On the evening of February 26, 2012, a 17 year old kid was staying with his father, at his father’s fiance’s townhome, and decided to go out a nearby convenience store for some candy and a bottle iced tea. On his way back home he was confronted by a hostile man, who then pulled a gun and shot him through the heart, killing the boy almost instantly. Those are the facts – even George Zimmerman never disputed that he confronted and then shot the unarmed Trayvon Martin. George Zimmerman just claims that he shot in self defense, self defense specially legal under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. Frankly, I’ve always thought that was complete bullshit. “Stand your ground” means when one is confronted by a person/persons displaying such hostile intent that you fear for your life or the life of those with you, and you see no means of safely retreating from the situation, then use of deadly force is legal self defense. It was George Zimmerman who confronted Trayvon Martin – Zimmerman racially profiled Trayvon, because Trayvon was black Zimmerman automatically presumed he was “up to no good”. So, Zimmerman called 911. The dispatcher told Zimmerman that police officers were on the way, and specifically told him not to pursue Trayvon himself. Zimmerman hung up and then ignored the dispatcher’s instructions, chased Trayvon down, confronted him, and then shot him dead. Zimmerman not only lost any claim to “stand your ground” defense, he any claim lost any claim to legal self defense when he ignored the 911 dispatcher’s instructions not to pursue and chased Trayvon down. That’s not “stand your ground”, that’s being a bigoted bully and thinking you’re a hot shot just because you have a neighborhood watch decal on your car and a concealed gun in your holster.
We owe much of America’s great success story to that we are a nation of laws, and for that to work the vast majority must obey the law and those who don’t pay the price with punishment. And it requires respect for the law. Florida state prosecutors charged Zimmerman with murder, he was tried in a court of law, and found innocent by a jury of his peers. I respect that. I don’t agree with the verdict, but I respect the law and due process of the law. But, as President Obama suggested last Friday, we should use this as an opportunity for a real conversation on race. First of all, consider different scenarios of what might have happened if things had been different. What if Trayvon Martin had been armed with a gun? What if when Zimmerman pulled his gun Trayvon managed to pull his gun and shoot Zimmerman dead first. Would Trayvon be guilty of murder? Think about it: a member of the neighborhood watch just asks a guy what he’s doing in his neighborhood, suddenly decides the situation could be deadly, reaches for his gun, and the black guy shoots him down. It may well have been Trayvon who was charged with murder, but I actually think Trayvon would be in a much better position to claim “stand your ground” defense – he was confronted with deadly force, feared for his life, and shot in self defense as he had no means to escape from the confrontation. Or what if Trayvon had been a 17 year old white kid? Well, you’d never be reading this article or ever heard of Trayvon Martin because nothing would have happened – if Zimmerman had seen a white kid walking home he would have in all likelihood just kept going on his way.
Are you the kind of person who when in an elevator and a black man steps in you subconsciously clutch your purse a little tighter or make sure your wallet is secure in your pocket? Or when getting in your car in a shopping center parking lot and you see a couple of black or latino kids coming your way do you lock your doors? If so, why? Yes, crime statistics are higher for blacks and latinos than for whites, but there are many reasons for that. For one, blacks and latinos are far more likely to be stopped and checked by police – a report by the Department of Justice found that blacks and Hispanics were approximately three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white motorists. African Americans were twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police. The war on drugs has been waged primarily in communities of color where people of color are more likely to receive higher offenses. According to the Human Rights Watch, people of color are no more likely to use or sell illegal drugs than whites, but they have higher rate of arrests. African Americans comprise 14 percent of regular drug users but are 37 percent of those arrested for drug offenses. From 1980 to 2007 about one in three of the 25.4 million adults arrested for drugs was African American. Yes, it makes sense to be proactive about your personal security and be aware of your surroundings in public places. But don’t forget plenty of white guys are crooks too. And think about what it does to you and the other person when you are automatically suspicious of someone because of their race or ethnicity. You succumb to prejudice taught to you by stupid people, it makes the other person a victim of that prejudice, and when they see white people suspicious and prejudiced just because of who they are and not because of anything they’ve done, it makes them suspicious of what white people really think. It’s a vicious cycle.
So, let’s never forget Trayvon Martin, never forget that an innocent, unarmed 17 year kid was killed while just walking home with snacks from a convenience store, and do everything we can to make sure we don’t have any more Trayvon Martins. We have more than enough George Zimmermans.