Last week, the evolving case of the killing of Trayvon Martin, a teenager, by George Zimmerman reached a fever pitch. Outrage on the part of pro- Martin groups swirled in a mix of frustration, anger, and sadness over law enforcement’s decision not to bring Zimmerman to trial. Protests in Orlando and other cities and towns around the country proclaimed one thing: justice for Trayvon Martin. We know by now, based on facts shared by law enforcement, that there is enough evidence for Zimmerman to be charged with a crime.
Celebrities, religious leaders, and even the President have weighed in on the tragedy with mixed results. An example of this fever pitch outrage manifested in director Spike Lee retweeting on his Twitter account a false address of the Zimmerman family. It turns out that the addressed shared was not a family related to Martin’s shooter, but another family with the same name. Death threats and intimation tactics were employed by individuals against the family, which resulted in Spike Lee apologizing and settling with the family.
I have waited to weigh in on Trayvon Martin because of the tenor of the tragedy. There is, and rightfully so to some degree, a great deal of sensitivity surround this case. I’ve waited as long as I could for officials to release more evidence. I didn’t want to blog on hearsay or speculation. Let me be clear here: It’s obvious that justice is needed for Trayvon Martin and his family, which calls for a trial. However, there are deeper issues present than just a teenager being shot and his shooter not charged.
Here are four troubling facts in the Trayvon Martin case:
Florida’s ‘stand your ground’ law and relation to homicides. This law allows people who believe they’re in danger to respond with deadly force. More specially, the law allows:
residents and visitors may legally presume the threat of bodily harm or death from anyone who breaks into a residence or occupied vehicle and may use defensive force, including deadly force, against the intruder.
It’s concerning that with this law, since introduced in 2005, homicides have risen in Florida. Let’s just say that Zimmerman was threaten by Martin. Zimmerman was not justified in shooting Martin because Martin was not an intruder. In addition, the law states that a person may act in self-defense against someone who “doesn’t have a right” to be at specific location (e.g. trespassing on another’s property) but Martin wasn’t trespassing on Zimmerman’s property. Finally, the courts have established the concept of “justifiable force”. That is, in essence, you can’t use deadly force on someone who doesn’t have the ability to carry out deadly force. Martin had no weapons on him.
Rush to judgement: too many claim to “know” what happened. The fact is, only two people witnessed what happened and unfortunately one of them is dead. A number of people heard screams, a gunshot(s), and a scuffle. A number of bloggers and talking heads have claimed that they “know” Zimmerman is guilty or that Zimmerman is innocent. How can anyone “know” that? It’s troubling that people have been speaking on this situation, for and against Zimmerman, without enough evidence. A trial is needed. Facts need to be introduced in a court of law and not in the court of public opinion. All we have now is information released by the police. We need more information.
People are allowed to carry a concealed weapon with little need. I know I’m going to draw fire for this one, so I rephrase it in a form of a question: Why are people allowed to carry a concealed weapon with little need? Yes, the Constitution allows people to bear arms (in a well-regulated militia), but why did Zimmerman need a concealed weapon permit? He has the right to have a gun, but the facts surrounding lax gun laws and murder are connected. States with liberal gun laws also have the highest rate of murder. While million of Americans are protecting themselves, tens of thousands are dying because of the lack of sensible gun laws. Even though the US rate of homicides is declining, the “Stand your Ground” states are seeing a rise in self-defense homicides. I’m not suggesting that we need to take people’s rights away, but sensible leadership is needed on this issue.
Racism, redefined, is on both sides and we don’t know how to talk about it. This is the elephant in the room. At first, news organizations reported that Zimmerman is “white”. Then, this was seen as a white on black crime. We learned later that Zimmerman’s mother is of Latin descent and his father is white. There have been mischaracterizations and smears against Martin and Zimmerman – mainly due to race. As others have cited, we must accept that racism, whether perceived or not, is still at work in our culture. Clarence Page from the South Florida Sun Sentinel said it well when he asked:
How do you define “racist?” To some people, you have to be a cross-burning, hood-wearing Klansman to qualify. To others, any attempt to inject racial concerns into the public square is evidence of racism, judging by some of the mail I receive. Conservatives in particular complain that they can’t be candid about race with blacks or our white liberal allies without being guilt-tripped or accused of racism. I respect their complaint. We’ve all been invited to a “conversation” that turned into a one-way lecture. To avoid the guilt game, both sides have to relinquish some of their innocence. That’s not easy, especially when each side sees injustice in the other.
These facts are running through this tragedy and civil and political leaders need to respond. I pray that we can continue addressing these concerns and not let emotions get the best of us or let our “rights” supersede justice.