December 5, 2020

No defense for act of ‘self-defense’

Spending time in Vienna has wonderfully relieved me of the intense news cycle of the States. Without it, I find less and less time devoted to meaningless primaries, meaningless politicians and the whims of the cable news cycle. But there is one story that sliced right through the typical unintelligible noise of endless coverage and made an impact, even 5,000 miles away.

Trayvon Martin was 17 when a man named George Zimmerman shot and killed him in Florida on Feb 26. He was walking home to watch the NBA All-Star game, having just gone to the local gas station for some snacks. Zimmerman, a volunteer community watchman armed with a pistol, spotted Trayvon walking in the rain and called 911. The gated community Zimmerman was patrolling had break-ins, and Zimmerman had declared Trayvon “suspicious.”

You might have heard the various calls made to 911. You might be familiar with the story. If you are, you know that a few minutes later, Zimmerman fired a single shot, unprovoked, and killed 17-year-old Trayvon. The teenager was armed only with iced tea and Skittles. His phone, which he used only minutes before to contact a friend about a “man following” him, was not recovered, according to police.

Zimmerman confronted Trayvon in the rain, trying to stop him so police could arrive and question him. Trayvon’s only apparent crime was being black in a neighborhood suspicious of blacks. When Zimmerman approached Trayvon, he ran. He ran because a man who was not a police officer came at him with a gun. He ran because the man was white-Hispanic and he was a black teenager.

He didn’t run fast enough. Leaked 911 calls from locals are chilling. Trayvon can be heard screaming for help, running from the vigilante and his righteous weapon. Then a single shot, and the yelling stops.

Zimmerman was not arrested. Local police called it “clear cut” self-defense. He was exercising what gun advocates everywhere have called “Stand Your Ground” laws. These laws, which are active in 24 states including Florida, stipulate that an individual witnessing a crime does not have the obligation to flee, but can, if they choose, stand and fight while armed.

Zimmerman was not witnessing a crime, and his use of racial slurs make one thing so abundantly clear that it is hard for even the most post-racial societies to deny. Trayvon Martin was killed for being a black kid in the wrong part of town.

I wish I could blame George, or Trayvon, or the failures of the local police, for this senseless loss of innocent life. I wish I could take to the streets and rail, scream, against something, anything. I wish there were bad guys and good guys, lines of morality drawn clearly where I could stand and witness the passing tides of people. I wish I could write something that would make us feel better about this. I wish the recently announced Department of Justice investigation held out any hope of satisfying my desire for justice. I wish I could see justice somewhere, anywhere, in this awful mess.

I can’t. The answers aren’t easy, but they’ve always been clear: guns are dangerous, and their only intent is to maim and kill. Zimmerman did nothing but take advantage of a system literally presented to him on a red carpet.

If you want to feel like a man and stand up for your neighborhood, buy a gun. Show those punks who’s boss. If you want to feel important, protected and safe, stalk minorities, blab to the cops and strike back with total punishment. That’ll teach “those kinds of people” from wandering into your neighborhood.

Zimmerman is one of a million men just like him: a man who would never admit to harboring racist thoughts, instead choosing racist actions, like suspicion, violence and contempt. And he is armed. He is armed and our nation says “Go, be free, defend thyself, and never flee from a fight.”

Zimmerman represents how most Americans — grudgingly or not — feel about their weapons ownership. When pressed, they nearly all say the same thing: I need to protect my family and myself. I have that right.

Gun laws that rely on people to be responsible, reasonable and diligent only work if we a have society that produces people with those traits. But we don’t. We produce killers. Self-involved and self-determining members of the rational-self interest club, armed to the teeth and apprehensive of “strangers.”

The question has often been posed: Why is America so violent? Why do we have so many murders, so many shootings and killings? We ask this question with sincerity, while polishing our hunting rifles and peaking out our windows.

Zimmerman didn’t kill Trayvon. The laws of the land killed him. The culture we have created killed him. We killed Trayvon, and we should all be locked up for it.

Collin Reischman is a senior journalism major and a contributing writer for The Journal.

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