The mainstream media and many bloggers are focusing on the Trayvon Martin killing as race-based. Is something else really going on here, making race merely a bi-product of this shooting?
UPDATED 8:12am C 3/23/12
Judge Roy Bean and George Zimmerman. Judge, jury and executioners?
In most of my writings that were aimed at ultra-conservatives, the Tea Party, right-wing extremists and their media talking heads, I have usually hit on a central theme of theirs that conjures up an America that existed in another time period. Their call to reclaim America from their perceived enemies is not uncommon from some on the political left. The difference as I see it though seems to be one in where the more conservative factions want to relive an era where minorities were mostly disenfranchised and along with women, had little political power.
Following the recent killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, I can now add vigilantism to this state of mind. Hispanic-American George Zimmerman, who falsely claimed to be an authorized neighborhood watch captain, most likely killed Taryvon Martin with the belief or knowledge that a new law would protect his right to do so. Furthermore, according to a report by Brendan Fischer at the Center for Media and Democracy, the shooter has legal immunity from prosecution.
The law, also pushed by its supporters under the name the “Castle Doctrine,” changes state criminal justice and civil law codes by giving legal immunity to a person who uses “deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.” It also bars the deceased’s family from bringing a civil suit. SOURCE
Upon close scrutiny, the actions of shooter George Zimmerman and the poor response from Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee, the bygone law of the West seems to be in force. Judd Legum on the ThinkProgress blog has broken down the details of this event via recorded news accounts. Here’s a thumbnail sketch of Legum’s report
- Zimmerman called police to report “suspicious” behavior from what he presumed at the time was a black person. He also presumed Taylor was “up to no good, on drugs or something” and then told the police dispatcher that “These a**holes always get away”
- Zimmerman pursued Taylor after he was told by the police dispatcher not to.
- That Taylor posed a threat to Zimmerman is dubious since, besides pursuing Taylor which initiated the confrontation, he was 110 lbs. heavier than Taylor and was armed with a 9 millimeter handgun while Martin was found carrying only a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea
- Martin had no criminal record while police records show that Zimmerman “was charged in July 2005 with resisting arrest with violence and battery on an officer”.
- The police failed to test Zimmerman for drugs or alcohol use.
- They failed to properly question Zimmerman. A source inside the police department told ABC News that a narcotics detective and not a homicide detective first approached Zimmerman. The detective peppered Zimmerman with questions, the source said, rather than allow Zimmerman to tell his story. Questions can lead a witness, the source said. SOURCE
- Police accepted Zimmerman’s version of who yelled out for help rather than those of some witnesses who felt certain it was the voice of a child and it appears they amended the initial police report that had no account of a bloody nose or wet shirt on Zimmerman
There are a couple of other issues here that incriminate him. First, his father told sources that his son has a spotless record before the assault incident in 2005 was revealed. Second, Zimmerman’s behavior in his self-appointed role as a watch captain and how he carried this out seemed zealous to many of those in his community. It didn’t help either that there was a prevailing attitude toward what one resident of the Retreat at Twin Lakes community referred to as “low-lifes and gangsters”. Such was the assessment of one of Zimmerman’s acquaintance, Frank Taaffe, a former neighborhood block captain.
What makes this less of a racial issue however and more of an historical mind-set issue is the fact that Zimmerman is of hispanic heritage and a few of his neighbors, including two black residents, reported that they liked and trusted him.
We currently don’t have any documentation to attest to Zimmerman and Taaffe’s political persuasion to see if they were stringent pro-gun, anti-Obama advocates; especially those who are prone to rally around the “take our country back” call . But what we do seem to have is that their state of mind reflects those people who are unable to grasp the social changes our nation has been undergoing for the last half century and whose fear of people unlike themselves often draws negative preconceived notions
Legitimate concern for one’s safety, especially in a neighborhood where crime is prevalent would understandably affect some to the point of purchasing a weapon to protect themselves and give them a sense of security. The neighborhood that Zimmerman lived in and Taylor was visiting that week back in February this year seemed to be such a place.
“police records, … show that 50 suspicious-person reports were called in to police in the past year at Twin Lakes. There were eight burglaries, nine thefts and one other shooting in the year prior to Trayvon’s death.
In all, police had been called to the 260-unit complex 402 times from Jan. 1, 2011 to Feb. 26, 2012.” SOURCE
Forty-six of those calls, over 10%, were made by one man – George Zimmerman.
When fear grips the mind beyond a point that justifies it, people can over react to perceived threats. Time and the fact that the local police are not always able or even willing to see things as seriously can lead a person to think they have to take action into their own hands. A reaction that was the norm on the frontiers of early American civilization.
The one restraint that has perhaps prevented many of these people to go over board in acting on their fears are the laws that forbid people to act in vigilante style. Remove that public restraint and people like George Zimmerman will begin to feel empowered to chase a suspicious asshole down and draw his 9mm handgun to kill him if he gets too close; an encounter that resulted in all likelihood because one zealous individual didn’t know where to draw the line in protecting his neighborhood.
The political right’s pervasive fear that the America they claim they once knew is disappearing under the leadership of a black president with distant ties to the Muslim faith has overwhelmed so many to a point that has allowed the state of Florida and 21 other states to revert back to the Wild West, issuing “stand your ground” laws, that were essentially written by the NRA, and allow citizens to shoot anyone, even away from their own home, who, under the new law “reasonably fears [anyone who poses an] imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to [themselves] or another.”
I don’t think it has dawned on some people that as they vote for those politicians that keep making deep budget cuts while avoiding raising taxes to provide basic services like police and fire protection, they are opening that dangerous territory where the heavily armed yet undetected mentally unstable individual down the road can shoot you in cold blood if your dog unintentionally poops in his flower bed. Or it could be someone like George Zimmerman who has allowed the real or perceived racial tensions in his neighborhood push him over the brink and revert to actions we outlawed, for good reason, over a century ago.