Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Shot For The Crime Of Being Black

Trayvon Martin died by the hand of George Zimmerman. This is not in dispute. Zimmerman claimed self defense, which is a tacit admission that he killed the boy.

What is in dispute, thanks to a new body of evidence, including 911 calls and eyewitness testimony, is that there is a case for self defense at all.

The pieces of the puzzle are these:
  1. Zimmerman was a self-appointed "captain" of the neighborhood watch, who took it upon himself to "patrol" the neighborhood.
  2. On his "patrols," he would sometimes -- as far as we know -- carry his licensed weapon with him.
  3. On that night, February 26, Trayvon Martin was simply walking back from the store to his father's  home, not committing a crime, not, in fact, "acting suspiciously."
  4. Trayvon was on the phone with a young woman at the time, who said that Trayvon was aware of Zimmerman following him, and pulled up his hoodie and quickened his pace to escape Zimmerman's pursuit.
  5. As this was happening, Zimmerman was reporting the "suspicious" person to authorities, who admonished him not to follow that person.
  6. Zimmerman pressed the issue, getting out of his vehicle and going after Trayvon Martin on foot.
  7. Martin told his friend on the phone that he was being followed; she urged him to run away from the mysterious stranger, but Trayvon only walked fast.
  8. Zimmerman then caught up with Trayvon Martin, who demanded to know who Zimmerman was.
  9. A confrontation was heard, by witnesses in the complex and by the girl on the phone. The phone line went dead shortly before witnesses reported the gunshot.
It is safe to say, from the body of evidence before us, that it was Zimmerman's intent to pursue Trayvon Martin, else why leave the safety of his vehicle? If he was not carrying his weapon, he might not have, but as I have written in the past, the presence of a weapon often emboldens fools. Licensed or not, permitted or not, the presence of that weapon was the key determinant of the course to come.

Zimmerman, from all accounts, took no pains to hide his presence, as someone tailing a suspicious person would. He went out of his way to alert Martin to his presence, perhaps thinking he would scare the boy off, or maybe, thinking he would catch him in the act of committing a crime. Having the familiar weight of the weapon at hand, no doubt encouraged Zimmerman to think he was beyond what he was: an average citizen.

Zimmerman stalked Trayvon Martin. He pursued him. He cornered the boy, who naturally turned back to confront this stranger who was following him, doubtless unsure why he should be singled out for attention by anyone. Trayvon Martin had it in his head that he had just as much right to be where he was, doing what he was, when he was doing it, as anyone else did. In a perfect, equitable, post-racial world, he would have been right.

In this world, he was wrong.

The pump had been primed. Zimmerman, with a self-imposed mission, with a fixation on young black men, with a weapon, and with a "duty," was suddenly placed in a position he had undoubtedly rehearsed in his mind a thousand times, face-to-face with a "criminal," and a black one at that. Trayvon Martin's interrogative did nothing to quell the rising suspicion in Zimmerman's mind that he had what he had always wanted. A scuffle ensued, and that was pretense enough.

A shot rang out.

A boy died.

If you listen to the the 911 call from one woman in immediate proximity to the confrontation, you hear so clearly the loud report of the gunshot, and the pause as the caller digests the sound she just heard. That sound is the a message of death. That sound is the taking of a life. That sound is another black boy dead at the hands of a white man. That is another child, bereft of life, who will never get a degree, never own a home, never play another down of football. That is another human life, taken by the ignorance and bigotry rife in our society, even decades after the Civil Rights movement and the end of Jim Crow. It is the sound of the hunter taking his prey.

It is most assuredly not a case of self defense.

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