This will be less definitive than we would like. Still, for our foreign readers we’d like to try to explain what the Trayvon Martin case is all about, and whether or not George Zimmerman, Martin’s killer, had a case for exoneration.
To begin with, we’re in the state of Florida, or as people down there like to call it, “the Gunshine State.” This appellation comes from the number of guns laws the state has passed, making carrying concealed and unconcealed weapons and their use perfectly O.K.
In America, gun laws and their passage is a right given to the various and several states. Ideally, there could be one set of laws that govern the entire country, but that isnt what we have.
The confusion about guns and their uses comes directly from the various interpretations of the US Constitution, which some see as giving unlimited power to citizens to carry and use firearms for any purpose, and those who disagree.
Now to Sanford, Florida, where on a rainy night about a year and a half ago a seventeen year old black boy was walking home when he was stopped, accosted, and killed by a putative “public defender,” George Zimmerman. Whether or not Zimmerman was a member of his neighborhood’s watch — an organization that is supposed to be unarmed but on the lookout for incursions into a particular neighborhoods by trouble-makers — seems cloudy.
What isn’t so cloudy is that Zimmerman believed himself to be one of the good guys, a White Hat (in terms of the old Western films of the twenties and thirties.) This is a man who wanted to be respected by his community for the good work he was doing to keep it safe.
Another cloudy perspective is whether Zimmerman was even a part of the community he was ostensibly protecting. Did he live there? (This matters because in Florida there is a “stand your ground” law which states that if faced by danger, or its threat, a person need not hide, run, or flee, but has a perfect right to pull out his weapon and fire at his assailant in a self-defense mode.)
What isn’t cloudy is that Zimmerman liked to pretend he was part of the local Sanford police department. He saw himself, perhaps, as a deputy. Often, while driving at night, he would phone into the police dispatcher to report things he saw or suspected he saw. Also what isn’t cloudy is that Zimmerman patrolled his area armed.
Another non-cloudy issue, not allowed as evidence during the recent trial, is that Zimmerman had an animus towards “them.” People he suspected had done dirty deeds and kept getting away with them. It made him angry, and perhaps even envious. It is also clear that Zimmerman did not have a high opinion of black people, as evidenced by the tape recordings the Sanford Police Department had logging Zimmerman’s activities. These tapes were not allowed to be played for the jury during the trial.
To the point, which in our mind predates the actual shooting. Zimmerman alerted the Sanford Police that he was tailing a suspect who seemed unknown in the neighborhood and possibly dangerous. The police dispatcher asked him to back off. “We don’t need for you to do this.” This caution was ignored by Zimmerman, intent in his role of protective do-gooder.
It was that single decision that caused the story to escalate into one of murder.
For George Zimmerman did not back-off. Instead, he continued to trail his “suspect” and then, finally, got out of his car, armed, ready to ask the young man in question what he was doing there. The young man need not have answered, anything. George Zimmerman was not a policeman. But he must have, because within the next few minutes he lay on the ground, shot through the heart by a man who claimed to have felt his life was being threatened and what else could he do?
The role of race in this scenario was never broached during the trial. As Trayvon’s “girlfriend” opined on radio afterwards, why would race be an issue with a jury of six “white” women? (One of whom turned out to have been Hispanic, but that hardly matters.) In her mind, the jury had no clue to race relations within the state, or within the entire country. They were secure in their persons and felt justified to rule on Zimmerman’s innocence or guilt without regard for Zimmerman’s evident feelings of antagonism towards black people.
What has happened since Zimmerman’s acquittal has been as interesting, if not more so, than the trial itself. Black adult men throughout the nation began to recall openly the serious speeches of their fathers to them as children about how to behave when confronted by a policeman. Further, they themselves had had to repeat the warnings to their own black male children. Which is to say, the era of post-racial politics has not arrived as advertised.
More, the US is fast becoming a country in which the majority of citizens are not white. Blacks, Hispanics, Asians all are multiplying faster than the old line of white, Protestant descendants of early settlers, or even of immigrants new to these shores since the late 1880’s.
Again, making matters more incendiary, the country has gone through –and continues to do so – a Depression in which lower paying jobs for whites were all but eliminated, and these displaced workers are seeing their former jobs consumed by immigrants who will work at anything.
This does not make white people feel confident in their own futures. Looking ahead, they realize that sooner or later, they will be competing for good paying spots with Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, or other newly arrived populations. Their kids will have to compete with the children of these “minority” groups, as well.
There is an enormous amount of fear of the future. A lot of this has been fostered by the Recession of 2008, in which so much of retirement money and pension funds, stock portfolios of people who probably shouldn’t have been gambling but were, and home values took a sensational dive. Homes are the single most important possession of any American family, giving them purchase not only in their lives and communities but in the future as well since a house is a cashable asset if times get hard.
So one begins to understand that the national dialogue taking place now in the US over race’s importance not only in the Martin Trial but generally in terms of the future is fostered by fear, nerves, anger, and confusion.
The George Zimmerman verdict, whether a proper one or not, is only one symptom of a nation standing shakily in the roadway, blinded by the future, uncertain in which direction to move.