Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Thoughts on Florida Shooting

In the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting, there has been much gnashing of teeth and rightly so--an unarmed teen gets killed by an overzealous neighborhood watch volunteer, and the local police (this was Sanford, Florida) make no arrests. The dribblings of information coming out of the incident make it more troublesome--the shooter was told by 911 operators to not follow the "suspicious" boy, and evidently he did anyway, and the racial element (Hispanic shooter, black victim) has made this a national story. A few thoughts on this:

1) The shooter--George Zimmerman--was apparently covered by Florida's "stand your ground" law that allows the self-defense defense to cover shooters who choose not to retreat when reasonably threatened. It's not clear whether Zimmerman felt "reasonably threatened", though this should be a matter for a criminal investigation--but this is the problem with such blanket rules. In theory, even a shooter acting unreasonably--stalking someone or picking a fight--can be let off once the threat is elevated, even if it is a threat they caused themselves. A better standard is one that considers all circumstances in determining if the shooter acted reasonably.

2) There's a lot of crowing that this is too focused on race, because we don't hear the media covering black kids who are being murdered by other blacks more frequently. Well, of course race is an issue here--it likely played a part in Zimmerman's decision to go after Martin, and there are accounts that he was making racial slurs over the phone immediately before confronting the black teen. I agree that it is a tragedy that black-on-black violence is treated by the media as something to be expected and not worthy of as much coverage--similar to how a missing rich white girl is going to get all sorts of copy while missing black kids will get ignored by the press. But this case is certainly newsworthy.

3) Can someone please pay Al Sharpton to go do some missionary work out in the middle of nowhere for a while? There has never been a case where anyone said "good thing Reverand Al was here to instill some calm and togetherness. His input has really improved things."

4) Recently leaked reports about Trayvon Martin's "gangsta" tweets and possible marijuana-related punishments at school are basically irrelevant--what does any of that have to do with whether Zimmerman was justified in shooting him?

5) There's been a lot of flak about Geraldo Rivera's suggestion that Martin should not have been wearing a hoodie since hoodies arouse suspicions. I agree with the backlash on this--it smacks of blaming the victim, sort of like saying a woman may have been raped because of her short skirt--but it is at least a discussion worth having. If dressing a certain way in certain neighborhoods is more likely to get you attacked by a bigot or a nut, then why risk your life trying to prove a point? Better to remain alive and find more effective ways to speak out against bigoted assumptions. Though it raises the question of whether even a nicely dressed Martin would have been confronted by Zimmerman.

6) Everyone's quick to jump to assumptions on this one, ranging from the "Zimmerman's totally a guilty racist nutjob" to "Martin was a troublemaker who attacked Zimmerman who acted in self defense" and you know what? Until all the evidence is collected you just don't know. The only thing we should be calling for right now is a full criminal investigation. This is why we have courts. Calling for one man's head or a dead kid's reputation to be trashed is not helpful.


  1. I'm confused about something: wouldn't the Stand Your Ground law also provide legal justification for Trayvon to attack Zimmerman if he perceived Zimmerman to be a threat? This seems like a really stupid law however you look at it.

  2. Snay--I believe it would. Arguably, a "stand your ground" standard would justify two guys gunning each other down on the street rather than de-escalating the situation. It's why I fall on the side of a totality of the circumstances standard--did the shooter act reasonably?