Today’s Courier Herald Column:
Some things require short, blunt unqualified statements.
The killing of Trayvon Martin was wrong on every level. It is inexplicable that George Zimmerman’s self defense claim appears to have been accepted at face value by Sanford Florida police. The outrage over this case, now of national proportion, is completely justified. Race, as a factor in both the killing and the aftermath, is something that cannot be ignored.
Trayvon Martin was a 17 year old who was killed by an apparently self-appointed neighborhood watch captain as he walked back to his father’s home. He was returning from a quick trip to a convenience store where he purchased Skittles candy and a can of iced tea. He was unarmed, carrying only his snacks and a cell phone. A high school football player, he was still slight of build, especially compared with Zimmerman. And, he was black.
George Zimmerman had a history of calling 911 for people he found “suspicious” in his neighborhood. He did the same the night he shot and killed Trayvon. Despite the urging of a 911 operator not to, he followed Trayvon down the sidewalk and confronted him over his presence in the neighborhood. Exactly what happened in those final moments is not completely clear, but the result is very final. Trayvon Martin is dead and there is no reasonable explanation as to why.
As the story first drew national attention, the narrative was not about Trayvon Martin, but instead about Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law that allows shooting someone in self defense. Regrettably and predictably, those who support such laws and the second amendment responded by defending Zimmerman as if he qualified under this law.
Those who support “stand your ground” must understand that with this freedom comes responsibility. Zimmerman was no longer standing his ground when he advanced upon Martin. Aggression is not defense. Guns don’t kill people, people do.
This case isn’t about gun laws, and it’s not about self defense. It’s about George Zimmerman being overzealous and perhaps even paranoid in the “protection” of his neighborhood. It’s about a seventeen year old black youth being presumed guilty until proven innocent. It’s about Zimmerman taking it upon himself to be judge, jury, and executioner.
It is now about having a national conversation about ourselves.
The second narrative to come from this case has also been predictable and equally regrettable. Trayvon’s death is now about not only a black teenager killed without cause, but police who seem too willing to look the other way. As such, those who are professionally outraged are working overtime on news cameras, denouncing both the killing and the police inaction as acts of racism. Unfortunately, those suspicious and/or politically opposed to the actions of Al Sharptons and Jesse Jacksons have used their involvement to ignore this tragedy, or dismiss it for less than it is.
Those of us who grew up white and southern during the sixties and seventies have likely heard the phrase “what will they want next?” during struggles for civil rights laws and equality. It is not too much to want to be able to innocently walk to a store and buy Skittles. It is not too much to want to not have to justify why you are in your own neighborhood in the process. It is certainly not too much to expect to not be shot and killed while doing so. And it is unfathomable to think that police reaction to such a killing would be to deem it “justified” or “self-defense”.
If we as a country, as a people, are to achieve the dream that is America, we should and must learn to deal with such tragedies in a way that transcends the current paradigm of predictable and regrettable. We cannot have a large segment of the population be willing to ignore a message because Al Sharpton is one of the messengers. We cannot give justification for people of color to feel there are less than equal in the eyes of justice.
When we pledge our flag with “one nation, under God”, it includes the requirement “with liberty and justice for all.” Because of the lack of proper police investigation in the immediate aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s shooting, it is unlikely there will be justice for him or for his family. As such, as a country and as a people, we have failed.
As a country and as a people, we need to do better.