Like many people, I sat in anticipated disbelief when the verdict was read in the George Zimmerman second degree murder trial for the shooting death of Trayvon Benjamin Martin. Anticipation because that part of my brain that has known the difference of right from wrong since I was a toddler believed there was no way that a man could profile, follow, confront, and kill a teenaged boy would be convicted of some if not for all of the crimes for which he had been charged. Disbelief because I knew that history has shown that the lives of young black males in the country are not held in high regard so there was now way that the jury would find him guilty.
I keep hearing that this case had nothing to do with race or racial profiling, but how could it not? By his own admission, George Zimmerman followed Trayvon Martin because due to a rash of burglaries committed in the community reportedly by black males, one of which had been found with stolen property, and Travyon, a young black male, fit the profile. He was seen walking slowly in the rain wearing a hood which obviously was suspicious because in the absence of an umbrella, only someone up to know good would wear a hood or walk slow.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), racial profiling refers to the discriminatory practice by law enforcement officials of targeting individuals for suspicion of a crime based on the individual’s race, ethnicity, religion, or national origin. Criminal profiling, generally, as practiced by the police, is the reliance on a group of characteristics they believe to be associated with crime. On the night of February 26, 2012, George Zimmerman, carrying a legal firearm, acting as the Neighborhood Watch captain, followed Trayvon Martin in his vehicle, at some point exiting the vehicle, and after an altercation, intentionally pulled out his firearm and shot Trayvon once in the chest.
Initially after observing Trayvon, George Zimmerman called the local non-emergency phone number and informed the dispatcher that he was “just walking around looking about” and saying “This guy looks like he is up to no good or he is on drugs or something.” At some point he lost sight of Trayvon and exited his vehicle advising the dispatcher that he was still following him. The dispatcher told him, “We don’t need you to do that.” While this is not an explicit instruction to stop following him, it was certainly implied.
The call ended and within several minutes, based on eyewitnesses and Mr. Zimmerman’s statement, an altercation ensued ending with Trayvon Martin’s death. Once the police arrived at the scene, several minutes later by approximately 7:17 PM, Trayvon was laying face down dying or already dead. As the only other true eyewitness could not make a statement, Mr. Zimmerman’s account that he acted in self defense were eventually accepted and he was not charged with crime.
My purpose here is not to cover the initial investigation by the Sanford police department and subsequent public outcry which eventually led to State’s Attorney’s office charging George Zimmerman with second-degree murder on April 11, 2012. What concerns me is that although the defense attorney’s did not use Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” as part of their strategy, merely claiming self-defense; the jury instructions did cite this law.
After the acquittal, the woman known as Juror B37 stated that Mr. Zimmerman “started the ball rolling” and could have avoided the situation by staying in his car. “He was justified in shooting Trayvon Martin.” Now I have to assume that they jury understood the law, understood the instructions, and based on the evidence in the case, had no choice but to find George Zimmerman not guilty. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you see it, my common sense tells me the he was guilty of manslaughter.
According to Florida Statute 782.07 subsection 1, “The killing of a human being by the act, procurement, or culpable negligence of another, without lawful justification according to the provisions of chapter 776 and in cases in which such killing shall not be excusable homicide or murder, according to the provisions of this chapter, is manslaughter…” Of course I would be remiss in not showing the aforementioned provisions of chapter 776, specifically 776.013 “Home protection; use of deadly force; presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm” was the basis of Zimmerman’s defense.
Subsection 3 of 776.013 reads: A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony. My question here is, didn’t Trayvon Martin have a right to defend himself if in his mind, George Zimmerman, a stranger, was attacking him?
Statute 776.041 Use of force by aggressor says: The justification described in the preceding sections of this chapter (776) is not available to a person who:
(1) Is attempting to commit, committing, or escaping after the commission of, a forcible felony; or (2) Initially provokes the use of force against himself or herself, unless: (a) Such force is so great that the person reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he or she has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant; or (b) In good faith, the person withdraws from physical contact with the assailant and indicates clearly to the assailant that he or she desires to withdraw and terminate the use of force, but the assailant continues or resumes the use of force.
Unfortunately, based on the language in subsection 2 and 2a, both Trayvon and Zimmerman were well within their rights. To quote William Shakespeare, “aye, there’s the rub”. Trayvon is dead and Zimmerman is alive, so he is the only one that can make this claim. My common sense argument is that Zimmerman got out of the car knowing that he had a gun to defend himself. He brought the proverbial gun to a fist fight. Does anyone doubt that George Zimmerman is what I like to call an Iron Thug? This means that without the gun, he never would be emboldened to get out of the car in the first place. There a lot of people in the world that need a firearm to make them feel brave enough to get into an altercation. This is the problem with the law.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not attacking anyone’s Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. At the same time, don’t attack my choice to not keep and bear arms. Common sense tells me that a child of 5 feet 11 inches and weighing 158 pounds should not be able to make a grown man of 5 feet 7 inches and weighing 185 pounds fear for his life if the man brings a gun to the fight. Do I now have to worry that a shouting match in a mall parking lot or road rage, can lead to someone shooting and killing be because somehow my size of 5 feet 8 inches, 175 pounds, and black skin makes them fear for their life? The Preamble of our Constitution reads as thus:
We the People of the United States, In Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Now as the framing fathers owned slaves, I don’t have any illusions that at the time it was written that this included the general Welfare of my ancestors, the document is powerful as it did allow for the later Amendments that provided a course correction which ended slavery and granted rights people of color and women. With all of it’s faults, this is still the greatest country in the world. I just have problem with laws that allow people to legally infringe on the right’s of others. Trayvon Benjamin Martin had every right to walk to the store, buy Skittles, and an Arizona Iced Tea, and walk home unmolested by an overzealous Neighborhood watch volunteer with a loaded gun and aspirations of being a hero. Your right to bear arms should not supersede my right to be left alone and when threatened defend myself with my fists. The tragedy is that George Zimmerman gets to live with his mistakes, Trayvon Martin died because of those same mistkes.