Trayvon Martin is dead and George Zimmerman has been found not guilty of a felony. Many people are blaming racism, and there is little doubt that George Zimmerman targeted Trayvon because he was a young black male, but other factors are involved in why Martin died. We have a culture that now encourages people to carry guns for personal protection. One would be only slightly off to refer to the Republican platform as guns and Jesus. We also have old fashioned male bravado. Racism existed for both parties, Zimmerman was a racist, but so was Trayvon. If one can belief testimony in court, Trayvon Martin referred to Zimmerman as a ‘creepy-ass cracker’.
I’ve been a young man who looked suspicious when out at night. When I worked for the US Census Bureau over 30 years ago as a field interviewer, I worked mostly in the evenings. I ran into civilian patrols (never in truly dangerous neighborhoods by the way). People reported my presence to the police (even though my car had a US Census Bureau card prominently in the window). In almost all cases the police were professional and many times they were quite pleasant to talk too, it probably helped when I showed my Id badge. When I was young I used to take long walks at night and sometimes long runs. I’ve had the police stop me and ask me why I was running (was that a trick question?). I don’t know what I would have done if I encountered someone who kept following me. In the 1970s and early 1980s there were almost no cell phones but today a person being followed can easily call 911. When I was young I know that I tried to avoid confrontations. If Trayvon really felt he was being followed by a creepy person, why didn’t he call the police? That is not meant to excuse George Zimmerman, but as a risk averse person, I am always looking for a way out.
The reason why Martin is dead is that people carry guns and feel free to use them with impunity. If you are on a neighborhood watch you should watch and not act. Call the police if you see something suspicious. Don’t get out of your car. Zimmerman wanted to be a hero instead of letting the police investigate. If Zimmerman didn’t have a gun, and citizen patrols in NJ during the 1970’s would not have had guns, there would have been no shooting. Too bad this was Florida with its stand your ground laws. Stand your ground laws are an invitation to violence. If Zimmerman was required to leave the scene there would have been no shooting.
This isn’t just a racial thing. In Minnesota where I live there was an incident last year involving a man shooting at an intruder. In Rochester Minnesota a man ended up shooting his granddaughter. She snuck out of the house to see friends and tried to sneak back in. Luckily nobody was killed. The grandfather is a pastor of a church. He should have the age and experience to understand the implications of shooting a gun without knowing what your target is. A noise isn’t always a threat and not all threats should be addressed with lethal force.
In the US we would be appalled if the police routinely shot criminals in the street without trial. We don’t live in a war zone. The right to self-defense is not a license to kill. George Zimmerman is only not guilty because Florida has created a set of laws that are designed to allow middle class gun owners to shoot without question.