It’s been a disheartening week. George Zimmerman was found “not guilty” in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. The verdict in and of itself isn’t what is so troubling though; it sounds to me like the jury ruled in accordance with the weird web of laws Florida has woven to empower the paranoid, and we do have a system that requires “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” to put a person behind bars.
What galls me is the way the issue has divided us into teams. The bottom line to me has always been that George Zimmerman set in motion the series of events that lead to Trayvon Martin’s death. I mean, Martin was walking down the street, talking to a girlfriend on the phone, unarmed, and committing no crime. There is no logical reason he should have been killed. Whether or not Zimmerman’s actions and decisions rose to the level of criminal (can anyone say “wrongful death”?), they certainly leave room to question his judgment. That seems like a no-brainer to me. When an unarmed teenager gets killed in the street by a self-appointed patrolman with a gun, I think you question that man’s mental character. But apparently a lot of people don’t agree with that assessment. The people supporting Zimmerman aren’t simply saying “it’s a terrible tragedy, but no actual crime was committed.” Zimmerman enjoys full-fledged support from people who seem to feel his actions were not only legally justified, but also righteous.
And I’ll admit, it is pretty much impossible for me to reconcile that opinion without believing there is a strong element of racism behind it. When I imagine the same scenario with a 17-year-old white kid walking down the street, it doesn’t play out this way. First, I have a strong doubt Zimmerman even pursues the white kid—but if Zimmerman does shoot the white kid down, there’s no way he gets the initial benefit of the doubt from the local police. If he shoots a white kid with money, forget it—he’s in the electric chair. There’s no “stand your ground” or “self-defense.” He pursued, confronted, and shot an unarmed kid dead: a kid who was walking home from the market after buying candy and a can of iced tea, a kid on the way home to watch a basketball game with his family.
The media would have portrayed Zimmerman as a lunatic, a wanna-be cop with a history of paranoia, and a general menace to society. Here is a man who was taking it upon himself to play judge, jury, and executioner; a man who explicitly disobeyed the advice of the dispatch officer who told him the police did not need him pursuing the kid Zimmerman self-proclaimed a “suspect.” The reports of his earlier run-ins with the law—the domestic violence charges and filing of restraining orders—would have been rammed down our throats on the 24-hour cable news channels. There’s no doubt in my mind—if Martin had been white, George Zimmerman would have been the media’s chosen monster in this case.
And sadly, if Zimmerman had killed a white kid, he probably wouldn’t have been referred to as a white man by the media. This whole thing is so messed up.