Despite my subconscious efforts to remain apathetic, the recent events of the Trayvon Martin case have flooded me via facebook and the rest of the internet. I’ve managed to avoid the televised coverage of the trial because I don’t watch TV news anymore, but now that the shocking verdict is out, I’ve had to deal with it. I can’t help it.
And I know you’re probably like me and don’t care anymore and don’t want to hear anymore about it. It’s a charged issue and it exhausts us. Writing about things, however, is my therapy. It’s what I need to do to process important information, and this was an important event.
First off, there’s the cold logician in me. I want to point out to myself (and the upset posters on every social media outlet) that this was a legal trial for murder, and the American ideal–the value that our ancestors fought and died for–is that a suspect is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. I’m still not sure how I would’ve voted if I were on the Jury. I waffled back and forth for a while after reading the timeline of events on Wikipedia, a transcript of Zimmerman’s 911 call, and a summary of the testimony of Trayvon’s friend Jeantel, who was on the phone with him right before he died. I want to say I would vote guilty: there’s an intrinsic responsibility that I apply to a man with a gun. When Zimmerman set off to confront Martin, I think he shirked that responsibility. But then, I don’t see everything. I still doubt myself, and this sense of responsibility doesn’t seem enough to me, when I am honest with myself, to justify my sending a man to prison for a long time.
So, as a legal issue, I’m neither enough of an expert, nor in possession of enough knowledge that I would feel comfortable voting guilty–and following the American ideal, I might just have to vote innocent. But even as I type this, I rebel from the idea and want to say, “no it’s a clear cut case: the boy was unarmed, followed, and provoked.”
It’s pointless debate anyway. The jury voted, it’s over.
But I’ll tell you what I do know. Of this I am certain: no one, aside from a very small list of the worst kind of pedophiles, rapists, and mass-murderers, deserves to die like Trayvon Martin died. No human being, who is still a human being, should die on a sidewalk, in the rain, wrestling with a stranger. Especially not a 17-year-old boy. What happened was not justice. It wouldn’t have been justice even if Zimmerman was acting in complete self-defense and fear for his life and bodily safety. It might have been legal, but it wouldn’t have been just.
And I’m not sure if Justice would have been served by sending Zimmerman to jail either. Because the whole situation, the whole incident, stinks. It’s shit. It’s the absolute worst qualities of our society made manifest. In the dark, in the rain, in the bullet and the gun, in the hoodie, in the phone calls, in the closed-circuit TV, in the “assholes” and “cracker”s; in the flight, in the chase, and in the fight. And especially inside the gate of a gated community.
At every step, at every moment in every of the events there was nothing but distrust and prejudice. There was a whole country’s hatred, a whole country’s sense of righteous defense of person and property, a whole country’s determination to defend my personal rights above all else. And it lead to where such things can only lead.
All it would have taken, by either party, was one moment of surrender. And I hear the objections “Trayvon shouldn’t have had to surrender!” “Zimmerman has the right to defend himself and his property!” But I’m going to ignore them and make my point.
If there had been one instance, just one, of bending. One slight bow to the humanity and dignity of the other individual: I think it would have turned out differently. I might be wrong. But I’ll tell you what’ll make it worse. If we return to our trenches. If we go back to our talking points after an event like this, then we’ve lost it.
If we spend all of our moments defending the legal system, justifying Zimmerman’s actions, or rationalizing Martin’s actions and don’t pause and weep for the dead man on the street and his family, then what’s left in America to defend with our 2nd Amendment rights?
I’m not talking about changing our positions as a political party or as a culture, or as any kind of a group. I mean that if you and me don’t re-evaluate ourselves after an event like this. If we don’t ask ourselves how we could avoid these attitudes and ideas (by the grace of God), then it’s only shit piled upon shit. I must look at myself as a white man and see that on the right day, with the right attitude, with the right weapon in my hand, I could do exactly what Zimmerman did. Because I’ve grown up with the same movies (Clint Eastwood shooting “punks” in the street) I’ve generalized from the same experiences. I’ve inherited the same strife from the generations before.
I must acknowledge, confess, and repent from the same suspicion in my own soul. Hidden in my heart, there’s the same hatred, the same deceptively-righteous sense of vengeance that would make me leave my truck and pursue. The same racism.