Friday, July 19, 2013

Deadly, tragic and unnecessary

    Dispatcher: Are you following him (Trayvon Martin)?
    George Zimmerman: Yeah
    Dispatcher: OK, we don’t need you to do that.

   It’s best to avoid deadly encounters, but on Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford, Fla., George Zimmerman shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
    It was tragic, deadly, and unnecessary.
    The unarmed African American Martin had a confrontation with gun-carrying 30-year-old Zimmerman. Even following the trial, no one really knows what happened. We don’t know who said and did what to whom. What we do know is that against the strong advice of a 911 operator, Zimmerman got out of the car, came into contact with Martin, who ended up dead, shot with Zimmerman’s weapon.
    This week, six members of a jury, after a short deliberation, found Zimmerman innocent of murder, innocent of manslaughter and not guilty of anything.
    Zimmerman has the right to protect and defend his home and his family. But he was not defending his home or his family when the situation went from bad to very bad. However, under current Florida law, Zimmerman had the right to stand his ground.
    Yet, it is not self-defense when someone intentionally increases the level of confrontation. There is neither evidence nor a claim that Martin was armed and dangerous. The two people may have been suspicious of each other, but lots of encounters take place each day by people who are suspicious of one another. But suspicious or not, Zimmerman did not need to get out of his car.
    Martin was both black and wore a hoodie and apparently appeared to be one of those who, Zimmerman muttered to the emergency dispatchers, always get away. Zimmerman was both suspicious and armed. He could have followed Martin and kept his distance until the police arrived. He could have pointed Martin out to police, who are trained to assess potentially dangerous situations, and in how to approach and deal with people in precarious situations. He could have done nothing and just gone home.
    All of those alternatives would have turned out better. Martin is dead and racial attitudes are worse and Zimmerman will live under suspicion for the rest of his life—all because he couldn’t stop himself from forcing an encounter by getting out of the car.
    This tragedy is one of mythic proportions and is rightly raising questions about individual responsibility and attitudes, justice and safety. It’s generating calls for states to re-examine the potential effects of stand-your-ground laws.
    If there’s any good to be salvaged from this awful case, it will have to come by finding answers to these questions.

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