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It’s been a few months since George Zimmerman was acquitted of murder in the death of Trayvon Martin. You’d practically have to be living under a rock to not know the details of Martin’s death in early 2012.
While we as a country were all fighting amongst each other about race in regards to the Zimmerman case, very little time was given to the issues within the case that desperately needed to be talked about. Race is an issue that still needs discussion & debate in this country, but it is such a divisive issue, that it takes up more time than necessary in many instances. When this happens, the result is that other issues lose out on time needed for discussion & debate.
During the nearly 18 months between Martin’s death and Zimmerman’s acquittal, vigilantism and a law that many states have that is still a bit confusing as far as who it’s protecting and who it’s empowering were issues close to this case that should have been discussed & debated, but weren’t. People did talk about these issues during that 18-month period, but definitely not to the extent they needed to be talked about and should have been talked about.
There’s always been a reason that people call the police when there’s an emergency: they are the professionals. Police are the people trained specifically to handle high-risk, dangerous, and life-threatening situations where everyday people do not have nearly the training or experience to properly handle these situations.
So why did Zimmerman feel such a need to get out of his car and pursue Martin that night? Why does anybody feel the need to take the law into their own hands, i.e. engage in vigilantism? Distrust of law enforcement and their ability to their job.
Distrust of law enforcement has been something growing and growing in American society for decades. Now in the early 21st century, it may finally be reaching a tipping point. There’s no doubt that police departments around the globe have done things to create a sense of distrust in people. However, there hasn’t been any real evidence that vigilantism is a successful long-term solution. It may sound good in theory for certain situations, but more often than not, it results in more pain and suffering.
Most police officers are not the smartest or strongest or most exceptional people in a society. Their role in society are agents of the law. They serve and enforce the law while trying to protect those who obey the law. Their reach is not just for one block, but the entire city or town they work for. That is the key difference between real police officers and the George Zimmerman’s of the world.
A neighborhood watch seems good in theory, but in practice it mainly serves to give a sense of power to those who have none outside of their own home. This can be very dangerous when those with this new-found sense of power not only have a gun, but a mission: to keep their neighborhood safe. The only thing is that these people’s sense of danger to their neighborhood gets heightened with their ascension to power within the neighborhood. It can be a powderkeg waiting to blow. If anything, hopefully the Zimmerman trial demonstrated that while people may not trust police to get the job done, there’s a reason that they have the badge and people like Zimmerman don’t.
As for the “Stand Your Ground” laws: something needs to change. This is another example of something that seems good in theory, but putting it into practice has shown that there are flaws. Many noteworthy cases in Florida in particular have shown that this law needs to be modified and needs to be more specific instead of a vague and wide-reaching justification for gun violence. There have been cases where gang shootings and a variety of other scenarios have had the “reasonable fear for their life” defense used pretty liberally.
It just seems that what most people could take away from this case is that as long as you are in a state where there is a “Stand Your Ground” law, you can get away with murder as long as you can manipulate the circumstances to where you are seen as the victim. In the majority of cases in Florida that have gotten coverage about the “Stand Your Ground” law, the shooter rarely seemed any more in danger for their life than the person that ended up dead.
The saddest part of this whole thing is that the key event of the case, the event that is tied with vigilantism and a neighborhood watch, was lost very quickly among the racial baiting and sensationalism: Zimmerman getting out of his car after calling the police.
If Zimmerman had listened to the dispatcher on the other line who told him they [the police] didn’t need him to follow Martin, it’s almost certain Martin would not have been killed that night. Instead, Zimmerman’s action instigated what happened to him and Martin. There’s nothing to show that Zimmerman and Martin would’ve had an altercation if Zimmerman had stayed in his car.
More important conversations lost among an old fight in this country.