I know we are all plenty tired of hearing about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. I also know this is off topic for me and that I have neglected any subject here for a long time, but I do want to talk about this whole mess.
The Things We Know
There are some things I find clear. Trayvon Martin had every right to be on a public street in that neighborhood or any other just as any of us have such a right. He had every right to be dressed in any manner he saw fit. George Zimmerman also had every right to be on that street and even had a right to be suspicious of Trayvon just as Trayvon might have been of him. George Zimmerman even had a right to follow Trayvon to see what he was doing as any of us has a right to take down the license number of a car we think looks out of place in our neighborhood. No one was doing anything illegal as the incident began.
What is clear, though not illegal, is that George Zimmerman was a fool to follow Trayvon. He put himself in a position that could have ended much differently. What if Trayvon Martin had been the burglar and had been armed with a firearm? George Zimmerman would likely be dead. It is foolish to interject oneself into a potentially dangerous situation, armed or not. Any decent firearms training session would have emphasized that. So George was a Good Samaritan? Maybe. Whatever the case, he acted as a fool.
Trayvon Martin was exercising his basic fundamental right to travel a public road just as any of us might any time of any day. He had a right to be suspicious of the man following him and a right to turn to him and ask why he was being followed. Trayvon was innocent and in the right every bit as much as George Zimmerman, but all that changed when Trayvon Martin found himself on top of George Zimmerman. At that point, a beating in progress, Trayvon Martin became a criminal and George Zimmerman took his life in self defense. That is the obvious. That is what the jury found. That is also what we all seem to be afraid to say.
Was It Really Self-Defense?
The evidence clearly supported a self defense verdict, but more importantly, a jury found George Zimmerman to be innocent of both manslaughter and murder. In this country, a "not guilty" verdict means the person is not guilty and that is, and should be the end of the story. If Zimmerman is not guilty of murder and not guilty of manslaughter, the only reason that can be is that he was acting in self defense (since accidental death was never considered). However much some folks may want it to be different, it is self defense. Trayvon Martin laid the groundwork for self defense when he began beating George Zimmerman while he had him pinned to the ground. Whether it was revenge for following him or just teaching him a lesson, Martin's attack of Zimmerman became a criminal act when he continued beating him on the ground, regardless of what happened beforehand.
Remember, plenty of folks didn't like the O. J. Simpson verdict. They were, and they remain certain that he is a murderer, but he is not. A jury found him to be not guilty and that is the law of the land and it has to be accepted as does the verdict in the Zimmerman trial.
Stand Your Ground?
What? Stand your ground? George Zimmerman was NOT standing his ground. He was on the ground essentially cornered with no way out while an (unknown at the time) assailant was pounding his face. That is not standing one's ground. That is being pinned down and in that situation, any reasonable person would fear for his or her life because, according to witness accounts, the beating was continuing without letup. All of the discussion about this being an example of the evil of stand your ground laws is smoke without fire. I don't like stand your ground laws (that's for another discussion), but this has nothing to do with standing one's ground.
Was It About Race?
The issue of race entered the fray even before Martin family attorney Natalie Jackson sought the assistance of publicist Ryan Julison on March 5, to stir up resentment and conflict around the racial issue. The media was all too happy to have an issue as hot as race in the context of a shooting and immediately began encouraging speculation that race was a factor. Indeed, Trayvon Martin had called George Zimmerman a "cracker" and a "nigga" more than once, but that works against the common media thread that Zimmerman was racially motivated and may provide further motive for Trayvon's attack. Although there has been a huge effort put forth to prove that Zimmerman was racially motivated, nothing has surfaced that would support such an accusation. Yes, Zimmerman was likely suspicious of Martin. Trayvon, under his hoodie, did generally match the description of a burglary suspect who had been seen in the neighborhood at the time of a recent burglary. Beyond that, there was nothing pointing to a racial overtone other than Trayvon Martin's own words which more likely spoke to his mindset as opposed to Zimmerman's.
Remember, for every black person killed by a white person, 2 white people are killed by black persons. We don't and shouldn't, make that a purely racial issue, yet we hear people talking about rampant senseless killing of black people by whites because of white racism. Yes, there is white racism, but if we let white guilt keep us from openly and candidly talking about the facts, we will have this outrage every time a white person defends his or her self against an attacking black person and that will not lead to a solution or better race relations.
What this case does say about race is that a racial minority can exert such a tremendous pressure on politicians and the judiciary as to render normal due process impotent. Those competent police investigators found no cause for an arrest and that it was pressure from politicians that resulted in the prosecution confirms that. It is a dangerous society that sacrifices individual rights for the sake of perceived political gain.
Urged on by media coverage that has included erroneous statements of fact, protesters have poured into the streets. Why do reasonable people ignore the hard evidence in favor of the hype? They do it because it's what they want to believe. People with a confirmation bias look only for the words that support (confirm) what they want to believe. When people with a confirmation bias come together as with protests, rumor becomes fact, facts become the ignored ground and reason has no landing. We have seen this with the Tea Party's insistence that Obama isn't an American Citizen and a dozen other crazy ideas that people cling to in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It won't soon go away here because, despicable people who understand this concept will take advantage of it for gain. Trayvon Martin's family has moved to trademark slogans using his name and several well known people in political circles have rushed to fan the flames of racism and incite the protests.
When Barrack Obama stated, "If a white male teen would have been involved in this scenario," and, "both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different," What did he really mean? I think we all know what he meant and it is simply disgraceful for a president to make the point that this was all racially driven in a negative way toward Trayvon Martin. In so doing, he is saying that the verdict is illegitimate and that a white victim would have resulted in a successful prosecution. That is absurd, dismissive of the American Justice System, the Zimmerman jury in particular and the American public. This and his other statements also imply that it was perfectly acceptable for Trayvon Martin to have been pounding George Zimmerman's face and head. As bad as that sounds, it pales in comparison to the pressure it puts on the Department of Justice to arrive at a conclusion that Zimmerman violated Martin's civil rights. It's about as close to a directive as the President can get without actually ordering the DOJ to reach such a conclusion. When the President of the United States participates in fanning the flames of racial dissention, we have little hope of making things better.
Gun Control Implications
It is no surprise that the shooting of Trayvon Martin has reenergized the anti-gun movement. While any opportunity to point out that people shouldn't be allowed to defend themselves with a gun seems to motivate the anti-gun crowd, the shooting of Trayvon Martin is an exceptional opportunity. By jumping on the racial bandwagon, the anti-gun movement gets to stir up the idea that Zimmerman's possession of a gun enabled a crime to be committed against Martin. Of course one has to overlook the fact that Zimmerman did not commit a crime, but remember that thing about confirmation bias? You can count on it to work here to convince folks that the evil of the legally possessed gun in the hands of a criminal like Zimmerman is what happens every day in America. I recently listened to a (one of many) speaker telling the audience that if Zimmerman hadn't had the gun, Trayvon would be alive. I have to agree, but would the living Trayvon have been now facing charges of assault or manslaughter or murder? Probably, yes. At the time Zimmerman fired his gun, Martin was in the midst of a criminal act, yet the anti-gun crowd won't recognize that, because that doesn't help their case.
The anti-gun issue here hinges on whether George Zimmerman had a right to defend himself. Before you say, "Of course he did," understand that the anti-gun crowd argues that there is no right of self defense that justifies a personal firearm and that it is the role of the police to protect the public. Notwithstanding that there is not a police chief in the nation who will acknowledge any responsibility for individual protection; the anti-gun zealots continue using the argument. The (no right to self defense) argument has been put forth for some time and it will continue in the future. The shooting of Trayvon Martin won't change that, but it will allow the anti-gun crowd to attack stand your ground type laws everywhere as they continue to make the case that Zimmerman was encouraged by the law even in the absence of any supporting evidence.
Who's At Fault & What Should We Do?
First, the Trayvon Martin shooting is nobody's fault except for Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. Yes, George Zimmerman still has fault, not with the actual discharge of his weapon, but for being stupid enough to put himself in that position. Ed Head of Gunsite Academy, in Arizona is fond of saying, "The best way to come out ahead in a gunfight is to not be there." Those words of wisdom are true for any fight. Trayvon Martin has fault because he went into "gangsta" mode and began beating Zimmerman foolishly not thinking that Zimmerman may be armed and able to defend himself, as the outcome has demonstrated.
Beyond the specific interaction between Martin and Zimmerman, no one stands to blame in this case. This is not racial incident, period. It may be used by many to raise very real racial issues, but it is a poor example and because it is a poor example, any discussions around racial issues that use this case as a starting place are doomed. We need a dialogue on racial issues as is so often proposed, but it needs to be much different than the dialogues of past. It needs to be candid. People of all races need to be able to state the obvious and the known facts. For example, we need to be able to point out that young black males' rate of criminal activity is a reason people are apprehensive when in the presence of a group of gangster-acting black youth. We need to be able to talk about that without being called racist for pointing it out. Yes, there are factors of racism that encourage that behavior, but if we don't speak candidly about these issues, we can't honestly address the causes. We have tried the guilt-driven giveaway programs such a racial preferences (affirmative action) with mostly disastrous results. We need to look honestly at real racial inequities and the Trayvon Martin shooting is not a place to start. We are not going to fix anything by making Trayvon Martin a hero, because we have to lie to do that. We have to say that he was an innocent victim of racially motivated violence.
We are certainly not going to reduce the violence that people are protesting against by outlawing things. Outlawing condoms isn't going to stop people from having sex and outlawing 11 round (and larger) magazines is not going to stop gang shootings. Further terrorizing George Zimmerman with the threat of further (double jeopardy like) prosecution for violating Trayvon Martin's civil rights is not going to help anyone. At best it will erode confidence in our judicial system and demonstrate that our government will prosecute the innocent to cater to any politically prominent group.
We need to hear nothing more of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. We can learn though, that when you put a fool and a wannabe gangsta together on a dark street, something bad is bound to happen.
The truth is harder to find than a good rumor even when they are both right before us. - Jenny Jerrome.
I choose America, I choose freedom!