Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman
I had decided to avoid this case because I could see that it was headed for inflammatory realms in which race would become one of the central talking points, and I don’t wish to be part of such vicious spectacles, or in any way add to the situation, but this has gone too far. Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old, was shot and killed after some sort of altercation with George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida, on February 26th. Martin, an African-American, was apparently armed only with Skittles candy and ice tea, and the presumption has been that Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch participant or captain of some sort who has a concealed hand-gun carry license, must have overreacted in the moment and shot Martin.
Initially, it was reported that Zimmerman was white, but it was later amended to reflect the reality that he is Hispanic. The political impact locally was immediate: There was outrage. Since that time, various political figures and operatives have stuck their noses into this, agitating for their own agenda, the list of agitators sadly including the President of the United States.
At the scene, police let Zimmerman go because according to witnesses, it appeared to be the case that during the final moments of the incident, Martin was atop Zimmerman, hammering away at him with punches. Zimmerman was battered and bloodied, and he had grass stains on his clothing indicating he had been on his back, defensive, when the shooting occurred. Witnesses have confirmed much of this account. That has not been enough to stem the tide of racially-charged agitating going on in Sanford, Florida, and increasingly, around the country, as the con-artists who use such incidents to try to sew chaos in the black community have continued to work their worst. It’s abominable, but it’s also sadly telling, because rather than attempting to calm things, President Obama stirred them up further with his own ridiculous remarks before heading to South Korea.
We will likely never know with absolute certainty what transpired, or how this went down in the moments leading up to Trayvon Martin’s death. We will have the words of the witnesses, the 9-1-1 call, and the testimony of George Zimmerman, along with any physical evidence collected at the scene. All of this is important in reconstructing those moments, but the suspicion among many is that Zimmerman was an overzealous neighborhood watch participant who went too far, but it is also entirely possible within the framework of the evidence disclosed thus far that Zimmerman is entirely innocent of any wrong-doing. After all, the cops had a dead body, and a smoking gun, and a shooter. They had everything they needed if they thought Zimmerman had committed a crime to arrest him on the spot. This is the reason for the outrage, of course, because there are those who are suggesting that there’s no way this could be anything other than criminal malevolence on the part of Zimmerman.
One of the other reasons I haven’t written about this is because I know passions are running high, but information is thin. I am not about to condemn Zimmerman who may have done exactly nothing wrong, nor am I about to cast aspersions on 17-yo Martin, who may well have been the victim in this case, but in any event lost his life in the event. What I am going to say is what the Mayor, the Governor, and the President should have said, but in various ways failed to do:
We are a nation of laws. We have the system of justice that permits the investigation, the charging, the arresting, the trial and the punishment of wrong-doers. We must trust in this system to sort through the physical evidence, the testimony of witnesses, circumstantial evidence, and the whole body of what is known about this case in order that justice be served. What we do know is that in the hours afterward, the police saw fit to let Zimmerman go. His story seemed to check out, and after interviewing Martin’s father, they verified that the screams for help heard on the 9-1-1 recordings were not those of Trayvon Martin, at least implying that at some point during the altercation, Zimmerman was on the receiving end of the worst of it. Then there was a gun-shot, and that all changed.
Could the discharge of the weapon have been accidental? Was it while prone on the shooters back, being pummeled by the other? If this is the case, and that seems to be the story the police have accepted, then whatever led to that moment, you have the lanky teen in command of the situation in the moments just before the trigger was pulled. I’ve read remarks from people who immediately criticize Zimmerman for using a gun on an unarmed assailant, but I would like to caution those who throw about such loose talk because fists can be deadly weapons too, and to assume that because we’re talking about punches is no reason to assume that Zimmerman was in any less danger. If I had a dollar for every person who has been beaten to death, I’d be able to retire comfortably tomorrow. In such a situation, it really comes down to whether the person being beaten believes his life is in danger. Once that belief exists, his actions thereafter may be justified, however he arrived at the situation.
This is one of the real problems with these sorts of scenarios, and it’s really not conducive to the sort of hyper-emotional talk that accompanies such events. The event must be deconstructed on a time-line, and that’s critical to understanding who is to blame for what, and where the points of demarcation along the chain of events may be. Knowing how the two came to blows will be one way-point, while there may come another at which Martin gained the upper hand, and yet another at which Zimmerman came to believe his life was in danger, and used the gun. All of this is a complicated thing to put together, and it’s not made easier by the charges of racism, or charges of bias, or all of the rest of it that agitators and media add unnecessarily to the sad story. I think every person outside direct involvement in this situation who has commented about this to the press is an irresponsible ass.
I except only the family of Martin, understandably stricken with grief and shock, and the local police who must make some statement, but they may be constrained by laws and regulations concerning the disclosure of all evidence and testimony until the case is closed. The family can say what they want, and they should, but at some point, it’s also up to them to try to gather all the facts. If Martin had a hand in his own demise, they need to know it. What annoys me about the press is that they will talk to the family in such a case and do everything they can to build on any controversy. This creates unnecessary hysteria in the community, and leads to the sorry spectacle with which we are now faced, but it also brings them around-the-clock ratings bonanzas and for the enterprising local journalist, if the story goes national, it may be the chance to move up to food chain. Don’t kid yourself: For every sad story in which there is any controversy, there is a legion of parasites trying to figure out how to exploit the situation to their personal advantage.
Now enter the circus of hucksters and hustlers, who have nothing much to lose, but everything to gain from turning a sad situation into a circus. The New Black Panthers are on the scene, as are Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, and while not there in person, but in spirit and in words, Barack Obama, President of the United States. I feel badly for the community there, because what should have been a sad story that resulted in an investigation that concluded one way or another is now a politicized three-ring circus with every hanger-on and vulture one can imagine. It’s despicable. Four weeks after the fact, this tragic tale has become a spectacle into which people who have no actual interest in the case have inserted themselves for their own nefarious purposes. I can scarcely imagine that the grieving mother of Trayvon Martin is in any way relieved or heartened by the New Black Panthers issuing a $10,000 bounty for the “capture” of George Zimmerman. It will not bring back her son, and it certainly won’t serve justice.
Sunday, Director Spike Lee tweeted George Zimmerman’s home address, exhorting followers to spread it. To what end? Is Spike Lee now engaged in trying to foment a lynch mob? If anything befalls George Zimmerman as a result, or his family, or his neighbors, as a result of this ridiculous behavior by Spike Lee, I sincerely hope they sue this ridiculous character half out of existence. His intent is clearly malevolent, and violent. What Lee is effectively doing is calling for violence, though he’s careful not to say it directly. Providing an address in this fashion is simply a form of hooliganism that all should abhor. If we had a responsible President, he would have said something to put a stop to all of this, but his agenda is not served by stopping it. He wants the chaos. He wants the agitating. This is what he did for a living before he was an elected politician. This is all very much right up this President’s alley.
Of course, you would think that some responsible person seeking the Presidency would say something to condemn all of this loose talk, and somebody did: Newt Gingrich pointed out the bad behavior of Barack Obama in the matter. On the other hand, Jeb Bush, former Florida Governor, actually piled on with the anti-Zimmerman rants. As the former Governor of that state, you would think that he would have exercised the prudence of keeping his mouth shut until all the facts are known, but he couldn’t stay quiet about it, trying to ingratiate himself with whatever interests he thinks will one day serve him should he seek higher office.
“This law does not apply to this particular circumstance,” Bush said after an education panel discussion at the University of Texas at Arlington. “Stand your ground means stand your ground. It doesn’t mean chase after somebody who’s turned their back.”
The problem with this remark is that Bush isn’t any more aware of the facts of the incident than the rest of us. He doesn’t have any special insight to offer, but the last part of this remark could be said to be inciting. We don’t know how those last moments of Martin’s life went down, and Bush really had no business injecting the biased statement about “somebody who’s turned their back.” This reminds me of the “The Cambridge Police acted Stupidly” remark of Barack Obama. It assumes and implies what may be all the wrong things about this case, and ignores some of the details that are now widely available. His next remark, however, should have been his only remark on the case:
“Anytime an innocent life is taken it’s a tragedy,” Bush said. “You’ve got to let the process work.”
If Bush has said this only, and left it there, it would have been fine, and in fact, that’s the sort of thing all our politicians should say when asked about this case, or any like it. Of course, for his part, Bush was a relatively minor player in the fiasco, because when you consider the outrageously prejudicial remarks of President Obama, it’s easy to see how this circus got out of hand very quickly:
“When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids,” Obama said in the Rose Garden. “I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this. And that everybody pull together.”
“My main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. You know, if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” Obama said. “All of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves.”
“Obviously, this is a tragedy. I can only imagine what these parents are going through,” Obama said. “All of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how something like this has happened.”
This is absurd because it was going to be investigated, and indeed, the investigation was well under way when he opened his mouth on the issue. It’s also true that this case is not really a federal issue. I don’t understand what the Federal government is doing in this case unless and until the State of Florida and the local jurisdiction put in a call for assistance, or until somebody makes a charge to the Department of Justice claiming that somebody’s rights have been violated under the existing legal system. To then bring his own kids into this, or to make the remark about “if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” is simply a disgusting appeal to race as a motive. It’s either that, or Obama is so fundamentally narcissistic that he must translate every issue and problem into a personal one in order to understand it. Either way, Obama’s remarks are an outrage in and of themselves, and Newt Gingrich, commenting on Obama’s behavior, was quick to denounce the remarks, again from Politico:
“It’s not a question of who that young man looked like. Any young American of any ethnic background should be safe, period. We should all be horrified no matter what the ethnic background,” Gingrich said. “Is the President suggesting that if it had been a white who had been shot that would be ok because it didn’t look like him?”
They also reported this on his remarks earlier the same day:
“That’s just nonsense dividing this country up. It is a tragedy this young man was shot,” Gingrich continued on Hannity’s show. “It would have been a tragedy if he had been Puerto Rican or Cuban or if he had been white or if he had been Asian-American of if he’d been a Native American. At some point we ought to talk about being Americans. When things go wrong to an American. It is sad for all Americans. Trying to turn it into a racial issue is fundamentally wrong. I really find it appalling.”
Here, the former House Speaker sounds the right basic theme, but I think it’s important for all of these folks to avoid over-politicizing the issue itself, and urge calm and remind Americans that we have a justice system to handle this, and that prejudging anything here absent all the evidence could lead to a tragic miscarriage of justice, one way or the other. In the context of commenting on the comments, I see that as proper because this is to focus on the behaviors of those not even remotely connected to the issue who are clearly adding fuel to the fire. On the other hand, those commenting on the situation directly absent the full results of the investigation, including all circumstantial and physical evidence, along with all available testimony are acting irresponsibly.
There are a number of people who can’t wait to jump in front of a camera or a microphone and do a good deal of indignant harrumphing about this case, but all they are adding to the situation is more emotional invective. The correct answer is: Stop! This situation cannot possibly improve by the injection of comments from uninvolved parties. That we now have the New Black Panthers offering a bounty and effectively calling for Zimmerman’s scalp, while Spike Lee tweets the guy’s address is a recipe for disaster. The media shouldn’t give any of these jerks face-time, but they’re trying to push the story for the sake of ratings, but maybe also a political agenda. Either way, the President, Governor, Mayor, Prosecutor, and anybody else connected with the administration of justice in any way with this case ought to restrain their remarks to the very basic: “No comment,” or “We need to let the system of justice work,” or “I cannot comment on an ongoing investigation,” and most importantly, “the system of justice cannot work when we have hooligans trying to incite violence or using violent rhetoric.”
The simple truth of this case may be that race had absolutely nothing to do with any of it. The attempt by some to turn this into a racial issue is simply disgusting, as Newt Gingrich asserted. This is an instance in which cool heads should prevail, but with a parade of hucksters, opportunists, and politicians with their own agenda in mind, the media has turned this into something it should never have been while they overlook real cases in which outrage is warranted irrespective of the issue of race. In the end, the evidence may show Zimmerman acted improperly, and if so, he will be punished, but if not, then there’s going to be a bad situation here because too many people are trying much too intently to make of this a spectacle for their own purposes.
The media reports in ways that simply boggle the mind, and as late as Sunday, I have seen one Reuters story in which the shooter was described as a “white hispanic.” If this doesn’t demonstrate the lunacy of the media, and their firm commitment to getting the most controversial angle on every story, I don’t know what does. It is my sincere hope that justice is served for all involved, whatever that turns out to be once all the facts are known and all of the investigations are concluded, but not one moment sooner. This sort of rush to judgment is dangerous, and it should be rejected by every American irrespective of race, sex, national origin, sexual orientation or political affiliation. If we are to have a civilized society, it begins with the proposition that when something uncivil occurs, we must respond to it in an orderly fashion that permits rational examination of facts without bias. Many of the agitators in this instance are trying to obtain the opposite result, but we must not permit it. It’s long past time for cooler heads to prevail. I expect our national leaders to reflect that sentiment.