Wednesday, May 2, 2012

My take on the shooting of Trayvon Martin

 There's an aspect of the Trayvon Martin shooting I have not seen discussed much. It's probably due to the limited circle that I read. Most people seem eager to justify Zimmerman's actions, such as The Wagist. He has a theory that Martin actually initiated a first confrontation with Zimmerman, and then attacked Zimmerman when Zimmerman initiated the second. Even if you grant all this, and everything else he proposes, giving Zimmerman every reasonable consideration that is available, it does not change that Zimmerman is a murderer, at least ethically and morally (legally, I'll leave up to the justice system). I'll discuss more below the fold.

First, though, let's be clear: to the degree that race exists at all, Zimmerman is white. Any of his features will be found in people of European ancestry. Hispanic is a cultural background, not a race. He looks white, and gets treated as if he is white by strangers. He’s white in every effective way.

So, Martin was a young black man in an unfamiliar neighborhood in the South being followed by a white man. Martin was alone and unarmed; for all he knew there may have been many people in the car. The first thing that would have come to my mind was being killed (maybe lynched, maybe dragged behind the car, maybe just being beaten). It's not a huge likelihood, but it's a notion you can't get out of your head, either. Martin visibly reacts to the potential threat by pulling up his hood and walking faster. This reaction is visible to Zimmerman.

At this point, Zimmerman knows that Martin is aware of being followed. Zimmerman has deterred the potential (in Zimmerman's eyes) crime, just by making the potential (in Zimmerman's eyes) criminal aware there is a someone watching. Further, a burglar had just been arrested, lowering the chance of Martin being a burglar. Zimmerman has done his duty in the neighborhood watch; there is no reason for him to keep following Martin. Yet, he does keep following Martin.

According to the theory at The Wagist, at some point Martin knocks on the window of Zimmerman’s car and asks Zimmerman why Zimmerman is following Martin. At this point, Zimmerman could say he’s keeping watch, and has called the police. Instead, Zimmerman lies about following Martin. As Martin walks off, Zimmerman then has the choice to stop following Martin at this point. Instead, he follows Martin again. So, if this theory is true, Martin is now being followed by a strange man who has lied to Martin about following Martin. That raises the danger level even more in Martin’s eyes.

Whether the theory is accurate or not, Martin starts running. So, now Zimmerman has actually chased off the (to Zimmerman) potential burglar. Even though he has not seen a crime, he has scared the kid/young man away. In terms of protecting the neighborhood, there is nothing to be gained from further pursuit, because Zimmerman hasn’t seen anything illegal. He’s only seen a kid/young man walking along, and maybe had a short conversation where Zimmerman lied about what he was doing. When you run someone off, you don’t pursue them if you are just trying to protect your turf. You pursue them if you are looking to confront them (at least, where I grew up). Zimmerman pursues. Even if Zimmerman is not intending to confront Martin, Zimmerman is creating a situation where it looks like Zimmerman’s intention is to confront Martin.

Martin has now done everything that can be expected of him to avoid a confrontation. He walked faster, possibly confronted Zimmerman for an explanation, and then ran off. Zimmerman has pursued Martin throughout, never identifying himself as part of the neighborhood watch or anything other than a white man following a black man in the South. So, when Martin sees Zimmerman again, after running off, he has two choices: lead this stranger to his father’s house (assuming he hasn’t got confused in the dark, unfamiliar neighborhood and even knows where it is in his excited state), or confront him directly. We know from the girlfriend’s testimony that Martin yells at Zimmerman a request for why Zimmerman is following him (possibly for the second time). Zimmerman refuses to answer the question (possibly for the second time), and instead demands that Martin has to explain his presence. Maybe Zimmerman didn’t intend that to be a threat, but I would have heard a threat behind it (black men considered to be in places they don’t belong are regularly reminded of such with beatings, and worse). Martin quite possibly responds to the perceived threat by attacking Zimmerman. A fight ensues; the gun Zimmerman brought to the confrontation Zimmerman initiated goes off; Martin is dead.

Of course, if someone feels I’ve overlooked something that would cast things more favorably on Zimmerman, feel free to let me know, and I will amend this post if it is reasonable. However, this description is as much in Zimmerman’s favor as I can reasonably skew this. The end result is that Zimmerman brought the gun and initiated the confrontation; he’s ethically responsible for Martin’s death. Zimmerman hid what he was doing at least once; he’s morally responsible for Martin’s death. As I said, I’ll leave legally for the upcoming trial.

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