Monday, July 15, 2013

My Verdict In the Zimmerman – Martin Affair

Let me begin by saying that, in my opinion, based on the evidence available, and my understanding of Florida law, that George Zimmerman was not guilty of second degree murder.

Zimmerman’s killing of Trayvon Martin appears to have been an act of desperate self-defense, precipitated by his own unwise decision to get out of his vehicle and pursue what he thought to be an intruder in the neighborhood. In the process he shot and killed an unarmed teenager who was himself acting in desperate self-defense. Both men were “standing their ground” but one had better means of protecting himself than the other.

However, the transcript of Zimmerman’s call to the police reveals some things about Zimmerman’s state of mind that are important to the story even though the jury has spoken and the case is formally closed. The conclusions stated below are my own and I acknowledge that some may not read the transcript in the same way that I do. However, it appears to me that:

1) Zimmerman carried biases into his work as a community watchdog that predisposed him to conflict and confrontation. “These assholes they always get away.” “This guy looks like he's  up to no good, or he's on drugs or something.” “It's raining and he's just walking around, looking about.”

2) He expresses a paranoia which became more evident after the killing, evidenced by his fearful seclusion for the months before the trial and his continued seclusion after the verdict. In his conversation with the dispatcher, when asked for his address he replied, “It’s a home it’s 1950, oh crap I don’t want to give it all out . . .” Why not? What was he afraid of?

3) He foolishly ignored the advice of the dispatcher regarding following Trayvon. After being told by the dispatcher, “Ok, we don't need you to do that,” Zimmerman responded, “Okay,” and then proceeded to do so anyway.

These things don’t prove, and I am not trying to prove that Zimmerman follow Martin with intent to kill him. No one but Zimmerman knows his intent. It appears from his own words that he was determined, though, that this one “asshole” did not get away. And sadly, he did not.

There are several lessons I’m drawing from this sad event:

1)  Laws like the “Stand Your Ground Law” in Florida, and the “Castle Law” in Wisconsin and other places, encourage certain types of people to play the role of judge and jury and executioner in situations like that in the Zimmerman/Martin case. Zimmerman had Trayvon tried and convicted of “being up to no good” “acting strange” and being “on drugs”. In the end he was found to be on an innocent trip to a convenience store, carrying home Skittles and a non-alcoholic drink, and totally unarmed.

2  Allowing any adult citizen who lacks a felony conviction to carry a concealed gun neglects the truth that many non-felons are nonetheless too irresponsible, too paranoid, too hot-headed, too irrational, too macho, or too trigger happy to be given that privilege. I think most honest people will admit to knowing those who would legally qualify for concealed carry permits but whose emotional stability, or personality traits would make it unwise for them to have one.

3.  If gated communities feel they need additional police protection they should hire security personnel who have the training to know how to respond to any situation and the self-control to adhere to their training. If Zimmerman had stayed in his vehicle waiting for the police to arrive, as he was encouraged to do, he would have found that his “black, strange acting, drug affected suspect” was instead a young man on his way back from a run to the convenience store, headed to the apartment where his father was watching a football game and waiting for his son’s return. He conceivably might have found Trayvon to be a likeable young man once they ceased to view each other through fearful eyes.

4.  Though Trayvon Martin had every right to be on the street that night it is nonetheless a sad fact of life that it is unwise for young people (really any people) to be out walking late at night in any U.S. neighborhood. If the bad guys don’t get you the good guys may mistake you for a bad guy and blow you away. Or in Trayvon’s case a wannabe good guy may do so.

The George Zimmerman – Trayvon Martin case is tragic on many levels. It reveals that the color of one’s skin still determines the treatment one will receive at the hands of the “enforcers” in our society. It reminds us that our NRA driven laws that allow anyone and everyone (with a very few exceptions) to own and carry guns dooms us to thousands of tragic shootings every year. It shows the foolishness of laws like Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” or Wisconsin’s “Castle Law” which allow an ordinary citizen to become judge and executioner of those whom they perceive as a threat to themselves or their property.

I am now an old man. I’ve outlived the Biblical grant of three score and ten years by quite a bit. But there are some things I’d like to see before I leave this world. I’d like to live to see the Rambo philosophy that permeates our society, and even our Congress and State Houses, discredited. I’d like to see a reversal of the conservative selfishness that seeks laws to privilege those who already have, at the expense of those who are in need. I’d like to see a genuine respect for people of all races, religions, genders, and yes, even sexual preferences. (We do not have to like or even respect the preferences of people in order to respect them as persons of equal standing before God and our human laws.) I’d like to see our adversarial legal system, in which two sides attempt to wrest the evidence to their advantage, converted to a true system of justice in which all parties are working to achieve a right-eous outcome. I’d like to see the demise of media which seeks primarily to sensationalize all events for the purpose of generating larger audiences and thus greater advertizing revenue. I’d like to see our political system set free from the strangling effects of special interest money and the self-interested machinations of billionaire donors.

Sadly, if this were the day of my birth, and if I lived to be a hundred, I would not see any of those things accomplished. What I would see is hundreds of Trayvon Martins gunned down for the same sad, mistaken reasons that he was: prejudice, fear, ignorance, arrogance, and – let’s admit it – sinfulness.

Our world is in need of a Savior. Oh, I guess we have been given One. Rather our world needs to submit itself to our Savior and implement in our lives and in our society the principles of peace and right-eousness that He taught us. I won’t likely live to see that either.

Jim Wallis who works through the Sojourners organization is dedicated to bringing about the kind of society that I yearn for. His recent piece on the Zimmerman verdict, Lament from a White Father, is excellent reading. I recommend it highly.

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