The Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case has certainly brought a lot of emotion to the public eye. Probably some see Zimmerman as a hero, but quite a few don’t. One of my high school friends thinks the verdict was justified according to law, but that injustice was still done. One juror says she thinks Zimmerman’s “heart was in the right place”. I’m not sure if it’s the same juror or another one who said she thought that racism had little or nothing to do with the case.
Yet another juror said she and others voted according to law, and would have been a lot more comfortable if they could have voted according to their consciences. She said they asked each other if, under the “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida, it was possible for ANYONE to be convicted of murder there. And, oh by the way, she said they weren’t allowed to consider the possibility of racial profiling in the case.
A different article said the legal system worked the way it was set up to work: a dark-skinned person is always a “suspicious character”, and it’s generally okay to treat suspicious characters any way you please. I haven’t heard the comments of the right-wing pundits yet, but I’m sure they’ll have plenty to say.
On the other side of the case, my high school friend says the jury wasn’t allowed to hear that Martin had a reputation as a fighter successful in “beatdowns”. That isn’t in itself a crime, but maybe it changes the situation slightly: perhaps it was two bullies confronting each other, one with a gun. The other thing the defense brought out was that when Zimmerman called 911 he was told not to follow Martin, but then asked where he went. That’s confusing (at least that’s what the defense contended), and in addition the 911 operator apparently was not a member of the police. That means Zimmerman didn’t have to obey any orders the 911 person gave him.
I’m inclined to believe that race was a big part of this story. Martin did injure Zimmerman, but as far as we know he hadn’t done anything illegal up to that time, and I’m inclined to think that MARTIN was the one who acted in self-defense, though I can never know that for sure. Would Zimmerman have left his car if he hadn’t been carrying a gun? I doubt it. To me, the most likely scenario is that Zimmerman started a fight he knew he could win because of his gun, but I can never be certain of that either.
Zimmerman’s brother was interviewed on NPR, and said that his brother was receiving a lot of death threats from people who apparently want to take the law into their own hands. Another article stressed the irony of that: by killing a black person, Zimmerman will now be experiencing what lots of dark-skinned people do: he’ll be constantly looking over his shoulder. I doubt that’s what he expected.
Another black writer in The Sun Magazine wrote about his experience of being stopped by the police. He said that he’s always afraid when that happens, because he knows what can happen. Dark-skinned people can be treated arbitrarily without any consequence to their abusers. He then told how he set up a beehive, and went to extract honey from it. The bees surrounded him, and he grew afraid they’d attack him. He knew that they could sense his fear, and had a sudden desire to soak the hive with gasoline and set it on fire.
But the bees didn’t attack. If they sensed his fear, they were willing to allow him to remove the honey anyway without doing anything to him.
Race is one of the issues that seems to bring the worst out in people, because people fear. Sometimes the fear may be justified. Often it is not. Trayvon Martin was seen by a good many people as a thug, simply because he was young, black, and wore a hoodie (as, fairly famously, does Bill Belichek, the white coach of the New England Patriots). He fit a stereotype, and probably a lot of people were unwilling to look further than that. We don’t know if that’s what George Zimmerman saw in him, but I suspect it was.
If that’s what it was, then dehumanization won again. When we refuse to see others as human beings, we can be persuaded to do horrible things. That, I think, is what happened that night. Whether or not George Zimmerman intended to kill Trayvon Martin, he always knew he had that option because he carried a gun.
Did Trayvon Martin intend to beat up George Zimmerman because he hated white people? Possibly, but we’ll never know for sure. I think it’s more likely that he felt he was being attacked (whether that was objectively true or not), and responded by trying to defend himself. But he can no longer tell us what he was feeling, and it seems unlikely that George Zimmerman ever will, especially if he’s ashamed of what he felt.
So a pattern with a long history played out again. Probably some people will applaud that. I can’t.