First off, I was surprised how quickly this incident became political. One citizen shoots another one, they don’t know each other, and instantly the right and left take sides. What political gain is there, really (potential answer below)?
Racism: It’s suggested by the 911 tapes that Zimmerman muttered “f*&king coons”. This may be relevant in regard to hate crimes law, especially if Zimmerman is found guilty. But it’s never been the crux of the case for me.
Martin’s Past: The defense (and again, bizarrely, the political right) was really trying to smear Trayvon, saying he was a bad kid, did drugs, thought himself ‘gangsta’, etc…. As the judge rightly pointed out, this is completely irrelevant. Zimmerman didn’t know who Trayvon was (hence his suspicion); Trayvon could have been Charles Manson or Mother Theresa. It in no way influenced Zimmerman’s thinking. Maybe (per the racism thinking) he assumed Trayvon was ‘no good’ because he was black, but there’s no way any personal details about Trayvon could possibly have influenced the outcome.
Stand Your Ground: These laws are ridiculous (personal opinion), but it’s likely this issue, because of its direct relation to the gun safety debate, is the reason this got so political so fast. I personally think this is the simple core of the case. First, Zimmerman was told specifically NOT to follow Martin. He did anyway, confronted him, and ended up killing him. That’s not standing your ground. Second, most of the attention on this law has been solely on Zimmerman’s right to “stand your ground”. What about Martin’s? He didn’t have a gun, but from his point of view, he was walking home, and some guy he doesn’t know starts following him. This guy confronts him, with a firearm. What was Martin supposed to do? He has every reason to feel as threatened, if not more, as Zimmerman. Why can Zimmerman follow and confront someone and claim “Stand Your Ground”, but an unarmed teenager can be followed and confronted by a citizen with a firearm, and he can’t stand HIS ground? Clearly he tried, witness Zimmerman’s bloodied face. But he lost that battle.
For this reason, I think it should be a quick guilty verdict. Unfortunately, this crazy country is so polarized now, who knows what could happen.
I read an article in the New Yorker back in 2004, a piece by Malcolm Gladwell called "Big and Bad". In it, Gladwell explores the curious mindset that many Americans have with what makes a car “safe”. He points out that in Europe and Japan, when you ask consumers which car is the safest, they almost always say a small car, like a Camry or a Jetta. The reason: low to the ground, light, and nimble, such cars allow you to avoid accidents. Little skidding, no roll-over, and not so heavy as to prevent a necessary swerve.
But as someone who is quoted in the article points out, the following is a mindset almost exclusive to North America:
The metric that people use is size. The bigger something is, the safer it is. In the consumer’s mind, the basic equation is, if I were to take this vehicle and drive it into this brick wall, the more metal there is in front of me the better off I’ll be.
Ask Americans which car is the safest, and they invariably choose the big ones: the Ford F150s, the Lincoln Navigators, the H2s. They figure when an accident happens, it’s safest to be up high, and with as much ‘tank’ between you and the other car as possible.
It’s an ‘active’ versus ‘passive’ outlook. Other consumers around the world hear safety and think, “How can I best avoid an accident?” Americans, on the other hand, think, “If I’m in an accident, how can I avoid getting hurt?” There’s an inevitability to it that’s a bit saddening: Americans are expecting an accident to happen. It’s coming, so be ready for it.
The irony, as Gladwell points out, is that the big, heavy SUVs cause more accidents to begin with. They’re fulfilling their own prophecy, so to speak.
It’s what happens when a larger number of drivers conclude, consciously or otherwise, that the extra thirty feet that the TrailBlazer takes to come to a stop don’t really matter, that the tractor-trailer will hit them anyway, and that they are better off treating accidents as inevitable rather than avoidable.
I bring this up, because yesterday the NRA released its student-safety plan, entitled School Shield. Its “solutions” are pretty much what you would expect: armed guards, armed teachers, relaxing concealed carry restrictions on school grounds.
But what reminded me of the Gladwell SUV article was some of the other, architectural recommendations: replacing exterior windows and classroom door glass with bullet-proof glass, welding door hinges to their frames to make the doors harder to breach. They’re basically saying the same thing about school safety and guns that Americans say about auto safety and SUVs: “It is inevitable that a madman with an AR-15 will walk into a school and start shooting, so turn every school into a fortress to make it harder for him to do so.” It’s as if the problem is that schools make it too easy for guys with guns to breach them, not that there are bad guys with guns to begin with.
Is that the country we live in now? Where it’s considered inevitable, almost normal, to expect gunman to enter schools (or any public place) and gun down innocents? Obviously, if it is inevitable, then the only solution is to put guards everywhere and add iron plating to every single point of ingress in every single public building. That’s what “School Shield” recommends: turning a school into a shield against the inevitable.
Or, we can say that we can choose to live in a country where we don’t accept that the accident is going to happen. We can choose the small car when we decide we want safety, because when a potentially deadly situation occurs, that car allows us to control it and more likely avoid it.
The problem isn’t that there’s an accident coming and we have to put steel around us. The problem is that we can try to avoid the accident to begin with, and we’re not.