George Zimmerman killed an unarmed teen and got away with it
This is not a proud moment for American justice. Notwithstanding every effort to obscure the facts of the George Zimmerman case, the facts remain: an armed man, George Zimmerman, shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager. And for this he was not even convicted on a manslaughter charge. He is walking free.
Even with the racial disparities with which our justice system is still rife, and has been rife for years, the Zimmerman case is one for the history books. However reluctant juries are to convict in general–and it is no easy matter to send someone to jail–generally, in a case where someone ends up dead, a jury will be willing to convict on something. One can only hope that civil lawsuits for wrongful death could go better for the Martin family. In most states, states other than Florida, if you had only shot someone by pure accident, you would receive more legal sanctions than George Zimmerman has received. A parent who accidentally causes a child’s death by leaving the child in a locked car in hot weather, purely unintentionally, receives more sanctions. (Admittedly Casey Anthony walked after the death of her child, but then that was also in Florida.) A motorist who accidentally kills or injures a cyclist or a pedestrian gets more sanctions. A swimming pool owner gets sanctioned if a neighbor gets hurt in the pool. For that matter, suing swimming pool manufacturers is a whole sub-industry in law. Et cetera.
Conversely, if Trayvon Martin had (actually) gotten George Zimmerman’s gun away from him–and there is absolutely no evidence that he tried to do so–and had injured Zimmerman, and Zimmerman had then sued Martin in a civil case, a jury would likely have thrown out the case. (That’s assuming, of course, that race would not have unduly influenced the outcome in a civil suit.) Any good lawyer could make the argument that Zimmerman’s own actions had led to the event. Conversely again, if Trayvon Martin had had the gun (and within a year, that will be the prevailing representation, if the Zimmermans have their way) and Zimmerman had gotten it away from him, but had been injured, and had sued Martin, he could still have lost. Again, any good lawyer could argue that his own actions had led to the event. “You could have stayed in your vehicle. You could have called the police. You could have left . . .”
Where were those lawyers for the prosecution? Even if Zimmerman had been beaten by Trayvon Martin–and again, there is absolutely no evidence that he was–any good lawyer could make the argument that Zimmerman’s own actions had led to the event. He was the one following the other guy. Trayvon Martin’s phone conversation–recorded AT THE TIME–clearly indicates that he was alarmed at being followed.
Yet, after a sequence of events in which Zimmerman was the aggressor, he gets to claim ‘self-defense’? And television networks and cable channels back him up on the claim, by posing it as a fifty-fifty possibility in a multiple-choice quiz?
Who pulled the trigger? Who shot the gun? Who HAD the gun in the first place?
At the substantial risk of seeming to belabor the obvious, one unassailable fact remains: had Zimmerman really been intent on self-protection, he could have stayed in his vehicle.
Instead, he tells a story–inconsistent, shifting, and contradicted by recordings–and gets off. That’s all he has to do; tell a story. The living trump the dead, every time. Trayvon Martin never got to tell his side of the story.
Comparisons to Simi Valley and the beating of the late Rodney King do come to mind, but this is not to say that race is the only major factor in the Zimmerman case. All these years after O. J. Simpson was acquitted in the killings of his former wife, Nicole Brown, and her friend Ronald Goldman, I still think that the factor of race was overemphasized in commentary and in reporting on that infamous case. In that one, the elephant in the room was domestic violence. If two men had been killed, or Ron Goldman alone, the defendant (Simpson) would have been convicted for something. What threw the monkey wrench into the works, in the Simpson prosecution, was not the race difference between defendant and victims–contrary to what you might think, the defendant’s being African-American did not make him a shoo-in for acquittal–but the fact that one of the victims was Simpson’s ex-wife. Even people who should know better put domestic violence into a separate category from other violent crimes. This salient fact was not evident in media coverage at the time, which harped on race race race race race race.
In this one, the elephant in the room was a thoroughly under-qualified man’s being allowed to drive around armed to the teeth. In fact, George Zimmerman was not only allowed to drive around armed, and repeatedly to try to coordinate with law enforcement as part of an unauthorized patrolling activity, part of his self-identification as wannabe law enforcement; Zimmerman was allowed to follow an unarmed teenager–in his vehicle–while armed; and then to get out of his vehicle and to follow the same unarmed teenager on foot, while armed. “Shit, he’s getting away.” –and a bored, ignorant, unachieving guy, frustrated at the idea that he’ll just have to go home to dinner and television, won’t be able to make his cop, decides for absolutely no good reason to get out of his vehicle and follow Trayvon Martin on foot. And yet, when Zimmerman fatally shoots the unarmed teen, a jury of six women lets him off on any culpability whatsoever.
In any state with responsible gun laws, Zimmerman–with his questionable track record including brushes with the law–would not have been given a permit to carry in the first place. He was not a good candidate for gun ownership. Events have placed this statement beyond reasonable doubt.
But in Florida, as said, Zimmerman not only had the gun but carried it, not only carried it but used it. Not only used it but killed someone. Not only killed someone, but killed an unarmed teenager. And the Zimmerman camp, in his defense, did not even try to claim that the gun went off by accident.
And he still got off. This is basically the National Rifle Association defense: anything you do with a gun is okay. In previous decades–years ago–the NRA used to represent itself as standing for responsible gun ownership and responsible gun handling. But nowadays, all you have to do is line up the gun lobbyists and the gun crowd, and your defense is set in motion. During the belated legal process leading up to the trial, Zimmerman’s relatives and defense team were out in front with the news media, representing Zimmerman as the victim in the case, claiming on television that he was going to end up a vegetable if he did not shoot the unarmed teen he himself had been following, and doing everything they could to discredit the seventeen-year-old fatally shot–who was, by all accounts, walking peaceably in the rain back to his father’s place, and minding his own business at the time Zimmerman caught sight of him and began following him. The Zimmerman camp has made more of Trayvon Martin’s supposedly taking some martial-arts/wrestling classes than of Zimmerman’s carrying a 9-mm semi-automatic. In the last few days, Zimmerman’s attorney has publicly suggested that Zimmerman will not be safe, and the Zimmerman camp and allied media have joined to exhort elements of the public not to riot or whatever after the verdict, not to turn to violence, you see. In psychology this is known as projecting.
In the NRA defense, furthermore, not only is it okay to do anything you like with a gun, as long as you have one–that being the important point. If you pursue someone while armed, and the other person hits you, then you can present yourself as the victim, even if the other person is unarmed.
This is the classic definition of tyrannous behavior–the exercise of power beyond right.
The reason this nonsense worked in the Florida justice system is that the Florida justice system has been knuckling under to the NRA for decades. For Trayvon Martin, justice delayed was justice denied. All signs are that the shooting was initially just not taken seriously. Even a non-expert in law enforcement can see the sloppy way this fatality was treated, a few of which include the following:
- the scene at the shooting was not secured; among other problems, it was trampled on by too many people
- there was no continuous video recording of law enforcement activity at the scene of the shooting
- Trayvon Martin’s seventeen-year-old body was not carefully, minutely and scrupulously examined, with the details of the examination continuously recorded
- the body was not protected, to keep its medical evidence protected from the elements, from handling, and from passage of time
- George Zimmerman was not thoroughly examined by medical professionals under the auspices of law enforcement, with continuous recording of the details of examinations
Zimmerman’s father was connected with the justice system. All Zimmerman had to do was claim injuries suffered at Martin’s hands–and decline to go to a doctor. No medical records, no rebuttal evidence. No adequate rebuttal, no conviction. This in spite of the obvious discrepancies in Zimmerman’s narrative throughout: as prosecutors pointed out, if Zimmerman was in fear for his own safety, it was odd for him to get out of his vehicle in the first place.
This is a set-up that automatically works to the advantage of the living over the dead.
It is also a dilatory and lackadaisical mode of law enforcement. Racial complacencies, yes; but also a passive-aggressive mode of dealing with any neighborhood conflict involving guns but not involving gangs.
“I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts.” –John Locke
Rest in peace, Trayvon Martin (1995-2012)