someone is like arming a child with a live grenade.
When I was growing up (in the 1980s) our neighborhood watch members never carried guns because they never intended to shoot anyone in suburban Long Island—maybe I just have a different conception of what a neighborhood watch entitles, since I assume they’ll be doing more watching and less killing.
When the cops did arrive on the scene, what kind of “police work” or “investigation” was performed that led them to decide not to arrest or detain Zimmerman, or, at least, should have got them to start asking some probing questions? After all, a teenager had died—did they just ask Zimmerman what happened, he said “self defense” and the cops said, “Ok then, you’re free to go”?
If you think race has absolutely nothing to do with this case whatsoever and Florida law is totally race-blind, consider this: Marissa Alexander, who had never been arrested before, fired a bullet at a wall one day in 2010 to scare off her husband when she felt he was threatening her. No person was hurt. Just last week, a northeast Florida judge sentenced her to 20 years in prison. Mrs. Alexander is a 31-year-old mother of a toddler and 11-year-old twins. She had claimed self-defense, tried to invoke Florida’s “stand your ground” law but a jury found her guilty as charged: aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Because she fired a gun while committing a felony, Florida’s mandatory-minimum gun law dictated the 20-year sentence. Mrs. Alexander is black. Justice or not? If a man kills an unarmed minor after pursuing the minor, in the eyes of Florida, that’s OK. If a woman tries to preserve life and just scare her husband off with a warning shot and not kill or harm anybody, she gets 20 years in prison. Fair or biased?
State Attorney Angela Corey (who also oversaw the prosecution of George Zimmerman) stands by the handling of Mrs. Alexander’s case claiming that, “Alexander aimed the gun at the man and his two sons, and the bullet she fired could have ricocheted and hit any of them.” I also could have knocked over a bicyclist while driving in Manhattan, but that doesn’t make me guilty of anything. Einstein isn’t remembered because he could do amazing work, nor is his potential celebrated; he is honored because of things he did.
I know that I am intelligent enough not to allow the media to carry out their own trial and then tell me what to think. I also know that life is precious and that society is taking a step in the wrong direction when normal, rational and legal barriers that are supposed to preserve life are taken away and left in the hand of someone whose other hand is brandishing a gun. As always, I remain pro-liberty, anti-death, and pro-peace. God bless the Martin family.
Dr. C.H.E. Sadaphal