Generally speaking, going out for a bag of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea isn’t a particularly dangerous move. Except Trayvon Martin didn’t make it home. George Zimmerman shot and killed Martin last month, claiming self-defense.
Now I wasn’t there, and I’m not Zimmerman, so I’m not going to pretend to know if this was racially motivated, although my gut says no. I’m also not going to pretend to know if Zimmerman was actually acting in self-defense, although the evidence seems to indicate he wasn’t.
For Martin and Zimmerman, I’m willing to wait for the justice system to sort out what happened. Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law is going make it easier for Zimmerman, but the 911 call indicating he pursued Martin is likely going to cause him problems.
Zimmerman isn’t a threat to anyone else for the time being, and you can’t bring Martin back to life by locking Zimmerman up immediately. For this specific case, take a deep breath and see what happens.
Yet there is a much more pressing matter that this case brings to mind. Why on Earth was Zimmerman sitting in his car, with a gun, watching Martin? Why did he chase after him when the dispatcher on the 911 call told him, “We don’t need you to do that.”
Zimmerman is part of a group of people who increasingly believe they must take the law into their own hands. That’s a big problem.
He was part of a neighborhood watch group, but the watch group in my neighborhood never went on a shooting spree. The role of those groups is to keep an eye out and alert the authorities when something is amiss.
So if we accept Zimmerman’s claim “there was something wrong” with Martin, then we accept he should have called the police. He did.
But then, when the police said they were sending a squad car, Zimmerman pursued Martin despite clear instructions not to. Nothing suggests anyone was in immediate danger because of Martin’s behavior.
If Martin was chasing a third party, Zimmerman’s actions might have been justified. But he was simply “acting weird.”
My assessment is George Zimmerman thought he was cracking down on crime and disorder in his neighborhood. He saw someone who looked suspicious and he went after him.
I don’t think Zimmerman was being racist, as many have said, I think he was paranoid. I’ve seen plenty of young men who look suspicious and plenty who don’t. It’s entirely plausible that Martin actually did look suspicious.
So giving Zimmerman the benefit of every doubt, he saw a young man acting strangely, but not actually breaking a law. He might have been poised to do so, but at no point did Zimmerman actually tell the dispatcher Martin was doing anything illegal. A police officer was coming.
Yet Zimmerman chased Martin, some sort of altercation occurred and now Martin is dead.
Even under the most libertarian view of government, the state is responsible for maintaining law and order. George Zimmerman is a private citizen. It is not his job to enforce the law.
Zimmerman’s view of his role in society as a vigilante is frightening. You can’t just buy a gun and
walk around making sure no one steps out of line. We have a police force and a legal system to do that.
Zimmerman probably fancied himself a local hero, but really, he is a menace.
Even if Zimmerman had been acting in self-defense, he shouldn’t have been anywhere near Martin in the first place. Private citizens have a right to defend themselves, but they don’t have a right to police society.
I don’t think this is about race. This is about people continuing to misunderstand their role in society. You don’t get to institute your own brand of Batman-style justice on your community just because you think it’s necessary.
If George Zimmerman had learned that lesson, Trayvon Martin might have made it home to enjoy his Skittles.