Home > Media, News > The Disturbing Implications of the Trayvon Martin case on Self-Defense Laws

The Disturbing Implications of the Trayvon Martin case on Self-Defense Laws

A note to start this:  It is not often that I will get into current events and politics on this blog.  However, every once in a while something may move me as much as this case, to the point where I feel it necessary to let these things out–call it catharsis, call it wanting to be heard.  I have been following this case since the earliest days that it appeared in the news and have found myself frustrated by it every step of the way–I can no longer just read the news.

The Background

If you currently exist in this world you probably know about the Trayvon Martin case and the disturbing turns it has taken within the media.  I find myself wrestling with the idea of publishing this post at all because I feel enough damage has already been done.  But then, I find myself dissatisfied with the coverage the media is providing it.  They seem so bogged down in the racial issues that they don’t seem to realize that there is another big issue at stake here: gun laws.  I’ll get to that in a bit.

Please understand that my intention here is to weigh in on some of the heavier issues of the case, rather than to come to some determination of guilt.  However, I have to admit that I firmly believe that Zimmerman should face the harshest possible penalty for his crime. I am not trying to put up the pretense of being unbiased here. I am firmly of the belief that Zimmerman acted completely irrationally and took a life not out of self defense, but out of some kind of lust for power. But then, considering the facts of this case and trying to be impartial, then listening to a 17 year old dying—sorry, being murdered—on tape tends to rob you of your impartiality.

If you are unfamiliar with the case, I suggest reading the Wikipedia article about the case. It contains, as you’d expect from Wikipedia, more factual accounts of the case than most news outlets.  If you are tempted to listen to the 911 calls, keep in mind that within many of them you will hear someone begging for his life, as well as the gunshot that eventually ended Martin’s life.  It is wholly disturbing, and I found myself in tears, enraged and unable to keep listening after that.

The biggest issue in this entire debacle seems to be that of race.  While Zimmerman’s father wrote a letter stating that Zimmerman could not possibly be racist because he is half Latino, the transcript of and audio recordings of Zimmerman’s call to 911 seem to paint another picture.

 

The Events of the Night and Prejudice

To start, Zimmerman opens the call by stating that he sees someone in his neighborhood and that there had been break-ins lately.  Whether or not race is involved, Zimmerman was not calling 911 because he thought Martin was going to loiter around like some no good teenager is wont to do, kicking cans on the sidewalk and generally being unproductive.  No, he called 911 because he saw this kid and connected him to the string of break-ins.

And what exactly was Zimmerman’s big reason to believe that Trayvon was up to no good?  Trayvon was, and I quote, “just walking around looking about.”  God forbid anybody, you know, look about in Zimmerman’s neighborhood.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Zimmerman laments that “these assholes always get away” (a disturbing thing to hear, given the conclusion we know this reaches) and within seconds of starting the 911 call declares that Trayvon is up to no good, or on drugs.

Racially charged as this case is, I don’t know that I would call Zimmerman’s remarks flat-out racist.  If they were racist, they were veiled enough that it is impossible to know for sure without being in his head.  However, there was at the very least some prejudice (not necessarily racism) involved here, as Zimmerman at no point gives Martin the benefit of the doubt.  Whatever the reason Zimmerman felt threatened, there was little reason to do so other than a strange person in a hoodie walking through the neighborhood. His neighborhood.

Critics who think Zimmerman is being persecuted as a result of the media circus try to slander Martin, who you’ll remember as “the one who lost his life”, paint him as a troubled gangsta who could not possibly have been up to any good in that neighborhood.  He had grills and tattoos, he had been suspended and thus, Zimmerman had every right to take his life away. (His mistake?  Not looking like a clean-cut kid from the 60s in Zimmerman’s neighborhood. Put more bluntly: being black and not being ashamed of it?) Glib as that interpretation may be, that is exactly what conservative outlets are saying in Zimmerman’s defense.  They are painting Trayvon as a thug who deserved to be shot.  If Zimmerman hadn’t done it, someone would have.  Right?

Zimmerman, however, gets painted as this frail older man who couldn’t possibly have hurt anybody in a confrontation.  I even read one article that pointed out that the teenage Martin wouldn’t have had any problem beating the crap out of Zimmerman, and so clearly Zimmerman was justified to bring a gun to a fist fight.  These are the ridiculous arguments flying around the media.  Blame the victim.  And for those of you who might try to argue that Zimmerman is a victim in a way: consider that he is still alive.  I think Martin gets the title of “victim” without qualification.

 

Who Was Actually Defending Himself?

But I think the most disturbing implication of this whole thing is when you look at it from Martin’s point of view.  He was walking to the house in which he was staying, having made a trip to the 7-11 for the very dangerous combination of a pop and candy.  According to a sworn statement from a friend with whom he was speaking on the phone (until the moments just before his murder), Zimmerman started to follow him and he was scared.

Zimmerman began to follow Martin despite the 911 operator saying that he should not.  If you think that he complied, keep in mind that instead of agreeing to meet the police at his own house or at the nearby mailboxes, Zimmerman requested that the police call him when they were nearby so he could give his location.  Play it down any way you want, it was clear at the end of that phone call to 911 that Zimmerman did not intend to let Martin get away, something that Zimmerman lamented happened way too often.  (“These assholes always get away!” he says, moments before he decided that Martin wouldn’t get away, no doubt.)

So you have a scared kid being followed by a man 11 years his senior for no reason.  At some point a confrontation takes place and all that we really know for sure from there is that Zimmerman appeared to be bleeding from the back of the head and nose (even statements about that are conflicting), and Martin was shot dead.

If you listen to the 911 calls you can hear in a few of them someone screaming in the background.  Martin’s mother identified the screaming as that of her sons, and if you listen to Zimmerman’s call as well as the ones in which the screaming is clearest, it sounds nothing like Zimmerman.  It sounds like a terrified 17 year old.  Maybe I’m too biased to truly hear it objectively, but the frantic “Help me! Help me!” sounds too high-pitched to be Zimmerman.  Plus, the moment the you hear the gunshot those sounds stop.

Zimmerman insisted that he was on the ground beneath Martin who was beating the ever living shit out of him, thus justifying murder.  Many of the witness accounts released are conflicting, some putting Martin and others putting Zimmerman on the top of the scuffle.  Regardless of what you believe, the 911 calls are convincing: what sounds like a young man screams for help, terrified.  Then you hear a gunshot, after which everything is silent.

The issue here is whether or not this was truly a case of self defense.  Personally, I think that if Zimmerman spends anything less than the rest of his life in jail that we may as well spit on Martin’s grave.  When you consider Martin’s point of view the picture is terrifying: you’re walking home when a man follows you and, even after you run away, he follows you in his vehicle.  He gets out of that vehicle and confronts you.

I would not argue that, if reports of Martin wailing on Zimmerman are accurate, he was totally justified.  However, if you were a terrified teenager being followed, you might have done the same thing—tried to defend yourself.  Put simply:  Zimmerman hunted down and threatened Martin.  Martin, either defending himself or acting first, may have hurt Zimmerman at which point he was shot for the act.  Despite all of the efforts to paint Martin as the aggressor, he tried to disengage first only to be hunted down by Zimmerman. Let that soak in for a moment, because that is a pretty firmly established fact.

(Many of the calls to 911 place the scuffle behind houses, while Zimmerman’s calls seem to place him on the street.  When Martin runs the other way, Zimmerman initially follows, still apparently near the street.)

One final point:  from the transcripts it sounds like Zimmerman may have fired off a warning shot before shooting Martin.  Now, again, consider this from Martin’s point of view: you are followed and get into it with this guy.  You’re beating him up (I’m assuming the worst-case scenario of Martin’s behavior, but again, it’s not clear who actually had the advantage in the fight), but then he pulls out a gun and fires a warning shot.

Would you continue to beat the shit out of him or would you, as it sounds from the 911 tapes, beg for your life and hope that this man isn’t so batshit insane that he kills you on the spot?

Oh wait.

Conclusions

The problem here is, again, who was actually defending himself, and I think this is where the implications of this case get terrifying. Floridahas some crazy stand-your-ground laws that the NRA endorses, so you know they’re scary as fuck.  Race issues aside, should Zimmerman walk away with anything less than the maximum punishment in this case, it opens the doors for other people to literally track down and kill people that they feel are remotely threatening.

I’m (mostly) leaving alone the race issues because with all of the media and other parties involved, I think there has been enough talk of the race issues that I don’t need to add to it.

So you may think I’m playing the slippery slope card, but consider that again for just a moment.  This whole case, issues of race aside, comes down to self defense and gun laws.  If Zimmerman is let free we are starting down a path into a world where someone who feels threatened in the slightest will be allowed to hunt you down and murder you for that transgression.

I certainly hope that the system has enough justice left in it to prevent us from ever living in a world where you need fear your life for being in the wrong place when some gun nut happens to be passing by.  Because after all of the blustering and posturing by everyone involved in this case, when you really boil it down to the simple reason that Martin lost his life, that’s it.

For more information on the implications of this case, check out the Wikipedia articles on stand-your-ground laws, specifically the concept of duty to retreat.  Additionally, it’s not clear how Zimmerman plans to defend himself, but he does plan to use self defense.  So in some way, he will argue that his deadly force was appropriate and justified based upon the threat imposed by the bare fists of a teenager.

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Categories: Media, News Tags: ,
  1. April 15, 2012 at 12:58 pm

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  2. April 21, 2012 at 2:01 pm

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