Saturday, July 20, 2013

In the Matter of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman

There is no reason that Trayvon Martin should have had to die.  There's simply no reason.

His death is not right (in my sense of right and wrong).  It is not just, even if it can be legally justified under the laws of Florida.  Being legally justifiable does not make something right, nor just.

Just walking around
Trayvon had a right to be there, in that gated neighborhood.  He was staying there temporarily.  Just walking around, he was not up to anything wrong.

In fact, before the encounter and confrontation, each man was just doing his own thing, if you will.  Trayvon was just going to the store and returning to the home he was visiting.  George was just doing his rounds of watching the neighborhood.  Neither of them knew the other. Neither of them had any beef against the other.

And, if on that evening of February 26, 2012, each of them had simply just kept on doing their thing, neither would have nationally known names.  Neither of them would have been in a scuffle.  Trayvon would still be alive today.

Let me first suggest that no one, regardless of their opinion on this matter, would have wanted Trayvon Martin to die.  Even the most ardent defenders of George Zimmerman will only defend George's innocence, that, under the laws of the State of Florida, he had a right to use deadly force in the scuffle at a point when George felt he had reason to believe his life was threatened.  They would defend George's right to self-defense and to stand his ground,  But, I will suppose that none of them believed that Trayvon deserved death.

Why did he have to die?
So what went wrong?  Why did Trayvon have to die?

Here the details are only partial.  We don't have a video replay to document the events, step-by-step.  Piecing things together, we know that George called the police after seeing Trayvon.  There had been incidents of other crimes in the neighborhood, and apparently George suspected that Trayvon might be up to criminal intent.

About 7 1/2 minutes after George called the police, a shot is heard by a neighbor calling the police.

Somewhere in those tragic 7 1/2 minutes, Trayvon realizes he's being followed and runs, getting away from George.  Despite instructions from the 911 operator, George pursues Trayvon on foot.

In the last 3 minutes of Trayvon's life, the encounter escalates.  Somehow George finds Trayvon.  At some point the encounter turns into a scuffle.  One of them shouts for help.  A neighbor sees the fight and calls 911.

And then at 7:17 pm, the shot is heard.

Within a minute, police arrive.   Not too much longer, Trayvon dies.

Beyond these events, we hear how different people want to interpret the situation.

Some will say that George escalated things by not obeying the 911 operator's instructions not to pursue.  If he didn't pursue, when the police arrived, they might have only questioned Trayvon and interviewed George, avoiding the fatal encounter.

Others say George was just doing his job.  He found someone who might be up to no good, pursued him.  And when he felt his life was threatened in the scuffle, he defended himself.  They say he did nothing wrong.

How Doing "Nothing Wrong" Leads to Fatal Results
Why does the "he did nothing wrong" scenario end up in Trayvon's death?

Some will say that it was Trayvon who was attacking George.  And when the encounter changed to the point Trayvon threatened George, then George was justified in defending himself.

But on the other side, were Trayvon's actions tantamount to "standing his ground" when he felt threatened by Georges pursuit?

On another perspective, if not for George's gun, the scuffle may have been simply a "mano-a-mano" fist fight, perhaps with bloody results, but not with fatal results.  The deadly weapon was the variable that allowed the scuffle to turn fatal.

The "Loophole" in Stand Your Ground
On the surface, self-defense makes sense.  You're just minding your business, and some criminal comes up to you and threatens you.  Shouldn't you be able to defend yourself?  Most people will say this makes sense.

But now, change the nature of the encounter.  Say there's no one just attacking you out of the blue.  You're minding your business and so is the other person.  But you think the other person may be up to no good.  Then you do or say something, and the other person feels threatened.  With both persons now feeling somewhat threatened, an encounter or scuffle or fight follows.  The fight escalates.  Now, if either or both of the persons fighting feels their life is threatened, they can simply kill the other person can claim they're standing their ground.  

Does this mean anytime two people get in a serious fight, the stand your ground provisions apply and one person is allowed to kill the other?

Does this mean that someone can now go around picking fights, getting the other person all worked up until that person attacks, and the person picking the fight can now kill that person, justified by stand your ground?

Is this a justification for injecting a fatal conclusion is what should just be a fight?

If George escalated the encounter by pursuing Trayvon to the point Trayvon felt threatened, who is responsible for the scuffle that followed. Why does George get to claim stand your ground if he started it?

The Law vs. Right-and-Wrong
Somewhere, I believe there is a gut sense of right and wrong that is violated here.  Sure, I listened to the trial and based on the evidence and law, George was correctly found "not guilty."   But that doesn't make him innocent or even right in his actions. 

Only a lawyer can say that right-and-wrong of the incident boils down the the last 2 minutes of the scuffle, when George felt his life endangered and shot Trayvon.  I believe reasonable people would look at all of George's actions to judge what is right or wrong.

Thus, my sense of right and wrong encompasses the entire incident, from the first moment that George spotted Trayvon.

My sense of right and wrong looks at all the actions of each individual.  When you do that, we see neither was completely a victim.

When George first spotted Trayvon, he was doing nothing wrong and had every right to be walking through the neighborhood.  But seeing this young man in a hoodie, George made a judgement that he was suspicious, and then decided to follow Trayvon.  Observing only his race and attire, George wrongfully assumed Trayvon might be up to something criminal.  This act made Trayvon a victim of unjustified accusation.  

As a victim of unjustified accusation, was not Trayvon justified for feeling concerned about being followed?  For Trayvon, there was not an apparent reason why this guy was following him.  So, would not be reasonable for Trayvon to run away to escape from being followed?  Yet, George may have interpreted Trayvon's running as confirmation that he was up to something.

So, the situation between the two strangers has escalated, with George in pusuit of a potential criminal and Trayvon angry about why this unidentified guy is following him.

For any person, regardless of age or race, being followed for unexplained reasons puts one on the defense.  Many of us have had some situation where they are followed by someone.  It happened to me once at age 22, when two men pulled me down and robbed me.

According to the event timeline, there was about 3 min. between the end of George's call to the police, when he said he lost track of Trayvon, and the shot that killed Trayvon.

Clearly, in those 3 minutes, the pair found each other.  After finding each other, somehow a  scuffle ensued and likely punches were laid on George.

While a fight is never justified, we can see where the emotions of each person could lead to it.

But, who was the instigator?  George took the first actions, and created the encounter.  Without his pusuit, the two would have gone on their own ways.

Yet, under the law and in court, we see George made into the victim, fearing for his life in a scuffle lasting 2 minutes at most.  

Think about this.  George is the guy with the gun.  Trayvon is unarmed.  If Trayvon knew George had a gun and was pursuing him, did not Trayvong have  the right to stand his ground and defend himself in the only way he could by using his fists, as he was unarmed.

Yet, under Florida law, it is George that is justified for "standing his ground" (ironic for a guy lying on his back, loosing the fight that he instigated.

My sense of right and wrong is both of them are wrong in fighting.  But, once the fight began, both of them can be justified in "standing their own ground."

Finally, if this incident was left to trained law enforcement and not this amateur, self-appointed armed watchman, there is no reason for the incident to end in death.  But, thanks to the provisions of Florida law, we have a young man dead for no good reason.

The death of Trayvon was not right.  It was not just.

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