George Zimmerman has been declared innocent. Trayvon Martin is a dead man; his shooter is a free man.
I’m going to try to keep this brief. I don’t think I can talk about it for very long without bursting out into furious tears. But this case has been a fiasco from moment one. When the cops arrived on the scene of the shooting, they did not arrest Zimmerman, the shooter. They did not disarm him. They didn’t even run a criminal background check or a toxicology report on him. Instead, they did a toxicology report on the body of his dead victim. They did a criminal background check on the victim. Trayvon Martin, the dead 17-year-old, had his body checked for drugs and alcohol and his past checked for criminal activity, but Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed him, was not checked for either by those cops. For anyone who doubts that there was an ugly racial tinge to this case, remember that.
Zimmerman was pursuing Trayvon, as he said to the 911 dispatcher over the phone while the chase took place. Trayvon was running from him, as he said over the phone in his last moments. Zimmerman was armed with a loaded gun. Trayvon was carrying skittles and an iced tea. Zimmerman was told by the 911 dispatcher not to pursue Trayvon, but he pursued him anyway. On the recording of the phone call, we can hear someone screaming. George Zimmerman claims it was him, but experts at audio analysis claim it is definitely Trayvon. Instead of being listened to, these experts were forbidden to testify in court. But even without their scholarly analysis, let’s remember that the scream ends the moment Zimmerman fires. Someone screams, Zimmerman shoots, and the scream ends immediately. Gee, I wonder who was screaming?
And here’s the worst part: given the ridiculously low standards for a “Stand Your Ground” defense permitted in Florida (and numerous other states), effectively authorizing the use of lethal force by citizens who subjectively “feel” their lives are in danger, the jury might actually be right that Zimmerman is not guilty by Florida’s laws. Unlike the far more common “Castle” laws, as in “a man’s home is his castle”, which authorize citizens to use deadly force if someone breaks into their home or their car while they are inside, “Stand Your Ground” laws extend this authorization to public places. They do not include a duty to retreat from a confrontation, so long as the shooter was in a place they had a legal right to be (like a public street). Before Zimmerman fired, it’s not clear that he committed a crime. He was definitely following Trayvon, but it’s not clear (to me, anyway) that doing so was illegal. If Zimmerman can reasonably claim that he felt his life was in danger when he came face-to-face with Trayvon—and it’s hard to refute that, since Zimmerman shot and killed the only witness—then technically, by Florida’s laws, he isn’t guilty even after firing. Of course, that’s insane, as pretty much everyone can see. But the problem may be with the law itself. Think about corporate influence in Washington. Everyone who’s looking can see that corporate campaign donations are corrupting politicians, but because that kind of bribery is now legal in this country, it’s hard to fight them in court. Same here. It’s not that Zimmerman didn’t kill Trayvon in cold blood. It’s that killing an innocent boy in cold blood may now be legal in Florida, as long as you get in a fight with him first.
Think about that. If you live in Florida, and someone doesn’t like the look of you—in other words, if they think you might have too much melanin to belong in “their” neighborhood—they can follow you around with a loaded gun, start a fight with you, and shoot you dead. Hey, man, there was a fight! I mean, I know I was the one who started it, they can say, but it was still a fight! I might have lost the fight (that I started)! I was afraid I’d lose, so I shot you dead. Self-defense.
It is absurd that George Zimmerman was found not guilty. It is even more absurd that, given how Florida currently defines self-defense, the verdict might technically be correct. These “Stand Your Ground” laws need to be repealed everywhere. Trayvon Martin deserves justice, and he has yet to receive it. Maybe he never will. But the least we can do is make sure that nothing like this ever happens again. And that if it does, the killer will be brought to justice, not let off scot-free.
Here is a list of states with “Stand Your Ground” laws similar or identical Florida’s. If you live in one of these states, call your state representative. Let them know how you feel about these laws, and what should be done with them. Because next time, it might be you who gets followed, attacked, and shot dead. It might be your son. And it might be his killer who is declared free to go.