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There’s an old (well maybe it’s semi-old, I don’t know, but it’s a saying) political saying that goes something like; “If you’ve never been a liberal you have no heart, but if you don’t eventually turn into a conservative you have no brain.” The Zimmerman-Martin case reminds me a lot of this saying.
Which one of us didn’t start out on Trayvon’s side? We saw that picture of that cute little football player, we heard about his skittles, and we pictured our children, innocent and sweet, just wanting to go eat some candy. Then we turned on our televisions and we heard about it everywhere: the big bad white neighborhood watchman, hunting down black children in the dead of the night.
But then the facts started tumbling out, one after another. So fast they left a lot of people confused. It seemed Trayvon wasn’t the child we thought he was: at least not in the sense we first understood him to be. He wasn’t that 9-year-old on the pop warner field, he was a 17-year-old with a history of trouble. And the neighborhood watchman? Turns out he wasn’t the big bad white guy either. Just a quiet and oft-described as meek hispanic man, on the phone with the police, scared due to a rash of recent break-ins in the neighborhood.
In fact the more and more that came out about this case, the less and less the common observer seemed to know, so let’s just focus on the one thing that’s important and seems to be inarguable:
Two people saw somebody they thought was suspicious-for one reason or another. One of those people called the police. The other person circled back around and attacked the “suspect”.
In a vacuum, it would seem fairly obvious which person acted appropriately. Throw in ages, races, a gun, and the two people saw each other however, and you’ve apparently got a mess. So once again; let’s simplify it. Who hit who first? Hard to know unless you’ve got a video camera. So you have to say instead “who was winning the fight” or in this case (thanks to Jenna Lauer’s 911 call) who was screaming for ‘help’?
This seems another easy answer. Only one person had evidence of sustaining a beating on them. The other person had bruises on their knuckles. In order to hit first, you must hit at least once, so it seems we can rule out the person that had no evidence of a beating on them as the potential “victim”, and since the person winning the fight has no real reason to be screaming for help (especially when they’re winning by a count of 6 to 0 head smashes on the pavement) so once again, in a vacuum this sounds pretty open and shut.
Unfortunately we’re not in a vacuuum. We live in a world with entities like NBC, concerned only with making a buck off the misery of others. Entities that profit from inciting panic, and instilling emotion in unnecessary situations. A station we now know edited the 911 tapes to make Zimmerman sound like that racist head-hunter we all first heard about. This spurred the public into action and gave us both the results we see now and a very valuable lesson: there’s a reason we let police do their job and not angry, misinformed crowds.
You see, shoemakers shoe, mechanics fix cars, and police arrest people. All three might try to do those things when they don’t need to be done, but they rarely turn down the opportunity to do what they do when it’s presented to them. And yet in this situation the police didn’t arrest George Zimmerman for murder. They didn’t arrest him for manslaughter. They didn’t arrest him for anything. Why? Because it was a pretty clear-cut case of self-defense. Because they didn’t want the prosecution to go to trial, and later be blamed for mishandling a case in which they had no facts, and no real case. In short; because they know what they’re doing better than an angry mob.
Trayvon WAS 17 years old. He was technically a child. He did appear to be heading home, he did have skittles in his pocket. All these things are true. However, Trayvon was far from the “innocent child” his supporters would have you believe. While evidence was ruled inadmissible, there IS evidence that Trayvon was an active drug and possibly gun dealer. In short, he was not a nice kid. According to Zimmerman, he had already circled the neighborhood watchman’s car once in a menacing fashion, once Zimmerman lost sight of “the suspect” as he referred to him (remember he had no idea who Trayvon was, or that he was 17) there remained a clear possibility that he would circle back around again, this time possibly with worse intent than a warning. As it turns out, Zimmerman couldn’t have been more right to be cautious.
In the 4 minutes between when Zimmerman saw Trayvon (as reprsented in court by 4 dramatic minutes of silence during the defense’s closing) until when he says he was attacked by Trayvon, the youth could have easily covered the roughly 100 yards to the home of his father’s girlfriend. Instead he chose to stick around, lurking in the shadows, apparently waiting for Zimmerman to get off the phone before launching a vicious attack that would leave Zimmerman’s nose broken and head split open. The moment he chose to turn around and attack, instead of heading home Trayvon became the aggressor, another street thug out looking to make the person who called the cops on him pay.
When everything was said and done, George Zimmerman stood bleeding, and Trayvon lay dying on the dog path where they began their struggle. When confronted with what he’d done-the ultimate death of his attacker-Zimmerman showed contrition at the police station, saying that in his religion it’s NEVER okay to take a life. When confronted during a “challenge interview” with lead investigator Detective Chris Serino about the possibility of a video tape of the entire situation, Zimmerman leapt up with excitement, hoping such a video would clear his name. Calling the police, calling for help, showing remorse, and hoping there’s a video: these are not the actions of a guilty man.
For a long time I’ve wondered about our justice system. Private prisons have been slowly creeping into our states, and with them harsher punishments and tougher judges. Throughout the past few days I’ve caught myself wondering many times: have we come so far that a neighborhood watchman on the phone with the police cannot defend himself? And if he can’t-who can? At what point are you no longer expected to lie there and let your attacker beat you to death? The jury answered that question for us yesterday with a unanimous verdict after 14 hours of deliberation: YES.
Yes, you CAN still defend yourself from an attacker. No, you’re not required to be a victim. There’s no expectation that you lie there and die while someone tries to beat you to death, you CAN fight back, you CAN defend yourself.
There’s still yet one lesson to be taken from this: call the police. If you see someone you think is acting suspiciously, call the police. They just might ALSO be on the line with the police, and it just might save your life. Because again no matter what you think about this case it boils down to this: two people saw something suspicious that night. One called the police and is walking alive and free today, the other tried to take matters into his own hands. If we learn nothing else from this, I hope we all learn that.