Do we now live in a country where we can decide that if a teenager looks suspicious based on skin color, clothing and stance we can follow him against police orders, approach him with unwarranted questions and then, when we don’t receive the response we want or are met with hostility, shoot him in “self-defense?” Apparently yes.
I don’t get it. Why is an adult like George Zimmerman carrying a gun in the first place? He’s not a police officer. He’s a neighborhood watch guy who wasn’t even on duty when he shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, a Black boy who was carrying nothing more than a cell phone and Skittles at the time. And forget the legal right to bear arms argument. Use logic. What is the point of carrying a gun with you when you live in a gated community and are going on an errand? To pretend you’re an action star? To derive some sort of gleeful macho joy, or booster confidence shot? Or maybe it’s just that little bit of an extra upper hand when you’re trying to make a point and the other kid, I mean guy, is not listening to you?
I decided not to become a lawyer in my third year of college when I realized that legalese, memorization and cleverness in word twisting often trumped logic. So I’m going to simply state it this way: When Mr. Zimmerman called the police about this questionable kid they told ole George not to follow him and wait in his car. But instead ole George got out of his car and tailed him, grumbling that these “punks always get away.” What happened after that is anyone’s guess. Except that one was a white person with a gun and the other was a Black kid just walking home, minding his own business. Do the math.
Mr. Zimmerman’s defense attorneys loved pointing out that there is no law against getting out of your car and following someone. Well, okay. But if you’re walking along and being followed for no reason and are carrying a licensed gun, does that mean that you can then shoot the person following you? What is harassment anyway? Who has the right to shoot first? Is this the Wild West? Or just a Florida suburb where racism rules the day not only on the streets but also in court? I’m not talking about law. I’m talking about logic.
I am SOOOO tired of people saying race has nothing to do with this case. It has EVERYTHING to do with this case. White people think tall Black teenage boys and young men are suspicious and potentially menacing. In fact, when I was a teenager, in the late sixties and seventies in New York City, it was often thought that if you saw one of those guys on the street and they approached you they’d either rob you, knife you or, worst case scenario, rape your girlfriend while pointing a gun at your head.
Except not always. Not if you didn’t choose to think that way.
True story. I can remember as a 13-year-old walking home from school in Jackson Heights, Queens one day when a Black teenager a couple of years older walked up to me fast and demanded my wallet, sort of motioning through his coat that he had either a knife or a gun. The weapon in the coat looked a bit suspicious but I reluctantly gave him my wallet anyway because, well…you never know. But then something funny happened. I was compelled to ask him if he really wanted my wallet, since there wasn’t a lot of money in it, and how come he was taking it. He replied that he needed money. I told him okay, that I didn’t think he was a bad guy and asked how come he picked me. He looked at me and said he didn’t know.
Then something even funnier happened then. He didn’t run away. He kept on walking with me. So we continued talking. He asked me where I went to school and I asked him stuff about himself. He didn’t answer all my questions but I felt, as I walked home a few more blocks, we were getting to know each other a little better and I was proving that I wasn’t a racist – which was the worst thing a Jewish liberal kid in NY like me could be in 1968, or so I thought. Also, I Just didn’t think this guy was so bad. He didn’t have a killer look in his eye. Nor did he have, it turned out, a gun or a knife. Certainly he didn’t have a cell phone – though he might have had some candy that was the equivalent of Skittles. In fact, I’m almost certain he must have.
I’m not any kind of young hero for making these choices because, as my mother later screamed in my ear when I told her this story: “YOU COULD’VE BEEN KILLED! WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH YOU??!!!” (Note: I was smart enough to not tell her this story until many years in the future so I suppose I do deserve some credit for intuiting that). Rather than heroic, I simply think of myself as someone who, even though I was young, was mature enough to take the temperature of a tricky situation and approach it with calm and logic.
Calm, logic and maturity is something we should all employ when faced with potentially tricky, or difficult, situations. Even when there is some risk involved. You don’t stop an ant from eating your picnic food with a rifle. Nor do you shoot the neighborhood dog chewing on your rose bush by blowing him away with a lit cannon. Or stop the guy trying to steal your car, even if it is a Porsche, with an AK-47 and a round of 10,000 bullets. It’s a machine, for god’s sake – not your sister. Or someone’s son.
One more story. About 15 years ago my boyfriend/partner/lover/not yet husband and I park our car in Beverly Hills and are walking a block towards the Writers Guild Theatre for a movie screening. Suddenly, a group of young guys drive by in a revved up car and YELL at the top of their lungs, FUCKING FAGGOTS! It all happened so fast that there was no time for reason, bitchy retorts or violence. All I remember is that I was about to scream back at them – a scream that they probably wouldn’t have heard (but still…!), when my partner grabbed me and looked me in the eye, as if to say: Why?
Why, indeed? This is the first question I’d ask George Zimmerman if we were family, or even friends, something I know we will never be. My second question would then be: if he saw the 17 year old gay boy me in the locker room at the gym while we were both changing and thought I looked at him the wrong way, would he start questioning me, too? And what if I started yelling back at him? And then a fight started? If this were a Florida locker room, somewhere that I likely would have never frequented (but still!) would he be justified in shooting me too if things got heated and I defended myself from his harassment? (Uh yes, gay guys are frequently known to be shot dead for a single inappropriately bitchy retort).
This is not stretching the metaphor. It’s all the same metaphor. You can’t profile someone because you’re suspicious of their race, or sexual preference, or height, or gender, or weight. No matter how many times you might have been challenged by a fat kid, or a short kid, or a gay kid, or a, well, colored kid.
I don’t give a shit what a jury said, what the law says, or how well a team or grandstanding, self-satisfied lawyers argue the case. It makes no logical sense. And it’s wrong.
Oh, coda to the wallet story. Before he left, the kid gave me back my wallet, with my money inside. Again, that doesn’t make me a hero. But it does make me, as a 13 year old, a hell of a lot smarter than George Zimmerman. Not a high bar, granted.
Thought you might find this case interesting:
If Hattori’s killer was found not guilty I didn’t see how Zimmerman was ever going to be guilty. Unfortunately the law has a huge leniency when it comes to “self-defense” because just being “scared” can give you the right to defend yourself sometimes even to extreme measures.
Wow – I hadn’t heard about this case. Another awful example of injustice and unnecessary death. Laws are guidelines but individual cases should not defy simple logic. We seem headed, or already are at, a stage where not only lawyers but juries are stretching legal terminology to the point where all common sense is tossed out the window. I might be able to argue cogently that the chair in front of me doesn’t exist but even if that argument is convincing does that mean you have to pretend that what you clearly see in front of you is not a piece of wood that can be sat on? My brain is breaking. Thanks so much for sharing.
Love the blog and thoughts as always!
Honestly, as I said before, I blame a lot of these cases where juries find “not guilty” against all logic on Law and Order and CSI, and all their spin offs. Now I love me some classic Law and Order. It’s one of my favorite shows. But every high profile case jury seems to expect the defendant to confess and break down on the stand now. Or they want an eyewitness who saw it all go down from 5 ft away. Or they want a prosecutor to argue and badger with all the passion of Jack McCoy.
In real life though, the majority of cases are convicted on circumstantial evidence, and always have been. Juries are expected to use their common sense. Did you hear the one juror trying to excuse the “not guilty” verdict in the Casey Anthony case? She even said herself that most of them thought she was guilty, but somehow there wasn’t enough evidence to “prove” it. YES THERE WAS. More than enough, by both legal standards and common sense standards. But that’s another problem too: it’s an old and perhaps a bit unfair cliche, but juries are only made up of members who were too dumb to find a way to get out of jury duty.
As for the racism issue, I am very optimistic that our country is steadily heading in the right direction, and that George Zimmermans are a thing of the past, not the future. I grew up in one of the whitest suburbs in America (according to a recent study, its literally the second whitest) and for a time my mom was best friends with/on and off dating a black man from the East side. None of my mom’s friends thought anything of it. No one my age thought anything of it. And yes, there were those couple occasions where he was pulled over in good ole Rocky River for simply being black and driving around town, but for the most part, it wasn’t a big deal, or even a deal at all. I remember the couple black kids in our school were regularly accepted and there was no racism to be found (except maybe coming from a couple of the outcast druggies).
And look at that supposedly “controversial” Cheerios commercial, where the parents are of mixed race. The only controversy there came from trolls online, because the internet is the haven of moronic trolls who are lonely outcasts and aren’t that smart. Then the media blew it way out of proportion because hey, it sounded good! The truth is that commercial has a 95% positive rating on youtube, and on the repostings of the commercial, where you actually can comment, everyone loves the commercial and is laughing at the trolls.
As for gun culture, we do need common sense laws, and they clearly aren’t in place in areas like Florida or in many inner city districts. However, I will say that most liberals/progressives have exactly ZERO comprehension of gun culture in rural areas in the middle of the country, which actually does employ great deals of common sense in most cases (having spent a fair degree of my childhood growing up in the country, I can attest to this). A big part of the problem is actually culture clashing between suburban/urban culture and rural culture, and different people from different worlds refusing to have an open, common sense based, dialogue.
When I heard that juror speak, shrouded in darkness on CNN, about her thoughts about Trayvon & Rachel Jeantel I was so outraged that I began screaming at the television. Her “common sense” told her that Trayvon was asking for trouble and reacted poorly and that George was “well-intentioned.” Never once did she seem to wonder if a 17 year old Black boy who was being followed in the rain and darkness by a grown man wanting to know information about him might be appropriately scared that something would happen to him at the hands of this aggressive man. Not to mention her comments about Rachel G, saying clearly she didn’t want to be there because she felt intellectually inferior. It’s such coded racism that it makes my skin crawl.
I try to be a bit more even-handed when I answer comments but just recapping this is disturbing. I heard today the reason Rachel G spoke the way she did is she has a severe underbite and needs jaw surgery she hasnt been able to get. Still, with all that, I could understand what she was saying when she was testifying.
I so want to share your optimism about American racism. Clearly things have improved over the decades but we have so far to go with the rise of the small percentage of bigots in this country to power. They might not be the John Bircher/KKKs of years past (though those exist) – they seem in this case like more educated people who live in a suburban cocoon that makes them feel intellectually superior.
I couldnt agree with you more about the gun argument re rural vs city people. Having a gun in a rural community is a whole different thing than carrying one in suburban Florida or on the streets of NY or LA or any big city. Rural people are much more likely to understand the proper use of a gun and to respect that use. I don’t have words for people like Zimmerman – who feel the need to pack a weapon to make them feel….important?…like an action hero?….or a TV cop?…. It’s nauseating.
I’d like to say something hear about Don West, the condescending snot of a lawyer – and his partner in crime, the pretentious and insensitive media hog, Mark O’Mara. But I think I’ll stop now.
Thanks for commenting, as usual.
Yeah, pretty much gotta agree with you on all counts there.
I can’t help but wonder if the compassion the respect with which you treated the young man who tried to rob you may have changed his life in some way, put him on a different track by thinking differently about things, himself. Those are the moments that change the world. I love that story, Steve. Thank you for sharing.
I have to pinch myself and wonder what country I’m really living in when things like this happen (Zimmerman going free). Gotta have hope, though, or all is lost. I want to believe that for every Zimmerman, there are a few dozen Steve G’s out there treating their would-be assailants or threatening dudes on the street with dignity and compassion. We just don’t hear about them.
Love the new blog look, BTW 🙂
Great – I’m hoping everyone else does too — more modifications to come!!
Hello, thought I’d share something that just happened in Florida:
Stand your ground feels like a ridiculously dangerous law no matter how it comes down. Licensed killing for the lay person. We already have a right to defend ourselves – not a right to murder when our id gets a little too overwhelmed.