As we all know by now, George Zimmerman was quitted on all counts against him for the murder of Trayvon Martin. A jury of six of his peers (in theory), found that Zimmerman acted in self-defense under the conditions of Florida’s “Stand your ground” law.
Now if you’ve been watching television or read the major newspapers, you’d get the impression this case was all about race. While the anchors or columnists weren’t so blatant in their coverage, the pundits they paraded out made up for it. “George Zimmerman was racist and it was his disdain for black people who motivated him to gun down Tayvon. Plus the police didn’t handle the case right from the beginning because there was a black youth involved, and of course he was probably up to no good.”
But then again we have to give the media a break. No matter if it was the Washington Post, CNN, ABC or MSNBC, we know they aren’t in the business of objective journalism, but rather have an agenda of “stirring the pot” for the sake of readership and ratings.
I disagree with the majority our vaunted Fourth Estate however. I think what we saw was the unfortunate aftermath of a “Perfect Storm.”
What we had in George Zimmerman was a wannabe cop. And I’m not saying that with negative connotations. It’s obvious he had a police mentality. Otherwise why would he been out there in the first place as the head of a neighborhood watch. It takes a certain personality, someone who’s probably looking at everything suspiciously, looking for something out-of-place. And in turn, wanting to engage (obviously).
And also we have the phenomena of the prejudice of “preconceived ideas.” We all have them. We look at a situation or a person through the filters of our own experiences. These experiences can come from real life, or they can just be result of the media’s depictions. It’s how we learn, it’s built into our DNA. After a first encounter with a Saber Toothed Tiger, cavemen learned not to mess with them … or least not without a spear in hand.
These “preconceptions” aren’t necessarily racist, or at least overtly. They’re more under the surface, most of the time due to lack of exposure to people who are different from them. It’s very difficult to look at someone totally objective, no matter how hard we try. Our experiences always sneak in, just like the caveman. Even Jesse Jackson once said if he was walking down the street coming up on three black youth, he would probably cross to the other side.
And this bias doesn’t have to be racial either. I remember driving through Wyoming with my daughter Alex. We were stopped at 7:00am by a highway patrol entirely because I had California licence plates. After asking for my ID and registration, his next question was: “Do you have any drugs or weapons in your car?” This elicited a “WHAT!” from Alex. Obviously his preconception was that all drivers from California were likely to have drugs or weapons on them, regardless if there was a five-year girl in the front seat. The only way I got out of completely emptying my car was to call my best friend Jerry who we’d spent the last three days with. Jerry also happened to be the airport manager in Cheyenne, the capitol of Wyoming.
The media said that Zimmerman probably didn’t even have any black friends. Again, probably not because he was racist, as much as he just hadn’t had enough personal encounters to feel comfortable around them.
Adding to the “Perfect Storm” is where is the incident took place. Florida is a relatively conservative state with a conservative legislature. Gun ownership is a valued right, as much as it is in the western states. In fact Florida has issued over a million concealed weapons permits, more than any other state. Guns, and especially ones hidden from sight, are a fact of life in Florida.
And then finally topping off the “Perfect Storm,” we have the Castle Law, or better known as “Stand-your-ground.” If you feel threatened and you have a gun … then go ahead and use it, no matter where the hell you are!
I suppose the Castle Law in itself isn’t so bad if you didn’t look at where it came from. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and its extreme right-wing agenda funded by the NRA and other less than desirable entities (with self-interests well in tow) have literally drafted the template bills for states to use verbatim. It’s in the NRA’s best interest to have more guns and Wal-Mart (a big backer of ALEC) to sell more guns. This self-defense paranoia also fuels anti-immigrant causes. Because as we all know, immigrants vote for Democrats, the arch-enemy of the NRA and ALEC.
So again what we have is the “Perfect Storm” of events and backdrop. And as a result, Trayvon Martin is dead for no real reason except being a victim of circumstances. And what the trial comes down to is whether George Zimmerman feared for his life.
If you look past the media sound bites … you’ll see he probably did. Should have he? Looking in hindsight, of course not! Trayvon was a 150 lb kid with a pack of Skittles and George Zimmerman outweighed him by almost hundred pounds. But you can’t ignore Zimmerman’s preconceptions, bias, and that he hadn’t the luxury of objective hindsight. You add this to his psychological state; knowing he should (in his mind) engage this young man, as well as if things went bad he had his weapon he could legally defend himself with … you have the “Perfect Storm.”
And all the jury had to do was empathize with him and agree he “feared for his life.”
So what can can be done to make sure this doesn’t happen again?
You’re always going to have wannabe cops, looking at everything suspiciously and being the first to volunteer for their local neighborhood watch.
Can you change how people perceive others who are different from them? Probably not. Or as Bill Clinton said: “You can’t legislate morality.” Are you going to put the nation in a big room sequestered from all outside influences? Of course not. Ideally we can maybe try to get people out of their cocoons and venture out and experience other cultures and “people not like them.” Maybe.
It’s obvious that we’re not going to get rid of guns. If the Sandy Hook massacre can’t move the gun control meter, I don’t what can.
That brings us to the “Stand-your-ground” law. I’m afraid to say that any attempts to repeal it will involve a fight of biblical proportions against the NRA, its membership, and ALEC and it’s supporters especially the Koch Brothers. This would not be a fight for the faint of heart.
So what it comes down to is as long as you have the conditions that make up this “Perfect Storm,” it’s unlikely it’ll stop anytime soon, no matter what color the person being shot is … or the person doing the shooting. There will be another Trayvon, and another George Zimmerman … and another case, probably decided the same way.
It’s kind of … “is what it is.”
You can find me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+