I’ve waited to think for awhile before spouting off yet another internet opinion on this case, but the time has come. In case you’ve been living in a cave, the verdict was returned this past week: George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the murder / manslaughter of teenager, Trayvon Martin. I hope to God that this was a just verdict. I suspect that it was not, but I have to admit that I simply do not know. I was not there, I have not seen or heard all the evidence, and I would be remiss to make judgments about the goodness or badness of the verdict on its own merits. The only living human who really knows what went down is the neighborhood watchman and shooter, George Zimmerman, and we all know the story he is telling: self defense. I don’t buy it, but I don’t know.
Here’s what we do know: An armed, self-appointed neighborhood patroller (George) picked a fight with an unarmed teenager (Trayvon) who was walking in his own neighborhood and committing no crimes. Trayvon responded to the aggressor and was shot and killed for it. The killer walks away without consequence. There is no dispute about these facts whatsoever.
This scares the hell out of me because I can see myself in Trayvon Martin’s situation. If you come and pick a fight with me in my own neighborhood, I may fight back. I’d like to think that I would turn the other cheek or at least run away, but who knows? If my wife or kids are with me, I will fight. What this business with Zimmerman proves is that if I defend myself against an aggressor, he or she can shoot and kill me, claim “self defense” and walk. Regardless of the alleged guilt or innocence of George Zimmerman, all gun-toting, trigger happy, self-styled vigilantes everywhere just learned a titillating message and have been blessed with justification for picking fights and gunning down anyone who resists. This is a dangerous and stupid message for our cities, states and nation to communicate to its citizenry.
Contrary to what many voices are saying, I don’t believe that race/ ethnicity is the core issue here. Clearly George Zimmerman has some hate in his heart, but there is no reason to believe that Trayvon Martin was a saint either. As it seems to me, the real issue here is our insane obsession with guns and the gun/ violence culture that it engenders. What would have happened if George Zimmerman had not possessed a gun? I think it is safe to say that teenaged Trayvon Martin would not have been shot in the chest or died from the wounds. Perhaps someone would reply with conjecture that, if this were the case, perhaps it would be George Zimmerman who had died, beaten to death by Martin. I admit that this must be a legitimate possibility. However, perhaps the better question is: “Would Zimmerman have approached Martin at all (or at least in the way that he did) if he had not felt empowered and cock-sure by having a gun in his vest?” We will never “know” but I am willing to venture a guess, and that is that “No, Zimmerman would not have picked a fight with Martin (or anyone else) if he didn’t have a gun and/ or think he could use it.” Furthermore, if Zimmerman did not have a gun, picked a fight anyway and lost that fight, we could hardly call Trayvon Martin the aggressor. That would be a true case of self-defense. It was not Martin’s presence in his own neighborhood that was the problem. Neither was the problem with a neighborhood allowing a resident to patrol the grounds. The problem was with the gun and its owner’s willingness to let it lead him into a situation where he could use it against an unarmed individual. Somehow I get the feeling that this sort of business is not what the framers of the U.S. Constitution had in mind.
Picking a fight you know you can win is classic bully territory. There is no question that guns make some people feel empowered and willing to be more aggressive, take bigger “chances” and inspire false bravado. Stand-your-ground laws like those germane to this case in Florida only further stiffen such misguided attitudes. Not just for the sake of future victims like Trayvon Martin, but also for the sake of future killers like George Zimmerman, we as a people in a representative democracy must do our best to repeal stand-your-ground laws and prevent new ones from being written. We must also disallow gun-toters to pick fights with people who are unarmed and minding their own business. We must impose strict penalties for those who violate such laws and certainly disallow claims of “self-defense” in such instances. Carrying a sidearm, if allowed at all, MUST come with strict and serious regulations and consequences. As it “stands,” it seems that we have lost our minds and let the insanity of gun culture win the day yet again.
Thanks for reading me,
Commenters: Jason Reece , Samuel Reynolds