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Trayvon Martin: danger in the hood.
Danger in the Hood
You’ve probably heard about Trayvon Martin, the young man who died as a result of a gunshot wound after an armed volunteer member of the neighborhood watch followed him because he thought that he was acting suspiciously.
I heard something about it on the news.
The question of whether his death was lawful seems to revolve around Florida’s “stand your ground law,” which states, in part:
…a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if [the person]:
--reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony; or
--is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
The justification … is not available to a person who: ....
…Initially provokes the use of force against himself or herself, unless:
(a) Such force is so great that the person reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he or she has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant; or
(b) In good faith, the person withdraws from physical contact with the assailant and indicates clearly to the assailant that he or she desires to withdraw and terminate the use of force, but the assailant continues or resumes the use of force.
Florida is one of about two dozen states with similar laws.
Legal verbiage (and I pedantically request that readers note that there is an “I” in verbiage, a three- not two-syllable word) aside, the law essentially says that anyone who is not doing something illegal has the right to protect himself (and again, sexist arguments aside, “himself” includes male and female as much as “mankind or manhole,” it also has the added panache of being more elegant than the clumsy him- or herself or himself or herself”
Now comes additional “evidence” (in quotes here because it is marvelously irrelevant to the teenager’s death) that he had been suspended from school when a search revealed residue (sound like a few stems and seeds) of marijuana in a plastic bag at the bottom of his book bag. There are also reports that he had stolen jewelry and a robbery tool (which, at the risk of sounding defensive, could be anything from a screwdriver to a crowbar, although I doubt that he had the latter in his book bag).He also reportedly has been suspended for tardiness and truancy.
Okay, I will magnanimously concede that Trayvon Martin was not an angel. Neither am I. Neither is anyone in my family. Nor are any of my friends. I would not want every skeleton in my closet dragged out for public scrutiny, and in all modesty, I believe myself to be a good and decent man who tries always to do what is right.
But I have skeletons and they humble and mortify me.
On the other hand, George Zimmerman, who has, according to reports, admitted shooting Trayvon Marin, was charged with assaulting a police officer in 2005. He is a police officer wannabe and self-appointed neighborhood watchman.
But enough about history before the night in question, when Mr. Zimmerman reported that he saw a person in a hoody who appeared to be acting what Mr. Zimmerman considered a manner that was suspicious. Much has been made of the hoody. I confess to a certain—prejudice, if you will—against people who wear hoodies up in public on a warm evening. I see them on the subway and wonder why the wearer wants to hid himself in shadow. Often they are black, but I feel no differently about whites or Latinos wearing them. It is not racial; I find the shadowy nature of wearing hoodies up indoors on a warm night unsettling. Now ask me whether I would follow the hoody wearer off the subway and into the streets.
A Moroccan Hoody (well, djellaba)
Many years ago, I was alone in an unfamiliar town. As I walked through the night streets to familiarize myself with it, I became aware of a person who remained behind me on the fairly deserted streets. Block after block, turn after turn, he remained behind me.
He was dressed in a style that might be called preppy, and although he narrowed the gap and accosted me in what could only be described in a friendly manner—was I new in town? Was I looking for anything in particular?—he made me anxious. I was a single white male, late teens, decently dressed, walking alone. From all external appearances, we could have been fraternity brothers.
That was a long time ago, and a time when stranger-danger was still whispered in polite society, but I remember my –fear.
And it begs the questions of why the “stand your ground” law does not apply to Trayvon Martin.
A young black man—actually, I am not convinced that race was not the primary factor. I believe that the raised hoody, even though it was a rainy night and the rain, it who finds that he is being followed on similarly deserted streets, albeit in a gated community.
More to the point, listening to the recording of George Zimmerman’s call to the police while he stalked Trayvon Martin despite police instructions to the contrary, we hear a man whose arrogance and smug righteousness allow him to use a vulgar term to describe the ones who “get away,” although it is not clear whether he means young men, black men, hoodied men, or anyone who intrudes on his gated community without his approval or permission.
Now there are reports that Trayvon Martin fought him for the gun he said that he had not shown, raising a raft of additional questions about how Young Mr. Martin knew that he was carrying one.
Mr. Zimmerman claims that he was returning to his SUV when Mr. Martin, he claimed, assaulted him. It sounds to me as if Mr. Martin, if anything, was standing his ground, not about to be intimidated by someone stalking him when he went out for candy and a soda. If, indeed, Trayvon Martin assaulted his stalker, I suggest that he most likely would have done so out of fear for his life at being followed in the dark by a man who was mumbling into his mobile phone. If he knew there was a phone and he wasn’t merely being followed by a man mumbling to himself.
We can make this about Trayvon Martin’s life and the inherent questions I n leaks about his petty transgressions whether he deserved to live or die at the hands of a vigilante who wanted to carry a gun and—I suggest-throw his weight around.
It sounds to my untrained ear that Mr. Zimmerman’s self-appointment to the neighborhood watch was his struggle to enhance his stature and importance—or maybe to prove that he was worthy of being a duly sworn officer of the law.
His friend and legal representative cum apologist, Craig Sonner, claims that Mr. Martin is suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome and sleeplessness since killing the unarmed teenager he had stalked.
From Trayvon Martin’s point of view, that is probably getting off lightly in comparison to his own punishment for going quietly about his business.
It is interesting, to me at least, to see that Mr. Sonner left the studio immediately before a scheduled interview with Lawrence O’Donnell. Mr. O’Donnell discusses Mr. Sonner’s odd decision to beat feet in the video to which I have linked here.
Lawrence O'Donnell not interviewing Craig Sonner
Non-silence of the lamb
We will not hear the end of this tragedy—and that is a word that is terribly overused, but in this case I think fits—for a very long time.
But no matter how much at fault we might suspect Mr. Martin of being, the bottom line is that none of it would have happened if Mr. Zimmerman had not continued to stalk him—even after the police said that he should not do so, that they would handle.
And now he has trouble sleeping, poor lamb.
April 11, 2012--Special Prosecutor Angela Corey announced today that her office has charged George Zimmerman with second degree murder. Mr. Zimmerman has surrended to authorities and is in custody.
Whether or not Mr. Zimmerman is convicted, his trial, which will replace suspicion and conjecture with a close examination of facts and minute details. The trial per se, I submit, is good for Trayvon Martin's family, the country, and Mr. Zimmerman and his family.
Update #2, April 2012
George Zimmerman has been arrested, charged and released on bail. While many remain upset that he is free, my sense is that the system is working because he will answer for his actions at trial and a jury with all of the available facts will be able to decide hs guilt or innocence. This is as the system should be.
Now let it work.
Update June 1, 2012
- George Zimmerman's Bond Revoked In Trayvon Martin Case
A Florida judge on Friday afternoon revoked bond for George Zimmerman, the man charged with second-degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin, and ordered that he turn himself in within 48 hours. Prosecutors had asked Seminole County Circuit Judge