Trayvon Martin: Some Thoughts That Changed My Personal Verdict

On February 29, 2012, as Americans were rounding out their day, eating dinner, perhaps spending time with family, a single gunshot rang out in a small community in Sanford, Florida. A single gunshot, and then silence. No one knew at that moment that the single gunshot that night would echo back and reverberate through the hearts of millions of Americans, galvanizing or testing the resolve of gun owners, civil rights activists, minorities, and me. When silence fell back over the community of Sanford, a seventeen year old boy was dead. Dead with him were the hopes and dreams of that boy’s parents.
When I first heard the news, it was a simple story. A seventeen year old black boy had been walking through a gated community when he was confronted by a member of the community watch. The boy attacked the community watch member, and was shot in self defense. As a resident of Detroit, where the nightly news invariably begins with “Tonight on Detroit’s West Side…” or “Tonight on Detroit’s East Side…” I had become somewhat desensitized to news of gun violence, and in one of the nation’s most racially stratified cities, it seemed, sadly unremarkable that this boy was black.
As days turned into weeks and more evidence presented itself, somehow, the story remained ostensibly straightforward, but a storm was brewing. Pictures reached the nation’s news desks of George Zimmerman’s battered head, then images of a young Trayvon Martin, a handsome young boy , wearing a Hollister t-shirt and an innocent smile. Suddenly, questions arose as to whether this was a simple case of self defense, or if this was a racially motivated homicide. Next came the internet pictures of a muscular, more mature Trayvon Martin, shirtless and seemingly displaying gang signs, followed by details of his athletic activities and speculations of drug use. At that moment the jury was out for me- certainly, George Zimmerman had acted in the only way possible; what would I do if my head was being bashed into the ground, and I had a gun? I would fire on my assailant to protect myself. There was no way George Zimmerman could be found to be acting upon anything but self defense!
As I continued to ponder on this matter, some new ideas came to mind. I thought of all the foolish things I did at seventeen. How would I have I responded if someone approached me in hostility? Would my inclination be to kill that person? Not likely. I might, however, have engaged the person verbally or maybe even physically. If I realized the other party had a gun, I would certainly feel that my life was in danger, and perhaps react accordingly.
So now what we have is two mutual combatants, both possibly in fear for their lives. That is where the similarity between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin ends. First of all, our judicial system has a separate set of punishments for children and adults, for the simple fact that a child does not possess the same wisdom and life experience that an adult should have. It seems logical that Mr. Zimmerman should bear greater responsibility for his actions. Furthermore, we know that Mr. Zimmerman had a gun, and it therefore seems reasonable to assume that Mr. Martin had cause to be in fear for his life as well. Finally and most importantly we must ask what motivated Mr. Zimmerman to pursue Mr. Martin if he believed his life might be at risk. Mr Zimmerman knew that police officers had been dispatched, and he also seemed to believe that Mr. Martin was a criminal. Simple logic suggests that Mr. Zimmerman was acting in a reckless manner and against the advice of police by approaching Mr. Martin.
In light of these revelations, it seems obvious that Mr. Zimmerman was deliberately putting himself in harm’s way, and did not, at least at the time of the initial contact, feel that his life was in danger. Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old boy walking home from visiting his father, approached suddenly by a man who may or may not have been brandishing a gun, had every reason to fear for his life. We will never know what kind of terror Trayvon Martin endured leading up to his death on that rainy February night. The moment 29-year-old George Zimmerman chose to pursue and engage Trayvon Martin, he negated any right to feel unreasonably threatened. Travon Martin was given no such choice. As he walked home with his hoodie sweatshirt pulled up to protect him from the rain, he had no idea that he was about to face an armed assailant, against whom he had no protection at all.

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