Stalking Self-Defense

Trayvon Martin

February 26, 2012, Trayvon Martin, 17 years old, was shot in a Florida suburb by an armed man who had exited his vehicle in order to follow the teen and confront him on the street. George Zimmerman was 28, described in the media as multiracial because his mother is Hispanic. Trayvon Martin was African-American. His race, and the presumptions Zimmerman made based upon it and that we, the audience of Zimmerman's trial and the media blitz that followed Martin's death, also make have been central to the public discussion of this event both before and after Zimmerman's trial began.

I live in Texas, a state that is, in my opinion, over-fond of its guns. However, I have friends who are so anti-gun that they would have them all destroyed and the public unarmed. Living in Texas, I think it is impractical to advocate the removal of guns from the hands of citizens, even if you think that is a good idea that would make for a safer society. My more numerous friends who own guns, and are responsible owners of those weapons, would not give them up easily, and the attempt to strip them of their Second Amendment rights would radicalize them in ways I do not think would benefit either the gun advocates or their opponents. Weapons are linked to freedom in their conception of this country. My discomfort with guns is a product of my upbringing. My father was frightened of them, and my mother was uncomfortable with them. We did not have them in my home, and I have never felt the need for one. I do not own one, but I do not think take this as a moral position making me better than my neighbors. It is one of those distinctions without difference that produce different households able to communicate with one another in a community.

I am in a strange position regarding the Trayvon Martin case. I would not have all guns removed from the hands of citizens, but I think that what George Zimmerman did was not self-defense, but murder. I think this is true even if Trayvon Martin tried to fight him, smoked marijuana, or had fights at school. I think this is true even if Martin described the man following him as a "cracker". The use of a word with negative connotations, under the circumstances, was understandable, and does not contribute a meaningful element to the sequence of events that ended in the death of an unarmed young man.

The meaningful sequence of events creating the context of the crime can be noted without a discussion of race, and the nature of the crime becomes evident if we remove that element.

1. George Zimmerman observed a young man walking in the neighborhood.

2. George Zimmerman decided the young man appeared suspicious, and informed the authorities of the young man's presence from his vehicle.

3. George Zimmerman, armed with a gun, exited his vehicle to follow and confront the young man.

4. George Zimmerman was not known to the young man, nor did he know the young man he was following. He did not know if the young man got in fights at school, smoked marijuana, ditched classes, or had any criminal background at all.

5. Trayvon Martin did not know George Zimmerman. He knew only that an adult male was following him, and that he found this person to be threatening and believed him to be seeking a confrontation.

6. A confrontation between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin occurred. Did Trayvon fight the man who was stalking him, or did Zimmerman attack Martin first? We do not know for certain, and I do not think it matters. If Trayvon attacked Zimmerman, he was responding to the threat this stranger pursuing him offered.

7. When the confrontation between Zimmerman and Martin occurred, Zimmerman was not acting as a man defending himself. He was pursuing a stranger. He was seeking a conflict. He was behaving as an aggressive individual, and he was an aggressor with a gun.

The question before us is whether self-defense allows a man, or woman, to pursue a person they think suspicious, when that person is engaged in no obviously criminal activity--neither brandishing a weapon nor breaking into a home, neither attacking someone on the street nor entering a vehicle known to belong to someone else--in order to create a confrontation. Does such aggression remain under the umbrella of self-defense, or is it something different? I think it is something different, and self-defense does not protect the pursuer who creates the confrontation.

There were, I am sure, events, judgments, and biases that Zimmerman thought explained and justified his action. Perhaps he was frightened. Perhaps he thought of himself as the savior of his community and neighborhood, protecting it from criminal elements that in his mind looked a lot like Trayvon Martin. However, the ownership and use of a gun is a serious thing. Killing someone is not automatically excused by fear, or by a desire to protect the community from those who do not look as if they belong. The consequences of misusing a weapon, of exercising improper judgment, must also be serious. George Zimmerman did not want to be a criminal. He did not pursue criminality as a career or an entertainment. However, he is still a criminal, and his good intentions, clouded as they were by racism and inappropriate leaps of faith, do not exonerate him.

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Comments 17 comments

Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 3 years ago

Good analysis. I'm betting on Zimmerman's conviction for a lesser offense than 2nd degree murder. Based on his public statements (Fox News interview) he's not the brightest bulb on the tree., and he has what I call a "cop attitude."


Ed Michaels profile image

Ed Michaels 3 years ago from Texas, USA Author

I have found the case to be very disturbing, both in that it happened and in the public reaction to it. I have met people who accept the self-defense argument based solely on the fact that Trayvon Martin was a young black man--based on the assumptions that Zimmerman himself made. These people do make walking while black a crime to which the appropriate response is murder. That is difficult for me to comprehend.

However, I find some hope for our country in that this case has gone forward to trial at all. Not so long ago, in terms of historical time and generational changes, such a killing in Florida would not have been investigated thoroughly, and certainly no charges would have been brought.

America was once called the great experiment. It is not a finished product, and we continue to struggle with questions of justice, responsibility, freedom and identity. So long as these struggles are conducted openly and honestly, I remain a believer in the promise of America, working to make that promise real and present in the world we live in today.


Jack Burton profile image

Jack Burton 3 years ago from The Midwest

Too bad you got most of your supposed events factually wrong. One would think that having had all the evidence presented at the trial you could have made at least some minimal effort to be correct.

After having lived and responded for 60 years to people such as Ed I begin to understand just how the Flat Earth Society has survived so long.


Truth 3 years ago

Even if Zimmerman followed Trayvon, he's a neighborhood watch member. Isn't that what they do? Is there a law against following?

I find it interesting that you said "If Trayvon attacked Zimmerman, he was responding to the threat this stranger pursuing him offered." What threat did Zimmerman pose? The prosecution hasn't been able to provide evidence of Zimmerman being a threat. If Trayvon thought Zimmerman was a threat, why didn't he call the police or tell his friend who he was talking to on the cell phone to call the police? Yet, you think it was appropriate for Trayvon to attack Zimmerman when Zimmerman hasn't even laid a hand oh him?

And if you recall his friend Jeantel, she heard someone ask why are you following me? We can assume that would be Trayvon, because that is what it makes sense. It seems that Trayvon started the confrontation. So he escalated the situation. That wasn't smart and it was what got him killed. Does he deserved to be killed? Of course not, but Trayvon himself started a chain reaction which resulted in his own demise.


Ralph 3 years ago

If I lived in the Retreat at Twin Lakes I would probably be patrolling my yard at night. The amount of crime described there is absolutely ridiculous. The young woman (that Bernie attacked on cross exam) who was the victim of the home invasion got the hell out of that neighborhood because of it.

The Trayvonites want to paint Zimmerman as a vigilante. That's ridiculous. Law abiding people not challenging criminals is a major problem in our society and one of the reasons for the high crime rate. The police are not going to be there to protect you from criminals!

I'm also tired of Hubs like this describing the media inspired version of events that is not backed by ANY evidence.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 3 years ago

"Law abiding people not challenging criminals is a major problem in our society and one of the reasons for the high crime rate."

Are you suggesting Travon Martin was a criminal? Challenging is one thing, shooting is another. Zimmerman is a mental defective who should not have been allowed to own a gun. He proved that in his interview on Fox when he replied "No" when asked if he would do anything different if he could do it over again or if he regretted his actions (or words to that effect)..


Ed Michaels profile image

Ed Michaels 3 years ago from Texas, USA Author

Zimmerman had done his duty as a neighborhood watch member by reporting Trayvon's presence to the authorities. Watching him from his vehicle was also completely within the logical boundaries of what a citizen acting as surveillance in their community would do.

As for the facts: a boy walking is confronted by an adult armed with a gun who thinks he should not be walking where he is. I don't think it is reaching to say that Zimmerman sought a confrontation. The motives that led him to do so are less clear, as are the results of that confrontation he envisioned. I find it interesting that in Zimmerman's defense we assume that Martin was (a) a criminal, and (b) in the process of committing a crime. Or do we assume that we can, or should, confront those we think might be criminals, and shoot them, with the suspect's death an acceptable, although unfortunate, outcome of such a confrontation, so long as we meant well, or were frightened?


Jack Burton profile image

Jack Burton 3 years ago from The Midwest

again, eds response has nothing to do with the actual facts of what happened that night. thats why it is so hard to discuss this case . you have people who just wont confront the evidence but base their whole argument on emotions brougt about by a lack of knowledge. it makes it impossiblee to dialogue with them.


Ralph 3 years ago

@Mr. Deeds

"Are you suggesting Travon Martin was a criminal?"

Very possibly. He already had a history of drugs and violence in his short life. He also was found in possession of items that suggested burglary.

"Challenging is one thing, shooting is another."

Well, no shit?

"Zimmerman is a mental defective who should not have been allowed to own a gun. He proved that in his interview on Fox when he replied "No" when asked if he would do anything different if he could do it over again or if he regretted his actions (or words to that effect)."

That was also played that in court today. Seemed like a lose for the prosecution. If he had said that he had regrets, he would probably be going to jail for manslaughter. This trial is a joke.


Ralph 3 years ago

@ed

Posting the picture of Martin when he was 12 says all we need to know about your view of the trial.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 3 years ago

""Are you suggesting Travon Martin was a criminal?"

Very possibly. He already had a history of drugs and violence in his short life. He also was found in possession of items that suggested burglary."

Everything I've read suggests that Martin was merely on his way back from the convenience store. I haven't seen anything suggesting burglary. Can you document that claim?


Sonny Lento profile image

Sonny Lento 3 years ago from Earth

I lived in FL for some time and as I understood the castle doctrine, you have the right to get a weapon and use it in self defense on your property. If you are a licensed concealed carry you may use your weapon to defend yourself away from the house. These bits are not disputable. The bit that matters is the whole self defense part. You cannot initiate confrontation, nor can you give pursuit once the threat lessens. In other words, if Martin called him every name in the book, had burglary tools in his pants, smoked all the weed in FL, and even peed on his shoes, once Martin walks off, Zimmerman cannot pursue, and fire that weapon.

Ed, you live down in TX, so you should know that even down there, if you pull your sidearm, and the other guy tries to run off, you can't shoot him. Not legally.


Jack Burton profile image

Jack Burton 3 years ago from The Midwest

Fortunately for Z he did not pursue and fire his weapon.

And legitimate self defense has nothing to do with if you are a licensed CCW holder or not. It is the inherent right of every person to defend themselves against harm. If a non-CCW holder uses a firearm to legitimately defend himself in public he may or may not be charged with having a gun illegally but he will not be charged with using the firearm to hurt someone.

And the right to defend your home existed before the castle doctrine. The only thing the CD did was to give the state the requirement to prove that the homeowner was not acting properly. The burden of proof is on the state... and not the homeowner to prove that he did act properly.

The right remained the same... the burden of proof was shifted. That's it.


Ed Michaels profile image

Ed Michaels 3 years ago from Texas, USA Author

I am willing to hear evidence that Zimmerman knew that Martin was committing a criminal act. One problem we have here, as I see it, is that we are taking information that we know, or think we know, now--Martin's history at school and with authorities--and projecting that knowledge back in time to the moment of the conflict, as if Zimmerman also knew it. Both parties were acting in ignorance--Martin did not know Zimmerman was a member of Neighborhood Watch, and Zimmerman did not know anything about Martin. The conflict occurred between two young men at night, and one of them ended up dead.

The application of castle doctrine to embrace home and property in a way that makes presence in a neighborhood in which one has property sufficient to trigger in and of itself justification for a self-defense shooting seems rather too expansive.

How are we defining "pursuit" in order to say that Zimmerman was not pursuing Martin? Curious.


Jack Burton profile image

Jack Burton 3 years ago from The Midwest

Whether Z knew or didn't know whether or not martin was or was not committing a crime, thinking about a crime, or just committed a crime has nothing to do with the case.

And your "application" of the castle doctrine is totally bogus and you knew that before you typed the words on the screen. Martin was not shot because he was a "presence in a neighborhood." He was shot because he was on top of a person pounding his head into the concrete and hitting him MAA style as all the witnesses testified.

And sorry... the burden is on YOU to show that Z was "pursuing" Martin. It is not on anyone else to show that he wasn't. That's the way the law works.


Ralph 3 years ago

@ Jack

Agreed, perhaps I should have said communities need to keep an eye out for people they suspect might be criminals. Whether Martin was committing a crime the night of the shooting is irrelevant.

@Mr. Deeds

You asked if thought Trayvon was a criminal. My answer was "very possibly" due to his prior behavior. Here is why:

"We now know that Trayvon Martin was suspended from school THREE times in this school year. We do not know the details of the first suspension, rumored Tardiness. But Trayvon Martin was suspended the second time from school in October 2011 for an incident in which he was found in possession of stolen women’s jewelry and a screwdriver that a school security staffer described as a “burglary tool,” The Miami Herald has learned."

"According to the report, on Oct. 21 staffers monitoring a security camera at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School spotted Trayvon and two other students writing “W.T.F.,” an acronym for “What the f—,” on a hallway locker, according to schools police. The security employee, who knew Trayvon, confronted the teen and looked through his bag for the graffiti marker.

Trayvon’s backpack contained 12 pieces of jewelry, in addition to a watch and a large flathead screwdriver, according to the report, which described the screwdriver as a burglary tool.

“Martin was suspended, warned and dismissed for the graffiti,” according to the report prepared by Miami-Dade Schools Police.

Then in February 2012 that second suspension was followed four months later by another one, in which Trayvon was caught with an empty plastic bag with traces of marijuana in it AND a pipe. A schools police report obtained by The Miami Herald specifies two items: a bag with marijuana residue and a “marijuana pipe.” Trayvon was again suspended. This time for ten days."

"Trayvon left a trail of communication from his twitter account that is retrievable via Google cache. His screen name was “NO_LIMIT_NIGGA” and his words speak for themselves. You can read 152 pages of his twitter communication at DAILY CALLER."

Personally, I think Martin was a thug. It wasn't necessary for him to be committing a crime the night Zimmerman shot him prior to the attack, but it does show his character.


Jack Burton profile image

Jack Burton 3 years ago from The Midwest

Not to mention the numerous text messages he sent asking if anyone had a gun he could buy, and offering to sell a .22 caliber gun himself.

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