Of Rhetoric and Reality

It’s impossible to watch the news, especially if you’re a partisan news junkie, and not hear debate about Trayvon Martin’s murder.  I know I don’t know all the facts about the case. but here’s what I do know: an unarmed teen was shot. 

That’s the problem: someone’s son, brother, friend was shot.  Whether it was racially motivated is a secondary problem (but definitely one that needs to be addressed). 

Here’s the thing: Soldiers and Police, who go through training, can misunderstand the “rules of engagement” and make errors that can result in the loss of life of innocent people.  Why do we expect some citizen with a couple hours handgun safety training to be able to make better judgments?

First: it’s about respect

I was raised with a profound respect for guns.  I was taught that even with my toy guns you don’t point them at people.  You don’t point a gun at anything you don’t intend to kill.  I went from toy guns, to BB guns, pellet guns, .22 rifles, then handguns.  Each step of the way I was made aware of the profound danger they pose to myself and others.  I was raised to understand the respect a gun requires for use.  This is why people in the NRA are so insulted by laws that try to limit what weapons people can own:  they think all gun owners are like me and them.  The problem is that some people who own guns don’t fully comprehend exactly what a gun is.  They think of it as one more tool for defense, no different than a fist.

I was also taught by my dad how to defend myself.  He taught me down and dirty fighting that I never had to use.  Part of the reason I never had to use it, was because the techniques he taught me were ones that would cause “great bodily harm”.  Like the gun, I was taught that fighting was something you did only if you were fine with the consequences that would come with it.  In our country that includes the possibility that if I break someone’s arm, even defending myself, I might be held legally accountable. 

The problem with the picture painted about George Zimmerman is that he seems to not have been taught these things.  He was a guy who wanted to be a cop (according to reports) and he was acting the way he thought cops would act.  The 911 tapes make it sound like he was a guy who wanted to be a hero, protecting people.  (that’s armchair psychology, but that’s what we do in our armchairs) I don’t know if he was raised with the same respect for firearms I was or if he was raised with the same discipline of self-defense I was.  It just doesn’t seem like he was and that’s the first thing that caused this situation.

Difference between race and racial

A lot of people are talking about race.  It’s hard not to.  A light-skinned guy (not white exactly) shot a black teen.  If the roles had been reversed, the black youth would be held in jail trying to explain how he was just defending himself.  As I heard on one show, “If the shooter had been black and the victim white, he’d have been told to ‘tell it to the judge’”.  The statistics on crime in America support that claim.  Zimmerman, however, was taking in for questioning and released.

I don’t think people are playing the race card, I think the race card came up in the deck and you couldn’t ignore it.  Zimmerman had a history of making calls while on neighborhood watch that were predominantly about black youth and oftentimes they weren’t doing anything wrong.

The problem is that people can’t differentiate between a racism and something that is racially motivated.  See, a racist thinks everyone of a certain race is the same: They’re all criminals just waiting to happen.  Kill them all.

On the other hand, most people have racially motivated thoughts.  You can have lots of black friends and still cross the street when you see a black teen with baggy pants (or a hoodie).

This is what happens with the police and the military (not all the time, but sometimes).  You arrest so many people who look and dress the same, you begin to just generalize.  Anyone who dresses like that and is that color is up to no good.  That doesn’t mean you think the Mexican bank teller is a crook and an illegal.  A soldier may see nothing wrong with the Pakistani couple who own the local motel, because they’re not on the battlefield. 

What Zimmerman did may have been racially motivated, without him actually being a racist.  He saw a black teen in a hoodie and assumed he was up to no good. 

The difference between Zimmerman and the rest of us (especially cops or military) is that when we have racially motivated thoughts, we seek extra information to confirm or discount.  Zimmerman acted as if he was right.  Had Zimmerman had actual training he would have moved his car to a spot he could observe Trayvon, he would have followed far enough behind to not be seen.  Since he didn’t have training, he tried to act like a hero.  Had he just sat back and watched  his racial stereotyping would have remained something that only he and his god knew about.

Evidence will out

The thing conservatives (not all mind you) want to focus on is the “self-defense” aspect.  Without video evidence we’ll have to rely on eyewitnesses, which are the worst people to listen to, especially days after.  The Jan/Feb 2012 Scientific American: Mind magazine did a series on memory, especially on how emotion can distort memory.  I recommend finding the back issue. Eyewitnesses are horrible at telling what happened.

The other thing is forensic evidence.  If there was a scuffle, did the police bag the clothes?  Is that why Zimmerman is fairly clean in the video we’ve seen?  What does the trajectory of the bullet say about how Trayvon was killed?  Are there bruises on Trayvon’s hands?  Unless Trayvon used an open-palm strike on George’s nose, there’s going to be bruising on his hand and possibly cuts.  Definitely blood.  The evidence probably won’t come out till trial, and that’s the way it should be. 

We should wait to see what that says.  However, I find it hard to believe it will exonerate George, but we should still wait.  Unless the police didn’t do a good job of collecting it.  In which case, we’re back to race issues.

Back to the first point

Whatever occurred, there is no reason Trayvon should have died.  No one should have been shot that night.  Even if the events went the way George Zimmerman claims, he shouldn’t have shot Trayvon.  I train off and on to fight (enough that if I meet someone with no training or who is drunk I should have no problem winning), unless I was being beaten by Rashad Evans or GSP I don’t think I’d find the need for a gun.  If someone got the upper hand on me, I’d do what a civilized person would do: RUN.  He was behind a house.  George should have fought back and then ran to the house and started banging on the patio doors.

Why didn’t he?  I go back to the hero thing.  Heroes don’t run.  In movies if they’re being beaten they do resort to gun use.  Not as much in modern movies, but they used to. 

Even if I believed George’s version of events, I can’t help thinking of all the times we see on the news about how to teach your kids to fight back against strangers.  What if Trayvon, who was walking back to his dad’s girlfriends house, via a route everyone from the neighborhood would use, suddenly saw this big bald guy running after him (which is what George did)?  What if Trayvon felt threatened?  What if he saw this guy had a gun and feared for his life and did throw a punch?  What if he did hit George’s head against the sidewalk because he (rightfully it turns out) thought he was going to be killed?  What if the person who really was trying to use the “Stand Your Ground” law was Trayvon? 

George Zimmerman should come out and say what he did was wrong and that he was sorry.  It won’t make up for killing a teen, but it will help.  Stop trying to justify your actions (which is perfectly understandable from a human psychological viewpoint).  You killed a kid who was going home, who wasn’t looking for trouble, who had a fucking bag of skittles!  There is no way you get out of this as RIGHT.  So don’t try.  Be a man and admit you made a mistake and help us all move on.  Say you’ll take what punishment is coming (but have your lawyers fight for you).  Be a man.  Even in the old west shooting an unarmed man was the worst thing you could do.

This is one of those stories that no matter what the outcome no one really wins.  Best case George goes to jail, but a mom and dad still lost a son.  No matter what, a life that could have been was erased.

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